Big Little Lies: has season two genuinely been a screaming great flop?

Fuelled by reports about behind-the-scenes turmoil, armchair experts have torn into the returning HBO drama. But is it really even worse as people say?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that- as reliably as Renata Klein sets off any metal detector she strolls through in the HBO series Big Little Lies– most modern-day fans will ruin the experience of watching a hit Tv programme. We can’t help it; we worry away at imperfect character arcs or narrative misfires until the very fabric of the prove comes apart in our hands.

The more the first season of a prove delivers, the more the armchair commentariat chews through any subsequent offerings, like moths working through cashmere. We watched it most overtly with the final season of Game of Thrones which- while admittedly far from perfect- attracted the sort of furore normally reserved for tax-dodgers or cold callers. Later, the actors who had worked on the flagship HBO show revealed that the experience of ensure the show’s final season rent apart online had been deeply hurtful.

Similar treatment has been meted out to the second season of Big Little Lies. The show’s first season was a resounding success- an at times impressionistic exploration of female unhappiness, domestic abuse and friendship set against the crashing waves of Monterey Beach, and the show’s distinctive, swelling soundtrack.

Season one delivered Nicole Kidman as the beautiful, fragile Celeste, a Blanche DuBois-like character trapped in a sleek, modernist doll’s home with Perry, her abusive brute of a husband( Alexander Skarsgard ). It gave us Reese Witherspoon at her type-A finest, playing Madeline, a woman too uptight to realise that the life she had worked so hard to create has attained her unhappy, and is causing her to self-sabotage. The display, an adaptation of Liane Moriaty’s 2014 novel, was nominated for 16 Emmys and won eight, including behave awardings for Kidman, Skarsgard and Laura Dern( who plays CEO Renata Klein .)

The second season concludes next week with a much-anticipated courtroom showdown between Celeste and her nefarious, meddling mother-in-law Mary Louise( Meryl Streep ), as they combat for detention of Celeste’s children. It looks likely that this will be the final season of the demonstrate: HBO boss Casey Bloys has said it’s “not realistic” they will be able to find time in Witherspoon, Streep and Kidman’s -Alist schedules to film a third season.

Meryl
Meryl Streep’s memeable scream. Photograph: HBO

Season two has copped a fair amount of criticism online- some justified, some less so. The depict has sometimes felt reverse-engineered around social media-friendly, memeable moments: Streep’s yelp in the season two premiere; Dern’s prison visiting-room explosion as she realises her wastrel husband Gordon has expended the family wealth. (” I will not not be rich !” Dern bellows, jabbing her finger on the plexiglass .)

At hours, this season has felt inconsistent. Characters act implausibly- is it realistic to expect that Monterey police would dedicate so much manpower and resources to uncovering what happened to Perry, an alleged domestic abuser and rapist? Would Mary Louise really move into a conveniently available apartment in the exact same block as Jane?

Implausible narrative developings are often propelled forward by the indiscretion of the Monterey infants- and I find it hard to believe that Jane’s son Ziggy, who barely knows Mary Louise, would tell her that his mother had concealed a gun in the house. And the show’s overuse of flashbacks is tiresome- if I have to see any of the Monterey Five in their Audrey Hepburn costumes from the season one finale again, I’ll scream louder than Mary Louise.

It is probable that this second season has felt patchy due to internal factors: earlier this week, an IndieWire exclusive claimed that, during post-production, show-runner David E Kelley wrested back creative control from American Honey film-maker Andrea Arnold, the second season’s director, and handed the reins to season one executive producer and director Jean-Marc Vallee. If accurate, it is a depressing read: despite being told she would be given a free hand to direct and edit season two according to her own vision, Arnold had control taken away from her in the cut room, and a team of editors spliced up her work, and filmed reshoots, to imitation Vallee’s style.( It appears likely there is some truth to the claims: watching the season two credits, I snooped an absurd 11 editors listed on the episode Kill Me, whereas an episode from the same point in season one had fewer than half that number .)

Fragments of Arnold’s influence still linger, perfume-like, in season two. A film-maker admired for her ability to find moments of beauty in mundane sets, as well as the deft intimacy of her camerawork and her use of natural light, Arnold’s handiwork is written all over the moment in episode seven where Celeste walks through a glint of sunlight in the Monterey courthouse. A queasy closeup shot of a plate of quivering oysters earlier in the season also reminded me of the scene in American Honeywhere one of the children Star is babysitting stabs a raw chicken .

Underwritten
Underwritten … Bonnie( Zoe Kravitz ). Photograph: HBO/ PR

The first jaunt wasn’t perfect, though. Bonnie Carlson( Zoe Kravitz) felt underwritten, as if Kelley employed the character’s fondness for hippyish dres and yoga as visual shorthand for her personality, rather than actually giving her one.( Kravitz turned in a fine performance, despite the script giving her scant material to work with .) And don’t get me started on Jane’s habit of dancing alone in the surf, a behaviour so insufferable even the ever-charming Shailene Woodley couldn’t pull it off.

As we approach what looks likely to be the last episode, it is worth remembering the high points. Kidman’s masterclass in repressed fury, as she is slut-shamed on a witness stand. The ache in Kravitz’s voice as she transgresses off in the middle of a speech to her comatose, abusive, bedridden mother- unable to admit, even to herself, that the abuse constructed her marry a man she didn’t love. How Dern’s face- after she find out Gordon has been having an affair with the nanny- contorts into a Greek mask of rage.

Big Little Lies, a depict with the roaring backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, has always been about what lurks beneath still waters. As it nears the end, we would do well to remember that not all television shows required to be picked apart by armchair experts online. Although not up to the heights of season one, the display has been doing much more than just treading water for its second, and maybe final, season.

Quick guide

Big Little Lies: all our episode-by-episode recaps

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