Big Little Lies didn’t need a second season. But in the world of television high demand can make second seasons appear regardless, and it’s the lack of necessity that makes coming back to Big Little Lies so much fun.
Forget closure. Forget questions. The premiere of Big Little Lies Season 2 delivers on what’s really important about the show: spending time with our five wonderful wives.
The glamor and allure of the five women at the center of Big Little Lies was a massive part of Season 1’s appeal and that continues into Season 2. Their clothes, their houses, their over-the-top rich (mostly) white lady-ness — they all blend together in an effervescent fantasy of wanting to know them and be them. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become obsessed with these women, these wives, and worship them as icons they are.
That level of stanning, of active obsession, is reminiscent of nothing more than phenomenon that is Wife Guys, internet men who over identify with the traits and behavior of the women who have deigned to marry them. They point out their partners, extol them, call them wife, and derive their own identity from whatever she is or does according to her own volition. “That’s my wife,” they say, “she’s curvy, or she fell off a cliff, or she’s leaving me. This is who I am now.”
Big Little Lies turns us all into Wife Guys. Wifey activities abound all over the screen. There’s Laura Dern as Renata/Business Wife, the power-posing CEO whose daughter was being bullied. Nicole Kidman is Celeste/Not-Wife, whose dead husband is rotting in hell. Reese Witherspoon plays Madeline/My Wife Went Into Real Estate So She’s Doing Great. Zoë Kravitz is My Wife Won’t Talk To Me, Even After Tahoe, and Shailene Woodley is Also Not A Wife, But A Substantially Better Parent Than Everyone Else. Their identities are solid and identifiable, not as the viewers themselves but as the kinds of wives we would extol.
And then of course, there’s Meryl Streep. Reactions to the news that Streep had joined the cast of Big Little Lies ranged from completely ecstatic to literally dead. In her role as Celeste’s mother-in law, Mary Louise she doesn’t believe the consensus that her son Perry died accidentally, so her loaded queries toe the line of propriety throughout the premiere. “I can’t complain,” she says as a form of small talk with Madeline, “or, actually I can. My son is dead.” No Wife Guy can claim her. Mary Louise is a Son Mom.
The premiere wastes no time in deploying Mary Louise as an isolated foil to the manslaughter-forged friendship between the core five characters. At the start of the show she comes off as simultaneously daffy and calculating, a danger to a community just barely held upright by the strength of its secrets. Perry’s death left dark clouds over Monterey, and as the Mom who lost her Son, Mary Louise is poised to add to the maelstrom.
Most of this first episode is set dressing for the drama to come in Big Little Lies Season 2, which is a smart way for the show to ease viewers back into its world while reminding them why they loved it in the first place. There is some drama surrounding Bonnie, whose guilt over pushing Perry isolates her from rest of the the Monterey Five — this leads to an extremely Wife Guy-ish moment when her husband Nathan begs Ed to “take my wife to coffee, you snide fuck” (it’s a real chef kiss moment) — but the heart of the premiere remains in the decadent reveal of the women, what they’re up to, and how lovably flawed they are in the aftermath of tragedy.
Some viewers may be invested in the plot, but the Wife Guy contingent just wants to keep an admiring eye on our queens.
The year break between seasons created some distance between the events of Trivia Night and the anticipation for the next chapter in Big Little Lies‘ story. That distance, as well as the mystery’s resolution, gave the characters time to permeate pop culture and solidified the characters in a way that almost makes their next moves feel irrelevant. Renata, Bonnie, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are wonderfully knowable characters regardless of what happens to them, which is perhaps why revisiting Monterey feels like more checking in with our lovely, fascinating wives than clamoring to know where the story goes. Some viewers may be invested in the plot, but the Wife Guy contingent just wants to keep an admiring eye on our queens.
If the rest of the season comes down to a rumble between The Wives and a Son Mom, it’s going to make for good television. Season 1 was predicated on the mystery of who died and who killed them, but its lush backdrops and fantastic women elevated the show far beyond its plot. In the absence of mystery, those salient characteristics have become the show. That’s not a bad thing.
Big Little Lies Season 2 might not be the same show it was two years ago, but listen — it’s got Meryl Streep now. And she’s coming for your wife. Be a good spouse and enjoy the show.