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Guilty Consciences: Breaking Down the Second Episode of ‘Big Little Lies’

In a fast-moving episode, Renata’s husband goes down for insider trading, Bonnie’s mom comes to town, and the secrets harbored by the Monterey Five begin to spill out

HBO/Ringer illustration

The sound of waves crashing against jagged rocks is growing louder, the strumming and humming of Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart” more distinct—that’s right, Big Little Lies has returned! The star-studded miniseries is no longer a miniseries. So join us each week as we recap the latest in lies, backhanded compliments, and carpool crises. The journey continues with Season 2’s second episode, “Tell-Tale Hearts.”


Secrets, it turns out, are a hard thing to keep, particularly when they’re in the hands of 9-year-olds who know, ambitiously, 40 total people. But, like a dead man’s heart thumping beneath the floorboards—ah, c’mon, you get it.

In Sunday’s episode of Big Little Lies, a trio of major secrets falls apart. The first, that Perry Wright is Ziggy Chapman’s father, came to the surface after Chloe, who’d heard her mom Madeline gabbing on the phone, spilled the beans that Ziggy is Josh and Max’s half-brother. And who can blame her? It’s quality gossip, and on that front, the apple doesn’t seem to have fallen far from the tree.

Secret 2—that Ziggy’s conception was the result of Perry’s violent rape of Jane—was shared with Ziggy by Jane herself. Sweetly, Ziggy tells his mother that he’d heard it happened when Perry “salted” her; Jane explains that in fact he assaulted her, and then walks him through the horrible truth of what that means.

Finally, Ed—poor old Steady Eddie, possibly the only truly upstanding adult in all of Monterey—finally learned about his wife’s affair with Joseph, the local theater director. He discovered it in truly crushing fashion, too, after Abigail, Madeline’s teenage daughter with Nathan, casually threw it back at her mom in yet another argument about whether college is a good idea (teens!), not realizing that Ed was standing in the doorway. While other Lies characters might have screamed or thrown things or flipped off stalled bystanders, Ed was just … heartbroken.

By the end of the episode, Ziggy, Josh, and Max have come together for a brotherly celebration, and Ed has told Madeline that they’re through, leaving her alone in their home. At this point, just one big secret remains in the keeping of the Monterey Five: What really happened to Perry.

The Investigation Into the Death of Perry Wright

We didn’t spend much time on the investigation this week—at least not formally. But law enforcement still turned up, and that could spell trouble for our leading ladies. Gordon Klein, husband to Renata and noted train aficionado, got busted by no less than the FBI over a smidge of securities fraud. “You have to do time for that?” Renata asks, genuinely surprised when he explains that the Bureau looks less than fondly on his decision to short a stock that he had insider knowledge about.

The FBI isn’t investigating anything related to Perry, so it’s possible it won’t come across anything damning. But Renata is broke now, her assets seized. “Gordon, I’m not gonna not be rich,” she hisses. “I will not not be rich.” A not-rich Renata is an angry Renata, and—as Season 1 documented in detail—an angry Renata is a dangerous Renata. In theory, Perry’s murder won’t be of much interest to the FBI—so far as we know, it wasn’t a federal offense—but it’s entirely possible that investigators will come across something incriminating or that Renata, already to the point of hollering “will someone give this woman a moment?” after stalling traffic on a freeway, will be driven to a new kind of recklessness.

And then, of course, there’s Mary Louise. Her reaction to the revelation that Perry had another son, and that that son was the result of rape, was, shall we say, lacking. Her immediate response—to demand why Celeste neglected to tell her that she had another grandchild—moved quickly to an outright refusal to believe that Perry was capable of violence, even as Celeste tells her that he was.

By the episode’s end, it’s clear that Mary Louise views Celeste’s secret-keeping as treachery, and she tells her that she plans to go to the police, specifically to divulge what Mary Louise sure seems to believe might be probable cause for his murder. Detective Quinlan—who could be seen zooming away in her Dodge Challenger as Gordon was being apprehended, and who may or may not have been following Bonnie—will likely be thrilled to hear this new information.

Feud of the Week

Nathan Carlson just can’t stop taking L’s.

This time—like so many of the other times—his feud is entirely of his own making: Baffled by Bonnie’s continued strangeness in the months since Perry’s death, he invites his wife’s mother, Elizabeth, to Monterey, in the hope that she might be able to help her daughter sort things out.

Alas for Nathan, that doesn’t go according to plan. To her credit, Elizabeth (Crystal Fox) immediately susses out that it’s Perry’s death that has upset Bonnie. Alone with her daughter, Elizabeth wonders whether Bonnie’s chosen to live in Monterey specifically because it isolates her—that it’s a place where no one operates on her wavelength, where no one shares her race, where no one practices the creepy voodoo-like ritual that her mother carries out later in Bonnie and Nathan’s bedroom in the middle of the night. “Nathan is a complete dolt,” Elizabeth says. “When it comes to emotional, social intelligence? Oh, Bonnie, he’s as dumb as a rock. But I often wonder if that’s why you married him.”

Lest you think this level of vicious honesty was meant to be kept out of Nathan’s earshot—well, that’s why we have wine. At a fancy dinner Nathan arranged with Bonnie, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s jarringly normcore husband (another apple that doesn’t fall from the tree!), Elizabeth, who Bonnie points out has experienced alcoholism in the past, has a glass of wine and gets going. “You just didn’t notice, did you?” Elizabeth asks Nathan of the heavy topic of … Bonnie eating French fries. “That’s your thing, isn’t it?”

“Wait, what?” he asks, stunned to encounter someone even more casually aggressive than he is. “I’m here,” Elizabeth continues, “because you’re ill-equipped to connect with your wife.” Quite a burn! But also … extremely accurate?

“Can’t we have dinner like a normal family?” Bonnie’s father asks after she storms out.

In response, Elizabeth gives us what might as well be the Big Little Lies mission statement: “We are having dinner like a normal family,” she replies. “Getting in each other’s business—that’s what families do.”

This Week in Meryl Streep

In “Tell-Tale Hearts,” Mary Louise’s loyalties are laid bare: They are to Perry alone and, in his absence, to protecting his memory at any cost. Many damning secrets were revealed this week—Ziggy’s parentage, the circumstances of his conception, Perry’s violence—but nothing, it seems, will convince Mary Louise of the truth about her son. “He wasn’t capable of doing the things that she said,” she says of Jane’s rape. “He wasn’t. I’ll never believe that.”

When Celeste replies immediately that she knows for a fact that he was capable of that kind of violence—that he had beaten her on many occasions—Mary Louise responds, “I don’t believe you.”

“Why wouldn’t you go to the police?” she asks, waving off her daughter-in-law’s deepest, most crushing confession as a lie. It’s a brutal scene—“I don’t know why you’re willing to assassinate his character, his memory, who he was,” Mary Louise continues, parroting so many rotten defenses of high-profile men accused of violence and sexual wrongdoing. Celeste lays out the horrors again and again—something we know causes her agony as she struggles to reconcile her love, her guilt, her anger, and her fear—and again and again, she’s told that she’s mistaken or a liar or both. At one point, Mary Louise even rolls her eyes.

And then, just like that, Streep drops the doddering mother-in-law act for blistering rage—not with a scream like in Episode 1, but with a deadly whisper.

“You left some things out, didn’t you?” she asks Celeste. “The fact that he fathered another child—you left that out. That you planned to move, that you rented an apartment—you left that out.” Streep’s voice darkens; she looks away from the laundry she’d been folding, seeming to recognize at last that she and her daughter-in-law are not on the same team. “That you were planning to leave him the very night he died. You left that out. And that you—you learned of his infidelity just 10 seconds before he ...” She starts to say “fell” and corrects herself: “Went falling down a flight of stairs to his death. Oh,” she turns back to Celeste, suddenly angry, “you left that out, too.”

Mary Louise seemed dangerous from the moment she arrived in Monterey. Now, she’s made it clear not only whose side she’s on, but who she views as an enemy. Come Episode 3, she will probably be doing much more than tossing withering insults. Though—it’s worth noting—she still has time for a few of those:

The Five Meanest Things People Said to Each Other in Episode 2

5. “That woman’s not well.” —Madeline on Bonnie, who just wanted to take a hike

4. “Weirdo.” —Madeline, under her breath and mere feet away from said weirdo, Mary Louise

3. “You just didn’t notice, did you? That’s your thing, isn’t it?” —Bonnie’s mom, ruining a perfectly nice dinner in order to dunk on Nathan

2. Mary Louise: “She’s not a likable person.”

Celeste: “She’s been a lifeline to me. She really has. She’s a wonderful person.”

Mary Louise: “Mm, well, you’re mistaken.”

1. Bonnie: “They fake that sometimes.”

Jane: “What, having Aspergers?”

Bonnie: “Yeah. To get away with saying dumb shit.”

Most Profound Child of the Week

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.