‘Big Little Lies’ Season 2, Episode 2 Recap: Creatures of Want

Season 2, Episode 2: ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’

The Grateful Dead once warned, “When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.” While most of the Monterey Five don’t exude “Deadhead,” that doesn’t mean this insight isn’t just as pertinent to their lives as to anyone’s. Despite having made it about a year with all their essential secrets staying buried, now, a whole bunch of them are ripping to the surface.

“They tell me they have a brother,” Mary Louise says to a shaking Celeste when she emerges from Josh and Max’s room. The kids, it seems, talk too, and Chloe Mackenzie (Darby Camp) has taken it upon herself to reveal a tidbit she picked up from eavesdropping on her mother: that Ziggy Chapman (Iain Armitage) is Perry’s son and a brother to their classmates Josh and Max (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti). Their mothers, Jane and Celeste, who have done everything possible to shield their sons from Perry’s violent nature, have no choice but to come clean to their kids.

Celeste’s sit-down with her sons, in which she reveals it’s Ziggy who is their brother (Chloe hadn’t given them a name), goes remarkably well. The revelation is more of a firecracker than a bombshell. The boys had already heard half the secret, and they’re already friends with Ziggy. Is this such a big deal? Can they go back to playing Fortnite now? Their naïve acceptance is bizarrely heartwarming. In a scene toward the end of the show, Celeste is seen bringing her sons to Jane’s house to play, both moms seemingly planting seeds for what could become some tangled version of a modern family.

But, of course, it’s not that easy. Simply telling the truth about Perry can’t erase the stains he has left on his children.

Celeste’s sons are increasingly showing signs that they bend toward Perry’s violent tendencies. And while Ziggy seems not to have inherited that predilection, he is saddled with a heavier truth about his father that has thus far been kept from his brothers: that Perry was a bad guy. In a tender scene between Jane and Ziggy, in which Jane wipes unstoppable tears (you might have, too), she is forced to explain to Ziggy that he is the product of sexual assault.

On top of it all, Mary Louise — whose menace thus far has lingered beneath the surface — is now threatening outright. “I’ll go to the police,” she tells Celeste after Celeste spills about the rape and Perry’s abuse. “To get some answers.”

Mary Louise knew Celeste was planning to leave Perry, but now she knows about Ziggy, and she knows exactly when Celeste put all this together — right before Perry died. “You left some things out, didn’t you?” she says of Celeste’s statement to the police.

You know who else is leaving a lot of things out? Bonnie.

She’s still distraught and withdrawn, so Bonnie’s husband, Nathan (James Tupper), calls Bonnie’s mother, Elizabeth (Crystal Fox), who shows up to help him weave back together the pieces of his unraveled wife. Bonnie may be hippie-dippie, but her mother turns it up to mystic. She leaves crystals and other spell-casting trinkets in Bonnie’s room as she sleeps — a practice Bonnie has apparently kiboshed before and similarly rejects now. She wants her mother gone.

Bonnie’s relationship with her mother is clearly fraught, although the reasons behind that aren’t yet clear (at least in the TV version of this tale). But there’s distrust in both directions. Fed up with Bonnie’s denials that anything exterior is troubling her, her mother finally asks, “What have you done this time?”

What happened last time?

While Bonnie’s past is still a blur, that of Gordon Klein (Jeffrey Nordling) suddenly comes into sharp focus.

Renata’s high of being named cover girl for the “women in power” magazine feature comes crashing down quickly when the feds pull up to arrest her husband for some shady dealings in which he literally bet the farm. (O.K., the ranch.) He assures his wife that their daughter Amabella’s trust will remain intact, but the rest of their fortune is on the line, and Renata absolutely will not have it. “I will not not be rich!” she hisses at him through the glass at the jail.

As we knelt at the altar of Meryl Streep last week, this seems an appropriate moment to worship Laura Dern. To play the character Renata Klein, you must invoke both confidence and desperation beneath a layer of unhinged crazy, and Dern does it deliciously. The scene in which Renata holds up traffic in front of a mass of beeping horns, shrieking profanity as she kicks her husband out of the car — only to later go pick him up on the side of the road in a fit of sympathy — is utterly ridiculous but completely believable. Classic Renata. Because we have perfect Laura Dern.

There’s reason for Renata to be worried about more than just money, though. The F.B.I. has taken her iPad and computer for the investigation into her husband, and even worse, she suspects they might be in cahoots with Detective Quinlan (Merrin Dungey), who creeps around the entire episode. She’s in the background when Gordon is arrested, but she is also spotted tailing Bonnie on the road.

“I’m telling you, I think she’s been watching,” Renata tells a visibly spooked Madeline.

And that’s just the start of a bad day for Madeline that ends far worse than she could have imagined.

From the jump in Season 1, Madeline and Ed have been disconnected as a couple, and they’ve mostly hoped that if they ignored that fact, it would go away. But the lack of real intimacy reaches a fever pitch for Ed when he finds out that Perry is Ziggy’s father, and that his wife has known the whole time.

“What are we, people who keep secrets from each other?” he says to Madeline. “Is that our thing now?” He gets a gut-punching answer to that question real quick.

Sitting in the kitchen, arguing with her mother (again), eldest daughter, Abigail (Kathryn Newton), throws into Madeline’s face something that her mother confided in her a year before: Madeline’s affair with her “Avenue Q” collaborator, Joseph (Santiago Cabrera). (Seriously Madeline, your kids are blabbermouths.) Unbeknown to either, Ed is standing in the doorway. Another long-buried secret is out.

Later, with a hand quivering, Ed faces the truth he has long been avoiding: His marriage is a costume. He ends it.

So, everyone in Monterey had a pretty miserable week. But the good news of this episode is that, at a breakneck pace, it put to rest much of the doubt that this sequel story line had enough juice to make it on its own.

Things I’ll Be Thinking About Until Next Week:

Jane’s budding love interest, Corey (Douglas Smith) — what’s with this kid? He has a weird charm, but he gives Jane the heebie jeebies. More than likely, she has good reason to listen to her witch vibe.

In a flashback scene with Celeste and Perry, and in a conversation between Celeste and Mary Louise, a reference is made to losing Perry’s brother at a young age. How? Why? What whole new trove of secrets might be wrapped up in that story?

Considering how keen she is on pushing her husband Joseph’s buttons, Tori Bachman (Sarah Sokolovic), who made a point to tell Ed all about her breast enlargement at the supermarket last week, might be up for revenge sex with Ed if he feels drawn to his baser instincts.

“We’re creatures of want,” Gordon shouts as an excuse for his poor choices. “You strike me as a wanter,” Mary Louise says accusingly to Madeline in Episode 1. “Did you ever want it? Did you want it bad?” croons Michael Kiwanuka in the opening credits. Seems like something of a theme …

Anyone else notice Renata call Madeline “babe”? That’s quite a switch from last season’s incessant “Mad-a-line”s, which were apparently an ad-lib by Laura Dern.

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