The plan had always been for it to be a standalone show, so despite the plaudits it was never a given the series would return for round two. There was no sequel to Liane’s best-selling book, so no source material to use, and as the show’s creator and writer David E. Kelley told The Hollywood Reporter, “We didn’t want to come back unless we thought we had a legitimate shot of measuring up to the bar we all set for ourselves…we didn’t want to do it just to do it.”
If they were to revisit the characters, the team realised they’d need to turn to the person who knows them best, so they asked Liane to create some ideas. It soon became apparent there were plenty of places to take the story, and Liane’s novella inspired David’s script.
“The key at the beginning was not to expand the canvas so much, although we do, but to drill down deeper on what we’ve got,” David’s said.
The new series, this time directed by Andrea Arnold, opens with an episode titled What Have They Done? It’s the start of a new school year, so time has passed since the death of Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) at the school’s fundraiser. To the outside world, he’d been the charismatic and loving husband, but viewers saw him abuse his wife Celeste (Nicole Kidman) behind closed doors. And Celeste’s friends discovered the truth at the very end of the series, just as Jane (Shailene Woodley) realised Perry was her rapist and the father of her son Ziggy. In the ensuing struggle, the women, including Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Renata (Laura Dern), attempted to defend Celeste from Perry’s devastating blows, before Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) stormed in and pushed him to his death. The fractured group of friends and frenemies concocted a lie he’d simply slipped and fallen, and they all looked relatively content at the end of series one. But the happily ever after is a myth as we return to Monterey.
There’s a certain cyclical feeling to proceedings with the opening scenes of series two. We have the women driving along the dramatic coastline, wistfully looking out to sea from their fabulous homes and settling into another school term, just as they were in the first series. Madeline’s simultaneously schmoozing teachers and parents, while observing the harsh realities of playground politics, Renata’s terrifying the new teacher while informing him of her daughter’s genius intelligence, and the other parents are still gossiping about the Monterey Five. It reflects the reality that life goes on, at least on the surface.
As the series continues, we slowly begin to see the extent to which the events are impacting each of the women. In episode one, the lie’s clearly weighing heaviest on Celeste, who’s suffering nightmares, and Bonnie, who’s become withdrawn, and regretting her decision to not own up, but their other women aren’t immune, despite outward appearances.
Madeline’s busying herself selling multi-million pound properties, arguing with her eldest daughter about college and trying to forget she had an affair, Renata’s posing in couture for women of power photoshoots and pretending she really does have it all, and Jane’s working at a sea life centre, and dancing a lot, but trouble is brewing just beneath the surface as they’re all experiencing disturbing flashbacks. What they don’t need is anyone scrutinising the events of that night, but unfortunately for them, Perry’s mother Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) has arrived in Monterey. She’s angry and she wants answers.
It’s no coincidence the character name is the same as Meryl’s real moniker. Liane reportedly used it as a ploy for her to sign on, but Meryl didn’t need much persuading and is said to have agreed to the role before even reading the script.
The uncomfortably straight-talking Mary Louise takes particular dislike to the bustling Madeline, which makes for brilliantly passive aggressive scenes between the pair as Mary Louise informs her that she finds “little people to be untrustworthy”. And that’s just for starters. She slips between a calming and infuriating presence at Celeste’s house, and before episode one has concluded, she’s already heard her daughter-in-law call out ‘rape’ and “I’m going to kill you” in her sleep. You sense it won’t take long for Mary Louise to ramp up the pressure and probe each of the women until she satisfies her gut instinct that they’re not telling the truth about her beloved son’s demise.
There might not be a major crime to unravel this time, but fans won’t be left disappointed. The characters are so rich and multi-faceted, it’s a joy to delve back into their lives - and their homes.
Watch Big Little Lies 2 on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV on June 10
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