Last week’s Big Little Lies premiere was a reintroduction to all the moms of Monterey, CA. By the end of it, secrets were still safe and the biggest showdown was between Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) and Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon). So far, Mary Louise is in the lead, insult-wise. Episode 2, “Tell-Tale Hearts,” reminds us of why we are all here. In part to love-hate these privileged women with their Telsas and perfect highlights (not so perfect bangs), but also to examine the inner-workings of a woman’s mind. The best moments in Big Little Lies happen when it shines a bright light on their dark and lurid private lives, exposing their complexities.
Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is a survivor — as is Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), as is Renata (Laura Dern), as is Jane (Shailene Woodley), as is Madeline, as is Mary Louise. Each of them is surviving something different, and trudging through it for their children, all the same. The heartbreak and sacrifice that all mothers face is deeply examined in this episode, especially with the introduction of Bonnie’s mom. Elizabeth Howard (Crystal Fox) comes to Monterey at the request of her flailing husband Nathan (James Tupper), and causes ripples throughout the town that makes viewers ask: Are the grandmas the most dramatic — and dangerous — moms of them all?
Bonnie fawnlike behavior is amplified with her mom, Elizabeth, around. She keeps a physical distance from her and shies away from her touch. It’s a telling reaction, especially considering Bonnie’s job (yoga instructor, which comes with an appreciation for touch and compassion) and her relationship with her daughter, Skye (Chloe Coleman) which is — at least was, before the murder — intimate and soft. But Bonnie doesn’t express that warmth towards Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is intense, superstitious, and no bullshit. She calls out Bonnie for living in a white-washed world. “I haven’t seen one other black person since I got here,” she tells her during a hike. “Something’s in the air Bonnie, and I don’t like it.” Later over dinner, where we learn that Elizabeth used to be an alcoholic (did she do or say things that Bonnie still hasn’t recovered from?). Elizabeth also tells her that she knows the exact moment that Bonnie changed: “the night of that student gala where the man died.” Elizabeth doesn’t blame her daughter for being depressed or detached. She blames Nathan. “I’m here because you are ill-equipped to talk to your wife,” she tells him point blank, to his utter shock. (He’s so dense.) She’s also here to warn her daughter about the nightmares she’s been having. (Is everyone in Monterey having nightmares?) “It’s gonna get us,” she tells her daughter. In the nightmare, she says, she sees someone drowning.
Bonnie evades her mother’s questions and builds her walls even higher. She ends up kicking her mom out of their house after she finds a crystal and an animal bone by her bed, placed there by her mom while she was sleeping. (Sweet or creepy? Jury’s still out.)
Is Elizabeth’s vision foreshadowing another actual death? Or is it a symbolic message that as these women are drowning in their own lies, and secrets?
“Down by the river, I shot my baby…,” Those are the lyrics playing as Celeste crashes her car into a highway railing early one morning before school. The Neil Young ballad is yet another reference to an ominous body of water and death — specifically, murder. After the crash, she’s okay physically after the crash, but mentally and emotionally damaged.
Celeste can barely open up to her friends and therapist, and certainly not her mother-in-law, without feeling waves of guilt and confusion wash over her. The walls are closing in on her. Her sons, Max (Nicholas Crovetti) and Josh (Cameron Crovetti), are starting to get more violent, Mary Louise is starting to get more suspicious, and Madeline isn’t always going to be around to take care of her when she takes Ambien and goes full zombie.
It all reaches an emotional and volatile head when Celeste tries to pull the twins apart and Max smacks her. Her reflex, after years of suffering under the hand of Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), is to push him away. An animalistic cry comes out of her: “You will not be like him!” The encounter is less than 30 seconds long, but it’s chilling. I gasped when I first watched it. She immediately embraces him and apologizes, but Mary Louise sees, and hears, it all.
During one of the multiple confrontations between Celeste and Mary Louise, we learn that Perry’s brother died in an accident which means Mary Louise has now tragically lost two sons, and she seems to be husbandless as well, which means she is fully devoted to finding out what really happened to Perry. We also learn that the Wright family always referred to Celeste as an “enigma.” The word feels pointed, especially since Celeste is shrouded in secrecy. But Mary Louise wants to crack her right open — and she does, revealing that she knows that Perry had another child; a child in the twins’ second grade class. Celeste clarifies that it was not an affair; it was rape. “Your son wasn’t an innocent man,” she tells Mary Louise. The conversation escalates in a way that is likely triggering to anyone who has experienced any form of assault. Celeste tells Mary Louise that Perry used to beat her, but because of a lack of police evidence, Mary Louise doesn’t believe her. Celeste blames Perry, she says, but also herself for acting aggressively at times. Her only moment of clarity about her abusive situations comes during a therapy session when Celeste imagines Perry beating Madeline — only then does she realize how truly terribly he was to her.
A key flashback also adds more color to the Perry-Celeste situation. The two are at a dimly-lit bar, and she’s revealing that she has no siblings, her mother has died, and she’s not close with her dad. “I’m going to have you all to myself,” she tells her. In the memory, it feels like a seduction, but now it sounds like a threat.
Madeline Martha Mackenzie
At the beginning of the episode, Madeline comes to Celeste’s rescue after the Ambien mishap but, by the end of the episode, it’s Madeline who needs help sleeping at night. In between being insulted by Mary Louise, looking out for Celeste, comforting Renata, and making Abigail (Kathryn Newton) move back into her house, there’s been very little time for and attention paid to her husband, Ed (Adam Scott). She’s also been ignoring her other daughter Chloe (Darby Camp) by my count, and it all backfires when it turns out Chloe is better at more than just making a playlist — she’s a budding busy body. Chloe is the one who told Max, Josh, and Ziggy (Iain Armitage) that they are all related after overhearing her mother talk on the phone. Madeline is livid, but not as nearly as upset as she is when Abigail mentions her affair with the theater teacher loud enough for Ed to hear.
In one afternoon, Ed finds out that Madeline has been keeping a child-sized secret from him (Ziggy), and that she had an affair with the local theater teacher. Madeline apologizes and suggests therapy (Celeste knows someone), but Ed doesn’t sleep in their bed that night.
Jane was just getting into the groove of things with her surfer boy (can’t wait to see their awkward but endearing “pre” date happen) when things come crashing down. After she learns that Ziggy’s known about his real dad for months, Jane feels guilty, but uses the opportunity to come clean about the real story. Is there a right time or age or situation to tell a child a story like this? No. But Janes decides that it is now, in his small bed with her holding him close. First Ziggy tells her what he knows (“Chloe said he gave you salt. That’s how I happened. He salted you.”), and then Jane fills in the gaps. When she tells Celeste that she told Ziggy about Perry’s violence, Celeste is angry, but understands. The two host a tiny family gathering — sans Mary Louise — and introduce the boys to each other not just as classmates, but as brothers. Ziggy’s little wave to his new extended family made my heart grow three sizes.
I’d also like to note that it is incredibly realistic that Bonnie and Jane would form a quiet alliance together. They’re both the youngest and most private of the bunch, and find that they can exercise and hang out in comfortable silence, only exchanging light gossip.
Renata FUCKING Klein. This woman is a triathlete when it comes to rage.
Moments after gloating over scoring the cover of the biggest women’s publication in the country, Renata’s life comes crumbling down. (Quick moment of silence for her full Gucci athleisure look, from the fanny pack to the shameless Gucci print leggings.) Gordon, who we saw moping around the Klein residence, knocking back whiskey and playing with toy trains, gets arrested by the FBI for security fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud. He tells his wife that everything is gone — including her fortune. (Amabella’s fortune is safe because it’s in a trust.)
But, frankly, Renata doesn’t give a damn. She’s a CEO! A woman with a power pose, for God’s sake! “Gordon. I’m not gonna not be rich,” she tells him, softly at first. Then, the reality of the situation sets: “I WILL NOT NOT BE RICH!!!!!!!” she screams. You see, we learn that Renata does not come from money. “This fucker put me back in the hole,” she vents to Madeline (how far their relationship has come!) She’s taken back to her childhood, when she had nothing and was poor. Not only that, but the feds have confiscated all their laptops, iPads, emails to build their case against her husband. Hopefully there aren’t any suspicious group texts for the local police to get their hands on.
Once Gordon’s out on bail after pleading not guilty, Renata explains the full extent of her hatred for him after he tries to blame his criminal actions on her. Renata’s slowly losing control of her life and she doesn’t fucking like it.
Gordon’s a criminal. Nathan’s a narcissist. Ed’s getting his ears checked. And surfer boy is the only pure, innocent weirdo in all of Monterey.
-I feel like Mary Louise is about to bring her Big Mom Energy straight to the police department and tell them she thinks Celeste helped kill her son.
-This new teacher is about to get a lot of good gossip out of the kids if he keeps up his kiddie therapist shtick. Okay, not shitck, he seems sweet, but he needs to be careful or he’s going to hear a secret too big to keep.
-Detective Quinlan is pulling some strings. She was there when Gordon was arrested, she is following Bonnie around, and she has all of Renata’s devices. What does she know...and what is she about to learn?
-What’s going on with Bonnie’s dad? He shows up at dinner and talks over her mom, but mostly sits there in brooding silence. There’s a story there. Plus, Bonnie’s mom very pointedly says, “What did you do this time?” when asking what her daughter’s problem is. What has Bonnie done before?
-A new feud has emerged: Nathan v. Ed. Can all their confrontations take place while they’re each holding cappuccino? It’s wonderfully pretentious.
-Speaking of coffee, I’m still wondering: WHERE IS LATTE GUY TOM?