Season two of Big Little Lies ended with high Meryl Streepian drama on Sunday, but the behind-the-scenes turmoil between HBO and director Andrea Arnold continues. On Wednesday at the Television Critics Association press tour, HBO programming president Casey Bloys denied a recent IndieWire report claiming the network promised Arnold she could bring her own vision to season two only to hand her footage back to season-one director Jean-Marc Vallée in postproduction, when he reportedly edited it and ordered additional photography in keeping with his season-one style. (While Arnold was directing season two of BLL, Vallée was shooting HBO’s other buzzy new show Sharp Objects.)
According to Bloys, there is “a lot of misinformation about the subject.” Although, tellingly, he didn’t deny that Vallée stepped in after Arnold shot the season; rather he suggested it was all “business as usual,” adding that Vallée, like Arnold, was never given “directorial carte blanche” on season one.
“As anybody who works in television knows, a director typically doesn’t have final creative control,” Bloys said. “So the idea that creative control was taken from the director is just a false premise.” But the IndieWire report had alleged just that—that Arnold was kept in the dark: “Not only was Arnold given free rein, it was never explained to her that the expectation was her footage would be shaped by Vallée into the show’s distinctive style,” it said.
The drama feels particularly prickly for Big Little Lies—that a show starring Hollywood’s most star-studded, girl-powerful cast and produced by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman would be accused of mistreating or even gaslighting its female director. If a woman can’t win on this show—where can she? Although the cast seemed to support Arnold, at least outwardly, as she was deemed a “fearless leader” by Kidman and Laura Dern Instagrammed a photo of herself wearing an Andrea Arnold T-shirt.
Alas there does not appear to be a chance for HBO and BLL to make the situation right: After a second season that didn’t quite capture the magic of the first, an ending that felt unsatisfying for quite a few critics, and a lack of original source material from author Liane Moriarty (the plot of her BLL book ended with Perry’s death in season one), Bloys told the crowd at TCA that a third season seems unlikely. “To me, on the face of it, there’s no obvious place to go. There’s no obvious story.” Unless Arnold and the cast want to whip up a movie version—a medium where the director, ahem, has a lot more creative control.