As HBO’s Big Little Lies Season Two came to a conclusion on Sunday night, I found myself feeling a lot like Bonnie: wrapped in an oversized shawl, staring at nothing, thinking about how disappointed I was in myself and everything around me. The powerhouse of a drama seemed to shrug everything that made it so watchable in Season One for lackluster storylines and half-baked character development. In short, the Monterey Five deserved better.
Worst of all, while Season One charged to a big finish, Season Two barely managed to circle the drain. Hanging plot points and clichéd courtroom scenes seemed to indicate that no one quite knew what they were doing, or worse—that Big Little Lies‘ second iteration was no more than a cash grab. The reality is that for this narrative to have any satisfying conclusion, it needs a third season that returns to form, ditches Meryl, and focuses on the messy, authentic finish that seems true to the series.
In its earliest episodes this season, Big Little Lies seemed to shine a light on grief and PTSD—an intriguing direction that would have served the series well, considering that it was fresh out of source material after wrapping up the contents of its novel-namesake in Season One. But with the exception of Bonnie, those narratives were treated haphazardly after a couple episodes. Celeste’s Ambien-addled car trips were couched and Jane’s PTSD became less of a narrative and more of a signpost to remind you that she was raped by Perry.
Somewhere in the middle, Lies spurned its initial direction and attempted to address its glaring race issue from Season One by turning a spotlight on Bonnie’s mother, Elizabeth, played by Crystal Fox. Even that was a misstep. The abusive mother trope was compounded by also making her a “mystic” of sorts, blending two black stereotypes into one amalgamated mess. But then Elizabeth has a stroke mid-season and the introduction of her clairvoyant powers are left unanswered, as well. Her lifeless body acted as an altar for Bonnie to work through her grief, but why waste Crystal Fox’s time as a typecast shadow of a character?
What punctuated the season might have been the most deflating of all. The season finale wraps up with a half-hearted courtroom scene where someone undoubtedly showed Streep a clip of herself from Kramer v Kramer and said, “But make it more frantic and stuff!” Streep’s performance all season shows the mark of a series unsure what to do with the talents of Meryl Streep, evidenced in her character, Mary Louise, unceremoniously retreating out of Monterey after a season of failing to move the plot forward. Celeste retains custody of her children, Madeline and Ed reconcile and renew their vows, Jane is able to open up physically with her new beau, and Renata leaves her husband. Then they all toss that away to turn themselves in alongside Bonnie in the final scene.
Without the ability to go back and plead with HBO not to make a second season, the only reasonable step forward at this point is to… make a third season. The finish of Season Two is the equivalent of a child moving food around on their plate to make it appear that they’ve eaten what is in front of them. The season finale of Big Little Lies would have been a perfect mid-season climax, but its finale placement is indicative of a writers’ room too concerned with shakily carving out a narrative for Streep’s Mary Louise that never needed to be. Realistically, an entire season that could have explored the complexities of PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and self-defense would have been worthy of the Big Little Lies name. Instead, a potential third season has grown into four cases of obstruction of justice and potential voluntary manslaughter.
That opportunity is still on the table for Lies though. Critical television hits have come back from worse (dream season from Dallas anyone?), and while HBO and Nicole Kidman have voiced that schedules likely won’t allow for a third season, I wouldn’t mind waiting. Take a minute to build out a final season worthy of bookending the phenom that was Season One. Leave Meryl Streep and additional characters at the wayside and focus in on the friendship and resentment these five women have developed in the shadow of abuse and disaster. The noir-style approach of Big Little Lies feels neither fully dark, nor enlightened—in its current form, there is no finality or resolution. A third season stands to tell a complete story, if the powers that be are so inclined.
With that future wavering between uncertain and unlikely though, Big Little Lies is probably the latest fatality in the genre of television shows that dare to stray or continue past source material. If we don’t get a much-needed Season Three, perhaps the big little lie we should all focus on is whether we needed a Season Two at all.