By Poulomi Das Jul. 22, 2019
The haphazardly-stitched together Big Little Lies finale became unrecognisable from the hundreds of other cable TV finales that believe in the performance of closure and not in the act of it. In under an hour, it reiterated what most of us were too afraid to admit: The charm of Big Little Lies was in it being a mini-series.
One of the earliest things that we’re taught while trying to develop a reading habit as children, is to “never judge a book by its cover”. Teachers, parents, and even librarians couldn’t seem to get enough of drilling that proverb into our heads. What they were really trying to inculcate in us was the idea that the story is always greater than the sum of its parts. That even when those very parts look unappealing, the story would be worth it, in the end. That certainly can’t be said about the second season of Big Little Lies, especially after that glorious misfire of a finale.
In the age that we live in, where – in the words of critic Sophie Gilbert – “The TV Is Too Damn Long”, you can tell a lot about a show by its second season. Especially if that second season was magically willed into air as a response to a collective public demand exacerbated by Emmy domination. When the first episode of the second season of Big Little Lies – elevated by the casting of Meryl Streep, no less – aired last month, it seemed almost like a natural progression. A month down, that’s far from the truth. In under an hour, the finale reiterated what most of us were too afraid to admit: The charm of Big Little Lies was in it being a mini-series.
“I Want To Know” opens with the courtroom sequence that last week’s episode teased us with, except it only lasts about a total of perhaps 10 minutes. If you, like me, were under the assumption that we were about to be treated to 50 minutes of a stylised, frantic, teary Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and a cold and conniving Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) courtroom showdown spectacle, prepare to be disappointed. Although, the brief minutes that Kidman does take a go at Streep is an absolute stand out – a rare instance of the finale actually revealing layers of its characters and lacing the proceedings with emotional heft. But even then, the one-sided exchange is not much of a fight.
Their aggressive, emotionally-charged interaction, that teeters on being transgressive, is also the only time the episode tells us something we didn’t know: Mary Louise was behind the accidental death of her son Raymond. It’s followed up by yet another revelation when Celeste plays a harrowing video of Perry, her late husband and Mary Louise’s other son, beating her up, as proof. As the evidence stacks up against her version of events, Mary Louise, a textbook bully (she emotionally manipulates Renata only minutes before) cowers and shrinks in the witness stand. It’s a classic case of the show playing to its strengths, and it works tremendously, wholly due to the inspired chemistry shared between both the actresses. Unfortunately. it’s also at this very moment that the Big Little Lies finale stops being invigorating and starts being absolutely indefensible.
The second season of Big Little Lies ended up resembling the vapid, glossy shows about women that it had initially distinguished itself from.
The rest of the episode exists just as a formality to tie things up. Everything is explained even though nothing is quite decoded, or even expanded on. In that sense, the chief offender remains the introduction of Bonnie’s (Zoe Kravitz) mother, a subplot that becomes even more inconsequential in the finale. Once again, the show criminally repeats itself by teasing the idea (but not really) of Bonnie murdering her mother, only to eventually do away with her comatose body in a jiffy. After seven episodes, I’m still not sure if the revelation of Bonnie’s childhood abuse warranted the unnecessary presence of her mother for so long, a character that hardly enriched the storyline.
Even with Renata (Laura Dern), arguably, this season’s consistent saving grace, more of the same happens: After gambling away her money, making her lose her house, and sleeping with the nanny, in this episode as well, her good-for-nothing husband ends up doing something utterly stupid and engenders a trademark Renata lash out. The same goes out for Ed and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), who bicker some more before making up, something that feels like they’ve been doing since the beginning of the season. Episode 7 feels less like a finale, and more like a never-ending deja vu. And despite the burden of the trauma that the women carry around inside them, the show unquestionably affords all of them saccharine happy endings, out of which, only Jane’s (Shailene Woodley) feels slightly earned.
In fact, it’s this haphazardly stitched-together self-destructive finale that actually reveals the chinks in the show’s meandering second season: You can’t help but notice how the awkwardly-placed flashbacks don’t have the same bite as they did back in season one, that the writing is flat-out directionless (in one inexplicable scene, Celeste tells Madeline “The lie is the friendship”, referring to how the lie they parroted about Perry’s death is the reason behind the friendship among the Monterey Five, a sentiment that couldn’t be farther from the truth), or that its sub-plots and supporting characters are all over the place. And by the end, the police investigation into Perry’s death is promptly forgotten and even the “Big Little Lie” is resolved, without any stakes.
The Big Little Lies finale, then, became unrecognisable from the hundreds of other cable TV finales that believe in the performance of closure and not in the act of it. There’s no better evidence of it than in the fate of Mary Louise. After Celeste wins the case, Mary Louise is shown to be leaving Monterey, which is convenient, although this change of heart, seems terribly dishonest. Why would an emotionally manipulative bully, someone, so hellbent on finding her son’s killer, suddenly give it up because she lost custody of her grandkids? And more importantly, why did the show not tell us who was Mary Louise? The most that Big Little Lies gave a peek into the creepiness of her unhinged personality was back in that chilling scream in the first episode. It’s all been downhill since. Perhaps, that is the biggest undoing of the second season: That after all this, Big Little Lies ended up resembling the vapid, glossy shows about women that it had initially distinguished itself from.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.