'Big Love': Prom night
So Bill declared when Sarah announced, to the shock and pleasant awe of her parents, that she would attend her senior prom. Given her present condition, it's totally understandable that Sarah (played by Amanda Seyfried, at right with Douglas Smith) would want to trade her duplicitous life for a “last chance to, like, dress up and act like idiots and play make-believe.”
Of course, for this family, “a little normal” is anything but. Especially when your prom date is your Uncle Frankie, who may or may not have a crush on you, and who’s stealing kisses from your crazy-jealous almost-grandmother Rhonda on the side. Or when your grandmother Lois is trying to suffocate your grandfather Frank with an oven bag. But prom is prom, and an annual rite of high school passage. It hardly turns out the way one wants (as seen here, here, here, and here), but the evening is anything if not unforgettable. As was this especially rich episode.
The past refused to remain buried during this hour, and old grievances came to the surface. Barb’s catty sister Cindy has returned to Utah and has launched an anti-gaming initiative, a “spiteful” attack against the Henricksons’ gaming business and Barbie herself. And Ana’s old boy-toy Matt returned as a “well-built” reminder that the waitress is maybe not as committed as she would like to think she is. (Alas, it appears that Ana’s sticking around, though I don’t buy Barb’s newfound fondness for her for a second. Ana hung up on her, for blankety-blank’s sake!)
Even when the past is dead, it hasn’t completely gone away. Margie was adorably befuddled when her usually drunk mother dropped in for an unannounced visit. In a cardboard box. “Oh, let’s face it: She was a loser who got tanked and died in a laundry room,” Margie acknowledged. But this new house guest also brings in a tinge of unease that no amount of scrubbing or vacuuming can remove. And despite repeated attempts to fit her into her present life and home, her mom's remains were ultimately exiled into a closet, out of sight and out of mind. What is it that Margie can’t seem to deal with? The fact that her mother’s occupying the same space, or that she’s a reminder of where she came from? Note that it was not just Margene, but also Barb who made sure to emphasize that they feel closer to their sister wives than their own families. “My wives are truer sisters to me than [Cindy’s] ever been,” declared Barb. And “she just was never really there for me,” accounted Margie matter-of-factly. “You are, though, and I’m very grateful.... Let’s eat!”
With Nicki, however, the loyalties are a bit more complicated.
The second wife's internal struggle between her father and the Henricksons has always been a rife point of conflict in this series, and Chloë Sevigny tows the line between allegiances beautifully. But the rift between the two became more pronounced when Kathy’s identity as the fourth Jane Doe witness against Roman was disclosed. And then the bottom dropped out completely after Kathy revealed that at age 14, she was sealed by Roman to a 52-year-old perv, and Wanda innocently responded in kind, spilling that (gasp) Nicki, too, was committed to a creep of a man when she was 15.
And how heart-wrenching was it when Nicolette, clearly a victim of her own father’s lecherous hands, turned and resolutely insisted that this premature union was her own choice! “It’s about us, too,” she staunchly defended. “It’s about the sanctity of the Principle.” Sadly, this appears to be the other side of this way of life: that with the support of a big family and sister wives also comes the awful exploitation of women (those creepy joy books, with pictures of girls’ hands, backs of knees, and calves ... shudder). And Nicki’s death-grip allegiance to her faith in the Principle was for better and for worse: She asserted that if the Henricksons blamed Roman for adhering to this way of life, then they might as well point a big fat judgmental finger at themselves. I don’t know whether to respect her for her chutzpah, or to cry for her complete subjection to this nightmare. (Maybe we should all heed Barb’s advice: “It’s a Xanax. Take it.”)
But now with her past gaping like an open wound, would Nicki continue to operate as a double agent? As the DA’s opening argument emphatically insisted, this is not about religious persecution or an invasion of privacy, but “Roman Grant’s criminal exploitation of girls.” And Nicki’s total breakdown in this empathetic man’s arms (Mary’s words from this season’s premiere came to mind: “These people aren’t so bad for heathens”) seemed a cry for help and a long-overdue release from an insufferable past. (It was also was another example of Nicki letting down her guard around men she hardly knows.) Thankfully, the writers didn’t take advantage of this highly charged and potentially dangerous situation (though the tension between them was thicker than Ana’s accent) and left Nicki and the D.A. platonic, for now.
Self-centered opportunist Rhonda just can’t seem to get the fame and fortune she wants, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to ally herself with any powerful man she can and spreading an icky residue all over everything she touches. As Heather so disgustedly pointed out at the Butt Hut: “She peed. All over the seat.”
And was it just me, or was there an inordinate amount of cellphone usage in this episode? Maybe Verizon installed a tower near Juniper Creek: Kathy chatted with Jodean when they went on the lam and Adaleen sported a slick ear piece on the horn with Nicki. And don’t forget Barb and her mother carried on an entire mobile conversation within 20 feet of each other.
So the one time you’d think that Lois would have a cellphone on her, she didn’t. All throughout this episode, a long-suffering Lois (a tremendous Grace Zabriskie) made overtures — digging a grave, hauling a wheelbarrow to the tune of the three pigs’ taunt of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” masochistically testing an oven bag on her own head — toward killing vengeful husband Frank. And the dance that played out between them: demanding, entreating, threatening, pleading, reminiscing, sharing a bucket of KFC — struck me as a mini-version of how I imagined their courtship to be. So I wasn’t completely convinced that Lois would actually go through and bag him. And sure enough, though she came close to sealing the deal, Frank was ultimately saved by the bell — or the ring of the house line, by his son Bill, of all people, confirming the awful truth about his sister Maggie.
And after all this heavy digging up the past, it was a welcome treat to see Sarah and Ben getting along like normal teenage siblings. Their relationship teetered between amusingly nagging (taking her to the dance in exchange for the Denali for a week) and sweetly affectionate (gallantly coming to her rescue when Frankie was too sick to take a prom picture, defending her with a well-placed “shut the f-ing h up!”), and Ben’s playful threat to throw Sarah’s shoe into the lake was just the annoyingly familiar trick a brother would pull. Ben and Sarah are each other’s best cohorts and confidantes as they stumble toward adulthood in this unique family life. So it made sense that Ben was the first one in their family to whom Sarah revealed she was pregnant, and with whom she pleaded wistfully to allow her a few more moments in this land of childlike make-believe. And it resulted in an achingly bittersweet closing sequence: As they sat together in silence, her admission became imperceptible in the glow of the rising sun and the swell of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” — that ultimate prom song and poignant ode to lost youth.
Will Nicki will stay loyal to her father? What will happen to Kathy now that her identity has been revealed? Will Rhonda go ballistic when she finds out Frankie and Heather made out? What’s your favorite prom song? Do tell!
— Allyssa Lee
Photo credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO