It's been two years since Detective Walt Gibson asked the obvious question in the Big Little Lies first-season finale. Instead of coming clean about how Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgard) ended up bent-and-broken halfway down a concrete flight of stairs at the Audrey-and-Elvis-themed school fundraiser, the now nicknamed Monterrey Five opted for the “he tripped” explanation of events.
The big mystery of the first season — which peppered each episode with flashes forward to this fateful night — has been answered, confirming the deceased, the circumstances, and the person responsible. Gossip-filled witness statements from the Greek chorus of other parents and teachers added color to the events we saw unfold, as well as bitchy asides about the group dynamics at play. Originally conceived as a mini-series, the second season will deal with the aftermath of the booze-fueled costume party that ended with Perry’s “accidental” fall.
When last we saw them, a twee cover of Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” accompanied a tranquil image of unity among these BFFs and former frenemies, enjoying the beachy sweater weather as a happy group. But as with all things Big Little Lies, an image of perfection is never that. A shared secret can bring people together, but it can also rip them apart. Throw Meryl Streep into the mix as Perry’s mother Mary Louise, and it's only a matter of time before someone cracks.
With a secret as big as murder and five people keeping that secret, Season 2 primses to at least partially be a ticking clock to see who crumbles first. Listed from least to most likely to break, here’s a look at the Monterrey Five and what could lay ahead for each of them.
Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley)
Revenge was constantly on Jane’s mind when she moved to Monterrey. When she slept, when she ran on the beach, whenever. The events of the night she was raped played on fragmented repeat in her mind. Bottled up anger spilled out as she screamed into the wind. Moving to a new town is hard, but Jane quickly made friends with Madeline and Celeste, even after her son Ziggy was accused of attacking another child. Little did she know her rapist lived so close, and was also the husband of her new friend.
When Perry confronted Celeste, he also unmasked himself. A wordless revelation, followed by a silent communication between these three best friends. This was the mystery man they have been trying to track down. Jane’s revenge fantasy has now played out even if she wasn’t the perpetrator. The gun she kept under her pillow is no longer required to make her feel safe in her own home. She has some semblance of closure as this burden has been lifted. How it will impact her relationship with Celeste is unclear, but her main concern is protecting Ziggy from the truth. She's done this so far, which makes Jane the least likely to spill.
Renata Klein (Laura Dern)
Professional success doesn’t necessarily translate into personal confidence, particularly when judgemental moms are thrown in the mix. Renata has this desperate need to be liked by the women of this town, something she struggles to achieve. She quipped in the finale, “If I get shot in the head tonight, half these moms are gonna say, ‘She couldn't bother herself to duck? What, what, she couldn't get the nanny to stop the bullet?” She noted that Madeline was the most vicious.
It was a night marred with tragedy and alcohol-filled drama, but Renata came out on top. When she arrived at the fundraiser, she inadvertently saved Celeste from a rageful Perry after he had locked them in the car. Later, her apology to Jane showed that these women don’t have to be at odds with each other. Earlier in the season, the great birthday party war revealed just how petty Madeline can be, but now they have this secret in common. In that way, she's right where she wants to be, and she knows that speaking out will ruin any chance of friendship with these moms. Why risk that? Unless combat is as much in Renata’s nature as it is in Madeline’s.
Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon)
As the most headstrong and domineering of the group, Madeline seems like a solid bet to keep schtum. However, watching husband Ed sing Elvis at the fundraiser sent her spiraling (maybe it's because Adam Scott spent so long practicing only to be told he had to lipsync). The copious number of cocktails probably didn’t help, but Madeline has been keeping a lot of guilt bottled up. She had an affair with her Avenue Q collaborator, and his wife definitely knows. Madeline loves to be in control and feel superior to everyone around her, but this affair has the potential to undo everything.
“I love my grudges,” she says in Season 1. “I tend to them like little pets,” but Madeline is now a co-conspirator with two women she dueliedwith last season. Bonnie is her ex-husband’s (younger) wife, and Renata epitomizes the career mommies she views with scorn. Just before Perry stumbled on the group of Audreys, Madeline had softened to Renata, telling her it takes a big person to apologize. Madeline does have the ability to change her mind about someone, showing the potential for growth. However, at the fundraiser, she referred to herself as a fake and a liar; might this lead to self-sabotage?
Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman)
Years of concealing the physical bruises and mental scars caused by an increasingly violent husband don’t necessarily make Celeste the most likely to stay quiet. She is dealing with a complex array of emotions, including the fact that she misses him, coupled with the guilt that she was going to leave him that night. He was the father to her children, and she loved him, but raising the twins in a toxic environment did ihave an impact, as it wasn’t Ziggy who violently hit Renata’s daughter Amabella, it was Max.
Celeste doesn’t have to worry about looking after the twins by herself, as Perry’s mom, Mary Louise is now in the picture. But she has many questions about what happened to her son. Having an amateur sleuth with so much invested in finding out the truth in close proximity is sure to be quite the burden. Will Celeste betray her friends?
Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz)
Madeline's weakest link would seem to be Bonnie, the younger boho wife of her ex-husband. It doesn’t help that Bonnie gets on well with her stepdaughter Abby, as well as Madeline’s current husband Ed. She’s laidback, and basically everything Madeline isn’t. She is also the character we know the least about, but she did gain instant membership into the inner circle when she shoved a raging Perry down the taped-off stairs. Even though it was self-defense, this is a heavy burden for anyone, particularly when it's wrapped up in a lie. As the one that did the deed, the chances of Bonnie breaking first seem pretty high. If she does, that is instant expulsion from the Madeline Martha Mackenzie gang.
Your turn: Who do you think is most likely break when <i>Big Little Lies</i> returns for Season 2? Weigh in at our forums.
Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.