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‘Big Little Lies’ Review: That Episode 5 Twist Tells Us More Than Meets the Eye

"This whole planet is inhabited by nutfucks!"

Big Little Lies Season 2 Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep in “Big Little Lies”

Jennifer Clasen/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Big Little Lies” Season 2, Episode 5, “Kill Me.”] 

To the best of my understanding, “nutfuck” translates to something like “a crazy person” or “the current President of the United States” — but what’s so wonderful about Nathan’s usage is that it tells us more about the person shouting “nutfuck” than the person being labeled with such an appealing curse word. After Nathan (James Tupper) extends a fake olive branch and Ed (Adam Scott) slaps the superficial gesture to the ground —  “Not everyone gets along, Nathan,” Ed says. “Can’t we just be comfortable not liking each other?” — angry ol’ Nate snaps. As Ed rides away, presumably to have another passive aggressive coffee with Nathan’s wife, Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), Nathan spins in circles shouting to himself in irate confusion. “This whole planet is inhabited by nutfucks,” he says, bending at the waist and running after Ed, like a wolf hunting a particularly pesky deer.

He shouts, “Hey! Nutfuck!”, but then stops himself, spins around, and runs in the opposite direction, trying to put as much distance between himself and his temptation as possible. You see, Nathan absolutely wants to beat the shit out of Ed. Maybe it’s those coffees. Maybe it’s that he’s married to Madeline. Maybe it’s because Ed refuses to engage in meaningless pleasantries anymore, choosing instead to be a “fuck” but not a nutty one. Ed is well aware of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Nathan isn’t; he’s refusing to acknowledge what’s going on within his addled mind, which makes him more of the nutfuck, as well as more like the women in Monterey, as well.

“Big Little Lies” Episode 5, “Kill Me,” is a bit more like Ed, in that it puts a lot of the season’s hidden pieces on the table, for better or worse. But it’s also a little like Nathan, seeing how the show gives in to its weird, somewhat unwise urges, as well. The biggest twist revealed here is that Jane (Shailene Woodley) has been working with and dating an undercover cop (or, perhaps, an informant). Bonnie sees Corey (Douglas Smith) coming out of the police station near the episode’s ending, and suddenly his purpose becomes clearer; his prominence in the story more pertinent.

Is the reveal that surprising? Nope, not really. Though Jane trying to process her trauma through a new relationship is a topic worthy of exploration, it’s always felt like there had to be something more happening between the two, and his involvement in the case felt like the most obvious way to elevate the couple’s importance to the larger story. It also explains why, when Jane told Corey she had been raped, his overwhelmed reaction read as more guilty than concerned — sleeping with anyone while lying about why you’re there is morally dubious enough, but sleeping with someone who’s been violated like that, well, that’s just awful.

Big Little Lies Season 2 Episode 5 Iain Armitage Shailene Woodley

Iain Armitage and Shailene Woodley in “Big Little Lies”

Jennifer Clasen/HBO

But who cares about Corey? No one, and that’s fine. Anticipating Jane’s reaction to the news would be worthy enough reason, but let’s think about what Corey’s new identity means to the bigger picture. If the police will go as far as to plant an undercover agent (or informant) inside the Monterey Five’s orbit, then what else would they do? Would they approach a grieving grandmother to help form a case of child endangerment? Would they want to use that case as a means to get their five key witnesses under oath in the hopes of a perjury charge? Would they go to those lengths all to find justice for a rapist and serial abuser?

The answer to the first two questions appears to be yes, while the latter is a bit up in the air. Someone seems to have set up this scenario: a court case where Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is the focus, and her friends are all reasonable witnesses. As Renata (Laura Dern) tells the group when they hold an emergency beachside meeting, “It’s a perjury trap” — they get the Monterey Five on the stand to testify to Celeste’s abilities as a parent, but then they are asked about Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). If they lie about his death, or their stories get crossed up and the prosecutor can prove they’re lying, then boom. They’ve been had.

It’s a clever enough agenda, and again, not one that should blindside anyone who’s been paying attention, but the main question now becomes: Whose master plan is it? Did Detective Adrienne Quinlan (Merrin Dungey) enlist Mary Louise (Mary Louise “Meryl” Streep) or vice versa? If it’s the cop’s plan, that lets Grandma Wright off the hook as any kind of diabolically evil villain. She really is acting in the best interest of the boys, hence her repeated hesitancy to go as far as her lawyer suggests and seemingly genuine desire to help Celeste get better. If all she wants is to get Celeste on the stand, why would she offer a compromise that eliminates the courtroom drama entirely?

Adam Scott Darby Camp "Big Little Lies"

Adam Scott and Darby Camp shattering hearts in “Big Little Lies”

Jennifer Clasen/HBO

That line of thinking still brings up motivational complications for the detective, who would have to really want to go after these women for killing a known rapist and serial abuser, but if Mary Louise is the mastermind, there are other problems — namely, that Mary Louise would have to be as good of an actress as, well, Meryl Streep to have gone through all those scenes of hesitancy and compassion while secretly harboring a dark vengeance for her son’s death. But we’ll let the final two episodes sort all that out. It’s going to be a difficult path to walk, no matter how things shake out, so let’s let David E. Kelley get back to his courtroom drama roots and see what happens.

Episode 5, “Kill Me,” has its own issues. For one, after noting the Magical Negro problem in last week’s episode, this week’s doubles down, giving Bonnie mystical insights of her own while running a sponge down her mother’s arm. Where this whole “Bonnie’s drowning” subplot is going sure has us worried, but it’s also exacerbating the character’s overworked development in Season 2. Bonnie went from being a bit of an outsider in Season 1 to the stagnant spotlight in Season 2; suddenly, she’s got an abusive mother with magic powers, a dad who didn’t do enough to protect her, a guilty conscience, and now she’s being asked to kill again? And this time, it’s her own mom?!

Kelley & Co. have put a lot on Bonnie this season, and while Kravitz is perfectly capable of carrying the load, it’s disproportionate to the rest of the cast without offering the same entertainment value. While Renata gets to throw lavish parties and have Mary Louise over for tea (in what’s clearly just an excuse for Dern and Streep to go head-to-head, which is totally great and fine!), Bonnie just keeps sitting and walking in silence.

With only two episodes left, we’ll soon see how it all comes together. If all “Big Little Lies” Season 2 offers are meme-able moments and spectacular performances, that’s probably going to be good enough. There’s been a lot of entertainment value in these first five entries, and perjury would be an all-too-fitting punishment for people who just can’t stop lying. I’m still not sure they deserve it, or if Season 2 had to spend so much time tearing apart a group of friends for protecting each other from a very bad man, but maybe the Monterey Five will have a Spartacus moment in court, standing up in unison, saying, “I killed Perry Wright!” That’d be kind of weird, but hey, sometimes giving in to your inner nutfuck makes for good TV.

Grade: B-

“Big Little Lies” Season 2 airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. There are two episodes left, seven total.

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