This article contains spoilers through the second season of Big Little Lies.
Just to put this out there first: No, the second season of HBO’s Big Little Lies wasn’t as good as the first. The plotting was minimal, leading up to an underwhelming showdown in the best-attended family courtroom in America. Even as the characterization of Zoë Kravitz’s Bonnie was beefed up, the show found other women of color to keep on the sidelines as window dressing, such as Merrin Dungey’s Detective Quinlan and Poorna Jagannathan’s ignored lawyer, Katie. Meryl Streep’s Mary Louise, an agent of chaos who seemed to threaten the fragile equilibrium of the Monterey Five, ended up … quietly slinking back to San Francisco. Renata (Laura Dern) became a caricature who existed purely to spawn GIF-able moments. And Andrea Arnold, a director who’s spent her career examining marginalized and disenfranchised women, was given the fascinating job of turning her distinct lens on the monstrously overprivileged, only to have her creative autonomy stripped and her scenes reedited.
Yet, despite everything, Season 2 of Big Little Lies gave me much pleasure. And not only for its superficial aesthetic qualities, such as the sharp glass angles of Renata and Gordon’s (Jeffrey Nordling) empty oceanside manse, or the pale-pink perfection of Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) suit in the finale—an outfit that felt like a statement all on its own about marrying the expectations of maternal caregiving with the charged fulfillment of a career. Mostly, it’s because I love the characters, who are messy, flawed, damaged, and still frequently sympathetic. I appreciate the show’s commitment to having Madeline’s (Reese Witherspoon) arc this season be simply about screwing up and trying to make amends. I was fascinated by the subversiveness of having Bonnie’s abusive parent be her mother, and by the series’ continued exploration of the frighteningly numerous ways to mess up your kids.