Remember when we all thought Big Little Lies (Sundays, 9 p.m., Crave) was going to be a murder mystery starring big name movie stars like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon? Little did we know it would transform from a steamy summer whodunnit to basically a dissertation about motherhood and the female experience.
Of course we should have known. It isn’t just any old TV show that pulls in that calibre of celebrity and recruits a singular entity like Meryl Streep in the second season. So now that we’re well into the seven-episode arc of Season 2, things are unravelling pretty quickly in terms of those female characters and how they’re killing it (or not killing it) in the mom department. On the heels of Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgärd) death, we’re learning more about how each of the mums and their families have been affected by this huge, year-long secret, and how their respective withdrawals from their families have been taking a toll—specifically on the kids.
In the first two episodes we certainly saw how the death has affected Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), Madeleine, Celeste, Jane (Shailene Woodley) and their respective crews. But Sunday night’s episode, “The End of the World,” was seemingly devoted to Renata (Laura Dern) and her slow mental decline, and we couldn’t get enough.
Don’t get us wrong. Renata is scary AF and the way she’s been lashing out at everyone and anyone is… well the word “flabbergasting” comes to mind. Who didn’t want to reach out and hug that poor second-grade teacher for simply following the curriculum, or even shake some sense into the woman when she was going off on the doctor following Amabella’s (Ivy George) anxiety attack? Renata is not in a good place, but she’s also in such severe denial over everything that’s happened that she can’t see clearly. And not even a Bo-Peep-costume-wearing child psychologist (or whatever that woman was) seems to be able to knock some sense into her.
Still, the way that Dern plays her is so complex and layered that you can’t help but want more of her on the screen. If you break things down, Renata’s Peter Pan, man-child of a husband (Jeffrey Nordling) basically committing fraud and losing all of their money is stressful enough. Add in a murder cover-up and those ongoing issues with her daughter, and Mama Bear is out for blood.
Or, honey. Or whatever it is that bears want more.
Actually, make that polar bears, which Renata is apparently buying all of the students once she’s rich again. As we saw in the episode, her breaking point came when Amabella basically feared the end of the world (hence the episode title) after her teacher turned a lesson about Charlotte’s Web into a discussion about global warming and the environment. He reminded the students that it takes 50 litres of water to make one single sausage, which Charlotte apparently wanted to avoid by saving Wilbur, and it was enough to cause Amabella to break down in the closet. Or, fall into a coma if you listened to Renata’s rants about it. (Isn’t it great how spot-on yet comedic and ridiculous this can be all at once?)
We feel like any parent would question those tactics towards second-graders, hence the school assembly that followed. But the over-the-top and extreme way Renata dealt with the issue isn’t just code for helicopter parents everywhere; it’s also showing how she’s approaching her own boiling point with very few resources to help her handle it. Unlike Bonnie, she doesn’t have her mother there. Her husband is basically useless right now, and even her friendships are built on a very questionable platform (a.k.a. that shared secret). Can you really blame Renata for jumping into defence mode and relying on the verbal sparring skills that have served her so well in the past?
We don’t, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t worried for her—and even more so for Amabella— as the pressure continues to mount thanks to Mary Louise’s investigation and Gordon’s trial. If we’re being totally honest though, we also can’t wait to see where Dern takes the role next. Because nobody does meltdowns like Renata, and that makes her totally worth watching in a series that’s filled with stars.