Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers from Big Little Lies’ Seasons One and Two.
Despite the disappointing reviews and comments about how season one was to not to be continued, season two of Big Little Lies still brought an important message into the spotlight. This season, the show shifted focus from domestic and sexual abuse to its aftermath, as well as the problems that women may inflict upon each other. However, due to several moments where dialogue was poor, the show failed to present this issue in a manner that may have urged the viewers to find it more compelling.
Based on a novel by Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies is centred around five women and their life in the privileged town of Monterey, California. Although the life of each one has a seemingly perfect facade, not all is well and their lives are turned into chaos by a murder that occurs at a school party at the end of the first season. Amidst the daily struggles of motherhood and relationships with other parents, the dark undertone of violence and abuse that permeates the show helps make it more than a mere melodrama.
With a cast comprising of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoë Kravitz, the show conveys a tragic story of domestic and sexual abuse and its aftermath. Nicole Kidman’s character Celeste suffers violence at the hands of her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). It could be said how the two seasons explore abuse in two different ways: whereas season one is a spotlight on the extremely toxic relationship of Celeste and Perry, season two shows how hard it is for victims to move one after being abused.
Nevertheless, above all, the show values the relationships built between the characters. It can be seen how after the accident at the end of season one, the bond between the five women are strengthened and they are now able to turn each to other for support, as each one faces their own struggles, such as trauma, bankruptcy or a deteriorating marriage. Although some may find it too dark, Big Little Lies manages to perfectly balance the disturbing and negative and the moments of hope and strength — it shows life as it is, without embellishment.
One popular critique of the first season was that the abuser was portrayed to be a stereotypical “violent, duplicitous and male.” However, season two deepened this perspective introducing abusive characters that are female and how this abuse has affected the lives of the victims. One of them is Bonnie’s (Zoë Kravitz) mother, whose presence helps deepen the character and explain why she has distanced herself after the murder.
Indirectly, it allows the viewer to reflect on the concept of nature versus nurture and how parenting plays a significant role in the future life of their child: this is not only shown through the adults but also their children. The psychological abuse that Perry’s mother, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), has inflicted upon him allows the viewer to make connections with his violent nature. However, it still does not justify his actions towards Celeste. The excellent development of characters can only be praised in this show.
What is also continued onto the second season of Big Little Lies is the stunning cinematography. Certainly, the light-blue landscape of the ocean and the sandy beaches is a retreat to the eyes and acts as the perfect contrast to the horrifying imagery of violence. To some of the characters, the sea becomes an escape from their daily struggles — the raging ocean produces a therapeutic effect on both the viewer and the characters. Paired with a pleasant soundtrack, the show does provide simple yet effective moments, where dialogue is often a third-wheel.
Nevertheless, in a show that is mostly built upon dialogue, the second season failed to deliver it in a more effective manner. There is no doubt that there were some strong lines and soliloquies that allowed the characters to open up to each other or the viewers, such as Bonnie opening up to her mother about the abuse she has experienced as a child. Season two provides Bonnie with more development and background, especially after several criticisms on her deserving “more” in the first season.
Yet, there were also moments which could have had a greater capacity to shock and/or evoke more emotion, such as Celeste’s revelation about Perry’s abuse by Mary Louise during trials. Perhaps, the placement of this revelation could have made a significant change and provided a greater outlet for the tension of the trials, as well as shock value for the viewers. Due to its poor-writing, the second season was more of a drama, than a mystery that the first season was — the strain of suspense was dissolved.
At times, the show seems to rely heavily on the delivery of the actors, especially with the casting of Meryl Streep in the second season. This does not undermine how the cast manages to perfectly convey all of the complicated emotions Big Little Lies strives to show: from grief to desolation to hope. The performance of the actors adds layers to the show, showing how underneath the perfect and privileged surface, each character faces a deeper struggle. This makes the show so realistic and gripping.
The second season of Big Little Lies does not fail to showcase another important message, though this time, it is done in a way that is less effective than season one. It is far not the first show to focus on a group of women and yet, its attention to character development and a deep look inside the characters’ feelings make it a show that is one of its kind.
Featured Image via HBO