What Was the Point of Big Little Lies Season 2?

The name of the finale of Big Little Lies’ second season, “I Want to Know,” is taken from the chorus of Creedence Clearwater Revival 1970 classic “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” A new version of the same song, recorded by Willie and Paula Nelson, accompanies the episode’s final dramatic montage. Stripped of its already vague meaning in John Fogerty’s composition, the phrase functions like a playful acknowledgement of the audience’s desire for closure in the show. Thanks to writer David E. Kelley’s annoyingly boilerplate approach to the slow-burn model of serial TV drama storytelling, there was much to clear up going into the final episode. Along with the inevitable verdict in Celeste’s case, there was the white elephant in the room to be dealt with: Would one of the Monterey Five give into their conscience and crack? I want to know, many thought.

As it turns out, though, what BLL’s showrunners and producers wanted us to know was that the show’s drama was not building up to everything it initially seemed to be. Outside of some questionable plot decisions, the episode also didn’t provide a sufficient answer a crucial larger question: What was the comprehensive purpose, or intended purpose, of this muddled followup season to a good show that should have never had a sequel? How did Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallée’s show go from a visionary experiment in its first season to a dramatically tedious shadow of itself in its second? Season two robbed Big Little Lies of subtlety and mystique, resembling the pseudo-intellectual subjectivity of the more unabashedly pulpy The Affair, incapable of finding resourceful new ways to tell its story.

According to a report published by Indiewire earlier this month, the downturn probably shouldn’t be blamed on the series’ new director Andrea Arnold, a British writer and director renowned for psychologically acute, verité-styled films like Fishtank and Red Road. Arnold reportedly worked from long scripts and built a great deal of trust with her female ensemble cast, teasing out a more complex story than what ended up on-screen. But according to Indiewire, a generous portion of “character exploration and ‘ephemeral stuff’” was axed in the final editing, a process over which Arnold lost control. First-season director Vallée, who was back on the scene during reshoots, reportedly shortened and reordered the season’s episodes, making more extensive use of elements like the flashbacks that dominated the series’ first season, giving the impression of a house style for the show.

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