HBO’s Big Little Lies has some of the most likeable, and despicable, characters on TV, so we’ve separated the ones we love from the ones we hate.
HBO’s Big Little Lies follows the lives of five women whose lives are interwoven by both destiny and design. In the affluent town of Monterey, California, everyone has secrets, and the biggest challenge is keeping them. Throughout season 1, multiple storylines foreshadow that all five protagonists’ lives are on an unavoidable collision course that will bond them together forever.
Season 2 deconstructs the actions and motivations of characters both old and new. Big Little Lies explores the complexities of interpersonal relationships and puts a subversive or unexpected twist on widely-recognized tropes, providing us with interesting and layered protagonists and antagonists. Here are five Big Little Lies characters we love and five we hate.
Love: Ziggy Chapman
The precocious Chloe Mackenzie would appear to be the obvious choice, but Ziggy is an old soul. He gets accused of bullying in a very public fashion on his first day at a new school and handles it like a champ. He’s so sweet and sincere it would be criminal if he was actually guilty. Not only is he incredibly solicitous and tuned-in when it comes to his mother’s feelings, but he also processes some pretty disturbing information with great maturity. Season 2 Ziggy is unwillingly saddled with a crazy Mary Louise and two half-brothers, and he just goes with the flow.
Hate: Abigail Carlson
Abigail Carlson is determined to squander all of the opportunities that come with being brought up in an upper-class family. She has an antagonistic relationship with Madeline who can be overbearing but simply wants her daughter to benefit from the wisdom of her mother’s mistakes. Abigail’s attempts at rebellion are completely self-destructive such as blowing off college which she does with no thought to a practical alternative.
Her decision to auction off her virginity as a way to shed light on human sex trafficking is misguided, and her behavior feels more provocative than altruistic. Worst of all, Madeline confides in Abigail about her extra-marital affair only to have her daughter reveal the secret to Madeline’s husband.
Love: Madeline Martha Mackenzie
Madeline is a stereotypical overbearing, gossipy, Type-A personality, but she is a fierce champion of underdogs and lost causes. Whether she’s making a stand against the unfair treatment Jane and Ziggy endure as soon as they settle in Monterey or championing the First Amendment by waging war on behalf of the community theater.
Madeline isn’t without her flaws, but she has the best intentions when it comes to her friends and family. Her larger than life personality can consume those around her, so she naturally becomes the epicenter of the “Monterey Five” following Perry’s death. Played by anyone other than Reese Witherspoon, Madeline could be grating, but there’s a warmth and empathy Witherspoon brings to the role that has us rooting for Madeline to pull it together.
Hate: Perry Wright
Celeste’s abusive husband is a no-brainer when it comes to characters we hate. Not only does Perry beat his wife, but he’s also a rapist. Big Little Lies shows the inevitable course an abusive relationship takes, devolving into a twisted, toxic and co-dependent nightmare.
Season 2 gives Perry more layers, introducing storylines of a traumatic childhood that provide insight but not excuses into his violent behavior. Perry is manipulative, angry, insecure, controlling and he uses force as his primary means of expressing those issues, but the series never reduces even it’s worst character into someone completely one-dimensional.
Love: Principal Warren Nippal
Warren, the principal of Otter Bay Elementary School, constantly finds his days filled fielding the concerns and demands of helicopter parents. Warren does his best to straddle the line between being accommodating and being a pushover. He’s constantly undermined by people who question his ability to do his job, and Warren carries the burden of trying to calm high-strung, high-powered mothers who emasculate him at every turn.
Warren is the ultimate outsider: someone who wields a considerable amount of power but who understands he doesn’t command enough respect. The best moments are when he finally cracks and pushes back, showing a man who tries to maintain his cool when everyone around him is losing theirs.
Hate: Gordon Klein
Content throughout season 1 to take a backseat to his powerful, outspoken wife, Renata, Gordon comes across as smarmy and disconnected at best and a straight-up bully at his worst. Gordon sees more face time during season 2 when it is revealed he’s a thief, an adulterer and a man devoid of morals or a backbone. His quest for money and carnal satisfaction comes before and at the expense of his family.
Gordon and Renata are a couple whose marriage thrives only under the best possible circumstances. When things begin to fall apart, Renata’s rage is fueled by Gordon’s lack of accountability. In the end, he proves to be nothing more than a man-child who is so frustratingly unapologetic, we applaud Renata’s destructive meltdown instead of chastising her for it.
Love: Corey Brockfield
There is a lightness to Jane during season 2 after getting much-needed closure thanks to Perry’s death. She strikes up a friendship with Corey who is persistent but not overbearing. He’s eager to be a part of Jane and Iggy’s life and is willing to do it on Jane’s terms. He isn’t bothered or put off by Jane’s standing as one of the infamous Monterey Five nor is he frustrated by her many failed attempts to take their relationship to the next level other than his concern that he’s overstepped, crossing boundaries prematurely.
Their relationship is not one that is defined by him swooping in and playing the white knight. Corey provides support, but he’s not a crutch, meaning Jane maintains her independence and the ability to make choices when it comes to intimacy: something that Perry stole from her years ago.
Hate: Tori Bachman
During season 1, Tori Bachman makes a few appearances as the wife of the man with whom Madeline has an affair. Her presence seems strictly a catalyst to push Madeline off the rails. Tori plays the part of a woman who knows her husband has been unfaithful and turns her attention to the object of his affections.
During season 2, Tori returns to apply further pressure to Ed and Madeline’s strained marriage. She claims her pursuit of Ed isn’t pay back but rather that she’s genuinely attracted to him and wants to explore a possible sexual connection. Her behavior is predatory and aggressive as she tries to lure Ed into whatever twisted arrangement she has with her husband, Joseph. Tori’s anger at Madeline and Joseph is justified, but her bizarre revenge fantasy makes her creepy and unsympathetic.
Love: Renata Klein
There is an off-putting arrogance and false modesty about Renata during season. She begins to soften during the final episodes, and it’s obvious Renata is a woman who wants to be accepted but can’t navigate female friendships because she’s either too busy trying to impress the other mothers or is convinced they’re jealous of her success.
During season 2, Renata has repeated meltdowns as her life and marriage implode, but she remains loyal and engaged with the remaining members of the Monterey Five and a steadfast supporter of Celeste’s as she battles to keep her children. Mary Louise’s observation that Renata chose her career over motherhood hits a nerve, and it becomes clear Renata’s anger over going broke stems from the sacrifices she’s made to ensure her daughter has a secure future.
Hate: Ed Mackenzie
There are moments during season 1 when Ed’s interest in his stepdaughter doesn’t translate as paternal. Some creepy gazes don’t manifest into anything more but still feel like red flags. There’s also Ed’s constant need for affirmation from Madeline and his antagonistic behavior towards Nathan.
During season 2, Ed spends most of season 2 reveling in his role as a victim. He won’t leave Madeline, but he pushes her into a very public breakdown. Their marital troubles are a way to explore Madeline’s past which gives insight into her issues with marriage and monogamy, making her a more interesting person but doing nothing to elevated Ed to anything more than a willing doormat.