Big Little Lies loves sweeping shots of its five main characters. That’s why the image of Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), Madeline Martha McKenzie (Reese Witherspoon), Renata Klein (Laura Dern), Bonnie Carlson (Zoe Kravitz), and Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) stomping down the beach is the most iconic shot of the show's famously gorgeous opening credits. And that’s why BLL ends its season 2 finale, “I Want to Know,” with the image of the Monterey Five striding through their California hometown once again as one unbreakable group.
Only this time, their power walk wasn’t headed to Monterey’s sandy surf. No, the final seconds of “Know” reveal Big Little Lies’ heroines are, after seven episodes of frantic subterfuge, about to confess the real way Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård) died. The scene should feel like a huge triumph, or, at least, a painful shock. Instead, the HBO drama’s last farewell gave off a familiar feeling — the same feeling viewers had earlier this year when blockbuster epic Game of Thrones wrapped its much-hyped eight seasons.
It was the feeling of betrayal.
The immediate problem with the Monterey Five’s imminent confession is that it negates all of the growth and success of the 45 minutes that come before it — aka the precise plot Big Little Lies has asked loyal viewers to care about. The back half of BLL season 2 is driven by Celeste's war against mother-in-law Mary Louise Wright (Meryl Streep in her fake-teethed glory) to retain custody of her twin boys Max and Josh (Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti).
Yes, Madeline may have been trying to salvage her relationship with estranged husband Ed (Adam Scott) following her affair, and Renata may have been trying to avoid not not being rich, but neither of those stories ever anchored an episode. Instead, they simply gave us relief from the emotional horrors of Celeste’s trial.
So, Celeste’s finale family court win should be the greatest victory of the season. Yet, the Monterey Five’s confession completely undoes it. If police do decide to send Celeste to prison for months-long obstruction of justice — and a far-reaching plot to cover up manslaughter or murder — Mary Louise is going to get the boys. If Celeste simply gets a slap on the wrist or a fine, Mary Louise still has a case to get the boys. Now Mary Louise can say, without a shadow of a doubt, Max and Josh’s mom broke multiple laws and colluded to protect the person who killed their dad.
If Big Little Lies always knew Mary Louise would get the kids, why did they make us care so very much about this inevitably pointless court battle? Was it to let us see Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman duke it out through tears and screams and slammed doors? Now those are perfect moments of acting that seem empty of plot.
The plot is the other glaring error in front of us. “I Want to Know” uses a montage to suggest all of season 2's complicated little threads have been wrapped up. Madeline and Ed renew their vows in a private ceremony for family only. Bonnie’s mom Elizabeth (Crystal Fox) dies, pushing Bonnie to tell the truth in all forms (sorry, Nathan, and congrats, Detective Quinlan). Renata holds her beloved daughter Amabella (Ivy George) after telling her husband it's over. Jane finally feels comfortable enough for sex with Corey (Douglas Smith).
Despite the finality of all these scenes, none of these storylines were genuinely given real closure. Madeline’s daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton) officiates the McKenzie ceremony, but we never learn if she’s going to go to college. Or, if Madeline has worked on her feelings of inadequacy around her own lack of a college degree. Renata has always been a woman of action — see: her rip through her husband's (Jeffrey Nordling) train room like Godzilla — so it’s odd that BLL gives us no suggestion of her next step to polar bear purchasing glory. And would she really put mothering Amabella at risk to confess to the lie?
Bonnie suffers from disregard the most. While her scenes of grief with Elizabeth are some of season 2’s best, we’re left with so many questions. What do her and Elizabeth's bedside trinkets mean? Why did her mother see her drowning? Between that premonition, the many repeated images of Bonnie tossing herself into the surf, and those suspicious shots of Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge, BLL wanted us to believe Bonnie was in real mortal danger. However, Bonnie’s finale decision to confess appears to be the first time we see her navigating through her guilt rather than drowning in it. That means all those foreboding shots weren't foreshadowing, they were a fake out.
In total, Big Little Lies feels like a fake out when we were promised a smorgasbord of gutting drama and high acting (the high acting did still come through). At least we can walk away from the controversy-plagued series, which isn’t expected to return, knowing characters didn’t get full personality changes overnight — unlike some fellow HBO shows. In fact, Renata hopping on the back of a dragon and burning down all of Monterey Bay would have made more sense.