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'Big Love': A call to arms


After last week's great churning drama, this episode, titled “Blood Atonement” took a detour south of the border, off the map and into a heart of darkness that set up the third and final act of this season. And though the Mexican aviary plot was all a bit too out there and fringey for my taste, I was glad to see it made a bloody show of tying up the telenovela bird-smuggling Hollis Greene entanglement and transported the family out of Mexico and back to Utah. Not to mention that it set forward Marilyn’s true motives for getting involved with the casino.

Before we get to that, however, just wanted to say that the new opening credits have grown on me, despite some initial reservations. Given how isolating this season has been, it's particularly fitting to see these characters floating by themselves in their own outer darkness.

OK, back to the episode: A lot of this hour dealt with Bill’s own reconciliation and coming to terms with who he is and where he came from. But not without fighting and disparaging it first. He spent nearly the entire episode in an outrage, spitting on Lois and Frank (and Joey) for dragging Ben (and now himself) into this mess, barely concealing his disgust and stopping short of spitting out “you people” over their crabby compound ways. Never mind the fact that it was Bill who basically pushed Ben into their arms in the first place. “My son gets dragged right back into the same cesspool I got away from, and here I am stuck in the middle of who knows what?” he raved. “And I end up cleaning up the mess. Because you’re all broken.” Oh, Bill. The sanctimonious hypocrisy was so glaring, it makes the neon lights of Vegas look downright dull in comparison. But Bill was on a vicious tear: Not even the gun-toting drug dealer bandit dared stop and kidnap him when he looked into Bill’s demonic eyes.

Finally, Joey tranquilized him by telling him he wasn't all that, reminding his brother that  “Maybe the Heavenly Father was giving you a test and you failed,” he said. “Because of your anger. You couldn’t forgive.” And that, for once, gave Bill pause. And even though Bill was previously all about putting his damaged past to bed, it was only by regressing and owning up to his past (“So, OK, you won. I’m one of you now”) that he could break the cycle and secure his future (Ben). Ultimately, Bill stood beside his broken brother in arms, rather than turn his back on him. He literally broke the shackles on his family’s prison, and insisted that they all make it out together (“no one gets left behind this time”). And good for him, because it was only because he was willing to give up all of himself, and forfeit all that he possessed, that he broke the cycle his father put into place all those many years ago, and put him right with his son.

705095_BL_LT_407_11_16_0051 Of course, Joey himself also couldn’t find it in his heart to forgive. His only reason to go down to Ciudad Greene was to make Hollis pay for Kathy’s death. Only, his mother beat him by an arm’s length. Lois, who had the guts to call Hollis a Froot Loop, sliced off Papa Greene's arm and basically stole the show. I love myself some Lois (and Grace Zabriskie is awesome), but she really did ham it up this hour. Lois was best when she offered up piddling, yet earnest atonements when faced with her imminent demise (“just remember, I loved you like a good pal”). And it was her scene with Frank that was most touching. Frank, that old coot, revealed that a heart beat in him after all. And he laid it bare with his own tender, vulnerable atonement, explaining that it was Roman who threatened to reassign Lois if Frank didn’t have Bill removed. “So I sent Bill away. Broke your heart. Made you the bitter woman that you are, and drove this family into ruin.” To which Lois self-deprecatingly responded, “Well, we probably would have hit the skids anyway.” And then when the flinty Lois returned and immediately insisted they “leave him” when Frank said he and his bum back wouldn’t make it to the car? Priceless.

Though bravo to Lois for cutting through years of repression with one fell swoop. The machete-wielding mama bird really let it fly with that blade — “how dare you lay a hand on my boy!” — and that blood-splattered face of hers unleashed a lifetime’s worth of her own fury and inability to act. Too bad Hollis' disarmament (har har) was like a scene out of a Quentin Tarantino movie: campy and cartoony. Also, it was hard to reconcile that Selma, who popped doughy Don Dona/Manuel full of lead without a second thought, wouldn’t have at least tried to pump a couple of rounds into Bill and his compadres before hauling Hollis to the hospital. Or that any of the other residents of Ciudad Greene wouldn’t do the same.

Back in the States, Margie’s turning out to be quite the sneaky little minx, protecting her own interests by proposing marriage to Goran(!) rather than be sealed into a family whose outing will inevitably put her independent flourishing business in jeopardy. In this crazy act of defiance, Margie has taken on another husband and skewed polygamy for her own gain. Though there’s no doubt that it will all go terribly wrong, as seen in next week’s previews, as Goran appears as though he can’t keep his wandering hands to himself.

BL115-0932 But Margie doesn’t want to be stuck as resident baby maker in the new Big House; she wants to have her own life outside of the family, and her alignment with Goran and Ana would give her some insurance to do just that, despite Barb’s reminder that “our businesses come and go, Margie. Family stays.” Though guess Barb decided that even a child conceived out of wedlock should be part of the family, because she made a pretty hard, threatening case for Ana and Goran to stay in the U.S. “You can’t just waltz away with someone else’s child,” she admonished (never mind that that was exactly what Sarah did earlier this season). The whole Barb-Ana-Goran face-off did provide my favorite exchange of the night, however: “The cult lady wants me to drink the Kool-Aid again,” said Ana to Goran. “Kool-Aid?” repeated Goran. “Oh, no thank you,” replied Barb.

Poor Nicki. Not only has she come to grips with her own dreadful childhood, but her uterus is unhappy as well. And as if to add insult to injury, the rest of the world is procreating up a storm. Of course, Ana’s got a bun in the oven, and now her mother, Adaleen, is all oddly aglow, apparently blessed by the fertility gods. “I have the uterus of a woman half my age!” she exclaimed to Nicki happily. “You’re going to have a new little brother or sister. And so is Cara Lynn! And she’ll have an aunt or uncle to boot!” Sounds like Adaleen drank the Kool-Aid as well. And though the scene where Nicki threatened her mother with a pregnancy test was a hoot -- “Get out of there and drop your drawers!” -- anyone else have a sneaking suspicion that JJ and his son (played by Eric Ladin, who also was seen as Betty Draper’s brother on “Mad Men”) are in cahoots with hormones or eggs or whatever for some nefarious end? Remember on “30 Rock,” when Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon thought she was pregnant but actually it was the evaporated bull semen in her Sabor de Soledads that made her appear that way? Something along those lines, only more menacing. I just hope it doesn’t put Adaleen in the same way as the wheelchair-bound, oxygen tanked, biopsied Malinda. Or that parts of biopsied Malinda were injected into Adaleen (ew). Or are they parts of Wanda? The terrified, frantic way that Wanda reacted to J.J. is not the way one would normally receive news of a new niece or nephew. It seems that J.J. is intent on spreading the Walker name as long and far as he can. Curiouser and curiouser, and creepier and creepier as we descend down the rabbit hole.

There’s definitely a growing distance between Barb and Bill, both literally and figuratively. Barb’s cope container is full, and Bill’s not around much to help her ease that burden. First, he left Barb to deal with the campaign and the casino when he headed off to Mexico, which she was none too happy about. And then Bill totally dropped the ball and left her hanging when a fake bomb had been planted at Blackfoot. It’s much the same way that Bill wasn’t around for Margie when J.J. barged in those episodes ago. Barb also didn’t say I love you back when Bill, having a sentimental moment in the Auto Motel after watching a jealous wife deal with other women's adoring eyes on her crooning husband, longingly called his first wife and promised that “it’s going to be different. I’m not that person you think I’m becoming.” If only we could believe you, Bill.

Though I was sure the sugar would hit the fan when Bill discovered that Barb had signed the contract with Marilyn without his consent, but perhaps Bill (or the writers) had too much else to think about to make a stink about this act of defiance. But now it appears that Bill was right all along about Marilyn. Turned out she and Paley and the Evangelicals are all in Abramoff-like cahoots to gouge the tribes while they made off with their money and teed off at St. Andrews.

At least Bill made good on (finally) bringing Ben home, nicely set to the tune of Fleet Foxes’ “Your Protector.” Though all that Barb would allow from Bill was a kiss on the cheek. And then she spent a moment outside, surveying the world around her, alone, before following Bill into the home.

What do you think? What was it that J.J. promised Wanda? What were those instruments that J.J. had in those boxes? Will Bill now push forward the UEB’s demise now that he’s been appointed acting trustee? Was Goran rolling a joint in front of Margie? Will feds investigate Dale’s death? What was creepier: the Sunshine Clinic trailer or Selma stroking the hair of the guy seated next to her at the fiesta? Is this the end of Hollis? Babies babies babies!

—Allyssa Lee


‘Big Love’: “Behind every man there’s an exhausted woman”

‘Big Love’: The lost boy

Complete ‘Big Love’ coverage on Show Tracker

Photo credits: Joey (Shawn Doyle) and Bill (Bill Paxton), Selma (Sandy Martin) and Lois (Grace Zabriskie): Ron Batzdorff / HBO. Nicki (Chloë Sevigny), Cara Lynn (Cassi Thomson) and Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin): Lacey Terrell / HBO

Comments () | Archives (15)

that was a good summary! i think this was one of the better episodes of the season. thought all of lois's scenes worked this episode but agree that selma would have shot them too. had no idea what jj and wanda were talking about--that was very insightful of you. also seemed to me that the casino sons's boss and barb might be getting it on soon.

My only issue is that I cant believe Selma would have let Lois get close enough to Hollis to cut his arm off. But maybe she was distracted with Bill and Joey. One scene that creeped me out was Nicki and the Dr. The way he looked at her made my stomach turn. So he is going to help her get pregnant, huh? The way he helped her mother get pregnant as well? This whole thing is so disturbing, but when watching the scene i realized that might be the first time Ive ever seen Nicki smile like that.

I enjoyed seeing Frank finally open up. And also his realization that Bill was willing to give up everything that he, himself wasnt willing to give up when Roman demanded it so many years ago. This is why long running series are so great, you learn details over time.

This is such an amazing show. I cant believe there are only a few episodes left this season! I will go into withdrawals!

You are the best recapper for this series. Love how you catch all the little looks and remarks (leave him) that say so much.
Bill is always trying to do his own thing. Barb is forced to run a casino and finds she likes being there as opposed to being home,yet she is too naive to understand the world, as in trusting Marilyn. She bought what Marilyn was selling and it is Bill's fault for expecting her to be more than a simple woman who expected a simple life.
Loved the way Barb looked up and said, "Margie, what have you done?" Knowing that she was not going to be happy with the response from her childish sister-wife.
Nicky's mom is funny and tragic. She apologizes for Nicky's daughter almost getting married and yet is not too concerned because it's the way she was raised and how she expects life to be for her and all the women of the compound.
Loved the "Kool-aid" remark also.

Is J.J. hiding some freakish genetic anomaly? He is a very strange looking individual. Why would Wanda be flabbergasted to the point of silence? I can't quite see him as a badass though. The actor playing J.J. was very unconvincing on Heroes last season, so I'm wondering how he landed the gig.

Also, with each appearance, Joey repeatedly proves himself to be stupider than the last time he showed up. No wonder he squandered his ticket out.

Lastly, Lois didn't seem capable of such brute force as to sever a man's arm. The camera certainly didn't display any real effort on her part. And that blade must have been honed to razor-sharpness. It's not easy to hack though bone.

The writers, having failed so miserably in this episode, shoud all be dispatched just like hollis greene. Also, I don't think Selma is capable of acting without her brothers say so. What about Bill's magic cell phone that works in the desert?

I agree with solvent. This was a terrible episode. Get rid of Bill's ridiculous parents. They're cartoonish characters who never should have had screen time to begin with much less lasted past the first season. Every time I see one or the other of their faces I know we're in for a stupid Keystone Cops episode. This series is too good for that tripe.

I can’t even fathom what the writers were thinking when they wrote the episode, but the episode was made and was shown on television—on HBO no less. It was freakishly weird all around with a few good spots that were so awkward in an otherwise bizarre episode. I would have to agree with Richard Corliss when he said Big Love has jumped the shark.

Review of the episode on my blog:

Whoever doesn't like Lois and Frank is a nut! They provide the diversion necessary to lighten up the episodes when they're really heavy like last night's was. Lois saying, "Leave him," when Frank was talking about not being able to make it to the car practically had me rolling on the floor!

Also, if she hit it right (and it appears she did), the machete could have separated the arm from the shoulder through the cartiledge, much like separating a chicken leg from the thigh (or a wing tip from the wing). Not too difficult. Must've been a lucky cut - and I'm sure the machete was sharp. I don't think the Greens leave ANY of the tools of their trade in disrepair.

Also, do people really think Selma would've shot Lois on the spot? I think not. Selma doesn't do anything that Hollis doesn't tell her to do. Without him she doesn't know whether to scratch her watch or wind her backside. She's a devoted wife to him, and I think she actually cares about him, oddly enough. She probably feels like she owes him a lot for allowing her to be the man she always wanted to be!

Margie is done with being in 3rd place, the acting baby machine, the naive/dumb kid, all of it. She's gone rogue.

Nikki is freaking me out with her weird "I wanna have a baby" thing after all this time of NOT wanting to. And why she would EVER trust JJ's son (the Dr.) is beyond me. I never took her to be a fool, but she sure is acting like one these days.

And, like Bill's parents, Barb - even though her "#1 wife/holier than thou" thing gets on my nerves - also has some great comedic lines. Sugar hitting the fan and "Kool Aid? Oh, no thank you." were awesome, and she does deliver lines like that well.

Bill might have earned some redemption with this episode. Now I just gotta know what that freak JJ is up to...

This episode wasn't terrible... Compare it to the really stupid ones dealing with Sarah and her total inability to think about the consequences of her actions (pregnancy, marriage, etc.)., or the endless "Roman won't get away with this!" plots.

Frank actually showed remorse for his actions. Up until this episode, he was a one-dimensional joke.

I'm starting to hate Barb more than before. Her constant attempts to keep Nicki and especially Margene under her thumb are plain evil. Upon seeing Margie's office, Barb was astounded at her success, and the lame "home office" nonsense is a ploy to rein Margene back in. Although Margene is usually the one shown to be naive, in reality it's Barb that's both naive and jealous, woefully unprepared for Bill's machinations and grand planning. Look at how easily Barb was duped by the shyster lobbyist. She forgets that Bill built a successful conglomerate out of nothing and disregards his sage advice and years of experience.

This episode very likely marks the "severing" of my interest in the show. This season started to come off the tracks early, and the derailment was complete with this episode.

What used to be a quirky, character-driven show, is now this completely implausible plot-driven mess. I didn't give a rat's behind for what happened to any of those characters last night--which is an astonishingly sad thing to hear myself admit!

Amazing they could find a shark to jump way out there in the Mexican desert.

I realy enjoy this blog,however I do disagree with one thing,comparing Bill,s banishment from his home to Ben staying with his sister.As I recall,Ben was packing ,his father poked his head in his room and said"Maybe your leaving is a good idea" That is hardling throwing the boy out,yet they carried that idea through two episodes with everyone accusing Bill of being a monster.

The reason no one at Ciudad Greene turned on Dorothy .. oops, I mean Lois .. when she cut of Hollis' arm is that they were all too busy hopefully humming Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead inside their tiny little brains < : )

I think you got it right..JJ used Wanda's eggs to fertilize Adaleen.

Have to disagree with those who say the show has gone off the rails... This has always been a kitschy, plot driven Bananas Foster guilty pleasure - not an introspective, character heavy, Bergman fest. The wives are a bit more fleshed out, but Bill is about a three dimensional as a dollar bill. Best hour of TV all week.


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