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Big Little Lies MVPs: Episode 2.2 "Tell-Tale Hearts"

By Spencer Coile

After a compelling season opener, Big Little Lies is back to remind viewers why its viewership only continues to rise. Renata’s husband, Gordon, is arrested and jeopardizes her wealth and self-worth. Per Nathan’s request, Bonnie’s mother (Crystal Fox) arrives on the scene to shake her daughter out of her funk. Meanwhile, Celeste and Jane disclose to their respective families how Perry connects them - much to the chagrin and denial from Mary Louise. Not to mention, Ed finds out about Madeline’s affair with the theater director and concludes their marriage is over. Oh yeah, and Perry had an older brother who died years ago.

A lot of drama was covered in the second episode, so buckle up for...

Top 10 MVPs of Big Little Lies. Episode 2.2 “Tell-Tale Hearts”

10 Celeste the “enigma”

Finally! Someone said it! Nicole Kidman’s performance as Celeste is magnificent because she shrouds her character with an almost sensual ambiguity - and now we know that other people see it too. Mary Louise points it out, but it is also the first word Perry used to describe her. Is that why she is so alluring? The mystery about “Who is dead?” from the first season is gone, but with it remains “Who is Celeste Wright?”

9 Withered glances

Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s line readings are delicious on this show. And while the second season may not prove to be as subtle as the first, we can always count on the incomparable leading ladies to offer us glimpses into their heartbreak, their compassion, and their warmth - sometimes all with a single glance.

8 “He salted you”

It’s easy to get caught up in everything happening with the adults, but a strength of Big Little Lies is the way it offers insight from its child actors. Jane’s conversation with Ziggy is a stunner. Not only is Shailene Woodley giving her best performance in that scene, but it unites mother and son inextricably. Ziggy’s understanding of his father is somewhat skewed by adolescent gossip and a naive view of the world - his reading of “he salted you” depicts this perfectly. It strikes an appropriate balance between precocious and wrenching.

7 Let’s hear it for the boys

In its first season, I barely gave James Tupper’s performance a second thought. Here, he is still a “complete dolt,” as Bonnie’s mother puts it, but there is a level of fragility that Tupper is willing to show us. He wants so desperately to help Bonnie, but he doesn’t know how. He is spiraling for some semblance of normalcy, just like Ed. Adam Scott remains a steady beating heart to the series, and his conversation with Madeline allows for his pent up anger and insecurity to be revealed. Women may run Big Little Lies, but the men are slowly becoming more and more human.

6 “The Wonder of You”

Having won the Emmy for Music Supervision in its first season, it’s no surprise that the music this season is perhaps even more effective. “Tell-Tale Hearts” ends with Madeline staring out at the ocean - heartbroken and alone. “The Wonder of You,” the Elvis song that Ed serenades her with at the charity function last year, begins to play. Now, tarnished by betrayal, the song’s romantic sentiments of love and “the strength to carry on” have lost their earnestness.

5 Revelation, revelation, revelation

Did you really think we were going to wait all season for Ed to find out about Madeline’s infidelity or for Celeste’s twins to find out Ziggy was their brother? Think again. “Tell-Tale Hearts” dropped so many bombshells - many of which revealed by children, no less - and now it’s time to wait for next week’s aftermath.

4 The personal becomes the political  

Bonnie’s race, while significant to her dynamic with the Monterey Five as well as to the community as a whole, was notably absent from the first season. However, the arrival of her mother, Elizabeth, challenges this silence. Like Nathan, Elizabeth simply wants to understand why her daughter is struck with melancholy. Her observation that Bonnie is surrounded by people who don’t get her may sound vague, but then she points out, “I haven’t seen one other black person since I’ve been out here.” Bonnie may have shrugged this off, met her mother’s suggestion to "just breathe" with strained apathy, but there is something about Bonnie that is trying to claw itself out of her. Is it just her guilt, or is there something else lurking beneath her tough exterior?  

3 Second season sisterhood

Season one ended with a celebration of sisterhood and the bonds that hold women together. Season two presents each woman’s struggle as their own - oftentimes thematically and physically separated from one another. That’s what makes the tinier, seemingly insignificant moments of sisterhood all the more powerful. Madeline picking up and taking the blame for Celeste’s Ambien-induced car crash, Jane and Bonnie chatting over yoga, and even Renata to referring to Madeline as “babe” when lamenting her money woes. Together or apart, Big Little Lies is a show that upholds women’s narratives.

2 Mary Louise’s cross necklace

I texted a friend during “Tell-Tale Heart” to remind us to never take advantage of the Big Little Lies era of television. Years from now, we will likely remember the loud and astonishing feats of acting these women accomplish more than others. But sometimes there is such beauty in the simplicity. As Mary Louise denigrates Madeline at the top of the episode, referring to her as a sometimes “godsend,” she fidgets with her cross necklace and brings it up to her chin. With this subtle child-like flourish, Meryl not only cornered the market on necklace acting, but cemented herself as the menace that now haunts Monterey.

1 Renata being poor

While the storyline for Gordon’s securities fraud somewhat came out of nowhere, the idea of Renata becoming poor makes for some scintillating television. Waving a finger in Gordon’s face, she exclaims, “I will not NOT be rich.” As she dumps him on the side of the road, she brandishes her middle finger through the sunroof and shouts, “Will somebody give a woman a moment?!” Turned into memes and gifs within seconds, Laura Dern is proving again and again why we are still amidst the Dernaissance. She tears into Renata with such gusto that it’s almost easy to bypass her quieter, more interior moments. While still an integral member of the Monterey Five, Renata still seems very much like a peripheral part of the squad. However, “Tell-Tale Heart” practically hands us Renata’s vulnerability on a silver platter. Plus, it’s arrived so early in the season, so I cannot wait to see where she will go from here.

Plus, I will accept any excuse to hear Laura Dern say, “I used to like to sit on your face, too. You think that’ll happen again?” But therein is the beauty of Big Little Lies: it is comprised of moments - both big and small - peppered throughout each episode. What were some of your favorites?

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Reader Comments (28)

Dern is perfect casting and is the character I would most like to see in a bottle episode. I would love to see her character (clearly partially inspired by Sheryl Sandberg) at work facing the music about what these silicon valley companies are getting away with.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

i gotta agree with all the scenes mentioned here, but i must add Celeste's reaction when her kids are fighting and suddenly yells YOU WILL NOT BE LIKE HIM! and her moment at the therapy when she pictures Madeline being in her place, Nicole is delivering not only the quiet moments, but also all the rage of her character with such ease and beauty. I wouldn't be surprised if she wins another Emmy

And Mary Louise telling Celeste she doesn't believe Perry was an abuser? that's the reason Meryl joined this show and her delivery of these moments is absolutely chilling

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commentereduardo

I was wondering during the episode why HIS parent has shown up during the family tragedy, but not HER parent. #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmm....

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Perfect episode, prob the best of the series. So many great moments, like clockwork all actresses (and actors) were able to shine. What privilege it is to have this show weekly with this cast

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterXavier

Another great episode. Mary Louise makes me laugh. That chin thing towards Reese/Madeline was so perfectly passive-aggressive. Thanks for giving a shout out to the men who are also doing great work.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCher

Woodley really affected me this episode. She and Iain Armitage have such beautiful mother-son chemistry.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTyler


..that’s all I have to say.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

I wish "Nicole Kidman's Ambien eyeliner" was on this list! It gave me life!

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Woodley and Dern are the mVP's in tis episode. IMO

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Shailene gave the best performance in this episode. That scene with her son was such a gut punch.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTess

The show is perfectly cast. Wonderful writing, so rich. Difficult to pick an MVP, they're all so great.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

the show is addictive and i am watching and entertained ... mainly because of the cast... however the writing this season is not as sharp .... laura dern is endlessly gifable but renata is such a caricature, the writing really fails her.... ... and celeste's scenes with the therapist are stalling, as if included because people loved them last season and not for any narrative reason

i echo the few people here who mentioned shailene as the mvp of this episode... followed by crystal fox as bonnie's mother

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

I thought this may have been the strongest episode of the show so far. I know some people may think that there's a bit of wheel spinning happening, but I think the story they're telling about the ongoing trauma of what's happened is being very well told. Especially with the inclusion of the mother's who either are failing to understand or just refuse to believe the things that have happened.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVal

Thanks Nathaniel for listing all the ways this show is making me sit up and take notice of something/someone in virtually every scene. Comparisons are always flawed, but I think this show is a lot like "Deadwood". The visuals, score, costumes, and above all the cast are creating episodes that live on in my mind after.

It's impossible to single out just one actress, I love them all in different ways. But having Meryl Streep on my screen every week is like uncorking a bottle of wine every Sunday night. As you can tell, I'm feeling very happy. (But, this tangled web is not going to end well for some of them.)

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I'm going to sit back and enjoy the fact that this season is hilariously on-the-nose. It's like they wrote a Big Little Lies algorithm and "I will not NOT be rich" popped out. After "I don't trust short people" and "YOU WON'T BE LIKE HIM!" and "I’m here because you are ill-equipped to talk to your wife."

It's soapy and delicious. But let's not pretend the writing is, er, solid.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

"Ambien eyeliner" Kidman is giving me Practical Magic realness, and I'm here for it.

Terrific episode. It's becoming harder and harder to single out MVPs because each of the actors, female and male, adult and child, are getting juicy, character-building bits to work with—and elevate, materially. With such a large, sprawling ensemble, it's frankly a wonder and shouldn't be taken for granted (ya heard, Emmy voters?).

P.S. Waiting for the inevitable "Meryl should be #1!" commenters to come out of the woodwork (see: bizarre melee over last week's recap).

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

@forever1267 - I thought they covered that this week - her mum passed away and she’s not close with her dad. And that was several years ago so her dad may have passed too!

Unsure who is MVP this week! Shailene did her best acting yet, Meryl is terrifying, Renata is Emmy worthy, Reese got me good and Nicole terrified me in the therapist office! Everyone’s firing on all cylinders and I’m so happy this show got a second chance.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

the car driving away with dern screaming "will somebody give a woman a moment" with middle fingers out two windows was just... all that i ever could have wished for for pride month.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCharles O

It struck me how it just goes for it, without a lot of fuss. It's kind of like All My Children mixed with a suspense film? Life is very messy after someone dies. Loved Celeste telling her mother-in-law that they had violent sex and the mother-in-law just tunes it out. I also really appreciate that they are giving Zoe Kravitz more to do. I love her face.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

This season is definitely broader in tone, which makes for entertaining moments but a different vibe altogether. I do like the visuals more. It seems they’ve melded Andrea Arnold’s eye with Jean-Marc Vallee’s approach to montage. Meryl and Nicole are my MVPs so far. I’m always grateful for more Laura Dern in my life, but — Diana Ross aside — this season’s done the greatest disservice to her character.

I’m interested to see where this season ends up. I can’t imagine another murder occurring, but every time Mary Louise stirs up more trouble I think to myself, “They’re gonna throw this bitch off a cliff, aren’t they?”

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEli

The characters are often flawed and yet I love all of them.

June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Nicole Kidman was tops for me this week. That scene with the therapist... yes gawd!!! Also, The Dern and that scene in the car.

June 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBecausewhynot

Good list Spencer... though I agree with Keith that "Nicole Kidman's ambien eyeliner" is definitely a top ten placer! ;)

H -- well said. The writing is .... questionable this season. but it's also so much fun that I dont care.

June 19, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The chance the academy has to nominate Laura, she'll win easily. She's truly incredible here, and since "Recount" has just been building so much goodwill.

June 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Wow...this episode seamlessly allowed everyone to have a moment to shine. All the actors slayed here.

June 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSoSue


June 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Kidman's scenes with the therapist are so boring. They feel like practically the same every time.

Woodley was the MVP of the episode.

I feel like every time the characters need to talk to someone, they're always going to Madeline. I guess it's because Reese always gives good reactions and is the more relatable character of the show. I hope she gets more to do since I don't really care about her affair to be honest. You never really get the feeling that she likes Adam Scott.

June 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

The mystery is that after years of abuse Celeste has no sense of self.

June 30, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrodie

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