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Big Little Lies MVPs: Episode 2.3 – “The End of the World”  

Previously: Episode 1 (Nathaniel) Episode 2 (Spencer)

by Lynn Lee

As someone who loved the first season of Big Little Lies, I have to admit I haven’t been enjoying the show’s sophomore outing as much, in large part because the tone has been so much more subdued, almost dirge-like.  It feels like the fire’s gone out of many of the key characters: Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), of course, but even more so, Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline.  (Not Renata, bless her – yet even her manic aggressiveness seems driven by a desperation that wasn’t there before.)  This isn’t a choice I quarrel with, exactly: it feels like a necessary reckoning as the inexorable aftermath of a violent death, and the cast is beautifully illustrating the strain the “Monterey Five”’s silence is exercising on each of their lives and relationships. 

That said, the moments of humor – mostly courtesy of Laura Dern as Renata, of course – came as an especially welcome break, and figure heavily in this week’s MVPs...

Top Ten MVPs of Big Little Lies, Episode 2.3: “The End of the World”

10.  Climate change & sustainability
Who would have guessed that a classroom discussion of Charlotte’s Web could lead to the moral of the E.B. White classic being…sustainable farming?  What starts off as an amusing curveball quickly shifts into a more serious register with poor Amabella’s anxiety attack…and back again with an enraged Renata vowing to “buy a fucking polar bear for every kid in this school.”  But the ridiculousness underscores a larger point, echoed later in the same episode by Jane (Shailene Woodley)’s new love interest Corey (Douglas Smith) as he lectures her on sustainable fishing.  The human community, as its own symbiotic organism, is a microcosm of the planet.  Every choice, every death, is going to affect the overall balance among the living; the question is whether their course can be corrected or is irreversible.

9.  Dr. Peep
Another wtf comic curveball arrives in the form of a child therapist (Kerry Kinney) dressed up as a not-so-little Bo Peep, who after cooing one moment to Amabella about tea and crumpets, in the next, without missing a beat, drops the act to relay a blunt missive to her parents: “She’s worried about the end of the planet.”  (Also about her parents, poor thing.)  Kinney’s delivery is spot-on from start to finish of her brief appearance, concluding with the killer line: “So there’s you, you, mostly the end of the world.”

8.  Principal Nippal
Up till now I haven’t held the long-suffering school principal in particularly high esteem.  But it’s impossible not to laugh and empathize as he faces down the human hurricane that is Renata Klein.  To his credit, he bends but doesn’t break, even if he immediately needs a smoke afterwards.  Can you blame him?

7.  Perry’s ghost
He’s gone, and yet his presence lingers on, whether in the “memory book” videos that show him at his most affectionate and endearing, Jane’s and Celeste’s own memories of him as anything but, complicated by Celeste’s sexual yearnings, the bruises observed by Dr. Reisman (Robyn Weigert, somewhat limited by weaker writing this season but still making the most of her quiet presence), and, of course, Perry’s sons.  The doctor is right: Perry is Celeste’s drug, and one all the Vicodin in her medicine cabinet can’t supplant.

6. Cruel Ed
It was easy for everyone to take “nice” Ed for granted and assume he’d always be there to support Madeline.  Until, suddenly, he wasn’t.  The streak of cruelty he shows in this episode – freezing his wife out, comforting Bonnie in her presence and then referring to it as a “twofer” (for needling both Maddie and Nathan), abandoning her at her most vulnerable – is painful yet feels pent-up and overdue, and Adam Scott brings the edge that he only hinted at last season.  Despite everyone’s assurances Ed will come back, Madeline finds herself teetering on an abyss of doubt and fear that this time, he might not. 

5.  Water
Brooding Bonnie can’t stop thinking about it – and immersing (drowning?) herself in it; whether that’s a portent of suicide or survival (as her mother tells a young Bonnie, “you need to get your hair wet” even if you hate it), remains to be seen.  Meanwhile, Jane takes a different tack, encouraging Ziggy to ride the ocean, with the assistance of her new surfer beau.  Is this conquest or avoidance?  It’s significant, I think, that it’s at this moment that Bonnie appears to tell Jane she needs to tell Corey everything – only to acknowledge ruefully that she isn't practicing what she preaches.

4.  Madeline’s car
Even last season, some of Madeline’s and Celeste’s best, most intimate interactions were in Maddie’s car – where both women could be entirely, unreservedly themselves.  This episode goes back to that well not once but twice, as we see Celeste providing warm support to her guilt-racked best friend.  Whatever these ladies’ flaws in dealing with their respective marriages and families, there’s no denying that they’ve gotten their friendship exactly right…as the car will bear witness.

3.  Madeline’s meltdown at the school assembly – “We’re not gonna be fine”
Have we ever seen Madeline so publicly unsure of herself, so decentered, so close to breaking?  Called on to give her opinion on the school’s climate change curriculum, she quickly goes off the rails and launches headlong into a nakedly personal cry of anguish.  It’s a tough moment for the woman who prides herself on her ironclad social armor, and Reese nails it.  When she declares “you need to tell them the whole truth,” it resonates as a broader message to all the protagonists.

2.  Queen Renata
Whether she’s demanding an entirely unnecessary hospital transfer to Stanford (“Because it’s Stanford!”), threatening to squish Principal Nippal like a bug, or ordering her bankrupt husband to sell his “toys,” Renata will not be ignored.  The character is verging on caricature this season, and yet Laura Dern’s nervy, enormously entertaining performance makes it impossible to take your eyes off her, and injects much-needed energy into the show.  That sideways glance from Madeline’s real estate colleague – half askance, half terrified – as Renata blows through the office says it all.  Gordon may be right that it’s an act to avoid being truly “present”…but what an act!

1. Jane vs. Mary Louise
aka Most Awkward Coffee Ever.  You can feel poor Jane stiffening as Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) segues from showing pictures of Perry as a young boy (who bears a startling physical resemblance to Ziggy) to reminiscing over how “sweet and gentle he was,” before moving in on her real object: trying to establish that he surely didn’t rape Jane.  Jane, of course, is having none of it and stands her ground admirably (Woodley’s very good in this scene, as she has been opposite the show’s other heavyweights), even as it must have been killing her inside to hear the insinuations that she (Jane) was the one responsible, that Perry might have been “tempted” (as “men can be in a moment of weakness”) and might have “misread a signal” from her.  The insidious slut-shaming is horrible, all the more so for the tone in which it’s framed – not belligerent, not even accusatory, but softly insistent, almost pleading.  Such is Streep’s genius that throughout this painful exchange, you can’t help feeling an undercurrent of pity for a mother who’s straining with all her might to hold on to her image of the perfect son who would never  do anything like this. 

Her final plea – “Did you see good in him?” carries a quiet desperation that’s become the hallmark of the series.  Do we really see good in people, or are we only projecting our own egos?

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Reader Comments (30)

Totally agree with your number one. Maybe Meryl and Shailene will work again. I hope so. This one I found the therapist to be way too confrontational. No one accuses couples of anything before understanding what's happened. But the show is brave for showing complex relationships between abuser and the abused. And any real depiction of women as multiple leads is a cause for celebration. I hope we get more of Mary Louise's internal life and back story, but I admire the show for being compelling and smart.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

The writing on this episode felt a little arch - lots of describing scenes we'd just watched. I also wish they'd give Zoe more to do than just look mournful by the beach.

Meryl is delicious however and Shailene has really brought it this season.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

filler episode imo.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

I really love Shailene. She's been my favorite out of the cast for this and previous episode.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTess

Emmy nods for Shailene and Meryl! The stuff at the school was kind of dumb. They seemed to ignore the immediate issue why a child was passing out in a closet. And this round, I feel Reese and Laura straining a bit? Still a fan however.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFaye

I believe this was the weakest episode so far. Some of the plot-lines are bordering on ridiculous, unfortunately. Still an amazing cast with brilliant acting all around.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Am I alone in thinking Laura Dern is just plainly bad this season? Granted that I'm in the minority in having found her too uneven in season 1, but her choices this second season are even more puzzling.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBVR


I love Dern, but yes I find her bordering on Renee Zellweger/Cold Mountain obnoxious this season. It's like her character's only purpose this season is to be meme-worthy.

But Shailene is giving the performance of her career this season. The scene with her and Meryl was astonishing.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Can we start a go fund me page to make Renata rich again so she can buy polar bears for the children of Monterey? :)

I never got the appeal of Shailene until the last two episodes. The look on her face while she’s trying to balance empathy for the mother of her rapist and her own truth is simply sublime.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBecausewhynot

Ditto on Shailene. Best part of the season so far.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Shailene is giving us beautiful work.

I still adore Reese.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

Sorry but I think this thing should've been a one season endeavor. Streep is in amusing form here (though it's hardly career-best stuff) but everything else is falling flat for me.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Beautiful write-up, Lynn. I think Jane and Ziggy's bond is consistently my favorite part of the show - Woodley and Armitage are both so good.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Reese Witherspoon is an absolute marvel on this show. I don't blame her for wanting to play this character forever. The assembly speech is a master class. I hope in 15 or 20 years Emma Stone gets to tear into material like this.

The therapist jumped the shark in this episode, unfortunately. She went from probing for a breakthrough to acting outright hostile, giving bad advice and kicking her clients when they're down. If I were Weigart I would've had major issues reading and playing that scene.

Celeste actually seems more enlightened about her relationship with Perry than her shrink does, in a way. And I suspect Madeleine and Ed are better off without the good doctor's "help."

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

H -- agreed on the therapist. I wish they'd have dropped that subplot though it was awesome last season. It's too much of the same and without the delicate careful writing.

Reese is #1 this season for me. She was already fab last season but still remarkable in such a perfect role for her.

because why not --

Can we start a go fund me page to make Renata rich again so she can buy polar bears for the children of Monterey? :)


BVR -- she's definitely been given license to go full caricature. But whenever she's with the other women, i think she's excellent... it's still the same performance but less ACTED.

Lynn - dr bopeep is MUCH higher for me but i love that you included her. I couldn't believe what i was seeing and i loved it. i loved it

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It was weird when Renata's husband gave his speech about how hard it was to "pierce her walls," how guarded she was, and how walled off she's becoming again. Seriously?! 🤣

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

I definitely agree with this #1. Meryl was terrific in that scene, and despite the awful things she was saying to to Jane, I did feel sorry for her. Imagine losing both of your children and finding out one of them was a rapist. Most of us would try to justify his behavior somehow, too. She has played that beautifully. And Shailene is wonderful reacting to her, particularly in that scene (and in the scene where she, Mary Louise and Ziggy lock eyes outside the car).

I actually like this season better than last season. Last season was far from perfect (I hated the Greek chorus last season, it took me out of every episode with its jarring tone).

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Meh on this season. Feels very actress-y with a capital A and Real Housewives of Monterrey. The writing is letting it down. Mary Louise’s fake teeth are getting on my nerves. It’s like Meryl said “give me some more costume so I can disappear into the role!” Nope. She’s way better than that. Plus, a posh San Franciscan woman of her age would actually have hair like the real Meryl instead of this dowdy, creepy old lady ‘do.

Shailene and Ziggy are the MVPs for me.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPam

It's all subjective, but I feel like Reese is the one most obviously working hard to get through her lines. She's not terrible, but she is not as natural as the others. To date, I would rate them as


June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Nathaniel: Re Dr Peep, right??? I probably should have ranked her higher. In general, I think I tended to give higher rankings to the things that seemed more significant to the overall story rather than how much pure enjoyment they gave me.

Tyler: Thanks! And I agree, Jane & Ziggy have a lovely dynamic that feels completely unforced and natural.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Lee

When Shailene sheds a tear dancing with her (weird) new boy toy, I felt so much heartbreak. Everyone seems to be going for different emotional registers this season, but Shailene is easily the most grounded and identifiably human.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParker B

I think one of the issues people may be having with this season is that we don't know what the ultimate payoff will be. Last season we were told right off the bat that we would come full circle to the murder, but it's not clear where we're going this time. I'm not minding the slow burn, but I could get how the this elusiveness could be frustrating for some. I am having a bit of an issue with the tone, or rather the shifts in tone. Kidman, Woodley, and Kravitz may as well be in a (beautifully sad) show of their own. The shift was there last season, but just doesn't feel as organic this time around. Still, this is the highlight of my viewing week, so I'll keep my complaints to a minimum.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVal

My favorites this season: Streep, Reece and Woodley.

I just read that Streep and Kidman have signed on to star in The Prom... the Broadway musical. Ryan Murphy is producing with Netflix.

I have to admit, although I do not care for as an actress, Kidman has been able to hook up with stars who can help her. First Cruise, and now Streep. Even with the immense popularity of Big Little Lies Season 1... she was still not able to open a movie. Oh weell, that's Hollywood!!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Nicole is more of a prestige actress, but she has been featured in recent box office hits (Aquaman, the awful one with Kevin Hart, Paddington). I would say studios like her for supporting.There are very few women who can open a film as a lead, depending on the subject matter: Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren. Everyone else is kind of iffy.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Mojo

Helen Mirren? Which films has she opened? I think most actresses (and actors, for that matter) these days are almost entirely dependent on the subject matter of their films (or sizzling word of mouth) to open their films.

I still maintain that Big Little Lies should've left good enough alone and not continued but, three episode in, this has been a nice showcase for Woodley, who seemed a little out of her depth the first time around. (Incidentally, anyone else think that Corey, Jane's suitor, is somehow related to Perry? II suspect brother. Hmm...)

P.S. Are there no other therapists in Monterrey?!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Winchester, you bitch!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDHM

Opening means "making money" bitch!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

I could do without more scenes of Bonnie staring at the ocean (we get it) but otherwise still find this a very engrossing watch. Thrilled about “Prom.” What a great cast.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Love The Prom! Looks like Streep ain’t stopping any time soon.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I hope there's an upcoming scene of Mary Louise removing her teeth. Otherwise, no.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRosa Moline

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