It’s finally time to go back to Monterey. Big Little Lies season 2 is premiering tonight on HBO, and Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon), Renata Klein (Laura Dern), Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), and Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz) or—as the new season’s trailer refers to them, the “Monterey Five—are deeply involved in the aftermath of murder, conflict, rumors, and, of course, several glasses of wine, just like we left them in the spring of 2017. They’ll be joined by Mary Louise (Meryl Streep),the mother of Celeste’s husband, Perry, who is seeking information on how her beloved son died.
As BLL fans learned last season, things are never perfect in the oceanside town, and the secrets and lies are still in great supply. But it has been two years since we last left these scheming women, so here’s a quick reminder of what happened to each character in this twisted tale of deception and scandal.
Madeline Martha Mackenzie
Madeline bursts onto the scene in season 1 with all the charm of Elle Woods and the shocking prickliness of Miranda Priestly (the Meryl shout-outs are going to keep coming, so get used to it). She quickly befriends young mom Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) during school drop-off. It’s obvious that Madeline has all the privileges that come with being a wealthy woman in Monterey, while Jane is just trying to make ends meet for her and her young son, Ziggy.
Madeline seems confident parenting her 6-year-old, Chloe, an old soul if you’ve ever seen one, but she seems a little shaky when it comes to teenage daughter Abigail. We first start to see Madeline lose it when Abigail’s stepmother, Bonnie (Kravitz), takes her to get birth control without first consulting her mother. Her ex-husband, Nathan (James Tupper), is suddenly the present and devoted dad to his daughter that he never was when he was in the past—and then Abigail announces that she wants to go live with her dad.
But Madeline has more than just family drama going on. She’s also trying to get a production of the provocative Avenue Q going in the community—much to the dismay of uptight Renata. She’s also having an affair with the director of her show, Joseph, and the two are getting hot and heavy when a truck slams into them. Everyone is okay, but their spouses, including Madeline’s Elvis-obsessed husband, Ed (Adam Scott), are understandably suspicious. She manages to keep her chaotic life intact, though, until, at dinner at Nathan and Bonnie’s, she finds out that Abigail has an online project to “auction off” her virginity and donate the money she makes to Amnesty International. Madeline, who’d popped at least a couple of Xanax before dinner, spews green vomit all over Bonnie and makes it pretty clear how she feels about it.
It’s immediately clear that Jane is new to the shark tank of upper-class Monterey momming. Right away, her friendship with Madeline is an advantage, and she fits right in with everyone—except Renata, of course. When Renata accuses Jane’s first-grader Ziggy, of hurting her daughter Amabella, tensions rise. Jane has enough on her plate as it is; she has a secret that seems sinister from the start.
Soon, the questions start coming. Ziggy wants to know about his father and is curious about why he and his mother relocated to the oceanside town. Jane’s story is that she wants a better life for her son, but there’s clearly more going on. To top it off, she learns that Ziggy has kissed Amabella. This obviously bothers Jane; it’s only her son’s second day of school at Otter Bay Elementary, and he’s been charged with some serious accusations.
Soon, we learn the story behind Ziggy’s mysterious paternity. Jane confesses to Madeline that Ziggy’s father raped her, though she doesn’t use that word. She says she has to keep on living her life for her son, despite still struggling with the trauma.
Meanwhile, Ziggy’s teacher recommends a child psychologist, who tells Jane that Ziggy is not a violent child but might actually be on the receiving end of bullying. Not long after, we learn Jane has a gun in the top drawer of her nightstand, and after she suspects that her rapist might be a man named Saxon Baker who lives in San Luis Obispo, she whisks off to find him, her firearm in tow. Only, when Jane arrives, she isn’t actually sure if Baker is responsible for the assault; she eventually heads home without taking any action. In the following episode, we learn that Baker is not her rapist. More conflict arises when she learns that parents at Otter Bay have started a petition to get Ziggy suspended.
Okay, here we go. Pour the wine! Renata, played to perfection in every extreme characteristic by Laura Dern, is not the kind of mother who lets anything pass her by. So when Amabella comes home from orientation day with bruises on her neck, she’s determined to find the child who’s responsible. As the students stand in a circle, she points to Ziggy as the culprit, which sets Renata on a path of hellfire toward Jane and the other moms, who staunchly defend her. So, when Chloe and five other children say they won’t be attending Amabella’s birthday party, Renata is, to put it lightly, peeved. She even threatens Madeline during a phone call: “You’re dead in this town, and so is your fucking puppet show.” Let’s not forget she then chucks her phone into her own infinity pool—the ultimate rich-woman power move.
Still convinced that Ziggy is to blame for Amabella’s bruises, Renata has it out with Jane. Thanks to the cathartic fight, the two women realize they have more in common than they thought. Renata even suggests a play date to Jane.
At the culmination of season 1, the big school trivia night, Celeste pulls Renata aside to tell her that it’s been her son, Max, who has been hurting Amabella all along. Renata walks over to Jane to apologize for how she’s treated Ziggy. That’s before all the women are caught up in the biggest scandal yet.
From the moment we meet Celeste in the premiere episode, we know there’s something bubbling beneath the surface of her perfect facade. In particular, Celeste and her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) seem to be hiding some particularly dark secrets. By the second episode, we see just what kind of problems are lurking when Perry gets upset with Celeste for not keeping him updated on their sons’ school schedules. He slaps his wife, and she slaps him back, showing viewers for the first time that theirs is a violent relationship. This also leads to sex, and the lines between consent and assault are definitely blurred. “Sometimes, I think he likes to fight because it leads to sex,” Celeste later tells Madeline. She admits she sometimes like this, too.
Later in the season, we see another side of Celeste, who has stopped practicing law after getting married and becoming a mother. She puts on her fancy lawyer garb and fights for Madeline’s big Avenue Q production. Perry has made it clear that he does not approve of Celeste working, but Celeste obviously relishes a job well done despite her fear of stepping outside her husband’s rules.
The couple is seeing a therapist, but Celeste is reluctant to express her feelings in front of Perry, so she makes a solo trip. This follows an incident in which Perry dumps a bucket of toys over her head to humiliate her in front of their children. The therapist insists that Celeste is in grave danger and encourages her to make a plan before the next violent eruption. Celeste is conflicted, though: She tells the therapist that she feels as if she gets “the upper hand” when her husband hurts her, and she doesn’t act on the suggestion to leave. But the next time Perry tries to hurt her, Celeste picks up his tennis racket, swings, and hits him in the groin. Soon, we see her setting up her own apartment.
In the final episode of season 1, Perry becomes more violent with Celeste than ever. She moves quickly to furnish her new place and escape. At the school’s Audrey Hepburn/Elvis–themed trivia night, Perry comes crashing in to demand that Celeste leave with him, but by now, all of the Monterey moms are gathered. This is where Celeste and Jane’s stories diverge; Jane recognizes Perry as the man who raped her. From there, everything moves quickly, and suddenly Perry is lying dead on the ground; his is the murder that the show has been teasing since episode 1.
Bonnie’s character is just trying to do her best by her new stepkids, and their biological mom Madeline’s resistance and judgment isn’t any help. Bonnie is not outright involved in all the mom drama right away, but she is sure to defend her own daughter, Skye, when it comes to the accusations being hurled toward Ziggy. “I don’t believe my daughter would ever sanction non-consensual touching,” she says, invoking her graduate thesis. After being on the receiving end of Madeline’s impressive projectile vomit, her loud, expletive response reveals a Bonnie that’s not so soft and hippy-dippy.
In the last episode, Bonnie is the one who pushes Perry to his death (in Liane Moriarty’s book, Bonnie’s mother suffered domestic violence) but apart from the rest of the Monterey Five, there are no witnesses.