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Big Little Lies: Season 2 - Final episode review

Big Little Lies

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IF THE penultimate episode of Big Little Lies’ sophomore season delivered, arguably, the finest episode of the series to date, then the climax still managed to bring things to a highly satisfying, albeit ambiguous, note.

There were fireworks, as promised. There was closure, of sorts. But while the creators went into the season insisting that this was the final one, there were still questions that could be answered should that decision be revisited.

If not, then we can only assume that those loose ends, or questions, were designed to be evocative of the complexity of life in general, where things aren’t necessarily tied up neatly.

Certainly, this has been a recurring theme of the second season. For where some dramas may have decided to end with the bad guy getting his comeuppance, as Alexander Skarsgard’s abusive husband and rapist Perry did at the end of season one. This second set of episodes opted to look at the aftermath of that.

The scars left by Perry ran deep throughout. Lives had been changed and, in most cases, irreparably damaged. There were no easy answers, no false emotions. Grief, anger, guilt and uncertainty reigned supreme. True, there was hope. But even that flickered come the episode’s final moments, as the Monterey Five united in solidarity with Zoe Kravitz’s emotionally shattered Bonnie to go and confess their lie.

The consequences of that, for each of them, is something we may never get to find out.

But rather than dwelling on what we didn’t learn, let’s celebrate what we did. Throughout its second run, Big Little Lies dealt with some big themes in an adult manner. It was knowingly complex emotionally, refusing to offer up any particular big bad, but rather examining the emotional consequence of abuse and rape, as well as bad parenting.

Meryl Streep shone, as she so often does. But where some were anticipating a big reveal, this merely turned the screw and posed suggestions. Her showdown with Nicole Kidman’s Celeste was powerful and emotionally wrought. But it was kept realistic, rather than showy.

The only niggle was the last minute discovery, by Celeste, of video footage revealing the true extent of Perry’s physical abuse towards her, as uncovered [and recorded] by her two sons. It was one of those contrived moments that belied an otherwise excellent screenplay, especially in light of how often the series had shown Celeste and her kids viewing the numerous clips they had of their ‘happy family’.

Minor niggle aside, this didn’t detract from the battle of wits between Celeste and Louise, especially once Celeste had thrown her mother-in-law off guard by bringing up the car accident that killed Perry’s brother when they were children – an accident caused by Louise’s anger, which led to her blaming Perry for the tragedy that ensued.

Could it be that Louise also abused Perry? Did she kick him? Did she punch him? Was Perry’s abusiveness the direct result of the abuse he suffered? While Louise shouted ‘liar’, the seeds of doubt had been sewn.

Louise continued to exist in a state of denial, even once presented with the horrific footage. For while she couldn’t deny the extent or horror of Perry’s abuse, she continued to question Celeste’s wellbeing and suitability as a mother, as well as the extent of his rape of Jane (Shailene Woodley).

Only then, did Louise veer towards pantomime villain. But the episode kept pulling itself back from the melodramatic brink.

Post-courtroom victory, Celeste struck a blow for compassion and forgiveness when she sent her two sons to hug Louise. It was a subtle, but hugely emotional gesture. And it imbued an ongoing messy situation with a sense of hope.

And it was no less than central characters deserved. They had learnt lessons, even if they were still dealing with the repercussions of their failures.

Hence, Kidman’s Celeste (a continually towering performance) found the ability to emerge stronger and more confident as a woman and a mother, Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline ceased to be quite so irritating and was given a second chance by her husband (the continually excellent Adam Scott), and Laura Dern’s Renata finally broke off the shackles and lashed out at her selfish husband, even if she remained prone to moments of high hysteria herself.

Jane finally opened herself up to the possibility of love (both physically and emotionally) and looked best placed to lead a ‘happy’ life, while Bonnie finally gained some kind of closure with her mother, while allowing herself a level of honesty that she had never been able to reach before. Hence, her last act confession to her husband of never actually loving him, and the final decision to hand herself in to police.

If that decision brought with it a certain uncertainty for viewers, which ended things on a bittersweet, even frustrating note, there was still no denying the brilliance of this second series. It remained true to its complex realism until the very end, refusing to find ‘pat’ solutions or ‘feel-good’ denouements that ultimately felt false.

Viewed from a distance, Big Little Lies has been a genuine event series, worthy of the stature and talent of everyone involved. It will rightly be regarded as an all-time classic.