Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is dazing behind the wheel. Her eyes are open, hands are on the wheel, but her mind isn’t focused on the road. Flashbacks of Perry assaulting her creep into her Ambien-clouded mind just as she crashes her car off the road.
This is how the second episode in season two of HBO’s Big Little Lies opens.
In the second episode, the series takes a focus on elements of PTSD within “the Monterey Five.” As established in the season premiere, Bonnie—in a closed-off performance beautifully delivered by Zoë Kravitz—is riddled with so much guilt regarding that night and the secret they learned that even her daughter takes notice. Bonnie is cutting herself off from her friends and even her husband, Nathan (James Tupper). Nathan goes as far as contacting Bonnie’s mother Elizabeth (Crystal Fox), which ends up slightly backfiring as Elizabeth ridicules his inability to read his wife.
Renata (Laura Dern), fresh off the news that she is being requested by the number one women’s magazine in the nation, has her world rocked as her husband Gordon is arrested by the FBI. Charged with security fraud amongst a number of other charges, Gordon reveals that the money he lost in the flawed deal also involved Renata’s finances—a move that could wipe them out completely. In a conversation with Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Renata theorizes that the detective in charge of investigating Perry’s death may be the one creating this chaos in her life.
Celeste’s pain does not ease up throughout the episode, and Kidman’s portrayal makes the viewer feel every single bit of torture Celeste’s mind is putting her through. She confides to her therapist that she still has moments of yearning for Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). She has to pick her boys from school after one tells their teacher they miss their dead father. She breaks up an altercation between her boys—an altercation where one curses and strikes her—causing Celeste to shove him down and shout “You will not be like him” in front of her mother-in-law Mary Louise (Meryl Streep). Additionally, things take a deeper turn when Mary Louise reveals to Celeste that the boys informed her that Jane’s son Ziggy is their brother. A bit of information that Mary Louise was unaware of, making her intrigue regarding that fateful night even stronger.
Joining Kidman and Kravitz in their pain-riddled performances in this episode is Shailene Woodley’s Jane. Informed by Celeste of the recent development, Jane walks into Ziggy’s room and has the discussion with him she has dreaded. As Ziggy confirms he knows that Max and Josh are his brothers, Woodley’s authentic performance drives the heart-rendering scene as Jane explains that she was assaulted by their father years ago. It is a moment of pure truth and tragedy and Woodley’s disciplined approach is one of the show’s best elements.
Not to be left out of this everything-going-off-the-rails episode, Madeline discovers that it was her youngest daughter Chloe that broke the truth to Celeste’s boys at school—a discovery made before an unbeknownst to him Ed (Adam Scott), who is less than excited to know this secret was kept from him. To make matters worse, upon returning home from Bonnie and Nathan’s, Madeline’s daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton) blurts out that Madeline had an affair with the theatre teacher a year ago—just as Ed walks into the house. To put it lightly, Ed wasn’t very happy to hear that news either.
It’s amazing how so much detail can fit into one episode in this series. Yet, with director Andrea Arnold and screenwriters David E. Kelley and Matthew Tinker, the episode hits on all cylinders. Fifty-five minutes go by in a flash as the story jumps between all parties affected, evenly balancing each obstacle in the respective party’s path. With five more episodes to go, the anticipation builds as we see just where these big little lies will lead us this season.
Big Little Lies airs Sunday evenings on HBO, and is streaming on the HBO Go and HBO Now apps.
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