This article contains mild plot spoilers for episodes 1-6 of Big Little Lies season 2 but not the season finale.
Remember all the promo for Big Little Lies season 2? It was all about the names – those big, starry, expensive names: KIDMAN. WITHERSPOON. WOODLEY. KRAVITZ. DERN. And STREEP. But for all the bluster and boasting about the cast, BLL season 2 got off to a bit of a stuttering start.
Kidman’s Celeste was taking Ambien, driving like Daisy in The Great Gatsby, going to torturous sessions with her therapist and playing nice with her mother-in-law. Ed (Adam Scott) found out about Madeline's (Reese Witherspoon) affair but frankly it was hard to care, because who was invested in her marriage to Steady Eddie from the start? Then there was Bonnie (played by the too-beautiful-for-words Zoë Kravitz), who had SFA to do for the first four episodes except slump around looking sultry in various knitwear. Bonnie’s marriage was on the rocks too but again, who gives a fig when there’s no chemistry between her and whatshisname to begin with? I mean, when she was demonstrating suicidal tendencies all he did was buy her a treadmill, for god's sake.
Throughout the first episodes, I really struggled with Bonnie’s criminally underwritten storyline. Later, when we find out via a series of janky flashbacks that she was abused as a child by her alcoholic mother while her father stood by and did nothing, the whole thing feels melodramatic, shoehorned into the plot and altogether hard to swallow. Thankfully, Kravitz is given some acting to do in episodes 5 and 6 but she’s woefully underutilised throughout.
Now a treadmill-related digression, if you'll permit. Both Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Bonnie do a lot of running in BLL. Nothing wrong with that, I just wish Hollywood writers would stop using the trope of women running (while looking sexy) along isolated tracks or beaches because they are too goddamn lazy to write real scenes with dialogue where women express their anger and frustration through words. (See also: silently drinking whisky/vodka at home alone which not one person I know ever does, and/or fucking strangers in seedy bars, which in all fairness I do know a few people who have done but is so common on screen you'd think it happens down the local pub every night of the week.)
To be honest, Big Little Lies season 2 felt as flat and cold as a witch’s titty until over halfway through. And it's because of this that I'm extra grateful for the fire and fury that is Renata Klein (Laura Dern).
Dern stole the season and every scene she was in (even the one when her character gets outplayed by wolf-in-mutton's-clothing Mary Louise Wright, played by BLL newcomer Streep). From the ill-fated disco party for Amabella (which of course was really for Renata), to the masterclass in passive/aggressive behaviour when her assistant tells her that her 'Women in Power' magazine shoot has been pulled after she threatens her "genius"' child's teacher on the first day of term lest he give her the attention she deserves, to grudgingly handing over her Rolex when her family goes bankrupt – Renata manages to amalgamate everything society hates in women: ruthless ambition, pushy parenting, unveiled materialism. And that makes it all the more delicious to watch. Yes, she's vile at (most) times, loses her rag daily and has zero time for what Azealia Banks would call her "2% milk" excuse for a husband, Gordon – but in our fake news world, at least we know what we’re getting with Renata. It's better than someone (like Madeline) pissing on your leg and telling you it’s raining.
Maybe my love of Renata is in part due to my stanning of Laura Dern herself. She's the kind of person I want to go for a drink with IRL. Sure, Reese would reel you in with all that apple-pie down-home Southern charm, but she'd be asking her assistant for hand sanitiser the minute your back was turned, and Nicole probably only drinks bee venom or whatever her surgeon tells her to. Dern, whose personal Twitter account (she often tweets as Renata) has been a joy throughout the show, would be able to dish on David Lynch, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and Jurassic Park.
There were some lovely twists in season 2, I'll give BLL that. For example, the last scene in episode 5 ("Kill Me"), when Bonnie spots Corey leaving the police station. Then there was the no-one-saw-it-coming beauty with Renata and Gordy’s put-upon nanny, which I won't ruin for anyone who hasn’t seen episode 6 ("The Bad Mother") but is très juicy and brings us to my fave Renata moment.
In the penultimate episode, Renata, queen of freaking out in cars, screams an expletive-ridden rant not to be repeated here but which, I can assure you, contains 13 variations on a word that begins with F and ends with a visceral shriek that has been uttered by women throughout history, from Cleopatra to Boudicca to Joan of Arc to Sadie Frost: "THE FUCKING NANNY??"
Point is – without Renata, BLL season 2 would have been rather underwhelming, and even with her bombast it struggled. It suffered from a stolid script at times. There were way too many jarring flashbacks. There was Nicole's patchy accent. And while I’m at it, the soundtrack is overrated too. There, I said it.
The finale aired in the US last night but most viewers here can watch it tonight and there are lots of questions to be answered: who will crack? Will Mary Louise get custody of the kids? Which of the doomed Monterey marriages will survive? Is Corey a cop? But really, all I want to know is: when is Renata getting a spinoff show?
Big Little Lies season 2, episode 7 airs on Sky Atlantic tonight at 9pm and on Now TV.