Previously: Wig Little Lies: Renata Will Not NOT Be Rich!
After a shaky yet satisfying Season 2 premiere and last week’s plot- and twist-heavy shitstorm, Big Little Lies delivered some truly gag-worthy acting in its third episode, “The End of the World.”
Things have slowed down a bit since Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) told their kids the truth about their dad, since Madeline’s (Reese Witherspoon) husband found out about her affair, since Bonnie’s (Zoë Kravitz) mother came to visit and did some questionable voodoo shit, and since Renata (Laura Dern) demanded a moment. Now we’re dealing with the aftermath of all that draaaaammmmmaaaaa. And, in turn, we’re getting some fantastic dramatic performances. Let’s gush at our favorites.
1. Madeline and Celeste’s Minivan of Feelings
Perhaps Big Little Lies’s greatest draw is how it balances broad, crowd-pleasing melodrama with exquisite moments of tour de force acting—thanks to a cast that is more than up to the task. What an absolute joy it is to just watch Witherspoon and Kidman hanging out in a car together. The quiet moments they have are some of the show’s most affecting.
Madeline has just started couples therapy with Celeste’s therapist, but she’s skeptical and is able to open up, be honest, and be vulnerable only with Celeste.
Meanwhile, Celeste’s guilt over Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgård) death is so richly complex—on the one hand, he was an abusive husband who raped another woman and fathered her child, but on the other he’s the father of her own children and the man she loved. Her admission that she believes she was a better mother with him is nothing short of heartbreaking.
2. Jane vs. Mary Louise
The Legend of Meryl Streep truly began with 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, in which she plays what, in any lesser actress’ hands, would’ve been a despicable character—a mother who’s abandoned her child.
It’s a small role, but Streep was able to humanize her, make you empathize with her. Mary Louise can be monstrous, but at her core she’s a grieving mother who wants to believe the best of her dead son against mounting evidence to the contrary.
Then there’s Jane. I came into the first season of Big Little Lies not knowing much about Shailene Woodley, but I was continuously surprised by her. This season, the surprises keep coming. Just look at how the emotions run across her face as Mary Louise intones about how good and sweet her son, Jane’s attacker, was as a child.
It’s subtle, but it speaks volumes.
3. Chipping Away at Renata
It’s pretty obvious Laura Dern is having a blast playing Renata Klein.
She gets to go bigger and broader than all the women. This episode, however, we saw some of Renata’s defenses coming down as Amabella begins to show signs of stress—in part, from the secret Renata’s hiding.
Renata hasn’t stood still this entire season: She’s too busy being a fucking woman in power, but she’s even more busy running away from the truth.
It’s only when her husband calls her out for building her defenses back up—the same defenses he worked so hard to chip away at—that Renata comes back down to reality and stops running—albeit briefly.
Still, for all her grandstanding, Dern delivers the funniest moments when we’re all in need of some serious comic relief.
4. Tracy Flick, Unhinged
I hate to obsess over Emmys and accolades since it takes away from the authenticity of a performance by implying awards are the end goal, but Witherspoon’s monologue as Madeline breaks all the way down is the stuff Emmys are made of.
Whenever you see her behind a mic in a scholastic setting, memories of Tracy Flick inevitably come flooding back. And Madeline Mackenzie has drawn any number of comparisons to Witherspoon’s breakout Election character—as if Tracy grew up, tempering her expectations but not her ambition.
Ambition, however, is not always enough, and Madeline realizes not only that her life is not what she had hoped for, but that she’s powerless to change it.
She finds the vulnerability she only previously had with Celeste, but unfortunately it’s in front of a room full of people already suspicious of her and the other women present at Perry’s death.
5. Bonnie, Staring at the Sea
It’s worth noting—and increasingly disappointing—that one of BLL’s problems from the first season has carried over into this one, and that problem is Bonnie. She’s always a cipher among the other characters, and Kravitz is given little to do besides look pensively off into the distance beyond those incessantly crashing waves. That said, she does this very well.
It helps that her cheekbones are carrying the weight of those scenes. And while actresses staring pensively into the distance is my favorite cinematic trope (by far), at some point we’re going to need more development, more backstory, more screen time, and fewer fucking waves. Both Bonnie and Kravitz deserve it.