Big Little Lies had a difficult question to answer when it returned for another season. It was an existential question, less about how affluent women bounce back from tragedy and more to do with why another installment of this seaside soap opera should even exist. The answer? Meryl Streep.
Adding another Hollywood heavyweight to this packed cast of movie stars could’ve spelled disaster for HBO’s breakout drama. Sure, watching Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Zoe Kravitz chew up some screen time together sounds like a fool-proof formula for more Emmy nods, but season two of Big Little Lies was going off book, trekking uncharted territory as the Monterey Five recoup following the death of Celeste Wright’s abusive husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), and their involvement in his demise. Streep’s presence could’ve easily bogged down what already felt like a heavy-on-the-melodrama premise, and perhaps a few people rolled their eyes at her casting announcement, which may have felt like too much. But now, four episodes in, it’s time we beg forgiveness for our cynicism and pledge allegiance to Streep because the actress has definitively proven that she is the acting equivalent of butter — she makes everything better.
Streep’s Mary Louise is a grieving mother who descends upon Big Sur in a swirl of trench coats and silk scarves to pick at the newly formed scab of her son’s untimely end. Armed with fake teeth that gnaw at each of the show’s leads with increasingly overt malice, Streep makes the most of her limited screen time — popping up to sour the mood of pumpkin carving contests, lurking in outdoor coffee shops, guarding her grandsons, and rifling through her daughter-in-law’s prescription pill drawer. She’s a ball of chaotic energy cloaked in wire-rimmed glasses and a wig worthy of its own SNL skit, and Streep’s having a damn ball playing her. Free of the constraints that hold lesser actors back, Streep is swinging for the fences as Mary Louise, gifting us with a truly groundbreaking performance that will go down as one of the most meme-able characters in TV history. Here, we’ll prove it.