It’s finally time. After two years, HBO’s smash hit Big Little Lies returns for its second season on June 9. The entire OG cast of Monterey characters is back, plus one new notable addition. Yup, we’re talking about Meryl—and she’s going to make you scream.
We last left Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Renata (Laura Dern), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Celeste (Nicole) and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) after they had—spoiler alert—accidentally killed Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård). It was a moment that had been building across all seven episodes, as the audience slowly learned that the clean-cut Mr. Wright was actually a monster who had a history of violently abusing women, including Celeste and Jane.
Season 2, based on a novella by Big Little Lies book author Liane Moriarty, picks up shortly after Perry’s death, so guilt, grief and denial are still fresh for each of the women. In the aftermath of the “accident,” Perry’s mother Mary Louise Wright (Meryl Streep) has moved in with Celeste and her twins and as she makes very clear, she is not in town to make friends. She’s determined to find out what happened to her son.
To be honest, I was convinced that Big Little Lies needed to end after Season 1. It felt like a complete story. There was tension, intrigue and a conclusion that felt satisfying in a way that made me wary about Season 2 trying to continue this narrative. But I’ll admit it: I was wrong. With the additional of Streep, it becomes clear that while the first season of Big Little Lies was heralded for its portrayal of realities of sexual assault and domestic abuse, it was missing a key component that so many women face: doubt. Though there were numerous secrets that were unearthed in the first season, once the truth came out, the women all believed each other wholeheartedly. They didn’t question whether Jane was telling the truth after learning when she told them about her rape. They didn’t ask what she was wearing or call it an “affair.” They didn’t question her child’s paternity.
At one point, Mary Louise says, “I can’t surrender to this notion that [Perry] was evil. I just do so want to believe that there was good in him.” And that? Is basically her character in a nutshell. She has a blinding belief that her son was a standup guy who could not have possibly have subjected Celeste to years of brutal violence or raped Jane. If he was her good, handsome, successful son, he couldn’t possibly have done these bad things. No, these women must be mistaken. (Are you screaming yet?)
Full disclaimer: I’ve only seen the first three episodes of Big Little Lies‘s second season, but so far, Mary Louise offers a complication to this story that is as infuriating as it is real. “We have multiple generations in the show and it kind of talks about different waves of feminism and how different women feel about the response to a loved one being accused of a crime,” Witherspoon told Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.
The divide she is referencing has been observed and analyzed by several think pieces since the resurgence of the #MeToo movement. Many point to a schism between millennials and baby boomers and how these different generations think about, understand and talk about sexual abuse. (For instance, asking women who found themselves in dangerous situations “why didn’t you just leave,” versus understanding that it’s not always that simple—a scene which literally plays out in Big Little Lies Season 2.) And these differing perspectives, at least in my experience, often translate into tense dinner conversations as we attempt to reach across the generational divide while also reaching for the broccoli. With Perry gone, Mary Louise is a new threat to the Monterey Five, but in a way that is sickeningly sweet, manipulative and eerily familiar. Think Professor Umbridge but HBO.
The cast of Big Little Lies has talked about how this show, and its all-female lead cast, brings audiences into the lives and experiences of women, as told by the women themselves. With the addition of Streep, the show expands that representation across generations, perspectives and experiences.
So while I truly didn’t think Big Little Lies could get better, it did. And that’s the real truth.
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