This article includes spoilers for seasons one and two of Big Little Lies.
HBO’s Big Little Lies doesn’t know what to do with Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz). Initially introduced as the second wife of Madeline Mackenzie’s (Reese Witherspoon) ex-husband, who is a yoga instructor who listens to Sade, she’s not given much characterisation aside from being “the new wife.” She’s very much a background character in season one until the very last episode when she pushes Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) down a flight of stairs to his death. The event came as a shock as Bonnie had been presented as a calm, cool, and level-headed woman up until this point. This sudden streak of violence virtually comes out of nowhere and doesn’t make any sense. Originally slated as a mini-series with a finite number of episodes, Big Little Lies never intended to give Bonnie much of a story line. But after the show got major critical acclaim and decided to come back for a second season, this was a chance to rectify all the failings of the previous season and give Bonnie more agency. However, not much changed and Bonnie was never given a second opportunity to become a fully fleshed out character.
To begin, it’s important to note that in the book of the same name by Liane Moriarty, Bonnie is a white woman. The decision to make her Black comes with a lot of consequences that the show did not know how to handle. Bonnie is in an environment where she sticks out and yet the show keeps her relegated to the background. Perhaps her race was only changed to nod to “diversity” and “inclusivity” amongst the cast, but it’s lazy to change a white character into a Black one and then make no effort to elevate her in any way.
In an attempt to flesh her out a little more, season two introduced us to Bonnie’s mother Elizabeth Howard (Crystal Fox). In episode two Elizabeth says to Bonnie: “You are out here surrounded by people who don’t get you. They don’t look like you. I haven’t even seen one other Black person since I’ve been out here.” As this may seem like a step in the right direction by finally allowing someone to acknowledge Bonnie’s race, that line was ad-libbed by Fox. Kudos to her for addressing the obvious elephant in the room. Had it not been for that ad-lib, Bonnie’s race would have continued to be the show’s major blind spot.
Introducing Elizabeth was a nice attempt to make Bonnie more interesting, but it fell flat. For one, Elizabeth was in a coma for the majority of the season. As Elizabeth’s presence on the show progresses, we learn that she and Bonnie have a volatile relationship that was abusive during Bonnie’s childhood; the show hardly explored any of that. One of the major climaxes of this season occurred when Bonnie read aloud something she wrote in her diary. She stated to her mother (still in the coma) that she resented her and envisioned pushing her down the stairs instead of Perry, and that she doesn’t love her husband. All of this is fine, but there is no chance for Bonnie and Elizabeth to have an actual conversation. The show had a brilliant opportunity to create some productive dialogue between Bonnie and her mother and they didn’t take it. Fox was severely under-used in the show that it begs the question: why even have her there to begin with?
It is abundantly clear that Big Little Lies doesn’t know what to do with Bonnie. For a show that does so well in creating complex characters like Celeste and Madeline, it’s safe to say that the writers just aren’t as invested in Bonnie or Zoë Kravitz, and that’s unfortunate. She’s arguably one of the show’s more interesting characters yet her storyline doesn’t reflect that. Kravitz has done well with this role and I can only imagine how phenomenal she would be if she was given better material to work with. As of right now, there is no definite answer as to whether or not there will be a third season of Big Little Lies. If there isn’t, the show did a disservice to Bonnie and failed her character immensely. A third season could do a lot for her, but if it is anything like the last two, Bonnie will be disappointed again.
by Juliana Ukiomogbe