Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Two – “Serious Mothering”

As the fallout from Ziggy’s assault continues to permeate through the world of Big Little Lies the cast continues to receive ample opportunities to shine, many of them taking full advantage of the opportunity and running away with it in yet another very good episode of the HBO mini-series.

Battle lines are drawn very quickly in the episode, with the majority of our characters sitting on one side of the Madeline/Jane vs. Renata argument. Madeline continues to defend her new friend Jane and her son, Ziggy, while Renata fails to understand why Ziggy is still a member of the prestigious Otter Bay Academy. Although Renata makes a genuine attempt in the episode to move past the incident, Madeline again reignites the flames by confronting Renata for not inviting Ziggy to her daughter Amabelle’s birthday party, the same daughter that Ziggy choked in the previous episode. Madeline, ever the (wannabe) pacifist,  confronts Renata about the missing invitation to no avail, although Madeline’s youngest daughter attempts her own brand of pacifism by reuniting Ziggy and Amabelle in school, where Ziggy kisses the girl he previously choked. Another firestorm ensues, leaving Madeline’s social standing in no better shape than it was in the previous episode.

All these problems filter through Madeline, and, as played by Reese Witherspoon, she becomes the heart of this show, and our de facto main character in spite of the immense ensemble work going on. Witherspoon is terrific as Madeline, a character that feels very much like her, yet also a challenge, not unlike her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in Wild. While not as physical as a performance Witherspoon commits the same level of energy and intensity, creating a character that is subtly transformative, careful not to show her true intentions but in brief flashes of anger and passion. This anger comes through clearly in episode two as she confronts her theatre coordinator for pulling the plug on her performance of Avenue Q. Entitled to a fault, but also intensely desiring and passionate, Madeline fails to understand why her performance isn’t allowed to happen–a disappointment which she takes out on Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz).

Although Bonnie is a pivotal character in this show–in this episode it is revealed that she took Abigail, her step-daughter and Madeline’s eldest to get birth control against Madeline’s wishes–Kravitz hasn’t been given too much to do, the only fault in any otherwise very diversified and fully-fledged cast. Laura Dern’s Renata and Nicole Kidman’s Celeste are given far more to do in this episode and their respective actresses take this in stride, so I’m confident Bonnie too will step into the forefront, similar to Adam Scott’s Ed.

While mostly echoing Madeline in the past episode, Ed gets more a voice in “Serious Mothering” including a key, and darkly hilarious, scene opposite Nathan, Madeline’s ex-husband. Threatening yet gentle, Scott is impressive in such a meaty role enriched with mystery, a collection of adjectives which can truly be used to describe every character in the show.

We don’t learn much about the present in this episode, and very little additional information is given to us about the show’s frame story: “who is dead at the PTA fundraiser.” There’s an obvious desire on behalf of the show’s creators to withhold this information, but the question is raised as to how long they can stand to withhold it. Because the series is only a mere seven episodes, we won’t have to wait long before we find out.


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