Big Little Lies has returned for a second season, and unfortunately, it fails to reach the height of the first season in almost every regard. The first season boasts a fantastic story, great mystery, thrilling tension and incredible A-list performances through its entire seven-episode run. It leaves things in an interesting place for a second season, which drops the ball from the first episode.
Big Little Lies season two tackles the aftermath of the death of Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård), the arrival of his mother to town, and all of the various other character-specific conflicts and drama subplots affecting all of the main cast.
I’ll kick things off with the highlight of this series and the reason all (or most) people continued to tune in every week. The performances from the entire lead cast are phenomenal, undeniably some of the best performances on TV right now. All of Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley are mesmerising throughout the entire season. All of their characters are going through a tonne of emotional turmoil, and they put that on full display through their strong performances. Nicole Kidman delivers a performance filled with pain, both physical and emotional, and pulls it off with ease across every scene. Laura Dern’s character is like a ticking time bomb this season and she displays the gradual building of anger and rage phenomenally well.
Shailene Woodley delivers a strong and raw emotional performance outlined by her character’s experiences and revelations from last season. Then there’s Reese Witherspoon who plays a slightly more subdued version of Madeline and you get to learn a little more about what’s making her tick. Zoë Kravitz I liked this season, but didn’t love as much of the rest. Not only did her personal story carry the least amount of emotional weight, but her performance is somewhat eclipsed by the rest of the cast. She’s still good, just doesn’t stand out as well.
Speaking of standing out, the addition of Meryl Streep to this season as Mary Louise Wright is just about the single best decision the show-runners could have made. Meryl is a masterclass, one of the greatest actors to ever live, and she shines in basically every single scene in this season. Her interactions with Nicole Kidman, especially in the last few episodes of the season, are beyond incredible and are where the season is at its peak.
Where the performances are the highlight of the season, they still cant save it entirely from the slow, dragging and unexciting story that pans out over these seven episodes. From the get-go it’s clear this season is going to be a slow one, now that’s fine, but when your season is seven episodes long and five of those episodes are used for setup it gets pretty boring at times. It becomes clear a couple episodes in what the main story and the main conflict is going to be in this season. It takes so long to really get to the meat of that story that everything before it, in the lead-up, feels painfully slow. The performances are great no doubt, they keep you watching, but you just want something significant to happen and it takes a while.
Season one was great when it came to ramping up the drama and building to a final two episodes that pay off with everything that has been set up before it. This season fails to build any tension or excitement that gets you wanting to see next week’s episode. The wait to the next episode was never really one of anticipation which tells you a lot about how much this story engages you. Now, where the initial five episodes are pretty dull with only a couple of brief scenes to enjoy, the last two episodes are actually quite good.
This is where the main story really kicks into gear and delivers what you know is coming at some point from early on. It’s dramatic, it’s intense, it’s emotional, it’s everything this entire season should have been, packed into two episodes. These are the episodes where Meryl and Nicole shine the brightest and their back and forth interactions are riveting. These are the powerful scenes they’d extract for those Emmy clips. Considering how good these last two episodes are, it’s a shame the rest of the season couldn’t live up to that level… at least then I could say it is good.
I will commend the season for how it injects some brief moment of humour and levity into the story as the majority of the content is emotionally heavy and hard-hitting. There are a handful of nice, cute and funny little moment spread throughout that capture some of the fun that was had in season one. But, as with the drama and the emotion, it all never reaches the heights achieved by the first season.
Big Little Lies season two is a major disappointment, to say the least, as the story doesn’t catch on until the last two episodes. The rest of the time it drags and ventures into boring territory as none of the character subplots are strong enough to carry the episodes. The performances are what keep you watching as they’re phenomenal across the board. Meryl Streep’s performance is the best thing in this season and probably worth sitting through just for that. I can’t say I’m excited about a potential third season as I don’t see it recovering from this point.