Follow Us on Twitter

Big Little Lies: Season 2 (The Bad Mother) - Review

Big Little Lies, Bad Mother

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

THE penultimate episode of Big Little Lie‘s sophomore season served up an emotionally compelling, often uncomfortable but supremely skilful lesson in how to write and perform great drama.

There were times when it felt difficult to watch the women of this episode being put through the wringer. But one thing’s for sure, the dream-like existence that viewers first witnessed way back in the opening episodes of the show’s first run, has now turned into a nightmare for just about everyone concerned.

Lives have been irreparably damaged. The fallout is horribly engrossing.

The two main players at the heart of The Bad Mother were Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz).

For Celeste, in particular, the episode proved particularly challenging. Now faced with a court case brought by her mother-in-law (Meryl Streep’s Mary Louise) aimed at taking away her two sons, Kidman’s ‘struggling’ widow and mother was put on the stand.

Her chief tormentor on this occasion was Mary Louise’s lawyer Ira Farber (Denis O’Hare), whose questioning seemed designed to ensnare Celeste as both an unfit mum and a murderer.

A graphic cast doubt on her late husband, Perry’s, ‘accidental slip and fall’, by suggesting that more force had been used, hence the positioning of the body.

Photos, meanwhile, displayed a trail of one night stands designed to showcase Celeste’s dangerous lifestyle: her addiction to rough sex, to danger.

Hence, while it was readily acknowledged that she had been in an abusive relationship with Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), had she ever hit him first? Did his beatings often lead to sex? Was it pleasurable? Had she ever hit or been rough with her children? Had she ever been violent towards Mary Louise (the slap that drew so many gasps a couple of episodes earlier)?

Kidman, visibly shaken, did her best to navigate the storm. But the hits kept on coming, along with the level of Mary Louise’s deception. She had hired a private eye to collect evidence against her. She had amassed each maternal slip as evidence to corroborate her play for her son’s children.

And yet, the skill in the writing comes to the fore here. Mary Louise is, in essence, just doing what any mother might. True, her son is a known rapist and wife beater. But she has continually refused to believe this was a situation entirely of Perry’s own making. Surely, he couldn’t be that evil? Was he goaded into rape? Did Celeste actually enjoy the violence?

Mary Louise is no pantomime villain. She’s manipulative and untrustworthy, for sure. But thus far, when considering her moves rationally, she could still be acting in her grandchildren’s best interests. Everything she accused Celeste of doing was true, after all.

It’s this moral grey area that makes Big Little Lies so compelling. There is no easy answer; no easy out and no quick redemption. Bad – even evil – acts may get punished, but the fallout remains. The impact never goes away.

Celeste continues to live in the shadow of her abuse. When the judge (Becky Ann Baker) asked her to explain what is “going on” with the one night stands, she was forced to assert that they were designed as a move to push Perry further away, not to re-engage with the same kind of masochistic behaviour.

And yet, in those breathtakingly honest moments, Celeste had been exposed and exploited by both Mary Louise and the system. It showed why so many victims are afraid to come forward. Celeste was forced to relive her darkest hours, unprotected. She was being judged.

Which, in turn, made her last act turnaround so surprising. Her decision to take the fight directly to Mary Louise and put her on the stand (in next week’s finale) may prove a folly. And, indeed, has been warned as such by the judge. But why shouldn’t Mary Louise be subject to the same kind of scrutiny.

And, by doing so, are we finally going to discover the reasons why Perry became the man he was?

By contrast, Bonnie’s journey was much more internal and private: sometimes only imagined. Clearly unravelling and consumed by guilt, she is clearly building to her inevitable moment of confession.

Indeed, she imagined it several times. Just as she imagined smothering her mother. But in perhaps one of the most brutally honest scenes of the entire series, she chose to first ‘confess’ to her semi-conscious mother (still virtually comatose in the wake of her stroke).

And in two minutes of searing honesty, Bonnie’s life struggles became painfully clear. She, too, had been abused, emotionally and sometimes physically. And with that came a lifelong feeling of inadequacy, of low self-esteem and of resentment.

As Bonnie read out the charges, her mother’s crimes became worse. And then, finally, came the big one: “And most of all, I resent you for killing a man… When I lunged at him, I was pushing you.” In a second, the surprise of seeing Bonnie push Perry to his death suddenly made sense.

And if there was any doubt as to whether her mother would ever hear that confession, the camera panned to the other side of her face, where a single tear was rolling down her cheek. For Bonnie, it was mission painfully accomplished. For her mother, closure of sorts.

And therein lies another of this season’s great strengths. As much as season two has dealt with the aftermath of abuse and of rape [of crime] in as emotionally authentic a fashion as possible, it has also shone a light on the darker side of parenting… of just how much children can be screwed up by their mothers and fathers.

The line between being too strict or too soft is always a fine one to walk for any parent. But the dangers of getting it wrong are vividly realised here. What we, as adults, do during our child’s formative years can, in turn, inform their lifetime. And, in turn, can continue to filter down generations if those children aren’t strong enough to correct the wrongs of their own upbringing.

The Bad Mother of this episode’s title functioned on so many levels, but never more so than for Bonnie’s complicated history with her mother, and for Celeste’s turbulent present. It served to highlight just how complex life’s journey can be… and just how hard and unfair.

And it also begged one more question: is the bad, or even worst mother yet to be unveiled? Will Celeste have her day in court and finally reveal Mary Louise to be the architect [inadvertently or not] of so much of the Monterey Five’s misery?

Only time will tell, of course. But we can’t wait to find out.