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« Showbiz History: Hound dog Kurt Russell and fishy Fiona Shaw | Main | Watch at home: Strange things to tell the bees during the Peterloo massacre »
Tuesday
Jul092019

Big Little Lies MVPS: Episode 2.5 "Kill Me"

PreviouslyEpisode 1 (Nathaniel) Episode 2 (Spencer) Episode 3 (Lynn) Episode 4 (Nathaniel) 

by Eric Blume

I’m onboard with most of the TFE staff that season two of Big Little Lies isn’t quite up to the level of its first season, but that it’s filled with fun, exciting, and interesting things.  Last week, Nathaniel noted that David Kelley’s writing is weaker this season, and I agree (especially in those therapy scenes), but it’s also about the directing: Andrea Arnold has talent, but she lacks Jean-Marc Vallee’s lush lyricism and ability to keep everything jangled and on-edge. She also doesn’t have Vallee’s gift for framing:  the images aren’t as memorable as what Vallee put together, and she’s shot too many in-the-car sequences from the backseat so the scenes feel repetitive rather than intimate and revealing. 

 But each episode holds wonderful surprises and treats for those invested in the show...

Top Ten MVPs of Big Little Lies, Episode 2.5 "Kill Me"

10.  Fitness
It’s a nice touch that we see these characters continually running or biking or doing yoga or something active:  these beautiful people don’t have these beautiful bodies by accident!  

9.  Natural Woman
Reese singing Carole King to Adam Scott in the car (a beat late on every line) is all of the things:  adorable, real, comic, and a reminder that she did all her own singing as June Carter Cash! These kind of moments happen between real couples all the time, and we don’t see them often.  Plus, Scott’s button is fantastic (“Really?”).

8.  Editing
This shot, which comes directly after Scott’s button, jumps us immediately mid-scene with Kidman and Dern.  It’s a reminder of how incredibly elegant the editing can be on this show, and how crucial it is to the show’s power.  There are FIVE credited editors in the opening credits of the show, and the editing at its best gives the show a glorious disorientation that helps the show transcend the domestic genre.  The editors did electrifying work in the first season, and there’s still plenty of it sprinkled throughout season two. They get you out of scenes before traditional editing does, and simultaneously get you into scenes a beat earlier than usual.  The editors are unsung heroes on this show.

7.  "Backstabbing Sluts"
Laura Dern gets maybe her best scene in the season opposite Nicole Kidman, where she manages to offer help to Celeste, then insult her, then simultaneously compliment and insult her lawyer friend, clarify that nobody can handle people like she can, and escalate from there.  By the time she calls the magazine editors “backstabbing sluts” we’re reminded of Dern’s special ability to inject dark human comedy into scenes like few can. Dern has been directed a little all over the map this season, but she has such a masterful ability to slide between anger and comedy when she’s on fire.

6.  Mother/Daughter Time
Zoe Kravitz got a lovely, intimate scene with her daughter in the hospital this week.  Kravitz isn’t the most expressive actor out there.  Her performance often exists on a one-emotion-at-a-time plateau, and she’s not great at shading. But we got to see a fresh side to her character in this tiny scene, and Kravitz’s face, perfect for the camera, flushed with all sorts of flavors.

5.  Hugs
Witherspoon and Scott go to a hippie therapy session where they’re encouraged to “explore the space” and hug people when they feel like it.  It’s both a parodic and real spin on California yuppiedom…and it kind of doesn’t work, except it does.

4.  Dern vs Streep
Renata, convinced that she can straighten out Mary Louise, invites her to tea, where Streep’s character upends the conversation.  It’s fun because we’re watching not just Mary Louise take over from Renata, but Streep take over from Dern. Streep seems to be having a marvelous time in this role, not needing to carry the whole ship, and all of her scenes are like little bombs about to go off.  Plus just seeing Meryl Streep and Laura Dern in a scene together is some sort of heaven that I still can’t process.

3.  Ziggy
Iain Armitage, who plays Jane’s son Ziggy, has a face out of a Rubens painting, and Arnold does great work with him to keep him natural.  His rapport with Shailene Woodley really is extraordinary. Side shout for Shailene, too: she is killing it this season!

2.  Why Is Grandma Doing This?
Nicole’s scene with her two sons, where she confesses her “sadness” plays incredibly well, because it gets to the heart of what season two is really about:  how honest can we be, should we be, with children? Obviously the environment/world-ending subplot a couple of weeks ago hit the nose a little hard on this, but here Kelley writes with wondrous tenderness.  Celeste keeps facing crossroads with her children where she can tell the truth or spin, and she keeps moving forward honestly, to what seems will be a price. The writing here is stunning, and Kidman’s emotional directness makes the scene fly.

1.  Adam Scott
Even as a professional lover of actresses, it makes me a little sad during the opening credits each week when each actress gets a cutaway after their name, but when Scott’s name comes up, there’s nothing, because he really remains one of the MVPs of the series.  He pulls out his incredible instincts for comedy at strategic moments but plays most of his scenes with a surprising forcefulness, coupled with a delicate subtlety. It’s tough to play Everyman unboringly, and Scott adds so much humor and humanity to every scene he’s in.  Plus he brings out a softness in Reese Witherspoon that’s miraculous to witness. Together, these two actors are playing a complex symphony of conflicting truths and divergent emotions that only exist in long-term couples. It’s the definition of superb supporting character work, and I hope to see him at the Emmys next year. 

 

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Reader Comments (27)

I feel this has been the weakest episode yet. In a short time they are trying to get all 5 Monterey women and Streep into the episode. There is not a lot of drama to fill 7 episodes.

Hope the last two episodes are a little stronger.

Overall, everyone is doing a fine job on their characters.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Happy for the shout out to Adam Scott. He's doing great work in this series.

I too believe this was the weakest episode of the series so far. It's hard to imagine how all of this is going to wrap up with only two episodes remaining.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Laura Dern is so wildly entertaining. I think I quote her character pretty much every single day. I keep reading people complain about her performance being "too broad" but whatever, she's fucking awesome. Apologizes to Meryl Streep's teeth acting but Laura Dern is the MVP this season.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

YES to Adam Scott. I was frankly pissed he didn't get more kudos last season.

I cannot believe they cut the ice cream throwing scene.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I think this is surpassing season 1 in terms of going deep in those caracthers, and andrea is achievieng some great direction decisions... maybe Im wrong but I dont agree with all the negativity posted here.... this won’t be the iconic season 1, and its not mean to be. So for me, we are geting one trully madly great season 2.... maybe better than season 1, and that’s becsuse of andrea and because of the caracthers development....

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEwan23

Laura Dern continues to be horrendous this season. I'm not sure if it's how poorly the character is written or Dern playing it with not an ounce of restraint.

This was the best work from Zoe so far this season, though I agree with Eric that she's not overall that strong of an actor.

I want Shailene and Nicole to take their kids and run off together.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Correction: there are 10 (!!!) credited editors in the opening credits of this season!

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Kris Talley keeps implying on twitter that maybe Arnold had far less control than implied, and that the Vallee presence in the editing has some greater story behind it. I find that kind of believable to be honest, there is a rawness that Arnold brings that doesn’t feel presented.

I agree that the writing is much weaker this season. And it’s a shame because there are some great ideas and plot lines in there, there just needed to be more development and less repetition. The actors are really stellar though.

Love the Scott shout out, he is really bringing it.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I am less hard on this season than other people because for a phase 2, which is never easy, they made it entertaining. The first season, everything was new. This time they have to deal with a new protagonist (or antagonist) who is on to them, more so than the police. The scene with Streep and Dern was great but I wanted more. Agree Adam Scott has taken a small role and done great things with it. Men rarely get to work through emotions in film.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Dern's performance is either the result of bad direction or not enough direction. Somebody either told her to act badly or didn't tell her she was acting badly.

Of course Arnold was stepping into a stylistic idiom someone else created (with weaker material someone else wrote). That's true of every director who's stepped onto the set of an established TV series in history; Some longrunning shows have dozens of directors from start to finish. Let's just say I'm unmoved by the idea that she "had far less control than implied."

Reese is still a wonder in this character.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

Everytime I see Adam Scott on TV (here and in Parks and Rec), I get pregnant in my non-existent vagina.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBecausewhynot

episode 2.5?

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commentersnon

How great would it be if Adam won an Emmy? I am seeing Meryl and Shailene for supporting, maybe Laura because of her popularity with actors. Reese and Nicole will campaign for lead.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFaye

episode 2.5?

Season 2, Episode 5.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I thought the season was building to a dramatic denouement from these women having to hide the "secret" from last season. But now, I don't quite understand what is going on. The disjointed nature of the characters is not making for good entertainment. And I agree that the direction seems a little iffy.

Dern and Streep are too over the top at times. Dern's monologue to her husband at her daughter's bday party was the highlight of the season for me, but it was completely out of character considering the tone we've seen from her this season. Streep is chewing scenery. And Kidman is sooooo understated this season. Almost like she isn't even trying.

I am hoping that it will all tie together. But right now, I'm not seeing it. All I see is that Bonnie is wearing the same MFing sweater every week.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

Streep over the top? I think on the contrary she's quite subtle. But yes the season looks like it's going nowhere. Blame it on the pacing, script and direction.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

It’s time for a Mary Louse confessional about her other son who died in a car crash and exactly why her husband left her. Plus I would enjoy Patricia Clarkson showing up as her girlfriend from San Francisco, and Stellan Skarsgaard showing up as her ex-husband.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJane

I don't think Streep is over-the-top or doing "teeth acting," but mileages vary. I think she is pretty spectacular here, better than the material.

I do like Season 2 - and I wasn't a huge fan of Season 1. With that being said....

It's unfortunate that we got so little of the scene with Streep and Dern this week. I find it hard to believe that Renata, among all women in the group, would be cowed so easily by Mary Louise. I would like to have heard the rest of the conversation. We didn't even really hear Renata ask Mary Louise to drop the suit, did we? (And if you've known a "Renata", you know that Dern isn't overacting - some people really do behave that way.)

If Celeste is really this brilliant attorney, I think she would at least consider negotiating with Mary Louise, rather than subjecting all of her friends to testimony. Mary Louise is after testimony, not custody; she wants to resolve the mystery surrounding her son. Celeste should be able to think that through.

It was painful when Kidman's accent was all over the place during her big scene this week. I agree that she doesn't seem to be trying. She feels like the weak link among the cast.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I still can’t see past Reese.

‘You can trust me to love you’ flawed me.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

I think the writing and the acting from the twins have been great this season. I like the subtle touch that one seems to be more aggressive than the other.

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

I tend to think people are overly exaggerating the dip in quality this season. It doesn't have the freshness of being new, the surprise of being better than expected (not just women being bitches and gossipy) and without a central mystery. I think it's doing equally strong things that are so rare in film and TV. Last season had the Reese cheating storyline that felt tacked on, but it's delivering in spades this season, for Reese but especially for Adam Scott who is just so great. I love his dynamic with the ex-husband who is a baiter and he's just not having it with much bigger fish to fry.

Laura's storyline does feel a bit like they didn't know where to take her character, but if this had happened in season one I doubt people would be as baffled by the direction as they claim to be now.

I am super impressed by Shailene this season, continually impressed by Nicole and Reese, think Meryl is doing something super tightrope-adjacent and it's working. I see Arnold's influence in some places, less so in others. So about what one should expect from a tv series that had already build an identifiable style under the guise of a different director.

July 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Renata to Amabella: "Everything isn’t about money !... Well, it is, but it isn’t.”

LOL

July 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

It’s fantastic how each person take a different aproach from this series.
Which to me makes the show great!

I don’t agree at all that this season has weak writing. Instead, I think its 'most write' than the first season. The difference is that in season one we have the book history to tell and now they could explore a little more the characters…

As every show, there are some parts that are not always great. Particularly I think last episode has little things to tell and this one had too much, that I don’t like the way they cut certain scenes just to be under one hour [Give me the two hours cut with more of the rafting scene, the Nicole's bathroom bar escapades, the hugging therapy, the Ed's possible threeway (please!), more of Meryl vs Dern and of course, the ice-cream throwing scene...].

I think all actress are great and this season they give us ‘mean' Ed with its fantastic because Adam Scott is killing with it. I do believe Laura Dern is a little too much, but I agree that Renata is a over the top character and believe me exist people like that, so I think the meme quality of the character is really good.

Anyway, the next two episodes according to the previews are going to the court room with is Kelley’s strength but I not really that excited. However, I love this characters and the cast work, so I’m looking foward to see it.

By the way I love the cliffhanger, but I think maybe is not what we all assume…

July 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

Well, I have nary a complaint about this last episode, though I do wonder what episodes 6 and 7 will bring. I have very few shows I watch regularly, but wait for BLL all week. I think all the actresses are doing great work. Mary Louise continues to stir things up, and none of the Monterey Five seem to know how exactly to handle her. I love Laura Dern's Renata, the way she is over and top and overly dramatic about pretty much everything. I do think maybe they should give Bonnie more of a story, but let's face it, she's fifth ranked among the women in the credits, and maybe she's not meant to be a major character other than the fact that she's the one who pushed Celeste's husband down the stairs.

July 12, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrrrich7

Everyone, read the indiewire story about Andrea Arnold. They done her wrong.

July 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Re: my original comment - it appears the Arnold information has been released.

July 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

IndieWire explains it all. #BLL2, with its 11 (!!!) credited editors, was majorly misguided, y’all! Poor Andrea Arnold, done dirty by David E. Kelley, Jean-Marc Vallée, etc. No wonder this season seemed off!

July 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

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