HomeNewsA guide to the Monterey community in ‘Big Little Lies’

A guide to the Monterey community in ‘Big Little Lies’

For those who haven’t stopped by Monterey Bay but want to hop right in, here’s a brief overview of the families in 'Big Little Lies'.

A guide to the Monterey community in ‘Big Little Lies’

Big Little Lies might just have the most star-studded cast of any TV show ever. In the ensemble piece, so many great actresses get a starring role – Big Little Lies offers strong performances from the Monterey Five and their respective families. 

We were so addicted to S1 that we’ve been dreaming of the drama at Otter Bay Elementary School and wondering what awaited the five ladies (and their fams) we’ve spent the past season with. With such a solid S1, it’s no surprise the show got a second season order despite the source material running out at the end of S1.

Now that season two is finally here and kicking the stakes up a notch, more people are becoming obsessed with the show as it takes over the coveted 9pm Sunday night slot on HBO that Game of Thrones held for so long. For those who haven’t stopped by Monterey Bay but want to hop right in, here’s a brief overview of where the families are after the events of season one, and where they are in season two.

If you want to watch S1 on your own, stay away! There be spoilers here.

The Mackenzies

Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) 

Madeline is a smart-mouthed housewife who works with the local theater on their productions – like a parallel universe version of Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) if she had married Warner. 

Madeline is the mother of Abigail Carlson – from her prior marriage to Nathan – and Chloe Mackenzie (Darby Camp) from her second and current marriage to Ed Mackenzie. While working at the theater, Madeline starts an affair with theater director Joseph (Santiago Cabrera). We’re guessing this bitch has commitment issues . . . but when trying to break off the affair, she causes a car accident that severely injures Joseph. Whoops.

Ed Mackenzie (Adam Scott)

Ed is Madeline’s new husband who is more tame than her ex, Nathan (except when it comes to his opinions on beating the life out of Nathan). He tries to be involved in both his stepdaughter Abigail and daughter Chloe’s lives, though he tends to have more success with Chloe. 

Ed is very suspicious of Nathan – he believes Madeline is still in love with Nathan – but Ed has it so wrong. Hopefully poor Ed gets to find out the truth in season two, because he’s pure of heart and doesn’t deserve this cheating ho of a wife.

Chloe Mackenzie (Darby Camp)

Chloe is Madeline and Ed’s daughter, in the same age group as the other children in Monterey. She’s got a smart mouth just like her mother, though she uses it against her mother at times. Chloe isn’t the source of any drama in season one, but is one of the attendees to the Disney on Ice show instead of Amabella’s birthday party. 

The Carlsons

Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz)

Nathan’s new wife and Abigail’s stepmom Bonnie is the nu-hippie mom of the group: she’s a yoga instructor, makes homemade jewelry, and eats only the “healthiest” organic foods she can find. 

Bonnie’s much more relaxed than Madeline, especially in her parenting style which causes conflict between her and Madeline. Bonnie is the one who encourages Abigail’s activism and lets her try to figure out what she wants to do, rather than forcing her to focus on college. Bonnie’s really a chill hippie who wants people to be happy. She also has a daughter with Nathan, Skye.

Bonnie eventually joins the Monterey Five after noticing Perry stalking Celeste and acting abusively towards her at the fundraiser. Bonnie eventually pushes Perry down the stairs to his fateful demise. However, she doesn’t spend much of season one doing anything else but arguing with Madeline. 

Bonnie seems only to exist as a verbal punching bag for Madeline. She’s treated as the woman who destroyed Madeline’s marriage and we’re yet to see any major character development for Bonnie – which is a shame, as Zoë Kravitz is great in the part. We’re looking forward to seeing Bonnie become a real character outside of the rich “hippie” mom stereotype.

Nathan Carlson (James Tupper)

Nathan Carlson is Madeline’s ex-husband and Bonnie’s current husband. Nathan embraces the all-natural lifestyle Bonnie promotes, though he doesn’t play as large of a role in the parenting of Abigail. Nathan’s divorce with Madeline was caused by his lack of interest in Abigail’s life, so it pisses Madeline off to see him try and parent Abigail now she’s older, or raise his daughter with Bonnie, Skye.

Abigail Carlson (Kathryn Newton)

Madeline’s daughter Abigail is an activist encouraged by her stepmother Bonnie Carlson to stand up for what she believes in. For her part, Madeline very much disagrees with Abigail’s activism, including one particular project in which Abigail was going to auction off her virginity for charity (giving us all the toxic SJW vibes). 

Madeline pushes for Abigail to go to college and have a “real life”, since Madeline is full of regrets that she doesn’t have one (in her view). This leads to Abigail moving in with Bonnie and Madeline’s ex-husband Nathan Carlson (Abigail’s dad) in season one. Abigail is one of the two people Madeline tells about her affair, which is totally overstepping the mother-daughter boundary, if you ask us. Watch it, sister.

Skye Carlson (Chloe Coleman)

Skye is Nathan and Bonnie’s daughter, who isn’t really involved in anything. Her bio here may seem tacked on, but so is her character.

The Wrights 

Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman)

Celeste Wright is a lawyer dealing with a physically and emotionally abusive marriage to Perry. Throughout season one, Celeste tries to deal with Perry’s violence & anger and find a way to escape with her twins, Josh & Max. 

Celeste constantly threatens to leave Perry, but he’s an emotionally manipulative person and turns Celeste’s fear into self-hatred. Celeste doesn’t admit she’s a victim of abuse to her friends, but she becomes closer to Jane & Madeline throughout S1. 

Finally, things come to a head and Celeste realizes she deserves to leave Perry due to the abuse. However, Perry discovers that Celeste has rented an apartment in the plan to leave him, which leads to the conflict at the fundraiser party (and Perry’s demise).

Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård)

Perry is easily the most despised character in Big Little Lies. He’s a wife-abuser and a rapist, and he’s now dead. We’re guessing we’ll see Perry more via flashback in S2; a bad that big is not going to go away so easily.

Mary Louise Wright (Meryl Streep)

Introduced in season two is Mary Louise, Perry’s mother. Mary Louise sticks her nose straight into the Monterey Five’s business, trying to get to the bottom of her son’s untimely death. 

Perry’s spousal abuse is unknown to her, and Mary Louise chooses to ignore any mention of it because she has a serious case of my-precious-baby-could-never-hurt-a-fly syndrome. Mary Louise has already started drama with Madeline and disapproves of the way Celeste has been handling her husband’s death, making her suspicious of Celeste’s involvement in it. Mary Louise also has a habit of screaming really obnoxiously. Nice.

Josh & Max Wright (Cameron & Nicholas Crovetti)

While in school, Max starts to bully other students because of the behavior he learned from his father, but Ziggy is blamed instead – until their mother Celeste asks Ziggy who is bullying the other students. Are we really surprised the son of an abuser is an abuser himself? 

Josh doesn’t really participate in the bullying as much, but he is also witnessing the abuse against his mother and is violent towards his brother. Celeste attempts to escape with the twins and move out of the Wright home. By the end of S1, we realize Josh & Max are actually Ziggy’s half-siblings (because Perry raped Jane back in the day – lovely guy).

The Chapmans

Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley)

Fairly new to the Monterey Bay area is Jane Chapman, a single mother who helps Madeline when she falls on the first day of school and befriending her & Celeste in the process. Jane’s usually the most quiet of the group, which is  really saying something in a group of gossip queens. Madeline told Jane about her affair, because Madeline considers Jane trustworthy with the secret.

Jane’s past is kept a secret for a while, until her son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) continues asking about his father. Jane reveals she was raped which led to the conception of Ziggy, and in the season finale it’s revealed that Perry Wright (RIP) was the culprit who had raped Jane. 

After Jane feels more free from that trauma, she starts dating Coffee Shop Tom. By S2 it looks as if Tom is gone and there’s a new man in Jane’s life.

Ziggy Chapman (Iain Armitage)

Jane’s son Ziggy is blamed for the bullying of various Otter Bay students, specifically Amabella Klein. Amabella’s mother Renata goes on a campaign against Ziggy & Jane under the false assumption that Ziggy is the one who’s been hurting her daughter. Instead, Ziggy is actually taking the blame because Amabella is too scared to speak out against Max.

Ziggy’s exclusion from Amabella’s birthday party leads Celeste & Madeline to bring Ziggy and their children (and some of Amabella’s closest friends) to Disney on Ice instead to be spiteful. This in turn brings more drama from Renata. Ziggy is very curious about his father, which is what why Jane admits to the other women how Ziggy was conceived.

The Kleins

Renata Klein (Laura Dern)

Renata Klein is a powerful businesswoman often at the center of any drama at Otter Bay Elementary. She is married to Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling) and is the mother of Amabella. Renata is on the outside of the Monterey Five until the end of S1 because of her direct & assertive vibe that intimidates the other moms. Renata organizes the fundraiser party that ends S1.

Renata’s known for being very forceful, and leads the crusade against bullying. Renata accuses Ziggy of bullying her daughter, but backs down after finding out it was Max replicating what his father was doing. 

Renata is often at war with Madeline, whether over Amabella’s birthday party, the community play, or blaming Ziggy for bullying Amabella. But we don’t mind, because watching Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon catfight it out makes their lame drama worth it.

Gordon Klein (Jeffery Nordling)

Gordon is Renata’s husband. If he weren’t a powerful businessperson like Renata, he’d be a deadbeat dad as he has minimal interactions with his family and isn’t involved in his daughter’s life. He’s very horny (as that office sex scene from S1 displays) and probably promiscuous. Gordon looks like the kind of guy who smells like Axe Body Spray and is also a bit of an alcoholic . . . but so is everyone else in this beachside town.

Amabella Klein (Ivy George)

Amabella is Renata and Gordon’s only daughter, and though Gordon couldn’t care less about her life, Renata treats Amabella like a princess. Renata is quick to come to Amabella’s defense when she’s bullied. 

Amabella is the main victim of Max’s bullying, but because she’s so afraid of him, Ziggy steps in and lets her blame him for the bullying. Amabella’s also definitely the biggest crybaby out of all the children – she’s almost always seen upset or crying.

Now you know who the Monterey Five are and what skeletons are hiding in their closets. S2 has already begun, and we know that Perry’s mother Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) plays a large role in trying to get answers around her son’s death.

We also know there may be some trouble in the future, because Bonnie’s struggling with the guilt of murdering Perry. But there’s also some happiness coming up for Jane as she may finally find love, give Ziggy the father he hopes for, and even grow out of her trauma. There are still plenty of secrets left to discover in the remaining episodes this season.

Catch up with the drama. Watch Big Little Lies now.

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Bethany is a recent graduate who dreams of making her own award-winning film, but for now writes about other media. She’s a child at heart specializing in hot takes on animated family movies (and sometimes other films & TV).

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