Sunday, June 9, 2019

REVIEW: 'Big Little Lies' - The Monterey Five Try to Move On With Their Lives After the Tragic Death in 'What Have They Done?'

HBO's Big Little Lies - Episode 2.01 "What Have They Done?"

Following first day of school events, Madeline is worried by Bonnie's behavior and later is shocked when Abigail says she doesn't want to go to college. Mary Louise, Celeste's mother-in-law, offers her unvarnished assessment of Madeline's character. Jane learns from her new coworker, Corey, that she's known in town as one of the "Monterey Five."

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season premiere of HBO's Big Little Lies.

"What Have They Done?" was directed by Andrea Arnold with teleplay by David E. Kelley and story by David E. Kelley & Liane Moriarty

Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Bonnie and Renata have a shared sense of trauma and tragedy. They were all involved in the death of Perry as well as the cover-up to the police. The first season was built around the mystery of someone dying and these women playing some sort of role in it. And now, the second season immediately presents as a meditation on how grief and trauma inform so many actions. This experience is shaping all of these characters' lives in some profound ways. They aren't even fully aware of how it has changed who they fundamentally are either. But the burden of the secret is weighing heavily on all of them. It hits some more than others. And yet, the fear is ever present that their lives may not be as safe and secure as they want them to be even though the abusive Perry is no longer in the picture. Even though he's dead, he still haunts Celeste. She still has nightmares about him. She struggles to articulate her exact thoughts about him actually being dead. She doesn't have the bold and expressive reactions that her mother-in-law, Mary Louise, has. Perry's mother immediately comes across as a big personality who says exactly what she's thinking at any moment in time. She is distrustful of the official story being told by the Monterey Five. She doesn't believe her son could have just accidentally tripped down the stairs. She doesn't know what happened exactly. But now, she is firmly placed in Celeste's home life. She is a presence in that space and is having conversations with the twins about grief. It highlights how people grieve in different ways over the loss of a loved one. However, Mary Louise also sees anger as a part of that process. She is so upset by the notion that less deserving people are still alive while her perfect son is gone. The audience is painfully aware that he wasn't as good as she perceives him to be. That creates an inherent distance between her and Celeste. And yet, compassion still exists as well. Mary Louise can pick people apart because she views herself as a good judge of character. She knows that Madeline can be a wild and forceful individual. Madeline has done her best to stand by and support Celeste. And yet, Celeste's life is becoming increasingly closed off. She can no longer be completely honest with her therapist. Those sessions brought so much power and clarity in the first season. But now that Perry has been killed, she doesn't quite know how to feel. That immediately becomes suspicious to Mary Louise. Sure, the show articulates that in some broad ways as well. The trauma is manifesting itself in nightmares for Celeste in which she walks up proclaiming the words "rape" and "I'll kill you!" That's certainly a chilling thought to close the premiere on. Celeste is grateful to have someone there to hold her. It's a new kind of intimate relationship for her. And yet, Mary Louise can be just as twisted as the son she raised because she too is curious as to what's truly going on with this woman who now consumes her world.

Elsewhere, Bonnie is having an extreme reaction to what happened as well. She has fallen into a severe depression with no one knowing exactly how to help her. She has essentially isolated herself from the world. Nathan hates that his wife is no longer communicating with him. Sure, he expects other people to come in and just magically fix the problem for him. It's much more complicated than that. But it's also such a burden on this relationship because Bonnie doesn't feel like she can be honest with her husband. She has this pressure on her chest and it wasn't even the decision she chose to make. She is faced with so many regrets. She doesn't understand why she pushed Perry down the stairs. Nor does she know why she let Madeline steamroll her with the cover story for the police. The rest of the Monterey Five suspect that the investigation has hit a dead end and probably won't lead anywhere substantially in their futures. That means they can all return to their lives and keep moving forward. Madeline has become a success in her career even though she's incredibly distracted and rude to the potential buyers looking at the property she's selling. Renata remains powerful while choosing to be a bit nonchalant about everything. The police investigation is no big deal and neither is her daughter being bullied during the previous school year. Everything is just better even though it's clear that it's not when it comes to her husband, Gordon. Meanwhile, Jane feels like she has had the burden lifted off of her because she got clarity and closure regarding the massive invasion of her privacy. She got her power back from Perry. And yet, she is altered by the perception of the "Monterey Five." That appears as a nasty and scandalous phrase to her. One that infers that something more mischievous and nefarious is going on amongst them. That too makes her feel as if she is complicit in some of the behavior that Perry took. That too is equally horrifying. Celeste holds no ill will towards Jane though. She is grateful to have friends in her life who are helping her through this grueling time. Plus, this premiere spends a lot of time establishing that life keeps moving forward. A new school year is beginning and forces all of these women back into each other's lives. They all truly see the extent of Bonnie's depression. Madeline does reach out with the hope that Bonnie can actually confide in her or someone else in their small group. But it remains tense at the close of this premiere. She continues to yearn going into the police station and getting the truth out there. That could be very dangerous. It establishes that this season will fundamentally be about how the secret changes these women while analyzing if it can stay a secret for long. If it were to get out, then what would Mary Louise or the police do with it? Would it be freeing? Or would it be even more traumatizing?