The Big Little Lies Story Finally Explained

Big Little Lies first popped up on our radar in 2014, when it was announced that Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon had optioned the wildly popular, New York Times bestselling book by Liane Moriarty. Though it was originally planned to be a limited series, the show launched to high praise, racked up a boatload of award nominations and trophies, and became a juggernaut that could not be denied. Lauded for its star-studded cast, lush scenery, hypnotic soundtrack, and addictive storytelling, Big Little Lies shifted from a limited mini-series into a full-blown multi-season show when, in 2017, HBO announced the show would be returning for a second season (via Vulture).

Fast-forward to 2019 and millions of people had tuned in to watch the nail-biting Season 2. While Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, and Laura Dern still led the female powerhouse cast, Season 2 saw the addition of the iconic Meryl Streep. 

Big Little Lies' story weaves in and out of the present and the past, shifts character focus frequently, and has caused fans to become addicted to its cliffhanger endings. Now that Season 2 is complete, let's dig in to fully explain everything that's transpired.

A murder is revealed in Big Little Lies' premiere episode

The title of Big Little Lies' Season 1 opener, "Somebody's Dead," doesn't leave much to the imagination, but we quickly see that we are not going to get answers easily in this show. Featuring pulses of red and blue lights and scenes from a swanky party gone awry, the premiere tells us two things: There is an investigation, and someone is no longer alive. We see costumed partygoers shaking their heads in dismay and crime tape waving in the wind. Through the discussion between investigators and a chorus of townspeople, we learn that the victim suffered a broken pelvis and a fracture at the base of the skull, and folks are suspicious of a few infamous community members.

While details are slow to emerge, we soon garner that Reese Witherspoon's character, Madeline Mackenzie, is the nosey and bossy leader of the pack. Her family and the families of her best girlfriends come into focus through the opening episode, as the premiere takes us to the beginning of the school year.

Big Little Lies' Madeline and Jane meet

As Madeline drives daughter Chloe to her first day of school, she bumps into a car and swiftly rages out, exiting her vehicle to exhibit what we learn is classic Madeline Martha Mackenzie behavior. Learning her teenage daughter, Abigail, is a passenger in the car sets her off, and she turns her ankle during a hubris-incited tumble. In a twist of fate, her soon-to-be friend Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) and Jane's son, Ziggy, are witnesses to the fall. We learn Jane is new to town and Ziggy is about to start school alongside Chloe. We also get a glimpse of Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), passionately saying goodbye, as Perry leaves for a work trip.

Arriving at school, Madeline introduces Jane to Celeste — along with her twins, Max and Josh — and Renata (Laura Dern), who's with her daughter, Amabella. We are also introduced to Madeline's ex-husband, Nathan, and his new wife, Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), as the show presents some tension between the women as their daughters enter the first grade together (via Entertainment Tonight). With the main characters in place, Big Little Lies gets moving quickly.

Big Little Lies characters' secrets are revealed

Right off the bat in Big Little Lies Season 1, violence becomes a pervasive theme, starting in the children's world. We learn that someone is hurting Amabella at school. Forced by her teacher to point out who is hurting her, she places blame on Ziggy, who adamantly denies it while Renata demands an apology from him, creating friction between her and Jane.

Meanwhile, Perry turns from caring husband into a maniacal sadist, hurting and controlling Celeste. Their relationship is revealed to be very complicated, as we see that the violence induces deep passion between the two, but, ultimately, Perry's attempts at controlling Celeste's life start to prove too much. She slowly starts to assert her independence through therapy, work, and conversations, though she does not reveal Perry's violence to friends.

Jane, on the other hand, is having flashbacks to a time on the beach, revealing that Jane has secrets in her past. She ultimately reveals to Madeline that Ziggy was born out of rape and that her rapist's name is Saxon Banks. Madeline makes it her mission to find the man.

One Big Little Lies character has a gun, and another has a wreck

Madeline's ex-husband, Nathan, sees Jane at a shooting range. After brushing up on his skills, Nathan tattles to Madeline in one Big Little Lies episode, and Madeline confronts Jane as they plot a meeting between her and Saxon Banks, her rapist. Jane assures Madeline that she was just target-practicing. Ultimately, Jane does meet the man named Saxon Banks, but she realizes he isn't the right guy.

Madeline soon works to rekindle the passion with husband Ed (Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott), who's been grappling with their crumbling marriage, and things don't work out so well. She later winds up getting in a car crash with Joseph, her community theater colleague and former lover, and things get more complicated when she visits him in the hospital, leading their spouses and the town to speculate.

Also at this time, Renata's controlling attempts to create the perfect life for Amabella continue to fail when she finds more bruises on her daughter's body and discovers teeth marks. Renata fights with her husband, Gordon, about what to do and continues to point the finger at Ziggy, driving Jane and Renata to a physical altercation.

Big Little Lies' Celeste plans to leave Perry

After a series of conversations with her therapist and after looking at some real estate, Celeste plans to leave Perry after the impending fundraiser party — but not before Celeste takes a swing at his manhood. Perry tries to come on to her which would have made them late for the opening night of Madeline's play. She wasn't about to miss her best friend's big night, and, in an effort to stop Perry, she accidentally fractures his urethra with a tennis racket (via Entertainment Weekly).

Around that time, Madeline confronts Abigail about her plans to sell her virginity for charity and confesses her infidelity as a way to relate to her daughter, saying, "F***ing up doesn't fix your life" (via Observer). Joseph's wife, Tori, later confronts Madeline at the opening night of her production of Avenue Q and Madeline falsely denies that anything happened with Joseph.

Renata and Jane, meanwhile, find common ground when they learn there is a petition to kick Ziggy out of Otter Bay School because of the accusations against him. Jane takes the higher ground and apologizes to Renata, and the tough Big Little Lies mom is surprisingly receptive.

Trivia night leads to a murder in Big Little Lies' Season 1 finale

Perry's violence escalates in the house, and twins Josh and Max are exposed to his behavior. The violence is certainly influencing them, as Amabella's bully is revealed to be Max (via Refinery29). Before leaving for the school's costumed Trivia Night event, Perry becomes aware of Celeste's plan to leave him. He begs her to reconsider, but she refuses to back down.

At the school fundraiser, the main Big Little Lies characters eventually unite. Madeline has a breakdown of sorts, after having seen Tori watching her, and she confesses to Jane about her affair. Renata tells Celeste the truth about Amabella's bully. Eventually, they all gather by the stairs, including Bonnie, who had followed Celeste after seeing Perry trail her. When Perry tries to take Celeste home, Jane and her friends realize that he is Saxon Banks. Perry becomes violent, particularly at Celeste. Bonnie, who was in the wings, runs forward and pushes him down the stairs in the midst of the chaos, killing him. 

The Season 1 finale later ends with the women happily spending time together on the beach. But with the detectives doubting the women's innocence, how long will they stay happy?

The Monterey Five try to move on in Big Little Lies' second season

Season 2 of Big Little Lies opens at the start of second grade for the kiddos of the Monterey Five. We see the women grappling with their pasts in different ways. We are quickly introduced to Mary-Louise (Meryl Streep), who is clearly suspect of Celeste from the get-go (via Entertainment Weekly). Detective Quinlan (Merrin Dungey), who has been watching the women, is still on the case and is digging in deeper.

Right off the bat, we can tell that — with Mary-Louise trying to get to the bottom of her son's murder, the police sniffing around, and Bonnie's aloofness — all is not well with the Monterey Five. Meanwhile, things are looking up for Jane, who has a new job with a cute colleague named Corey. She is shocked to know that he references her as part of the Monterey Five, as it means people in the town are gossiping about the women. And Madeline's love life proves to be hanging on by a thread when Ed has an ominous grocery store run-in with a newly buxom Tori who gives him bedroom eyes in the produce section.

Renata and Ed learn some harsh truths in Big Little Lies Season 2

Big Little Lies' Renata is feeling herself during a photo shoot at her home just before she learns that her husband was arrested for insider trading, putting everything she has worked so hard for in jeopardy. She fires off at him while he is in jail, screaming, "I will not not be rich." Meanwhile, Amabella is stressed out due to myriad of things, leading Renata to go on a crusade against the school administration for teaching students about climate change.

Abigail and her mother, who have been at odds, are discussing their secret about Madeline's affair when they notice Ed in the doorway. He learns the truth about Madeline's cheating and leaves the house immediately. The school calls an assembly, bringing everyone together to discuss the next steps on climate change education, and Madeline winds up speaking on behalf of the parents. She becomes emotional and admits that they have faults, seemingly directing her speech at her husband, who stands in the back. Ultimately, Ed and Madeline try going to therapy to save their marriage. Interestingly enough, it's becoming clearer that Bonnie and Nathan are struggling in their own marriage.

Big Little Lies' Mary Louise knows all

Big Little Lies main character Celeste crashes her car during an Ambien-fueled blackout, and Mary Louise is displeased, taking notes on the behavior (via Entertainment Weekly). After a dinnertime argument involving Celeste and the boys — not to mention an icy run-in with Madeline — it becomes clearer that Mary Louise is grieving heavily and isn't going to play nice with anyone. She becomes more aware of the physical nature of Celeste and Perry's relationship but seems to chock it up in her mind to a twisted relationship.

Jane's son, Ziggy, and Celeste's twins find out that Perry is father to them all, and the twins tell Mary Louise, which really thickens the plot as Mary Louise grapples with the idea that her dead son could have been a rapist. She's also thrown when she sees that Ziggy takes after Perry's late twin, who died young in a car crash. She confronts Jane and accuses her of seducing her son. Meanwhile, Ed and Nathan fight, both seemingly miserable in the confines of their marriages.

Relationships get even messier in Big Little Lies Season 2

Mary Louise shows up uninvited to Madeline's pumpkin-carving party and things get uncomfortable when she tells Jane that she's rented an apartment in her building. Celeste pulls her aside to tell her it is inappropriate, and Mary Louise digs her heels in, saying she doesn't yet believe Jane's claims of being raped. After more back and forth, their discussion results in a massive slap from Celeste — yep, Nicole Kidman slapped Meryl Streep across the face! Revenge comes swiftly in the form of a custody battle courtesy of Mary Louise.

Nathan, exasperated over how to handle his stuck-in-the-doldrums wife, calls on her parents to come and help. Bonnie is furious with him, and it becomes clear she has a massively complicated relationship with her parents. As soon as her mom walks in, it seems she's got Bonnie's number — and Nathan's. "I'm here because you're ill-equipped to connect with your wife," Elizabeth tells him (via Entertainment Weekly).

Madeline appeals to a distant Ed to try and make their marriage work, but he doesn't seem to be too invested, despite showing up to the therapy and couples' retreats. Can't this Big Little Lies couple make things work!

A disco party ends with a 911 call in Big Little Lies

Renata grapples to keep some sense of normalcy for Amabella amidst her husband's legal issues and their impending bankruptcy, so she throws a giant disco party for her daughter as a way to keep up appearances and temporarily dance their troubles away (via Entertainment Weekly). At the party, Celeste, Bonnie, and Madeline have a chat about just how much Mary Louise knows. The women reveal that they wish they had not gone along with Madeline's lie about the night of Perry's death. Bonnie's mother, Elizabeth, sees them talking and knows something is up. Elizabeth's pushing to learn more from Bonnie results in her daughter storming off. As the revelers begin to leave the party, Elizabeth drops to the ground, falling unconscious, and she is taken to the hospital, having suffered a stroke. 

At the hospital, Bonnie spots Detective Quinlan at the nurses' station and believes Quinlan is there because she suspects her of being involved in Perry's death. Will Big Little Lies' core characters be found out?

Big Little Lies' characters face off

After calling a hotshot lawyer in the area and crafting a list of Celeste's wrongdoings (via Refinery29), Mary Louise offers Celeste joint custody. Celeste refuses over the objections of her own attorney as things heat up in the grandmother vs. mother battle. Renata attempts an intervention, inviting Mary Louise for coffee at her empty house, but her plan doesn't work and the situation just gets worse. Celeste's attorney tells her there is actually a chance that she could lose her children, devastating Celeste.

Ziggy and the twins are suspended from school after a violent altercation on the playground with a bully named Brian who told Ziggy that he was a mistake and that his father was a rapist (via Entertainment Weekly). Worrying that the boys take after their aggressive father, Celeste, Jane, and Corey take the kids kayaking on their day off from school. 

As things seem to dissolve further between Madeline and Ed, in comes Tori again. She tempts Ed with the idea of an affair of their own. Clearly Big Little Lies knows how to bring the drama!

Bonnie confesses to her mother in Big Little Lies' penultimate episode

Bonnie turns up at the police station one evening ostensibly to turn herself in and she sees Corey, Jane's boyfriend, leaving (via Entertainment Weekly). Could he be a cop or is he a part of the investigation? Jane confronts Corey about why he was there, and she learns that the investigators were questioning him, wanting to learn more about Perry's death and Jane's rape.

Bonnie never actually entered the police station, but she does confess everything about the night of the murder and the fact that she doesn't love her husband to her comatose mother, who has been unconscious since Renata's party. It is revealed that her mother was a violent alcoholic throughout her childhood and Bonnie's father wasn't there to protect her, as noted by Refinery29. "When I lunged at him, I was pushing you. And that push was a long time coming," she tells her mother, regarding Perry's death, as reported by TVLine.

Celeste and Mary Louise go head to head in court, where Mary Louise's lawyer paints Celeste as an unfit mother and casts doubt on her accusations of abuse.

Big Little Lies' Season 2 cliffhanger

In Big Little Lies' Season 2 finale, the Monterey Five get some closure in their personal lives as the murder investigation continues, as reported by Refinery29. Celeste takes matters into her own hands as she cross-examines Mary Louise, unnerving her mother-in-law with questions about Mary Louise's own past and showing a video the boys took of Perry brutally beating their mother. Celeste ultimately keeps full custody. 

As for what's happening with Bonnie, her mother dies, and she tells Nathan she doesn't love him, stating, "I'm not in love with you. ...  I don't think I've ever been" (via Entertainment Weekly). Renata, meanwhile, goes off on her husband as she destroys his recently sold, prized train set in a fit of fury — fitting for a man who lost everything Renata owned. Around this time, Ed decides that he wants to try again with Madeline, and they renew their vows on the beach with their daughters present. And we can't forget about Jane. With Ziggy's permission, Jane and Corey officially start to date.

Before the finale's over, all five women, after seemingly finding some personal resolution, show up at the police station together. Will they tell Detective Quinlan the truth?