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'Big Love:' Secrets & Wives

January 18, 2009 | 11:54 am

672021_bl5306_05a_2 It’s been a long wait, "Love"-starved fans, but after what seemed like an eternity (really, it's been some 15 months) "Big Love" has finally returned. And lucky for us, the extended hiatus has been worth the wait: The underrated family drama heaped out great big loving spoonfuls of fun twists and startling turns in its action-packed Season 3 premiere, reconfirming that this "Love" not only delights and sharpens, but endures.

The episode picks up shortly after the last season left off, and we're launched right back into the messy maelstrom of the Henrickson clan. Bill is cooing over Margie’s newest little piggy, Nell; Nicki has ditched the calico prairie duds in favor of some normal clothes for her first day at work; Barb is running errands. Of course, nothing is how it appears, ’cause everyone’s pushing their own agenda.

Patriarch Bill is attempting to seal a deal with a Native American tribe in order to get his hard-won Weber gaming off the ground, continues to see Ana, and is trying as all h-e-double-hockey-sticks to stay out of the incarceration and impending trial of Roman Grant, who as you remember, was sold down the river by his son Alby. But what’s great about this drama is that while Bill may feel like he’s the one calling all the shots (and the priesthood holder responsible for his wives’ salvation), it’s really the strong women who are driving this dog and pony show. Take, for instance, Bill’s courtship with Ana. After rebuffing the waitress' aggressive advances, Bill is encouraged by Home Plus/Principle pal Don to take the reins and show the minx what she wants (because she obviously can’t figure it out for herself). So Bill insists he and Ana have to "follow the path set out for us by our Heavenly Father.” Basically, to borrow a phrase from Beyoncé, if Bill liked it, then he should have put a ring on it. But all it takes is a husky pout and a cold shoulder, and he sleeps with Ana anyway. (And then, chastened, proceeded to react like a child afterward, fleeing the scene without so much as a glance over his shoulder, and then insisting that he wants nothing to do with Ana…ever!) Um, so much for taking the reins on that one.

Certainly, Barb isn’t letting any control slip out of her hands if she can help it.

Last season, Barb asserted her head-wife power by shutting down any possibility of adding on extra spouses. But early on in this episode we find that her cancer — the poison that started this whole mess of multiple wives in the first place — may have returned (the scene of her alone on the bed, pillow clutched to her chest and pleading to drive out this demon was devastating, as was when she sought refuge in cradling a sleeping Nell…tissues, please!). Now faced with her own mortality, Barb does an about-face, openly announcing that she’d like to make overtures about adding a fourth (much to the chagrin of eldest daughter Sarah, who now has another reason to flee as far away from her mixed-up family as possible). “I am in control of my life, and I will have a say in the architecture of our family in the hereafter,” Barb declares. It’s a bold turn, but understandable: Barb consistently has put her family first, and so now she is doing anything in her power to ensure that they have a great afterlife.

And while Barb, so expertly played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, morphs her fears and insecurity into a gesture of greater good toward her family, Nicki can only think about herself (“Where’s she going to live?” she bristles when Barb brings up the Ana agenda. “Not with me!” Ha!). And the righteous second wife (a terrifically prickly Chloë Sevigny) dramatically threatens to go into hiding when a neighborhood map issued by the local LDS ward grays her out. (It’s never really explained what exactly this means — I’m assuming it’s a blacklist and gives folks free reign to treat her with contempt, or at least how Team Aniston would regard Team Jolie when they meet in front of Kitson. Apparently, the neighborhood kids interpreted it as a sign to treat her house like a bridal shower game, and therefore decorated it with toilet paper.) After her house is TP’d and Bill, clearly upset, arrives to help clean up, I’d swear the look on Nicki’s face was a combination of fear for herself, concern for Bill and a sly flush of vindication that she is finally getting the attention she deserves.

Good thing Nicki’s getting at least a little love from her husband, ’cause she ain't getting any from her mama. Turns out Nicki’s temp job at the County Services office is just her dutiful part as a cog within the grand scheme masterminded by mom (and budding memoir writer) Adaleen to infiltrate the district attorney’s case against Roman and his empire. Love Mary Kay Place for brilliantly lacing a homespun innocuousness into Adaleen’s Lady Macbeth-like dealings. And it appears Adaleen is also the wily brains behind Alby’s illicit bathroom tryst trap. It had been so long since we last saw hints of Alby’s “proclivities” that I was starting to think it was all just a fever dream. But it seems like all this Juniper Creek power had gone to his head (or wherever), because this “bastard usurper of a son” obviously felt he could pull a George Michael and get away with it. I can’t wait to see what the writers do with Alby next. Will his UEB power embolden him to come out of hiding, or will he take care to “fix” himself? It’ll also be interesting to see how Alby and Adaleen deal with each other from here on out. If it’s anything like that fortress van/Hummer stare-down, we’re in for a treat.

I was also pleased as punch to see Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin, also terrific) growing in confidence and gaining a firmer foothold in the family. Third wife Margie gamely stepped up to become a real partner to Bill in the Weber negotiations, diffusing the tense standoff between Bill, Native American tribe rep Jerry Flute, and Jerry’s whippersnapper of a wife (another show of a strong, intelligent woman) with her placating words of peace…delivered in Shoshone, no less. I admit I thought it was a little baffling and out of touch when I caught Margie so studiously reciting her Native American phrases earlier this episode. This show is so smart to let me go on believing it was just ditzy Margene being ditzy Margene before springing this most pleasant Shoshone surprise at the meeting. Plus, she’s emerging as a major negotiating player in this Ana fandango.

But the major drama came at the neighborhood block party. The Henricksons feared their nosy, barren neighbor Pam (the great Audrey Wasilewski, also stellar as Peggy’s nosy, not-so-barren sister on Mad Men) had blabbed their polygamy business to the rest of the ’hood. And as we ramp up to the end of the episode, all the signs — neighbors’ whispers as to why the Henricksons are renting to Roman Grant’s daughter, the blatant appropriation of the hot dog cart (“But Bill’s the hot dog man!” gasps Barb incredulously, one of my favorite lines of the evening), and Teeney’s exile for being “a bad influence” — suggest that the family has, indeed, been exposed. So it was to my squirmy delight to discover that pervy Teeney’s just trying to use vice for profit (hey, maybe the girl’s just taking after her father). And then my heart swelled with pride when Bill came thisclose to spilling, only to be saved by Nicki — self-centered Nicki, ladderless and hollering from the rooftop — risking her own neck (literally and figuratively: it’s got to be a dizzying height) to deliver a show-stopping speech about compassion and kindness. Hallelujah! Bill’s so concerned about saving his wives and protecting his family, but it’s Barb who’s looked out for Bill’s soul, Margene who bailed out his business, and Nicki who saved the day. Well played, all!

What say you, dear viewer? Was this episode worth the wait? Should Ana should be sealed into the family for eternity? What was that movie the twins were watching with the pig baby? What should the title of Adaleen’s memoir be: Roman & Me? How To Succeed at Prophet-Sharing? Grant Us Peace? Post below!

Photo credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO