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'Big Love': The inconvenient truth

March 8, 2009 | 10:01 pm

672028_bl3lt_308_1321 Nicki, Nicki, Nicki. Ooh, girl, you’ve done some bad things before, but now you are in trouble.

There was no way you were going to be able to keep up your duplicitous charade of passing as another woman while dating the boss who was trying to prosecute your father without your husband and sister-wives knowing for very long, and it was only a matter of time before this house of shambly cards you’ve stacked up all came tumbling down.

Not to say that you didn’t have it coming, but then why’d you have to burn all your bridges and leave yourself hanging like that? This isn’t like credit card debt or bingo addiction. The whole family is now in danger of being exposed. In the words of a somber Margie, “This could be bad.”

Granted, other members of the family cannot claim innocence in all this. Barb refused to budge with sister Cindy on the Woodruff document, which then spurred Cindy to tattle to the bishop that Barb was living in “plural marriage.”

And then there's Bill. As husband and wife he and Nicki are at a standstill, as both are too headstrong and would rather dabble in the business of furthering their own agendas than submit to one another. But they could be great partners in the manipulation game. You’d think he’d be able to understand her divided loyalties the most, especially when he can act so righteously on one hand while paying seedy ruffians to do illegal acts for him with the other. It was shocking to see shady Bill behind the University of Utah lab break-in. And the camera was so sly to reveal it: When it panned up from the suit leg I thought maybe Alby or Hollis Green was hiding in the cover of night, but no, it was Bill.

The fact that he was willing to break the law to get his way dragged him down to the basest of levels (no better than Alby or Hollis, and at least on par with Nicki). Again, it feels as if he’s getting too big for his britches by demanding Ted not only call off the Utes’ suspension of the casino license, but also force the LDS to acknowledge the Woodruff document publicly. Not to mention that his sense of righteousness led him to leak key information to the D.A. -- that he’s married to Nicki -- in order to get the D.A. to press charges against Roman for Kathy's death. Luckily, the D.A. had his head on straight for this, claiming he would be perceived as a crazy zealot if he pursued this litigation.

Though Ray Henry had been acting like a crazy zealot toward Nicki with the persistent phone calls and gorgeous bouquet of flowers. I can see how the D.A.’s affection could cause him to gloss over the ginormous red flags her hot and cold behavior signaled. And, of course, Nicki did her part to spur this on, randomly showing up at his work and proffering kisses. But, of course, a relationship built on lies could never succeed, and that breathless swirl of drama that erupted when the D.A. showed up at Margie’s door, discovered Nicki’s true identity and met up with Barb and Bill was dizzyingly fraught and witnessed the start of the sad, steady leak of Nicki’s life as she knew it going down the drain.

It was as if I could literally feel every string Nicki had tried to hold onto get tangled and then snap off from the tension, one by one. I gasped along with Barb when Nicki chose to run after the D.A. rather than stay with Bill and fess up to the truth. And perhaps that was what offended Barb the most. She might as well have been talking to Nicki when she told (an irritatingly self-centered) Sarah, “Maybe it’s no coincidence that your sense of meaning and purpose was lost when you gave up on your commitment to this family.”

It was interesting to have Nicki’s complete unraveling occur at the same time as Kathy’s death and funeral. Here are two women on two different sides of the same coin: Both were brought up in Juniper Creek; both were damaged when married off to older men whom they weren’t ready to be with. But Kathy chose to wear her heart on her sleeve and be light and joy for all who surrounded her, even when she was screwed over, whereas Nicki chose to veil herself in darkness and deceit even among those who loved and trusted. Kathy openly testified against Roman; Nicki secretly plotted for him, even as both abhorred him. And both were betrothed to Henrickson men. And when they were burying Kathy’s body, I’m sure that for a split second Barb and Bill both wished it was Nicki who was in the box.

On another note, it was great to see Wanda and Lois get along. Lois has been so great these past two episodes. She has really stepped up and provided a most unexpected but welcome source of levity (“Ah, the concussions I gave my sister-wives,” she sighed nostalgically when Wanda admitted she wished Kathy dead) and comfort. And pitch-perfect Grace Zabriskie delivered Lois’ words to great effect: “Losing Kathy’s almost ... too much to bear,” she stated. “That’s our job. It’s our responsibility to bear it. To keep going on.” Could it be Frank’s absence (so he’s in Mexico now, not Nicaragua?) that has sloughed off this famously prickly broad’s rough edges?

And I quite enjoyed seeing Wanda, who previously had been one Brangelina cutout short of crazy, let go of her fears and jealousy and step up and be strong and coherent and supportive when her husband could not. And yay to her for delivering a touching eulogy for her almost sister-wife: “Kathy was special. Everybody loved her. She was so sweet and good-natured. She was like an angel to us. She took care of us, and didn’t ask anything in return.”

Compared with these words about Kathy, who was all salt and light, Nicki looked just about as appealing as the bubonic plague. No one wanted to touch her. Sadly, Nicki’s fear and willful pride (kudos to Chloë Sevigny for believably taking Nicki through the ringer and pursing her lips and haughtily holding up her head throughout) kept her from admitting any fault. So one by one, she was promptly cut off by all her supporters. First, by Bill, who left her half-hearted “I love you, Bill” hanging like some bad airborne virus that he didn't want to contract. Then by Barb: “You betrayed our trust time and again,” the first wife admonished. “You ask forgiveness? No. I don’t forgive you. It’s not that easy.” Snip.

Then she slunk back to Ray, where she played up her role as victim of her mother's blackmailing ways. But a man of his power who has been duped would not cede so easily. “Listen to me,” he began. And just when I thought that he might throw her a bone, he went on. “There’s conspiracy. There’s witness tampering. There’s obstruction of justice. And you want to know what else? Polygamy is still illegal.” Ouch. Snip.

Then it was off to Margene. And as a power play to regain any sort of upper hand, Nicki started by disparaging Margie’s new bid to sell Ladonna’s tribal jewelry online. But Margie wasn’t having any of it: “Why don’t you worry about your own life, and leave me out of it for a change?” she shot back. Which forced Nicki to change her tune immediately. “Margie, I’m in trouble,” she said soberly. “I’m scared.” And rather than telling her it’ll be OK, Margie simply said, “You should be.” Snip.

And if Nicki wasn’t going to get any sort of handouts from her married family, she sure as heck wasn’t going to get it from her father. “It seems to me you voted with your hands in a stairwell at the courthouse,” Roman stated matter of factly. So the old coot knew that Nicki had a hand in his fall, and now he was more than happy to have a hand in hers.

Though as much as her own hubris was the cause of her desolation, here is someone who was driven to many of her actions by deep-seated insecurities and fear. As prickly and unsympathetic as she may be, the show is careful to reveal many different sides of Nicki, so that we know too much about her to condemn her. As Graham Greene once wrote, “When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity -- that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.” Seeing her cower like an abused dog when Roman swooped into Kathy’s funeral like the second coming was a reminder of how damaged she was. And it was telling when she revealed that “for the first time in my life I liked who I was" when she worked for the D.A. If what she said was true, how sad is it that she has to change everything that she is in order to like herself?

So leave it to Alby to collect the flotsam that had been discarded. It was Alby, who probably could relate to Nicki’s damage the most, who didn’t walk away from his prodigal little sister, and actually invited her into his homestead when Roman assumed no responsibility, Joey turned her out of his house and Bill and Co. couldn’t care less if she returned to theirs. “Take heart,” he encouraged. Though whether Alby is acting from the good of his heart or because he wants her for his larger game plan against Roman remains to be seen.

What do you think? Will there ever be reconciliation for Nicki? How will the return of creepy J.J. figure into her life? Did Bill bite off more than he could chew with the casino and the document? Who’s more of a threat to the family’s well-being: the jilted D.A. or the jilted Cindy? Why don't the parrots like Mexican music? How are the Greens going to figure into this season’s endgame?

-- Allyssa Lee

Photo: Lacey Terrell / HBO