Rating: 4 out of 5
Dramatic irony has become the essential foundation of modern television series. Since the original run of Twin Peaks in the early 90’s withholding crucial information from characters while revealing small details to the audience prior to that same knowledge being known to the protagonists has become a standard technique throughout this era of “peak” TV in which we have lived. For this reason, Big Little Lies, is an especially impressive show. There was absolutely no expectation for this show to work as well as it has into a second season, but with the introduction of a new character, and fresh hurdles for these five affluent and extremely guilty mothers to confront, Big Little Lies, once again demands that viewers will be sticking around until the end of another season.
If the whole first season was building toward the titular lie then season two deals with the ramifications of its impact upon the individuals who bear the burden of keeping secrets amongst a community of intense proximity. The showrunners still boast a credit from the writer of the novel Liane Moriarty. She David E. Kelley and newcomer to the series Matthew Tinker, alongside new director Andrea Arnold (replacing Sharp Objects director Jean Marc Vallée from the first season) manage to strengthen some of the first seasons weaknesses, but in the process fall prey to some of the same bad habits.
The addition of Meryl Streep to the drama is a brilliant maneuver. She relishes every second of being in Mary Louise Wright’s shoes, she is desperate, cunning, ultimately terrifying, considering her spawn and only more so as she continues to spiral in her commitment to her son’s innocence. Nicole Kidman persists in inhabiting one of televisions most fascinating characters in Celeste Wright as the relationship with her sons and their lineage grows increasingly dubious. Zoë Kravitz (Bonnie Carlson) is shown much more attention after her critical role in the final events of last season, her inner morals are so firm that the lie is insurmountable. Where the other women around her have just lived within their untruth for so long, either for survival or preservation, she has basked in honesty and openness which in retrospect was being subtly woven into her diminished presence in the prior season.
The only character that the writers seem to be confused by is Jane Chapman (Shailene Woody). She’s attempting dating again, which has potential as a colossally revelatory plotline (and occasionally is) but the writers seem content with keeping her floating in passive mode with a capital W “weird” hipster love interest the whole season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the hardships she and her son have faced but the only time they get to shine is during the scenes concerning her son Ziggy’s origins which does intertwine with Celeste and her efforts to rebuild her family unit in refreshing ways. Laura Dern’s Renata Klein is given some spotlight this season, she has some of the most fun of her whole career being an elite mother who is often more willing to sacrifice the latter part of that title than she is the former. The show does occasionally feel like it’s delaying consequences for certain characters which is why Klein’s and Madeleine Martha Mackenzie’s (Reese Witherspoon) narratives are continually progressing where Jane’s oscillates between stagnation and high drama.
The direction of this season more or less mimics that of the original, which isn’t necessarily terrible, it still has one of the most watchable title sequences on television and mirrors the previous version in thoughtful thematic ways. This show is perhaps so remarkable because of the leverage it has been able to exacerbate from the original premise. This is still a wildly entertaining, emotional and expertly crafted viewing experience. The actresses continue to work harder than many filmmakers, imbuing each moment with such attention to performance that it leaves the imagination to wonder what heights television can reach with this kind of casting and caliber of talent. One can only wonder.