big little lies

I Could Watch Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon Insult Each Other All Day

Meryl Streep talking to Reese Witherspoon on Big Little Lies.
Meryl Streep talking to Reese Witherspoon on Big Little Lies. Photo: HBO

Warning: Big Little Lies spoilers follow.

Big Little Lies may be back and bangs-ier than ever, but while the “Monterey Five” are dealing with second grade, college counselors, and, uh, the fallout of a suspicious death, something bigger is afloat in the dreamy seaside town: Meryl Streep is around, and she’s in a major battle with Reese Witherspoon.

Before we go on, a quick refresher. Last season, while at a costume party fundraiser at their children’s Monterey, California, elementary school, Perry Wright (Aleksander Skarsgaard) brutally attacked his wife, Celeste (Nicole Kidman). Her friends and fellow Audrey Hepburn costume-wearing mothers, Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Witherspoon), Renata Klein (Laura Dern), Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) and Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz) came to her rescue. We learned that Perry raped Jane, and was the biological father of her son; Bonnie pushed him down a flight of stairs. He died.

The big lie, it turns out, is that the “Monterey Five” told everyone that Perry tripped; the little lies, it seems, were literally everything else.

The second season of the HBO show kicks off months later, at the start of the next school year. Most of the kids on the show are starting second grade. Bonnie and Celeste are dealing with what appears to be PTSD (Bonnie, over her guilt of killing a man; Celeste, due to years of abuse). But one of the biggest plots point this season, I can already tell, is the war brewing between Madeline and Perry’s mother, Mary Louise Wright (Streep).

Reese Witherspoon reacting to Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies.
Reese reacting to Meryl.

Mary Louise has descended upon Monterey to find out the truth about what happened with her son’s death. In the first episode of the season, this manifests in digs about Madeline’s height (Witherspoon is five-foot-one) — which, of course, is actually about the fact that Mary Louise doesn’t trust her. Take their exchange at a coffee shop:

Mary Louise: You’re very short.


Madeline: Excuse me?


Mary Louise: I don’t mean it in a negative way. Maybe I do. I find little people to be untrustworthy. My apologies, it’s just that I pride myself on being a very good judge of character but you have always presented such a difficult read. You seem like a nice person, loving, but also you strike me as a wanter.

Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies.
Has a real estate office ever been so cold? Photo: HBO

Later, at Madeline’s real-estate office, the pair duke it out again:

Mary Louise: I see you’re wearing heels.


Madeline: … I realize that you’re still grieving and that you’ve been through a tremendous amount of heartbreak. But I don’t care for the way you spoke with me before. It was rude and I didn’t deserve it.


Mary Louise: No, you didn’t. I apologize … Truth is, it had nothing to do with you. When I was in boarding school, I had a best friend — or I thought — who revealed herself to be quite treacherous and caused me a lot of pain. So, she was just an itty bitty little thing with a bubbly personality that was designed to hide that she was utterly vapid inside. You remind me so much of her.


The war waged on during the second episode of the season as well. After taking some Ambien and getting behind the wheel of a car, Celeste ended up in a car accident. Madeline picked her friend up and dropped her off at home, where they were greeted by a frantic Mary Louise.

Mary Louise: You had me worried sick.


Madeline: You know what, it’s my fault. I had a bit of an emergency this morning and Celeste came to my rescue.


Mary Louise: … What kind of an emergency?


Madeline: The kind short people have.


What followed was a back and forth between the two women, in which Mary Louise (accurately) accuses Madeline of not liking her, and then goes on to refer to the woman whose height she has continually mocked as a “bully.” Then, Madeline caps it all off by calling Mary Louise a “weirdo.” The scene was, to put it lightly, perfect.

I can only assume Mary Louise will come for Madeline’s community theater career next in this brutal war, and I absolutely cannot wait to watch this entire season several times over.

This post has been updated.

I Could Watch Meryl and Reese Insult Each Other All Day