How 'Big Little Lies' Season 2 Tackles PTSD and the Aftermath of Trauma

The HBO drama focuses on how Nicole Kidman and Zoe Kravitz's characters are dealing with the aftermath of the first season's death — and the decision to lie about what happened.
Courtesy of HBO
Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in 'Big Little Lies'

[This article contains spoilers from the second episode of Big Little Lies season two, "Tell-Tale Hearts."]

The return of Big Little Lies revealed that the split-second decision the Monterey, California, moms made at the end of season one — to lie about the circumstances of Perry Wright's death — will continue to reverberate throughout the women's lives in season two.

The second episode, "Tell-Tale Hearts," showed that at least two — if not all — of the members of the Monterey Five are experiencing symptoms related to PTSD. Per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, that includes re-experiencing the trauma through distressing flashbacks and nightmares (Celeste: check); emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma (Bonnie: check); difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered (Celeste and Bonnie: check).

The episode opened with Celeste (Nicole Kidman) crashing her car into a tree, which she later confessed to her mother-in-law, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), that she didn't remember because she'd taken an Ambien. As Celeste has been telling her therapist, she continues to have nightmares about experiences she'd had with her abusive late husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgard, who returns in new flashback scenes).

Celeste also continued to clash with Mary Louise — who realized that the circumstances surrounding her son's death were suspicious, and decided to stick around to find out why. Celeste has been hiding so many things from her — that she'd planned to leave Perry, that she'd gotten her own apartment and that she'd found out about his infidelity moments before his death. Mary Louise couldn't believe that her son had raped Jane (Shailene Woodley). She wanted to stick around to help out (and investigate what happened with Perry's death), so she plans to rent an apartment nearby.

Meanwhile, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) continued to do everything she could (like run, a lot) to avoid the other women and her husband — to the point that Nathan (James Tupper) called in reinforcements: Bonnie's mom, Elizabeth Howard (Crystal Fox). From the moment she showed up, it was clear her relationship with Bonnie wasn't smooth sailing, and through multiple awkward encounters — on a hike in the woods, at a family dinner and in a curious nighttime ritual involving bird feathers — she made it known that she thought Bonnie was keeping people at arm's length, that her husband had no emotional intelligence and that she knew something was wrong. "What have you done this time?" her mother asked, intriguingly, before Bonnie told her to leave.

While it seemed things were going well with Jane — her coworker at the aquarium (Douglas Smith) asked her out on a "practice date" to see if they were compatible — that came crashing down when she learned that her son, Ziggy (Iain Armitage), had learned from Madeline's (Reese Witherspoon) daughter that he has the same father as Celeste's twins. And that Mr. Wright had "salted" Jane — who then had to explain to her son that she was "assaulted" by Perry, his father.

Madeline and Renata's (Laura Dern) lives were also falling apart, with Madeline's husband, Ed (Adam Scott), learning about her affair and telling her that their relationship was over; and Renata's husband, Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling), arrested for securities fraud. Gordon had leveraged all of the family's assets and Renata learned they'll be broke by the end of the year. Renata was mad as hell because, as she put it, she "will not not be rich."

Also complicating matters: Bonnie, Celeste and Renata all observed Det. Quinlan (Merrin Dungey) watching them. They know she knows something isn't right.

"The journey of healing is complicated and tricky," creator David E. Kelley told The Hollywood Reporter at the Big Little Lies season two premiere. "Both for Celeste and Jane. And we don’t shy away from it, and Nicole doesn’t shy away from it. She really tunnels in on Celeste — the good, the bad and the ugly."

Celeste's trauma and PTSD will continue to be explored throughout the season both in a clinical setting with her therapist (played by Deadwood's Robin Weigert) and in the clashes she has with Mary Louise. But the series will also explore a different reaction to trauma — namely, Bonnie's.

Of course she's upset by what happened with Perry, but episode two hinted that there are deeper reasons why Bonnie reacted the way she did on that fatal trivia night. Something happened in Bonnie's past, and Fox, who plays Bonnie's mother, told THR at the premiere that things will get dark — very dark, even.

"As an actor, it’s easy doing the simple and sweet. It’s more complicated to do the dark," she said. "But the dark is usually the honest truth. A lot of us are hiding those dark places in our lives. So you just have to go back and say, 'What wouldn’t you want someone to know?' And then, not judge that but live from that."

The second season of Big Little Lies airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. Head here for THR's coverage.