Last week’s Big Little Lies season premiere was good as far as it goes, but it lacked a certain something. Most of this could be put down to the fact that the episode had to spend a lot of time scene-setting and establishing where all of our protagonists are at now that a little time has passed. (Spoiler alert: they’re all still very damaged!) Sunday’s episode, “Tell-Tale Hearts,” however, has no such inhibitions. It’s one long explosion. This has never been the subtlest of shows, but it feels like they’ve turned things up to 11 this season. Everything seems to have been crafted with a meme in mind—and honestly I am fine with it.
The themes of “Tell-Tale Hearts” are SECRETS and FAMILY and SECRET FAMILY. There is so much secrecy and family drama and secret family drama and Meryl Streep whispering malevolently about said secret family drama that I hardly know where to begin, but let’s get into it!
We start the episode with a literal bang, as Celeste, deep in an Ambien blackout, crashes her car. Whoops! Why ever could Celeste be having trouble sleeping? Is it because she keeps having traumatizing flashbacks to her wildly fucked-up relationship to her husband, and then waking up to Meryl Streep going Law & Order at her every move? (In this episode, Mary Louise tells Celeste that she is thinking of renting her own apartment so she can be nearby but not in the house all the time, and Celeste says something like, “Some space could be good.” Talk about the understatement of the century.)
Or maybe it’s because she is practically drowning in reminders of how horrible her life is. In this episode alone, her therapist is ordering her to think about the times Perry assaulted her, her kids are fighting and telling her to fuck off, her hair and eye makeup look objectively insane—it’s all too much for one person. Plus, her attempts to have something approaching an honest conversation with her mother-in-law about Perry—you know, the abusive, violently controlling rapist who fathered a child with another woman—go about as badly as it’s possible to go. Mary Louise staunchly refuses to believe anything Celeste says, and then suddenly announces she’s going to the cops to get “answers” about all the objectively incriminating-sounding things Celeste “left out” about the night Perry died. “Oooooooh, you left that out too,” Mary Louise hisses gloriously about the fact that Celeste learned about Perry’s secret kid right before his death. (How did she find this out? Very unclear—it’s the episode’s weakest bit of plotting.) At this point, Celeste would be better moving far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far away from Big Little Lie Town, possibly changing her name, and certainly changing her wig. But she’s stuck here.
Luckily, Celeste has many close friends she can lean on. Too bad they’re all as deep in the hole as she is. Madeline, for instance, has to confront the fact that both her daughters inherited her big mouth and are using theirs to ruin all the lives around them. Little Chloe overheard her talking about how Perry is secretly Ziggy’s father, and promptly told Ziggy and Celeste’s evil twins all about it. And not-so-little Abigail accidentally spills the beans about Madeline’s affair with the theater director by loudly discussing it just as Ed walks through the door. (That girl has yet to make a decent decision in her life.) Ed, who didn’t know either of these two secrets—you could say Madeline “left them out”—reacts poorly to them. “We’re DONE,” he gasps. Which, reasonable! Madeline’s explanations that “it’s not about you” and “we can go to therapy” fail to help, and she is left alone to drink wine and stare at the sea.
Also doing a lot of staring in the distance is Bonnie, the woman who actually did the killing that is causing so much trouble. I keep having the persistent question, “Why wouldn’t they just say that this violent abuser rapist guy was attacking them and she pushed him and it was an accident, which is basically the truth and which precious few people would want to go after them over, instead of this elaborate coverup whose only reason for existing seems to be to destroy them all from within and to secure a second season for this show?” But I suppose you’re not meant to think too much about that. Anyway, Bonnie’s adamant refusal to deal with her shit in any way prompts Nathan to call her mother, Elizabeth, in for help. Elizabeth does not help much. She does accurately identify that Nathan is kind of an idiot, and that Bonnie is clearly having a PTSD-level reaction to Perry’s death, but her efforts to wrest the truth out from her daughter don’t work, and her attempts to leave crystals and feathers on Bonnie’s bedside make things worse. It’s nice to know more about Bonnie, who was so indifferently sketched last season, but her arc remains the least interesting of the show, because it mostly involves her either doing nothing or telling people to stop asking about her doing nothing.
Jane, meanwhile, is suddenly, thanks to the aforementioned Chloe, forced to talk to Ziggy about his....complicated history. This happens in a sweet, sad scene that mostly goes fine, and then Ziggy and Celeste bring all the newfound brothers together for a playdate, which also seems to go fine. “Family isn’t always everything, but sometimes it is,” Celeste counsels her boys. Jane is also dealing with the forthright advances of the surfer boy she works with, which I presume is a “watch this space” kind of deal.
And then—hoo boy—there is Renata. In a sense, she has become barely more than a string of profane GIFs strung together, but they are really great GIFs. She spends basically the entire episode screaming “fuck,” but wouldn’t you if you found out that your husband committed massive securities fraud and lost all your money and then has the audacity to say that it was because you wanted too much out of life? Most people will probably latch onto Renata yelling “I will NOT NOT BE RICH,” but I prefer her driving off in her Tesla after kicking Gordon out of the car and screaming, “WOULD SOMEBODY GIVE A WOMAN A MOMEEEEEEENT???” Laura Dern is clearly having the time of her life.
Of course, after that, she goes back and picks Gordon up again. That is basically how this whole series is. People attempt to drive away from the things dragging them down to the depths of hell, but hell finds a way back into their car.