The Monterey Five — Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley — are back on Sunday, plus one, for the second season of HBO’s once-limited series “Big Little Lies.”
That plus one being the indomitable Meryl Streep.
Following the show’s stellar debut in 2017, HBO decided to green-light a second season due to popular demand. Author Liane Moriarty, who wrote the 2014 book on which the series is based, drafted a yet-to-be-released novella as inspiration for the new installment ― giving creator, writer and producer David E. Kelley the option to continue. In her novella, Moriarty introduces Mary Louise Wright, the mother of Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård), Celeste’s (Kidman) abusive husband who was killed in the Season 1 finale. Kelley, as well as producers Kidman and Witherspoon, were all for it, as was Streep, whose legal name happens to be Mary Louise.
“In terms of year two, the cast and producers, we didn’t want to come back unless we thought we had a legitimate shot of measuring up to the bar that we all set for ourselves,” Kelley told The Hollywood Reporter.
Moriarty provided that shot. With “Big Little Lies” Season 2, she was able to further investigate her original mystery and dive deeper into the addictive characters she created. By working with producers on her own source material, Moriarty kept the spirit of the show going, unlike, say, author George R.R. Martin, who exited “Game of Thrones” as a screenwriter in 2015 to finish the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series on which the show is based. (Without his visionary storytelling, “Thrones” crumbled into fast-paced fan fiction in the hands of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, but I digress.)
Moriarty’s tempting narrative of Mary Louise, who is out to discover the truth about her son’s death at whatever cost, added another layer of complexity to the drama about the prominent, albeit troublesome, mothers of Monterey. But she and Kelley also used the second season as an opportunity to zoom in on an underserved character from Season 1: Bonnie Carlson (Kravitz). The season’s tag line reads “secrets always surface” — and Bonnie’s hidden truths are at the forefront.
At the end of Season 1, which was helmed by Jean-Marc Vallée (director Andrea Arnold has taken over for Season 2), the Monterey Five were on the beach with their kids days after Bonnie pushed Perry down a flight of stairs at the elementary school’s fundraiser. Although it appeared to be self-defense ― as Perry was outed as Jane Chapman’s (Woodley) rapist and attacked his wife Celeste before Bonnie shoved him ― Detective Adrienne Quinlan (Merrin Dungey) was suspicious of the incident between the victim and the prestigious mothers.
Season 2 picks up with Mary Louise running her own investigation into her son’s death while she lives with Celeste and helps out with her grandchildren, Josh and Max (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti). Quinlan is, of course, keeping an eye on the whereabouts of the ladies: Celeste is still struggling to come to terms with Perry’s abusive behavior in therapy; Madeline Mackenzie (Witherspoon) is trying her best to remain upbeat despite her daughter Abigail’s (Kathryn Newton) refusal to go to college; Jane is working at an aquarium, where she meets a possible love interest; and Renata Klein (Dern) continues to worry about Amabella (Ivy George) when she should really be concerned with her husband, Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling).
But it’s Bonnie’s narrative that takes precedence — and rightfully so after Kravitz’s character was controversially underutilized in the first season. Thankfully, in the first three episodes of Season 2, she becomes a full-fledged player in the story. She seems to be the only one outwardly grappling with her involvement in Perry’s death, which has been deemed an accident.
“I killed someone, remember?” a broken Bonnie tells Madeline when she asks if she’s OK in the Season 2 premiere. “That’s heavy.”
Bonnie’s husband Nathan (James Tupper), who was once married to Madeline, is concerned for her mental health. So, he calls on her mother (Crystal Fox) for help in the second episode, and a new set of unsolved mysteries arises.
“You are out here surrounded by people who don’t even get you,” Bonnie’s mom tells her free-spirited daughter. “They don’t look like you. I haven’t seen one other black person since I’ve been out here. Is that why you’re here? Because we all know how fond you are of your walls.”
Just as Bonnie stands out in the predominantly white city of Monterey, Kravitz was the only lead actress of color cast in “Big Little Lies.” And she was disappointed by the show’s handling of race in Season 1, telling Rolling Stone, “I wish they’d had Reese’s character say, ‘His hot black wife.’ That’s real! But people are scared to go there. If we’re making art and trying to dissect the human condition, let’s really do that.”
Being aware of Kravitz’s thoughts on her character’s treatment, and knowing there’s much more to pull from in her book, Moriarty definitely has the ability to spotlight Bonnie this season. For example, Bonnie’s past plays a significant part in her reasoning behind pushing Perry: Her mother was abused by her father when she was a child. Understandably, she snaps when she sees Perry abusing Celeste and reacts accordingly.
Also in the novel, Bonnie turns herself in — despite all the women saying they’ll protect her and hold onto the truth. She is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 200 hours of community service. So, yes, it is odd that Bonnie’s backstory was left out of the first season, considering the show was only intended to last seven episodes. But Kelley hopes to remedy that issue with the new installment.
“There was so much more to tell with the characters, especially with Bonnie,” Kelley told The Hollywood Reporter of taking her story further. “We only hinted about who Bonnie was. We had not mined where she came from and what led to the big push at the end of year one.”
Well, get your hammers, pickaxes and shovels out because you’ll be mining a whole new crop of unexpected big, little lies thanks to Moriarty’s expansion of this dynamic group of women.