TCA 19: ‘Big Little Lies’ Season 2 Explores the Aftermath of Trauma

Despite originally being billed as a miniseries, HBO’s global sensation Big Little Lies is coming back for a second season and has added Meryl Streep to its cast for good measure. She joined costars Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley as well as showrunner David E. Kelley at the TCAs earlier this month to discuss the difficult topics such as domestic violence and bullying that the show would continue to tackle.

Prison or paradise?

For her part, Streep chose Big Little Lies to herald her return to television precisely because of her passion for the series. “I loved this show. I was addicted to it. I thought it was an amazing exercise in what we know and what we don’t know about people; about family, about friends, how it flirted with the mystery of things,” she gushed. When it came to her character Mary Louise’s relationship with her daughter Celeste, though, she was more reticent. “I do love her. That’s the only thing I’ll tell you about my character. But that’s the truth.”

Nicole Kidman, who plays Celeste, confirmed that part of the reason for a second season in the first place was the cast’s desire to spend time together. That being said, “it was very much generated by the actual audiences and the desire to see these people still in existence.” Audience desires alone can’t sustain a story, which is why Kelley had to hit upon the perfect continuation. Thankfully he felt the previous finale was open-ended enough to create plenty of questions. “Will the lie have a life, will it have a malignancy, what will it do to the equation of these friends, these relationships, the marriage? So, there was a lot of fertile storytelling ground to be mined,” the showrunner explained. He confirmed that “the fissures and the fractures begin to emerge” in these women’s perfect lives and lies in the wake of the Trivia Night event, setting the scene for the next season. “Once the crevices start to widen, it escalates pretty quickly.”

Another year also means another opportunity to dive into the characters that didn’t get as much play the first time around. Witherspoon mentioned her own desire in that regard, saying, “The book ended with a lot to do with Bonnie’s character [played by Kravitz]. So, it was kind of fascinating to see how she was going to respond, and how the actual events happened and how it affected her, in her life.” Witherspoon credited author Liane Moriarty’s vision and story templates for creating paths that the new season could follow, such as her own character Madeline’s affair.

Lies that bind.

Kidman echoed her costar’s hints about Bonnie’s story. “Bonnie’s character wasn’t explored to the degree that it was in the book. So, it gets a greater chance to be explored.” She also brought up her own journey in the new season, adding, “What is the aftermath of abuse when the partner is gone — in this case, dead — but it doesn’t mean you’re healed?” She and Witherspoon have more opportunity than before to be a part of answering those questions now that they’re producers as well. Witherspoon spoke about the responsibility candidly, saying, “I get very concerned about logistics and schedules and wanting to accommodate people and help people and help facilitate their ideas.” Kidman herself has also found great joy in the position. “Everyone’s contributing, and being able to be a part of that group. I’ve never had that. And it’s lovely at this stage of my life and career to be doing something that I’ve never done before.”

Big Little Lies has seen one big change between seasons – a new director in Andrea Arnold. Despite a new hand at the helm of the camera, Kelley was confident it would not be alienating for viewers and merely be an expansion of the vocabulary of the first season. “Andrea’s brought a great skill set. She really mines the emotional center of character and story.” Kidman also talked about the change, agreeing that “this is a female gaze because we have a woman now behind the camera. But… The biggest difference for me with this one is that we don’t have the Greek chorus this time.”

The female gaze is important for this series, though, precisely because it deals with issues that women worldwide go through. Witherspoon confirmed that Season 2 would dig even further into said issues. “We’ve talked about trauma, we’ve experienced trauma, we see each other’s trauma, but how do we cope with it? And how do we go on and how do we carry on?” were some of the questions the show would be asking, according to her. Woodley latched onto her character Jane’s trauma in particular, and how its partial resolution would play out. “What does it look like once this ghost in her closet is gone?” She asked. “How does she cope from that, and how does she move forward in a way that’s healthy for her and her son, while also continuing to co-exist with a bunch of women who are [aligned with her]?”

Kravitz pointed out the shift now that Bonnie was actually part of the Monterey Five. “The dynamic is really interesting this season, because even though we are a group, we’re all going through so much. So there still is a conflict within us.” The dance between the secret the share and the difference in their views will certainly be interesting. And as for Laura Dern’s role? “[It’s] thrilling for Renata to have any friends,” Dern joked. “I just want to say how happy I was going to work every day, because I had other people to talk to.”

The second season of Big Little Lies premieres on HBO in June 2019.