If there was one overarching theme to the second-season finale of Big Little Lies, it was that the time for lying is over. Celeste's questioning of Mary Louise during their court hearing brought out more truths than we were prepared for, Bonnie was finally liberated to tell her truth, Madeline and Ed found their way to a more truthful place in their relationship, and Renata? Well, Renata was so sick and tired of lying that she decided to pulverize all her husband's earthly possessions (plus a rib or two) with a Louisville slugger.
Did the finale make the case for the necessity of a second season of Big Little Lies. Not really. Did Madeline do anything this season besides apologize to Ed and fret to Celeste about how she had no idea Perry had been abusive? No. Does the phrase "the lie is the friendship" actually make sense if you stop and think about it for more than a few seconds? Absolutely not.
But as the wise Marge Simpson once said: "It's an ending. That's enough."
If this does end up being the last of Big Little Lies, then this last power rankings should be a final assessment of these characters, over the course of these last two seasons. Their arcs, their entertainment value, the level of actressing — all of it. In order from least to most impressive:
6. Mary Louise (Meryl Streep).
Mary Louise only gets one season in which to compete, which dooms her to last place in these rankings, but she sure did a lot this season to try to claw her way up to a higher slot. She may have been unsuccessful in trying to wrest Celeste's boys away from her, but Streep's performance of Mary Louise's horror at seeing video evidence of Perry's abuse — revealed by Celeste in a video that the boys secretly recorded at home (an act of narrative convenience that belongs in the TV Shortcuts Hall of Fame) — and her honestly conflicted feelings about Celeste, her grandsons, and even Perry's memory made it all worthwhile. It's disappointing that Mary Louise didn't get a moment at the end of the episode to put a button on her season, but her coda after Renata stormed out of their coffee-shop argument ("I'll take it to her, we're going to the same place") makes up a lot of ground.
5. Jane (Shailene Woodley).
This is no slight to Jane or to Woodley, who put in a phenomenal performance this season as someone who's struggling to get out from under the thumb of a sexual assault. Her scenes opposite Mery Louise as she refused to be shamed or to back down from her rape accusation were riveting. Still, with the star power radiating from Kidman, Witherspoon, and Streep, and with Bonnie taking up so much more storyline this season, Jane simply got squeezed out.
4. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon).
This ranking may seem shocking but hear me out. If any character suffered the most for Season 2's narrative imbalances, it was Madeline, whose entire storyline was "Abigail couldn't keep her damn mouth shut and now Ed knows Madeline cheated." Cue several episodes of Madeline making the same apology, while Ed got progressively snittier. That Madeline was the one who started The Lie to begin with was intriguing, but never got followed up. And although the early-season confrontations with Mary Louise made us hopeful, our wish that this season would belong to Reese the way last season belonged to Nicole ultimately wilted like the flowers on a crown worn at a beachside vow renewal for a marriage that nobody has all that much confidence in to begin with.
3. Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz).
That Bonnie got so much to do this season was a blessing for anyone who appreciates Zoe Kravitz's huge talent. It was diasppointing that so much of her storyline took place away from the other women, but that's a quibble that has nothing at all to do with the strength of Kravitz's performance. This week, after a fake-out that made us think for a moment that Bonnie was going to smother her mother with a pillow, Bonnie instead reconciled with her, and even got to see her wake up one last time before a second stroke did her in. And then, newly liberated from her mom's abusive past, Bonnie was able to tell Nathan she never loved him. Gosh, I hope Ed never finds this out and uses it against Nathan. In the closing moments, the other women rallied around Bonnie as she strode into the police station determined to come clean. Wouldn't that have been a cool thing for this episode to have been about???
2. Renata (Laura Dern).
Honestly, the only reason Renata sits at number two on this list is because of how hard the show worked to try to make her our #1. After riding up to the edge of cartoonishness in her argument with Mary Louise in the coffee shop ("Judgy Judger!"), Renata was finally delivered the GIF-able funhouse that this season has been leading towards: discovering that ultra-bastard Gordon had made some kind of deal to be able to keep his man cave — complete with train set, arcade games, and baseball bats, all of which made a better point about the importance of raising boys right than anything Celeste could've said. From the instant Renata entered that room, you knew where this was going. Everything in that room was a) infuriating and b) smashable. Including Gordon himself, as it turned out. A third season of Big Little Lies doesn't seem super likely at the moment, but if it were to happen, Renata going on trial for killing Gordon with a baseball bat to the ribs seems like a viable plot.
1. Celeste (Nicole Kidman).
In the end Season 2 was mostly just another season about Celeste's abusive marriage ... and also some other things. With an ensemble cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, and Laura Dern, there were certainly other great performances, but this episode (and indeed the season) belonged to Celeste, mostly for surprising her mother-in-law on the witness stand with the ol' "You caused the death of your son in a car accident" gambit that she picked up in her second year of law school. Ultimately, Celeste not only gets her boys back, but she also gets her mother-in-law to leave her alone, and begins to let go of Perry for good. Congratulations Nicole Kidman, you perfect actress, you did it again.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.