In the finale, Celeste (Nicole Kidman) takes a stand for her children and interviews Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), calling into question her effectiveness as a mother. She brings up details from a car crash from decades ago that killed her son, Raymond, when Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) was 5 years old.
Celeste also uses the courtroom as a venue to show a video of Perry beating her to the ground to prove her relationship was physically violent. It’s wrenching, partly because she knows the video clip might actually diminish her chances of being proven as a fit parent—her sons witnessed the beating, after all, and took the video—but it’s also a chance for her to try and get even with Mary Louise in a very public venue. When the judge grants Celeste full guardianship, it’s one of the conclusions to character development that gets wrapped in a perfect, pretty bow.
Another tidy bow: Ed Mackenzie (Adam Scott) finally forgives Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) with the requirement that they renew their vows. They have a flower crown-adorned ceremony with their two children in their backyard beach, prancing out of the rain that starts right as the ceremony ends, a symbolic washing away any indecency that had invaded their family.
Jane (Shailene Woodley) also reaches some resolution, seeming to quiet her inner demons. She accepts not only Corey’s (Douglas Smith) relationship, but his physical touch as well, something she had struggled with all season. But when this climactic moment finally arrives, it’s rushed, practically as if the twirl she made while dancing with Corey in her living room washed away years of effort to bury her past.
Even for the characters who don’t have a happy resolution, there’s a clear and carefully scripted wrap-up.
Renata (Laura Dern) finally pulls a baseball bat-smashing meltdown, destroying $410,000 worth of model trains and associated accessories in her husband Gordon’s (Jeffrey Nordling) grown-up playroom. He sold all of his model trains to a collector only hours earlier, entrusting the fraudster to care for his expensive toys so they could appreciate. Renata’s anger has been ready to reach the brim for several episodes as she comes to the realization that she’s lost everything, but Gordon, who put them into this bankruptcy mess in the first place, is still playing with toys like a kid in a candy shop. He was cheating on Renata with the babysitter, but to add to the disrespect he has for her, he celebrates that he gets to keep his train set: “Well, now [the babysitter’s] gone, I need something to play with, don’t I?”
While Renata’s life and future remain unresolved, her denouement is the most therapeutic to watch, as those glass shelves shatter to the floor, leaving Gordon finally feeling a small piece of the pain he caused.
Meanwhile, Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) has been in a trance all season long. That trance continues here, as she wanders in and out of thoughts of suffocating her mother in her hospital bed, a mix of compassion and revenge for violence Bonnie endured as a child at her mother’s hands.
Her mother’s death turns out to be the resolution Bonnie needs to move on with her own life. She tells her husband Nathan (James Tupper) that she doesn’t love him. That’s the truth about one lie she’s been living, and then, naturally, it’s on to the next truth that’s been the guiding storyline for the season: The Monterey Five meet up at the police station, presumably to tell the truth about Perry’s death. (Why they use the Carmel Police Station, which is clearly marked as Carmel-by-the-Sea, remains a mystery with everything else—even scenes shot in Marina, Pacific Grove, Big Sur and Los Angeles all part of the fictional geography of the “Monterey” these characters inhabit.)
This show was a nice way to wrap up every loose end and present a conclusion for each character, while still leaving room to grow – but that’s exactly the problem with Season 2, a pat follow-up to a complex Season 1. It seems like they didn’t know whether to wrap up the story or leave it open for a potential third season. This finale was the simplest way to end a lot of storylines in 52 minutes, though not necessarily the best way.