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'Big Love': Your attention, please

February 8, 2009 | 10:01 pm

Biglove

With Roman’s trial underway, allegiances are tested, the stakes are higher than ever, and everyone’s scrambling for power. Or a little attention, at least. 

Like Rhonda. It’s been hard to sympathize with this deviant, self-serving girl thus far, but my heart went out to the 16-year-old in this episode. All she wanted was a dance just for her, but it’s become clear what a helpless pawn she’s been in this tug-of-war for power. (Also, how tall she’s become: Anyone else notice how she absolutely towered over wee Kathy when they were sequestered in that hotel? If the singing thing doesn’t work out, maybe a basketball team would be willing to take her in.) But Roman still held a soft spot for Rhonda, so it was up to Adaleen to get her out of his heart. And dispose Adaleen did, administering cold hard cash with cold hard words (“He doesn’t love you … no one really cares about you”) — a turn-down delivered about as crisply and cleanly as an ice-pick thrust.

To be fair, Bill messed with confused Rhonda’s head just as much. His flip-flopped request to have her testify against Roman was totally opportunistic and preyed on the impressionable girl’s need for approval. I’m not saying that Rhonda isn’t to be blamed for her wiliness, but hearing Bill come out and declare “I would like you more” if she took the witness stand was just about as creepy as when that truck-driving predator purred for her to scoot closer. (Stay safe, Rhonda!)

Once again, Bill steamrolled everyone with his own agenda (“Getting Roman convicted is our top priority”) — even telling the D.A. what to do — and his family was helpless to do anything but stand by his side or get out of the way. He bullied Joey to get Kathy to testify and tried to smooth-talk Alby into decrying his father in public. Alby seemed to buy the adulation, for the most part (Bill's right: “Alby craves attention and respect”), but Bill’s willingness to gush and fizz and fetch him a 7-Up and invite him over for dinner (poor Barb not only had to welcome the snake into her home, but heat up the summer gazpacho — the indignity!) succeeded only in casting an icky pall over himself. Bill himself also seemed just about to crawl out of his skin when Alby reached for his hand in a gesture of solidarity (or…affection?), so you know he can’t stand the creep. How he can shack up with these shady bedfellows and then sleep at night is beyond me.

Responsible Sarah is making sure her offspring has nothing to do with her family’s lifestyle. “I am not going to give up my baby to be brought up in polygamy!” she lashed out when Ben suggested she give her little bun to her parents (any other option besides adoption seemed out of the question). And for a second, Eric and Sandy seemed the ideal parents: normal, intelligent, reverent, but not overly fundamentalist. Also, there was just one man and one wife. But no one is perfect, of course:

She has OCD. And he has “SSA:” same-sex attraction (note how it's classified like a disorder). The man’s gay, and he knows it. But he clamped his homosexual urges and married a woman to serve a higher power. Which was a major problem for Sarah. “I don’t want my baby to be brought up in a home where there’s no true intimacy or mutually nourishing relationship,” she said. “Counseling women to marry gay men and telling gay men to get married is just wrong. I don’t know what the solution is to the gay thing, but this isn’t it.” It seems the creators of the show (who also wrote this episode) are smartly challenging the viewers’ thoughts and comfort levels with these hot-button topics. Should a man repress his natural urge to be gay? If so, is he living a dishonest life? If not, then what about a man’s natural urge to be polygamous? Are these choices an answer to a higher calling, or is it self-indulgent and, as Barb’s mom states when she discovers the family is dating Ana, “a lifestyle preference”?

And ugh, Ana, who came off particularly coarse in this hour (and I’m not just talking about her voice). She’s shopping for groceries with them now? What is she doing with Wayne and Raymond (who aren’t twins — thanks to the reader who pointed that out)? She barraged Nicki with insensitive questions and then called her a mean name, and then sat by complicitly with her booze and smokes while Margie bleached her hair in a highly misguided attempt to imitate a call girl emulate her mother (which I still don’t understand. Anyone with theories as to why Margie’s acting the way she is, please share).

And was it really Ana’s place to reveal to Barb’s and Bill’s mothers that they were all dating? Of course,  it was the estranged mothers’ collective disapproval of this prospective fourth wife that drove Bill and Barb further into Ana’s arms. But did they have to go so far as to ask her to marry them? How depressing that nagging mothers can still spur their grown children to these drastic knee-jerk reactions.

Speaking of nagging mothers, Adaleen takes the trophy, the cake, and wife-of-the-year award as the mother supreme puppet master behind all nefarious and subversive dealings. And watch out, Roman detractors — her claws were out tonight. Mama bear slung threats and extorted compound-dwellers like it was nobody’s business, and her bouncy bangs and dirty-white Ked tracks were everywhere: overseeing Nicki’s one-on-one with Roman, those shady dealings with Jodean’s son, in the hotel with Rhonda, even excavating a hole big enough to swallow up that fortress van of hers. And her bark was just as bad as her vicious bite. In response to his teaming up with Alby, Adaleen coolly told Bill: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he skins you alive and splits your gut wide open till your entrails spill out all over the floor.” Yowza — the writers must have had a field day coming up with that one (that, and Lois’ “I know you think I’m a dirty chinchilla”), and props to Mary Kay Place for delivering it so effectively with such deliberate venom.

Suffice to say that Adaleen won’t be getting any mother-of-the-year awards from poor Nicki. Not when she cruelly refused to acknowledge Nicki’s assertion that she didn’t want to be married the first time. And yet Nicki proceeded to play the part of the dutiful daughter, glumly but obediently agreeing to help Roman even while barely concealing her disgust for him. Roman, detecting the reluctance, played his part of the manipulation game like a pro (Harry Dean Stanton, so creepily brilliant in this role), doling out small velvet doses of praise (“You give me such great joy, my darling daughter”) to keep her on this short leash and begging for more. Nicki’s insatiable need to be affirmed and loved is a classic abuse syndrome, and reduced her to a spineless puppet. (See also: Rhonda Volmer and Alby Grant.) And poor Nicki seemed crushed by the weight of this trial; the only time she smiled was when she basked in the D.A.’s sweet attention. And of course, despite Margie’s and Barb’s best efforts to link them back together, Nicki then turned right back around and flat-out withheld from Bill (“No. I would not like to have sex with you”).

Nicki’s submission was Roman’s ace in the hole, the reason he was so confident he would win this trial. “I have your wife, and she will never love you like she loves me,” he revealed to Bill. And that really seemed to be the case. That is, until Alby cut in: “When did our parents ever care a thing for you, and yet you’re still trying to please them? How can you let yourself be used by them? … What is it in you that hates yourself so much?” Certainly, that last line could also have been about Alby himself. But I hope the words, and witnessing the truly horrific act of that woman spitting in Kathy’s face, shook Nicki loose from this vicious cycle. Because while her victorious father once again hollowly handed out his praise (“You made this possible, my darling daughter”), Roman most definitely did not fall down the stairs on his own. And for that defiant act, this hour belonged to her.

Any comments from the peanut gallery? Did Nicki do the right thing? Should Sarah let Eric and Sandy adopt her baby? Do quorums really exist? Who’s more controlling: Adaleen or Lura?

-- Allyssa Lee

Photo credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO

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