Admit It: The Big Little Lies Finale Was a Letdown

It was supposed to be a limited series, and it probably should've stayed that way.

Big Little Lies Was Bad
Photo: HBO

When was the last time you felt truly satisfied by a series finale? Was it when Mr. Big arrived in Paris to rescue Carrie Bradshaw, or Rachel skipped Paris to be with Ross? (If yes in either case, please consider revisiting.) Maybe it was The Sopranos surprisingly fading to black in the middle of a family dinner — no action, no tidy bows. That ending repays fans’ dedication to the show by saying: You can have this forever now. You can wonder about it. Revisit this family and reshape what you think happens to them over the years. The neat and tidy kind of finale — like Big Little Lies Season 2 — offers no such favors. Instead, it delivers a wrap-up that spells out an answer to any possible lingering question. And what fun is that?

I was among the fervent fans at the finale of Season 1 who couldn’t bear the thought of no more BLL. We tweeted, we Facebooked, we begged for more, and we got it. With a bonus Meryl Streep. Whatever we did to deserve that, I still don’t know.

But what we got felt a lot like the final season of Game of Thrones: a punishment for our greed.

Why couldn’t we just let it be open-ended? Why did we need every question answered, every plot tied up so perfectly it felt embarrassing to even watch?

The consensus at the end of Game of Thrones was that the writers gave us a tiring blow-by-blow of every character’s whereabouts, when fans were hungry for more twists, turns and excitement. Instead, there was Cersei being randomly crushed by rocks, and the staring-in-a-tree character who had nothing to do with the rest of the plot, somehow becoming in charge forever. No stone unturned, no heavy-handed metaphor unused.

And as for Big Little Lies? Here is a renewal of vows that were broken between Ed and Madeline (busty distraction lady left as nothing more than that). Here is a united front — of women who barely cared for each other at the start, a tension that glued us to the series at first — marching to the police station to set the record straight on their biggest lie. This, right after Celeste’s custody battle, which feels like a neat victory even though it would immediately be jeopardized by her copping to covering up a murder. Here is a traumatized rape survivor making love, and all the children of her rapist playing together, restored to the watchful eyes of their rightful guardians. Here is Renata Klein’s righteous anger as she finally says enough to her comically bad husband, and then Bonnie releasing her good-enough one to find herself instead. The lights have been turned on, and there are no more monsters under the bed. And as a result, there’s nothing else to talk about.

An ending like this takes away the best part of the show: That it was a wildly compelling story left titillatingly open-ended. Remember, it was meant to be a limited series. Perhaps it should’ve stayed limited. There were several instances of foreshadowing that seemed to spell trouble for the Five (Jane’s boyfriend’s involvement with the police, ominous scenes of somebody drowning, that detective still hard at work in the background) which become moot with a finale that cauterizes every hole. They either mattered or didn’t and now we know.

As a viral Twitter thread and then Time magazine pointed out, there’s a pretty slim chance any of these women would’ve faced jail time for Perry’s death. Whether they went to the police or not, it wasn’t a justice system that would bring them to justice, but the drama within themselves and each other. At the end of Season 1 it could’ve gone either way. The lie would’ve eaten them alive, or they would’ve packaged it away stoically, thriving on the beautiful bluffs of Monterey. What a gift it would’ve been to fans to let us debate until the ends of time if Bonnie would break and come clean, if Madeline’s egocentric meddling would’ve somehow brought it all down around them, or Celeste would ever join arms with Jane and make brothers out of their boys. By showing us Bonnie’s cathartic admission to her mother; Celeste’s powerful court scene where she explains in crushing detail (and video) the pain her husband caused; introducing Perry’s mother as a new demon and just as cleanly sending her away; the show gave us a happily ever after that no one asked for. Kind of like Madeline and Ed’s.

Which is not to speak ill of the powerhouse performances this season. I will personally carry Laura Dern’s several meltdowns as Renata Klein filed under various “moods” for the rest of time. Meryl Streep embodied a person so manipulative and worrisome one could easily imagine her materializing in the flesh and causing all manor of personal havoc. Zoe Kravitz’s tortured emotions as Bonnie carried through start to finish. Nicole Kidman and that court scene, my god. And Reese Witherspoon, playing off of Adam Scott and her two daughters, delivered a real and touching account of attempting to set right that which you’ve irrevocably fucked up. Watching each of these performances was enjoyable, maybe even cathartic. But it wasn’t fulfilling. It felt like getting exactly what you asked for and then realizing you shouldn’t have asked.

Just because we have access to all the TV writers and showrunners out there via social media doesn’t mean they need to listen to our greedy demands. The creators of Big Little Lies made something wonderful the first time, based on the source material of Liane Moriarty’s book. If only we’d been happy enough with that.

And then, they could’ve done literally anything with this cast, crew, and budget instead of stretching out the Big Little Lies plot for an invented second season. Such as: Reboot The West Wing with Meryl Streep as an Elizabeth Warren-like president, Laura Dern as her tough-talkin’ wife who sometimes gets the campaign in trouble, and Reese Witherspoon as the from-the-heartland chief of staff who's here to keep the administration relatable. Or maybe just give us a Renata Klein spinoff, because there isn’t a woman in America who couldn’t use more of those memes.

Short of those two pipe dreams, though? I say we’ve had enough of the Monterey Five. In fact, I think the whole second season was too much of a good thing.

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