- Played By: Shailene Woodley
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the book her rape is little more than an unpleasant memory. In the series it's shown to have had long-term effects on Jane's relationships with men.
- Alone Among the Couples: When she moves to the setting, she's the only unmarried mom.
- Ambiguously Bi: In the book, she admires women and men in equal measures for their aesthetic qualities, including both Madeline and Celeste.
- Beautiful All Along: Once she cuts her hair, she's considered a lot more attractive.
- Broken Bird: As a result of her rape.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Jane's reaction to losing her first boyfriend. This ultimately leads to her being raped, though this horrifying event is (correctly) not depicted as being her fault in any way.
- Glamorous Single Mother: Jane becomes this after a makeover.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Subverted: Jane got pregnant out of rape and kept the baby, but only because she was told she would likely be infertile for entire life and it may be her only chance to have a child.
- Mama Bear: One of the more extreme examples alongside Renata, Jane punched Renata in the face when she insulted her parenting, and is very protective of Ziggy.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Everyone says so at the Trivia Night.
- Rape as Backstory: She was raped by Perry, which resulted in her move to Monterey.
- Struggling Single Mother: She's much poorer in comparison to the upper-class Monterey moms as a single mother.
- Teen Pregnancy: Jane is only 24 but has a 5-year-old son.
- Weight Woe: Jane used to have a fuller figure she was self-conscious of. When Perry calls her ugly, fat, and worthless during a horrifying, non-consensual sexual encounter, Jane develops an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise, and her body image.
- You Don't Look Like You: In what may or may not be an uncomfortable overlap with Adaptational Attractiveness, no mention is made of Jane being overweight in the past or having an eating disorder as a result of her assault.
- Played By: Nicole Kidman
- Career Versus Man: Played with. She wants to return to work but feels suffocated by Perry's insistence that she shouldn't.
- Destructive Romance: Celeste is in love with Perry, but aware of how toxic their relationship is and eventually comes to terms with the fact that she's a victim of Domestic Abuse.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Several female characters remark on her good looks.
- Hello, Attorney!: Celeste is a sharp lawyer and drop-dead gorgeous.
- Masochism Tango: Deconstructed. After Perry's death in Season 2 of the show, she still struggles with the feeling that she was attracted to him.
- Informed Attractiveness: Celeste is considered breathtakingly beautiful even by her female friends. Justified in the adaptation, where she's played by Nicole Kidman.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: In the book, she is described as the most beautiful of the women, and the series treats her as such, but it means she and Perry are a beautiful couple, and he's very abusive.
- Stepford Smiler: Everybody thinks she and Perry have the perfect life, which she does nothing to discourage, but she's in pieces over his recurrent physical abuse.
- Wealthy Philanthropist: Celeste feels guilty for being so financially well-off and donates exorbitant amounts of her husband's money to charity.
- Played By: Reese Witherspoon
- Adaptation Expansion: In the TV series, she had an affair a year prior to the series..
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Her middle name is even Martha.
- The Alcoholic: She likes to drink. A lot.
- Anger Born of Worry: Madeline when she finds out her 14-year-old daughter might be prostituting herself.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason she takes Ziggy's side during the bullying drama is because Jane was this to her.
- Cluster F-Bomb: The show makes her out to be the female Joe Pesci.
- Happily Married: Jane finds herself wistful for the love Madeline and Ed so obviously share. However, this is subverted in the adaptation, where Madeline is unfaithful to Ed.
- Jealous Parent: Madeline's resentment of Bonnie is less about taking her ex-husband from her and more about her influence over Abigail.
- Large Ham: You can tell Reese Witherspoon was having a lot of fun basically channeling Bette Davis.
- Lovable Alpha Bitch: A lot of her attempts to stand up for Jane come across as a power play against Renata.
- My Greatest Failure: In the series it's all but stated that Madeline's insistence on Abigail going to college is because she regrets not going when she was younger.
- Plucky Girl / Plucky Comic Relief: Her storyline throughout Season 1 is a lot lighter and Maddy is much more tempted to brush off the trauma of Season 1 even in Season 2.
- Race Lift: The show gives her Native American ancestry. (The novel is set in Australia, but it never suggests that Madeline has a similar Aboriginal Australian history)
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Despite the darkness of the plot, Madeline has this with Renata (which is why she takes Jane's side) and Mary-Louise.
- Soapbox Sadie: In the adaptation she is much more cause-driven and falls largely into this trope.
- Your Cheating Heart: In the TV series, it's revealed that she had an affair with Joseph Bachman, her assistant at the musical theater.
- Played By: Alexander Skarsgård
- Abusive Parents: Not directly, but his violence towards Celeste clearly has a great effect on Josh and Max.
- Affably Evil: Perry's a horrifically violent man, but he's also a devoted father who lives for his two boys and genuinely hates himself for beating his wife, whom he does love. However, this is never depicted as justifying his monstrous actions.
- Asshole Victim: He's the one killed on Trivia Night, by Bonnie.
- Connected All Along: To Jane. He's her rapist and the father of Ziggy.
- Death by Falling Over: Bonnie pushes him down a flight of steps when he's attacking Celeste on Trivia Night.
- Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Everybody (including Celeste) agrees in-universe that Perry is unbelievably handsome, but he's also an unrepentant domestic abuser and rapist.
- Fatal Flaw: His repulsive attitude towards women and his violence.
- Freudian Excuse: In season two we find out his mother emotionally and physically abused him. This is a case of Truth in Television, as abusers are often abuse victims in real life and Celeste states this as well.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Perry will attack Celeste as soon as no-one's looking.
- Hypocrite: Demands Celeste keep their sons away from Ziggy in case he's violent and tries to choke her when she refuses.
- In the Blood: From an outsider's perspective, it certainly seems this way.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Perry is absolutely loathsome for his abuse of Celeste, but he did seem to have some kinder features, so the revelation that he violently raped Jane has shades of this.
- Mama's Boy: If his mother's behaviour is anything to go by.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Perry's reaction every time he attacks Celeste, a common theme for abusers.
- Papa Wolf: Deconstructed, as he initially appears to be a loving but flawed father, but eventually shows that he is willing to harm his children in the course of his horrific violence toward his wife.
- Please Don't Leave Me: Though deep down, he knows this would be best.
- Stay in the Kitchen: He's completely against Celeste returning back to her job despite the fact that she loves it.
- Villain with Good Publicity: A domestic abuser and rapist who is nevertheless considered to be practically perfect by every other member of the school.
- Your Cheating Heart: Is revealed to be Ziggy's father.
- Played By: Meryl Streep
- Arch-Enemy: To the main women, as they covered up Perry's death.
- Doesn't Know Their Own Child: Is completely oblivious to the idea that Perry was anything other than perfect.
- Evil Old Folks: The first grandmother introduced in the show and very cruel and threatening.
- Hypocrite: It seems to run in the family.
- She justifies suing Celeste for custody of the twins because she thinks that she'd raise them better. We later find out that she abused her son, and Celeste promptly notes that abusers are often abuse victims themselves.
- One of the things that seemingly push her towards the custody battle is the fact that Celeste gets into a minor car accident. Perry had a brother who died in a car accident that happened when she was at the wheel.
- She belittles Madeline and says that she doesn't like little people. While wearing stilettos.
- She repeatedly accuses Celeste and Jane of lying about how Perry hurt them, but she lies about her past as an abusive mother.
- Female Misogynist: If her refusal to believe that Celeste was abused or that Jane was raped, and her use of Slut-Shaming is any indication, combined with her belief that Perry was a perfect human being.
- Hate Sink: Meryl Streep does a stellar job at making the audience truly detest this manipulative, slimy, mean-spirited bitch. One of the most satisfying moments of Season Two is when Celeste just smacks her.
- Knight Templar Parent / Mama Bear: A very dark example. She genuinely adored Perry, who was a monstrous abuser.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Her efforts to take custody of Celeste's children include having her lawyer asking deeply intrusive questions and shaming her for things that have nothing to do with her ability to parent. This gives Celeste the opportunity to ask Marie-Louise intrusive questions, force her to watch irrefutable proof that her son was an abuser, and convince a judge that her physical abuse of him as a child helped make him into the monster he became.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: She hates all the women, is extremely dismissive towards Celeste, and she hates Madeline because she "distrusts little people". She means short people, but still.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: She's right that there is more to Perry's death, but her complete ignorance to his violence makes her this.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Though she is a regular Arch-Enemy to the rest of the main cast, she takes a special dislike to Madeline because she doesn't trust "little people".
- Slut-Shaming: Part of her line of attack against Celeste is to decry her in court for sleeping with multiple men after Perry's death. She also refuses to believe that Jane was raped, saying that she must have sent Perry mixed signals, and implies that Jane slept with so many men that she can't be sure Perry's the father of her child.
- Wild Card: Constantly. What she's going to do is a total mystery to anyone, such as when she screams at the dinner table in her first appearance.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Meets any retaliation with a vulnerable old lady act.
- Played By: Laura Dern
- Adaptation Expansion: In the book, she is more on the sidelines, but the TV's Renata is there when Bonnie kills Perry and helps them to cover it up, becoming a fully-fledged member of the group in Season 2.
- Adaptational Heroism: She's totally willing to help cover up Perry's death and she becomes a good friend to the other women. Even before Season 2, she's softer and more gentle.
- Alpha Bitch / Academic Alpha Bitch: Renata comes across as this, being able to juggle both motherhood and a corporate position.
- Anger Born of Worry: Renata's response to her daughter Amabella being bullied.
- The Bully: Towards Jane and Ziggy. She apologizes when she realizes her persecution was misdirected.
- Control Freak: Renata is essentially every negative stereotype of a Type A personality rolled into a single person, including the controlling aspects: she has a tendency to wildly overreact when surprised or when a situation goes out of her control. This is especially true as regards her relationship with her daughter.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Renata is this ultimately, considering she's just looking out for her daughter, even with her full-time job.
- Large Ham: Laura Dern is having a lot of fun with Renata's screaming, flamboyant behaviour, and extreme dress sense.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Renata when she realizes that Ziggy never hurt her daughter.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: Her default position when she's angry.I WILL NOT NOT BE RICH!Would anyone give a woman a moment?!
- Played By: Kelen Coleman
- The Bully: Even more-so than Renata. She starts a petition to have Ziggy suspended. Her lawyer husband is even worse, threatening legal action against anyone who looks at him funny.
- Hate Sink: Harper uses Ziggy's false accusation of hurting Amabella as a reason to alienate Jane, who has done nothing to her. Harper then tries pushing Jane's buttons in an attempt to make her snap and vilify the poor woman and her son even further. What's more, her character doesn't have a Freudian Excuse like the other antagonists. She's just bitchy for the sake of it.
- Jerkass: A particularly bitchy mother. She is hostile to newcomer Jane.
- Out of Focus: Harper is barely seen in Season 2 after having had a small but significant role in the book, and she's also much less present in Season 1 of the adaptation.
- Played By: Zoë Kravitz
- Bourgeois Bohemian: Despite being fairly well-off, she lives a very New Age bohemian lifestyle (reflected in her decor, her fashion, her preference for organic and homegrown food, her hobbies, and her causes).
- Beware the Nice Ones: Bonnie reacts violently when she sees Perry's treatment of his wife.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Although she starts off fairly external to the drama in season 1, it turns out that she is the murderer. But because she was protecting Celeste from Perry, the other women lie to protect her.
- Dark and Troubled Past: In the book, her father was abusive. Seeing Perry hurt Celeste triggered those memories and caused her to react defensively. In the series, it's her mother who was abusive, though she resents her father for being passive and not protecting her.
- Foil: Is Madeline's complete opposite. While Madeline is materialistic and cares more about first-world dramas, Bonnie is a New Age-type who cares about humanitarian causes. What's more, Bonnie's relationship with Madeline's ex-husband and their daughter Abigail is much stronger than it is with Madeline.
- Good Stepmother: To Nathan and Madeline's daughter Abigail, who genuinely looks up to her and sees her as a source of advice and support (to Madeline's dismay).
- Granola Girl: Ultimate example.
- Likes Older Men: She's in her twenties and married to forty-something Nathan. Bonnie later reveals that she started having casual sex from the age of 13, in all likelihood being taken advantage of by adult men. She eventually puts two and two together and comes to the conclusion that this trait was just her lashing out at her mother.
- Ms. Fanservice: To Madeline's dismay, she is "younger and sexier". In the series the other women comment that the town's husbands tend to check her out because of the way she dresses and moves.
- Hippie Parents: To her daughter, but also to her stepdaughter Abigail.
- The Pollyanna: Although finally, in Season 2, gets averted as she's the only struggling most with Perry's murder.
- Pushover Parents: Downplayed. She's much more softly-spoken and accepting towards Abigail, even when she has some horrible ideas. However, she does make sure that Madeline and Nathan (who are most definitely not this) are informed.
- Race Lift: Described as fair-skinned in the book, she's portrayed in the series by Zoë Kravitz.
- Soap Box Sadie: Although, in the series, she has swapped this role with Madeline.
- Played By: James Tupper
- Bumbling Dad: Doesn't have the best track record when it comes to parenting.
- Hippie Parents: Is this with Bonnie.
- Manchild: Seems to have outgrown the worst of this, but apparently he was an irresponsible father the first time around.
- Parental Abandonment: Didn't show much interest in Abigail's upbringing, which leads to an uncomfortable situation later on.
- Pushover Parents: To Abigail, much to Madeline's chagrin.
- Red Herring: Ed often brings up that Madeline talks about him a lot and wonders if she still has feelings for him. It turns out his real concern should have been her assistant, who she had an affair with.
- Played By: Adam Scott
- Beware the Nice Ones: He threatens to kick Nathan's ass at one point.
- Foil: Much more responsible than Nathan.
- Hollywood Nerd: He's a programmer who usually dresses pretty frumpy, but still manages to look attractive because of Adam Scott.
- Played By: Crystal Fox
- Magical Negro: Played with. She has repeated visions of drowning and something bad happening to Bonnie.
- Scary Black Woman: As Bonnie's violent alcoholic mother.
- Played By: Iain Armitage
- Adorably Precocious Child: He has a very warm, mature relationship with his mom Jane, but he's still a child and this is shown by his misconceptions about how to keep Amabella safe.
- Child by Rape: The product of a nonconsensual encounter between Jane and his father.
- Children Are Innocent: No matter what the truth is, Jane and her friends consider Ziggy innocent. And he is.
- Hero with Bad Publicity: He is only trying to help Amabella by taking the blame as he's very sweet and kind.
- Innocent Inaccurate: It's not clear if it comes from Chloe originally, but he believes that Perry "salted" Jane. He assaulted her.
- Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: He never hit Amabella, but agreed to take the blame because he could see how scared she was of the real culprit - Max.
- Played By: Ivy George
- My Beloved Smother: Renata comes across this way towards her, although she has good intentions.
- Prone to Tears: She's upset in nearly all of her appearances.
Max and Josh Wright
- Played By: Nicholas Crovetti (Max)Played By: Cameron Crovetti (Josh)
- Always Identical Twins: They are.
- Big Brother Instinct: After finding out that Ziggy is their brother, they take it remarkably well and become fiercely protective of him.
- Bully Hunter: In season two Ziggy gets picked on by another student who calls him homophobic slurs, and they get into a fight when defending him.
- Cain and Abel: They seem to be getting this way in Season 2, becoming increasingly aggressive to each other and constantly fighting. Justified in that they've clearly been badly troubled by their father's abuse of their mother and his abuse.
- Easily Forgiven: Renata never brings up how Max was the one who hurt her daughter, and even lets them hangout together, albeit under close adult supervision and in a larger group.
- Evil Twin: Max, at least from Ziggy's perspective
- In the Blood: They are both violent like their father, although Max is much more so and dangerous.
- Kids Are Cruel: Max is revealed to be the one who hit Amabella
- Like Father, Like Son: Perry's sons emulate their father's violent tendencies
- Morality Pet: Apparently to Perry, but it turns out that his violence had a terrible affect on both of them.
- Same Character, but Different: Max is the Evil Twin in Season 1, and abuses Amabella and Josh, but between Season 1 and 2, he hasn't just Taken A Level In Kindness, but his violence is never mentioned again, and Renata and Celeste let him be around Amabella with no issues.
- Played By: Kathryn Newton
- Don't Tell Mama: Abigail's plan to auction off her virginity is played very discreetly, but Madeline finds out anyway.
- Granola Girl: Abigail tries to be this, much to her mother's chagrin.
- The Ingenue: Abigail genuinely wants to change things but she's extremely naive and sheltered to how this actually goes.
- Jail Bait: Invoked by her virginity auction.
- Like Father, Unlike Son: Turned out completely different to Madeline.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Abigail feels pretty strongly about this, to the point where she'd auction off her virginity for charity
- Soap Box Sadie: Especially with regards to sexual abuse and trafficking, which is why she decides to auction off her virginity.
- Strawman Has a Point: In the series, when Madeline tells her to consider which college she should go to when she graduates, Abigail scoffs at the idea. She then lists all the drawbacks to a college education, such as student debt and lack of job opportunities for graduates.
- Wacky Parent, Serious Child: Isn't fair-weather like her father or shallow like Madeline, but not in the way Madeline was hoping for.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Apparently sees no problems with her wild attempts to change the system.
- Played By: Darby Camp
- Deadpan Snarker: Has a comeback for everything.
- Little Miss Snarker: Especially to Madeline.
- Loose Lips: She tells them both that Ziggy is Max and Josh's brother and vice versa.
Dr Amanda Reisman
- Played by: Robin Weigert
Celeste and Perry's therapist, who Celeste visits to help them to cope with Perry's escalating violence.
- Adaptation Expansion: Her Season 1 appearances follow exactly the arc of her book counterpart, but she sticks around in Season 2 to help Celeste process her grief.
- The Confidant: She guards Celeste's secret that she's planning to leave Perry but, even when Celeste can't tell her about Perry's murder, she still protects her other secrets about the nuances of she and Perry's abusive marriage.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: A major Hope Spot of Season 1 is that she is the only person who can see through Perry's facade, even including Celeste. She immediately pins him for a domestic abuser.
- Secret Keeper: About many things in Celeste and Perry's marriage, but particularly that Celeste is planning to leave Perry.
- The Shrink: The "awesome" version. She's both very competent and she goes above and beyond to encourage Celeste to leave before Perry kills her.
- Played By: Joseph Cross
Tom is the owner of the seaside cafe that all the mothers frequent.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Season 2 acts as if he never even existed. Given Jane's issues with physical intimacy flaring up, it's likely this harmed their relationship.
- Mistaken for Gay: Tom is assumed to be gay, but to Jane's delight is not
- Nice Guy: Most definitely the sweetest character in the whole story.
- No Last Name Given: Neither by the book or the series.
- Played By: Virginia Kull
The kindergarten teacher.
- Idiot Ball: Asking Amabella to point out her attacker on a school playground is just asking for trouble, especially given how scared Amabella is of the culprit.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: After Miss Barnes asks Amabella to point out her attacker in full view of the children and their parents, the parents then comment on how big a mistake this was.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Didn't actually witness who hit Amabella and refuses to treat Ziggy like he did it.
- Satellite Character: Exists because the plot requires it. Her actual character isn't given any focus, though she's among a small handful of people who are nice to Jane and Ziggy.
Det. Adrienne Quinlan
- Played By: Merrin Dungey
The detective assigned to the murder case.
- Inspector Javert: Despite not being a conventional villain, her presence causes a lot of tension for the five protagonists, due to all of them being complicit in the murder.
Dr. Amanda Reisman
- Played By: Robin Weigert
Marriage therapist to the Wright couple and later on to the MacKenzie couple.
- The Shrink: The awesome kind for Celeste, since she helps her gradually stand up for herself. For Madeline she's ineffective, mainly due to Madeline resisting any advice that might put the blame on herself.
- There Are No Therapists: Subverted in the series, with her being a Canon Immigrant.
- Played By: Santiago Cabrera
A theater director that Madeline has an affair with.
- Canon Foreigner: Was created for the series to give Madeline a stronger character arc.
- Your Cheating Heart: Had an affair with Madleine while married.
- Played By: Sarah Sokolovic
- Buxom Is Better: She gets her breasts enhanced in Season 2 and deliberately wears low necklines so she can brag about them.
- Your Cheating Heart: Tells Ed that they should get back at their cheating spouses by having an affair. Ed doesn't bite.
- Played By: Douglas Smith
Jane's new love interest in Season 2.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: A Nice Guy love interest for Jane, replacing Tom from the first season.
- Played By: Poorna Jagannathan
- Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Doesn't resort to baiting and provides Celeste with emotional support as she's forced to answer for some of her less than admirable moments, seeing that Celeste is a good mother who is just under a lot of pressure.
- Played By: Denis O'Hare
- Amoral Attorney: Assists Mary-Louise in trying to win custody of the Wright twins, using any dirt they can on Celeste while downplaying any similar incidents in Mary-Louise's past.
- Hate Sink: Trying to make a single mother who suffered physical abuse from her husband and emotional abuse from her mother-in-law out to be a bad person doesn't speak highly of his standards.
- Slut-Shaming: Pretty much every question he asks of Celeste has to do with her sex life and he tries to use it as "proof" she's a deadbeat.