Film & TV

Back to School Blues: "Big Little Lies" Season 2 Premiere Recap

The second season of the HBO drama seeks to unravel the bonds of The Monterey Five.
Reading time 4 minutes
Shailene Woodley plays Jane, a single mom hoping to put down roots in Monterey, California.

Warning: This article contains (big and little) spoilers.


Big Little Lies has returned to HBO, taking Game of Thrones’ coveted Sunday night slot to update viewers on the five mothers dealing with the aftermath of an impromptu murder. Although the first season showed the Californian matriarchs’ journey towards an unlikely friendship, summer vacation, residual trauma, and grief have driven a wedge between them once again. Before they have a moment to slide back into a routine, Celeste’s mother-in-law Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) has arrived from San Francisco to help raise her grandsons, never missing an opportunity to bring up Perry’s unfortunate end.

Back to School

With three months of near silence between them, Madeline, Jane, Celeste, Bonnie, and Renata wind up back in the carpool line, ready to take their children into the second grade. Madeline is neurotic as ever, feeling heightened scrutiny from her peers not just from the events of the fundraiser but also the day-to-day mommy gossip: Has she gained weight? Has she gotten old? Her maternal anxieties ramp into overdrive as her daughter Abigail readies herself for the college process; Madeline never attended college, and her heavy involvement in the Monterey community places her in the company of some of the most powerful working women in California. This is not a recipe for healthy mother-daughter relations.

Jane embraces the first day back with a more carefree attitude, having vindicated Ziggy from the harmful bullying rumors, and Renata is in full force cozying up to the new second-grade teacher, insisting that her daughter’s “genius” I.Q. will need special attention. Although the feud between Renata and Madeline seems to be over, they certainly haven’t become friends overnight, and Renata is far from forgetting her daughter’s bullying. Still, she can find some solace posing in cover shoots at her beachfront home.

The women now known as "The Monterey Five."

Love & Loss

Both Celeste and Bonnie have been more directly impacted from the fall, and while Celeste has maintained ties with Madeline and Jane through her widowship, Bonnie’s guilt has withdrawn her from friends and family. Unable to speak to anyone about her condition, she closes up and rejects Madeline’s offer of friendship, partially blaming her for covering up the incident as an accident in the first place.

Celeste’s grieving process does not have the luxury of privacy, as her mother-in-law keeps a watchful and probing eye over her family affairs. Celeste encounters night terrors—both lustful, guilt-ridden, and horrifying—stemming from her domestic abuse. To Mary Louise, she must mourn a strong and supportive husband. To her friends and therapist, she is finally free from the grip of an abuser. Mary Louise’s parenting style to her two boys offers some insight into Perry’s own upbringing, with her at times enforcing much-needed order, and other times inciting chaos with an ill-founded remark (or a primal scream at the dinner table.) It will be interesting to see how far her character goes in unraveling the secrets these five women are committed to keeping, and whether her presence will allow Celeste to shake off the lasting pain from her tumultuous marriage.


What’s to Come

While last season centered on Madeline’s frenzied personal missions, the second season will no doubt hone in further on Celeste and her mother-in-law, with Meryl Streep delivering a biting, unhinged portrait of a suspicious woman in grief. Her first encounter with Madeline has already set up a fire-and-ice rivalry between the two women, as Mary Louise immediately casts doubt on the supposed accident and conveys her long-held distrust of short people. Jane has also found out that they are all part of the notorious “Monterey Five,” ensuring she will never have an inconspicuous year in Monterey. Whether they like it or not, these women are bound together, even if they seem fragmented. The question is whether they’ll sink or float.

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