This article contains spoilers through Season 2, Episode 1 of Big Little Lies.
The women of Big Little Lies spend their lives picking up the pieces men leave behind. In its first season, which was initially conceptualized as a stand-alone adaptation of the Liane Moriarty novel, the HBO series earned both critical acclaim and a touch of gendered condescension as it introduced viewers to five women navigating murder and myopia in Monterey: Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern), and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz). The season ended with the death of Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), Celeste’s abusive husband, who attacked her at a themed fundraiser held at their children’s elementary school—and mysteriously fell down the stairs leading up to the seaside campus.
The Season 2 premiere, which aired Sunday, finds some of the women reeling after Perry’s passing. Bonnie, who ultimately pushed him to his death while he was attacking Celeste, is undone by the weighty secret she’s forced to keep from her family. Celeste, whom Kidman plays with astonishing pathos, wavers between feeling relief at the removed threat to her life and yearning for the husband she loved. Though the other three women have largely moved on from their role in his death, the episode is titled “What Have They Done?”—and the motley crew has summarily been dubbed “the Monterey Five” by their suspicious neighbors. Perry lingers, even in death.
With the introduction of Meryl Streep, who plays Perry’s mother, Mary Louise, and whose casting single-handedly justifies the existence of the show’s second season, Big Little Lies is beginning to plumb the depths of Perry’s character. In doing so, the show excavates larger questions about masculinity and its recesses. In an early scene, Mary Louise (incidentally, Streep’s given name in real life) intervenes when her twin grandsons fight in the back seat of the car she’s driving to their first day of second grade. “Quiet! Fine young men don’t suddenly become fine young men all of a sudden in a whoosh, you know,” she spits through a prosthetic overbite. “It starts with being fine young boys, and part of being a fine young boy is listening [to] and respecting your mother.”