Attention: spoilers ahead.
When it was announced that Meryl Streep would be joining the season two cast of Big Little Lies, news outlets, critics and fans alike were rightfully excited to witness the three time Oscar winner’s performance. Streep plays Mary Louise Wright, the overbearing mother-in-law of Nicole Kidman’s role, Celeste Wright. The first three episodes laid the foundation for an intense face-off between Streep and Kidman’s characters. The fourth episode, which aired this past Sunday, revealed the extent of Mary Louise’s maleficence.
Entitled “She Knows,” the episode chronicled the mother-in-law’s arrival at a lawyer’s office. There, she takes an overt stand against Celeste and files a petition for guardianship of her grandchildren, for Mary Louise believes she is unfit to care for the two second-graders.
Throughout the course of the first four installments of season two, Mary Louise has made a number of strong-willed albite futile attempts at unveiling the truth surrounding her son’s death, and his sexual assault against Shailene Woodley’s character, Jane Chapman. Despite Celeste’s repeated explanation of Perry’s history of domestic abuse and Jane’s account of the assault, Mary Louise fails to see anything but the best in her late son. In pursuit of sanctifying Perry’s legacy, Streep’s character has repeatedly inserted herself into the lives of the Monterey Five, a group of women, including Celeste and Jane, who witnessed Bonnie Carlson (Zoe Kravitz) push Perry to his death as a means of self-defense.
Mary Louise first joined the cast as a seemingly well-meaning mother-in-law who wanted to support the grieving Celeste in the wake of Perry’s death, which has been declared an accident. After a number of incidents involving Ambien, other prescription drugs, and multiple fights between the twin boys, Mary Louise arrives at a devastating conclusion: Celeste should not go on as the primary caregiver of the two children, she should. This conclusion was solidified in “She Knows,” as Mary Louise returned the boys from a sleepover only to find Celeste barely lucid and in the presence of a half-naked bartender she had only met the night before.
In a tension-laced discussion between the two following a physical dispute, Mary Louise outlined her concerns. “I’m worried about the boys. Because you seem unwell, erratic. You hit me. You snapped,” she said. “I think you need to take some real time to heal, and while you do that, I think Max and Josh should reside with me.”
Celeste understandably opposes this, leading to the following statement from Mary Louise: “You’re a mess, Celeste. And until you’re better, we need to think about protecting the well-being of our boys. … They’re at risk here. They’re at risk in your care.”
Mary Louise’s villainy escalates when it is revealed that she will continue to out-maneuver Celeste by contacting the best family lawyer in the area. When she continues to call the next-best options, she prevents Celeste from good representation in the upcoming suit due to the consequential conflicts of interest.
Dennis O’Hare, who plays Mary Louise’s attorney, delivered praise for Streep’s performance in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “She’s everything you hope she’s going to be. She is fun, she’s serious. She’s really, really dedicated to what she does,” O’Hare said. “She’s brilliant when you watch her act. She’s insecure like the rest of us. She’s completely the best version of all the things you would hope. She’s brilliant.”
O’Hare continues to speak to the subtle physical alterations that impacted Streep’s role, which include glasses, a wig and fake teeth. “It’s a very, very small thing,” he started. “I know why she does it. It’s to sort of shock you into being that person.”
Mary Louise’s presence in season two’s storyline evidently complicates Celeste’s ongoing journey as a survivor of domestic abuse. This is something that Kidman formerly outlined during a cast panel, warning that certain decisions might be controversial. “We’re not doing an overall analysis of domestic violence,” she said at a cast panel at the Wing SoHo. “This is a very particular story with this particular woman. Hopefully it’s incredibly real. And there’s an enormous amount of truth in it. I was adamant when we started the series that [Celeste] wasn’t a superhero. She wasn’t coming out of this saying, ‘I’m healed. Off I go. Let’s go.’ So you’re going to see the path and her navigating the path of what that means.”
Kidman later added, “There hopefully will be discussion and create more and more awareness and discussion and, hopefully, change.”
When Mary Louise moves into the same building as Jane in an attempt to be closer to her newly revealed paternal grandson, Ziggy (Iain Armitage), it becomes clear that these complications will extend to Jane’s survivor storyline as well.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, David E. Kelley, the creator and executive of producer of Big Little Lies confirmed that the upcoming healing paths for Jane and Celeste would both be “complicated and tricky.”
The next episode of Big Little Lies, “Kill Me,” will air on July 7 on HBO. There are three episodes left of season two.