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S02E01: What Have They Done?
HBO  ·  50 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: June 09, 2019

Directed by: Andrea Arnold  |  Written by: David E. Kelley

Official synopsis: In the aftermath of Perry’s death, Celeste, Madeline, Jane, and Renata try to move on with their lives, while Bonnie considers turning herself in to the police. It is the first day of second grade for the children and the five women reunite. Perry’s mother, Mary Louise, who is staying with Celeste, begins asking questions about her son’s death, and clashes with Madeline. Nathan worries about how distant Bonnie has been with him and asks Ed for help. Abigail decides she will not go to college, to Madeline’s disapproval. At the beach, Corey, a co-worker of Jane’s, asks her if she is one of the “Monterey Five”. Jane tells the other women (apart from Bonnie) about this, and Renata assures them that the police have nothing. Celeste has nightmares about Perry and Mary Louise questions her about them.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by Rebecca Nicholson for The Guardian (June 10, 2019)

The single-series wonder is a rare TV phenomenon, and for a short time, it seemed as if Big Little Lies was a prime candidate to deliver a short, sharp, one-off shock. The 2017 series covered all of the Liane Moriarty novel upon which it was based, and wrapped up its central story neatly. Season one ended with the abusive Perry, played with such simmering menace by Alexander Skarsgård, being revealed as the rapist father of Jane’s son Ziggy. After he publicly beat his wife Celeste, Bonnie pushed him down the stairs, killing him. The group of women covered it up and had a lovely picnic on the beach with the kids. The end. But it wasn’t, because Big Little Lies was far too successful to bury. So here we are, picking up at the start of another school year, as the mystery is opened up. As soon as the opening credits introduced the women leading this show, I broke into an inner cheer. What a cast! The risks of it doing a Homeland – continuing into far-fetched silliness when it could have been so crisp and tidy – were a concern, but on the basis of this first episode, it is very much top-quality business as usual, with an added and welcome garnish of Meryl Streep at her absolute Streepiest.

Perry may be dead, but he is still haunting Monterey. All of the Liars are back, and nobody is quite okay. Madeline (a brilliantly chippy Reese Witherspoon) has become even more Madeline, high-octane and incessantly upbeat and productive. Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is having recurring nightmares about her husband’s death and his violence towards her, and as her therapist points out, she keeps his legacy alive by continuing to blame herself for it. Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), who did the pushing, has withdrawn completely, and is being consumed and isolated by her own sense of guilt. The set-up so far is that they have just about got away with it – for now. But when Jane’s colleague asks if she is one of the Monterey Five, and when Renata says the police are at a loss – “The case isn’t closed, closed, but they got nothing” – it is made very clear that this is the calm before the storm, and the winds are about to change.

And I think we all know who will change them. Mary Louise (Streep) proves terrifying from the second we first meet her, her stillness and poise masking rage and her suspicions that Perry’s death was not the accident that people were made to believe. She is part Kathy Bates in Misery, part Aunt Lydia, and wholly alarming. The family dinner at the end was the most tense on-screen meal since the end of Doctor Foster’s first series, and that scream was a howl of agony and rage. If Josh and Max have not yet picked up their father’s habits (the bullying of Amabella last season, and the fork-stabbing at the table, suggest it might be time to intervene already), then Mary Louise’s approach to child-rearing should give them a push. The episode ends with Mary Louise interrupting another of Celeste’s giveaway nightmares: “So. Who are we planning to kill?”

Notes and observations
  • Amid all the violence and brutality, I had forgotten quite how funny this show is. From Madeline’s awful snobbery to Renata haranguing the teacher, to the outrageous over-the-top villainy of Mary Louise’s putdowns, it really can be a hoot.
  • Yet it remains as subtle as it ever was when it comes to women and violence, and women questioning their complicity in what has been done to them.
  • When Mary Louise dismantled Madeline for a second time, while simultaneously pretending to apologise, I thought Madeline’s neon pink heels were very Legally Blonde.
  • We were so used to seeing Jane running away from something, and blocking out the world, that to watch her dancing on the beach, carefree, was touching.
  • The incredible Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank, American Honey) has taken over on directorial duties.
  • Along with David E Kelley, Liane Moriarty receives a “story by” co-credit for this season.
  • So far, there appears to be very little evidence that Perry was pushed, other than the suspicions of his mother, but I’m guessing that the cheques Celeste has been giving Jane might one day be cashed, and might be the start of a paper trail?
  • Guest Cast: P.J. Byrne (Principal Warren Nippal), Merrin Dungey (Detective Adrienne Quinlan), Ivy George (Amabella Klein), Mo McRae (Michael Perkins), Sarah Sokolovic (Tori Bachman), Douglas Smith (Corey Brockfield), Robin Weigert (Dr. Amanda Reisman), Nelly Buchet (Juliette), Gia Carides (Melissa), Chloe Coleman (Skye Carlson), Kelen Coleman (Harper Stimson), Joel Spence (Matt), Larry Sullivan (Oren Berg), Chris Aquilino (Jeremy Laplant), Darielle Dorsey (Sarah), Kayvon Esmaili (Joel), Katie Featherston (Lilah LaPlant), Ashley Gonzales (Bruna Barista), Eliza Shin (Vice Principal Coolidge), Talia Toms (Dr. Kristin Harris), Paull Walia (David Roberts)