Big Little Lies, series 2 episode 2, review: Surprising, touching, cutting - is this the best show on TV right now?

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Nicole Kidman as mother Celeste in the HBO drama
Nicole Kidman as mother Celeste in the HBO drama

Is Big Little Lies the best drama on TV right now? Sky/HBO’s decision to put it in the Game of Thrones slot, with a US/UK simulcast, seemed an odd one. I can’t believe any Brits are in a sufficient state of suspense to stay up until 2am on Sunday nights to watch it. BLL is definitely a slow burn. But this tale of rich American housewives and the boulders beneath the apparently tranquil surfaces of their comfortable lives is just superbly written.

Last week’s opening episode of the second series was a scene setter - it seemed like not very much was happening. And yet from the get-go of this latest installment - titled Tell-Tale Hearts - it turned out all those mild little conversations we witnessed last week were in fact sly manoeuvres to coil the dramatic spring for this one. Bam - Celeste crashed her car strung out on sleeping pills; Mary Louise and Madeline pitched into open warfare; Renata’s life collapsed; Madeline’s marriage ended - possibly. And none of those things was even the most important bit.

Our five key women harbour the secret that one of them murdered rapist and wife-batterer Perry, but in order to keep that secret safe (and it’s looking an awful lot less safe by the end of this episode) they also have to keep his violence hidden from knowledge.

Meryl Streep as Mary Louise

In this episode that second secret came out. Not, as you might anticipate, in a moment of confrontation and high drama but out of the mouths of babes. Madeline’s clever nine-year-old Chloe had simply overheard her mother speaking on the phone - gathering that Ziggy (the son of Perry’s rape victim Jane) and Josh and Max (the twins he had had with his wife Celeste) were brothers. And then she told her class - the three boys included. Little Ziggy had been told that Perry had “salted” his mother and didn’t understand what that meant. Jane explained it. Max - or was it Josh? - asked Celeste if his father was a bad man. The genie was out of the bottle, uncorked by innocents.

BLL’s writer David E Kelley has a particular talent for wrong-footing us; for turning a moment on its moral head; for reminding us of the dual bathos and pathos of life. A scene you believe is romantic ends with a cutting retort. Someone you’d spent 20 minutes hating does something adorable. At the end of the episode the twins came to visit their new brother, bearing decorated cakes and gifts. And thus the revelation of rape meant that Jane and Ziggy had gained a family. It was a moment so surprising and touching it made my heart hurt.

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