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‘Big Little Lies’ Is Back. Here’s Where It Left Off.


‘Big Little Lies’ Is Back. Here’s Where It Left Off.

This article contains spoilers for Season 1 of “Big Little Lies.”

David E. Kelly’s Emmy-winning series “Big Little Lies” returns to HBO on Sunday, with a new director (Andrea Arnold) and a new addition to its already star-studded ensemble (Meryl Streep).

What will the fallout be from last season’s climactic fatal push? A few things, at least, seem certain: There will be much existential ocean-gazing from craggy Monterey shores. And the school’s trivia night fund-raiser will never be the same.

More than two years have passed since Season 1 ended, and with all the secrets and lies swirling around this tight-knit California community, you may need help remembering the events that precipitated Perry’s quick trip down the stairs. Here’s a character guide to jog your memory.

Played with equal parts charm and manic energy by Reese Witherspoon, Madeline is the primary lens of this story. Her preferred state, as described by her second husband, Ed (Adam Scott), is “agitated.” And who’s to blame her? She’s an alpha mom who can’t communicate with her teenage daughter, Abigail (Kathryn Newton), and she resents her ex-husband’s marriage to Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz). Which leaves Ed with the feeling that he’s her consolation prize.

As she tries to keep her community theater production of “Avenue Q” alive, Madeline has an affair with the play’s director, Joseph (Santiago Cabrera). She befriends Jane (Shailene Woodley) — providing a welcome distraction from her family issues — after Jane’s young son, Ziggy (Iain Armitage), is accused of bullying Renata’s daughter, Amabella (Ivy George).

Madeline still harbors feelings for her ex, Nathan (James Tupper), as is obvious in the barbs she slings at Bonnie, a younger yoga instructor. Tensions build when Ed subtly challenges Nathan to a fight and Bonnie discreetly takes Abigail to Planned Parenthood. They spiral when Abigail moves out of Madeline and Ed’s home to live with Nathan and Bonnie full-time.

The couples try to settle parenting issues over an amiable dinner, but Madeline vomits when Nathan tells her that Abigail’s college project involves selling her virginity online. Eventually, Madeline talks her daughter out of the idea.

As the new single mom in Monterey, Jane receives a quick initiation into its swarm of helicopter mothers. After first-grade orientation, Amabella claims that Ziggy choked her during class, which causes instant friction between Jane and Renata (Laura Dern).

Most of the first graders’ parents, and the principal, take Renata’s side, so Jane takes Ziggy to a child psychologist, who concludes that her son does not have a violent nature. That eases Jane’s mind, and she slowly unpacks the trauma (shown in flashbacks) from a night when she was raped. She also goes hunting for her attacker.

As Ziggy asks questions about his unknown father, Jane gives up searching for the man after an awkward encounter with an interior decorator who she thought might have been her abuser.

They appear to be the perfect family. Under the surface, however, Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) channels his insecurity as a husband and father into increasing violence toward his wife, Celeste (Nicole Kidman). That violence often turns into intense sex, a dangerous cycle for which the couple ultimately seeks counseling.

As his disturbing domestic abuse persists, Celeste visits their therapist (Robin Weigert) on her own, providing some of the show’s most riveting scenes. Celeste is eventually convinced to leave Perry, right after her son Max admits that he was the one who had hurt and bullied Amabella at school.

Renata plays the villain for most of the series, but her arc ultimately skews positive. After Amabella accuses Ziggy of bullying, she threatens Jane with a lawsuit and refuses to invite Ziggy to her daughter’s birthday party. As retaliation, Madeline buys “Disney on Ice” tickets so that Ziggy; her youngest daughter, Chloe (Darby Camp); and several of their friends will skip Amabella’s party.

Renata’s husband, Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling), is unsuccessful at quelling this public feud, and he eventually tries to intimidate Jane with a restraining order after she injures Renata’s eye in a confrontation on school grounds. Hostility subsides after Jane apologizes for her behavior and Renata learns the true identity of Amabella’s bully.

The crux and climax of “Big Little Lies” comes in the season finale, at a costume fund-raiser in which attendees arrive dressed as either Elvis Presley or Audrey Hepburn. As Ed performs on stage, Madeline runs out of the party, admitting to Jane her affair with Joseph, and breaks down.

After Celeste informs Renata about Max’s bullying, the two women console Madeline, but Perry interrupts them and grabs Celeste to leave. In that moment, Jane recognizes Perry as her rapist from years before, and Perry starts beating his wife again.

Bonnie, after recognizing danger from afar, quickly runs toward the frantic group and pushes Perry, who tumbles down the steps and dies. Days later, the five women tell the police that Perry tripped and fell on his own. “Why lie?” wonders the lead detective (Merrin Dungey), whose open investigation acted as the show’s framing device and will undoubtedly linger into Season 2.

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