Photo: Jennifer Clasen (HBO)

Last season, Big Little Lies began as a show shrouded in mystery, wound around a murder, but whose? And how? And why? Those questions were answered in the show’s then-series/now-season finale, paving the way for further complications in season two.

This new season has its own set of mysteries, and they all seem to be behind the camera. Why are so many episodes hovering around 40 minutes when they could have stretched to an hour? Why are there so many editors listed in the credits? Now, those questions have been addressed in a new IndieWire article by Chris O’Falt, who describes Big Little Lies Season 2 Turmoil: Inside Andrea Arnold’s Loss Of Creative Control.” 

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Arnold was the director brought in to take over for Jean-Marc Vallée, who won an Emmy for directing BLL season one, one of eight the initial Big Little Lies received. With Vallée tied up with another HBO mini-series, Sharp Objects, the director of American Honey and Fish Tank was hired; Arnold had also proved successful directing episodes for Amazon series like Transparent and I Love Dick. IndieWire points out that Arnold quickly won over the cast, with the lead actors proclaiming their devotion on social media after principal photography wrapped.

By that time, however, Vallée was done with Sharp Objects, and he soon took over BLL post-production. Says IndieWire, “Post-production shifted from London to Vallée’s home city of Montreal, where his own editorial team started cutting what is now airing on HBO. Soon after, 17 days of additional photography were scheduled.” Hence, the long list of editors, and episodes that could somewhat jarringly shift from scene to scene, despite the across-the-board excellence of the actors involved. At the additional photography, Vallée again took over the director’s chair. IndieWire points out the unfortunate irony: “A show dominated by some of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood hired a fiercely independent woman director—who was now being forced to watch from the director’s chair as scenes were shot in the style of her male predecessor” to make season two more resemble season one. Some of Arnold’s scenes were cut right out—“Sixty-page scripts were slashed down to 40-plus minute episodes, sources say, largely by chopping up a scene to remove what one source described as Arnold’s character exploration and ‘ephemeral stuff’”—hence, the shorter episodes.

Although Arnold did not give a statement to IndieWire, sources describe her as “heartbroken.” HBO’s official statement reads as follows: “There wouldn’t be a Season 2 of Big Little Lies without Andrea Arnold. We at HBO and the producers are extremely proud of her work. As with any television project, the executive producers work collaboratively on the series and we think the final product speaks for itself.” Nevertheless, it’s a dispiriting story the prestige HBO series—yet another reason why leaving those first seven episodes to stand alone may have been the wisest choice.