'Big Love': The lost boy
Can you believe we're already more than halfway through the season, “Big Love” fans? And this episode, appropriately titled “Sins of the Father,” brought it all back to Bill: His lost-boy past, his current state as a husband and a father and so-called reformer, and whether he was doomed to repeat his father's transgressions by banishing his own son.
And no doubt all of the ruthless self-preservation Bill exhibited in this hour stemmed from his own sob story of being kicked out of the truck at Liberty Park at the tender age of 14, being forced to fend for himself and doing things for cash “that haunt me to this day.” But I am still having the hardest time finding this lost boy worthy of my forgiveness.
Yes, Bill finally came clean about his past and tried to make reparations for exiling his son. But not without lying through his teeth first to keep himself from fault. The worst, though, was how he refused to take any sort of blame and acknowledge that he even kicked Ben out. “Clearly, you misunderstood me,” Bill said to his son. Hey, guess what, Bill? Denial is not just a river in Egypt. And your son’s not dumb enough to buy it. The more that Bill insisted he wasn’t repeating the sins of his father and lied his way around it, the more he was doomed to repeat it.
Ultimately, Bill admitted his fault. But only after being faced with his criminal past, being yelled at by his family members and receiving a direct threat to his state Senate run. And although I usually like when the show revolves around the immediate family, this one focused a bit much on the unlikable, conniving megalomaniac that Bill had become and, sadly, exposed the family’s separation more than ever. (Kudos, though, to Bill Paxton – it can’t be easy playing this guy, who is at turns ambitious, earnest, greedy, self-serving, manipulative and somber, and yet he does it all so convincingly week after week.)
As Joey shouted out, Bill was on the wrong path. And his drive to win the state Senate nomination was eclipsing everything else and tearing it asunder. It started right off the bat with Barb and Bill’s door-to-door campaigning. Barb told Bill she didn’t approve of his breakneck pace and entreated him to slow down. And whereas Barb usually has Bill’s ear about things, Bill was roaring on all cylinders and refused to be told what to do.
Oh, Barb, who started out the hour so confident and in control and in step with her husband but who quickly started unraveling when Bill revealed that Margie had feelings for Ben and then when Paley showed up at that time-warp Reagan ’80s party and said Bill had his endorsement. As Bill spun Barb around and whispered excitedly that “our lives are going to be completely different,” Bill looked like he had been handed a lifetime supply of Viagra, while Barb looked like someone had pulled the rug out from under her and punched her in the face.
Poor Barb’s fighting through a mountain of conflict. First, there’s Bill’s campaign, which is like a horrible snowball careening toward who knows where, being headed by some impatient, insatiable monster who just happens to be her husband. And then she discovered that that same husband actually had exiled their son from their home. And then she was curtly told to “get a hold” of her emotions. And then she was chastised never to walk out on him again. All that and she had to play Nancy Reagan and be reduced to proffering coagulated Super Bowl snacks to Congressman Paley (“Would you care for a nacho?”). The indignity! Barb is one nut-crack away from checking herself into the booby hatch, and no one in her family seems to have the wherewithal to care. If I were her, I would totally be mourning my old life on that keyboard as well.
So it’s no wonder that she sought refuge at the casino (where she’s the “boss lady,” after all – the mug says so) and took Tommy up on his offer to sweat it out. And was it just a lot of smoke and mirrors, or was Tommy looking mighty good and noble, unattached and uncomplicated in that sweat lodge while Barb was getting all hot and bothered?
But Barb's family always comes first, and she makes every effort to attend to it and preserve it at all costs. Like when she started ripping down those mug shots of Bill that were plastered all over the school walls. She even did her best to defend her wily husband to her son. “He is worthy of your forgiveness, Ben,” Barb claimed, though I’m not convinced that she completely believed it herself. “Now is the time to rally around the man your father has become.”
But really, who has Bill become? And is Barb really rallying around him? Yes, she is standing next to him and no doubt understands him better than he does himself, but does she believe in Bill in the same way? Her pull toward her family is strong, but it appears Barb is starting to awaken to the idea that maybe her husband is not the end all, be all. Her makeshift steam lodge appears to be bringing all of her doubts about her family and her husband to the surface, even as she is trying to gird herself for what lies ahead.
Nicki, on the other hand, seems to be relishing her prized spot back in Bill’s good graces, making sure to announce that she and Bill are energetically hitting the sack and exercising her baby maker: “And yes, I am an active participant in the endeavor.” Though how gross was it that Bill purred “you’re such a good girl” when an under-cover Nicki gave him choice intel about Colburn and Paley? And didn’t he use that smarmy line of “you’re my secret weapon” with Margene as well, during last season’s casino negotiations? Blech.
The episode did touch on a burgeoning identity crisis that hopefully will develop. Nicki’s slowly cottoning to the fact that her wily ways are being utilized (“How come I’m always called upon to do the morally ambiguous things?” To which Bill slickly answered, “To each according to their gifts, that’s all”) and how she has no identity outside of her relationship to other people — mostly other men. It’s enough to send the second wife dipping into frozen treats for comfort. “Not now, Barb,” said Nicki mournfully. “I just really want to enjoy this sundae.” You and me both, sister.
Margie has her own crisis to attend to. Now that she's properly contrite and prayerfully reflective and repentant, all she wants is a little nookie and to be told that everything’s going to be OK. Too bad she got met with a bunch of cold shoulders instead. When she showed up all dolled up at her makeshift booth at the convention, I was convinced she was going to boil a bunny or go all Wisteria Lane on Bill, cause a scene and expose them all. Or that she was going to make out with Clark "Rico Suave" Paley, who swooped in to her rescue when Barb pulled a Chuck Norris, swept the table leg and laid waste to her hearts on a sleeve.
Margie’s toeing the line between using her new-found money and power to assert herself and just wanting to be liked by her family and bask in their admiration. Though the stand she took for herself before the other wives showed she may be getting a bit too big for her britches. “I am not a flirt. I’m just very social,” she claimed. “Maybe I have more needs than you. … I need another night with Bill. I’ll buy one of yours. I can afford it!”
Ultimately, though, it appears Bill and Margie are on the mend. Though was it just me, or did Bill’s apology — “I ask you to confront your jealousies every day. I should be held to the same standards” – ring a little hollow? We’ll see if this politician lives up to his word.
Though, of course, you knew that when Bill finally came face to face with his own past and acknowledged his history during the debate run-off that he was going to win the nomination. And though he came up with a pretty moving speech about the crimes of fathers who throw away their sons and the mothers who stand by silently unable to speak out of fear — I still don’t trust him a whit.
Nor does Bill’s victory automatically transform this bleak landscape into a glittery happy land of rainbows and unicorns. Ben did not take Barb’s bait and instead went off with Lois. (How heartbreaking was that scene in which Lois heard Bill did exactly the same thing that Frank did to him? All the pain in the world was laid bare on Grace Zabriskie's expressive face).
Nor did Marilyn, who’s wedging her way into Bill’s life like a pesky yet powerful splinter -- small but increasingly troublesome. Though Bill didn't make it any better when he shooed Marilyn off with an extremely patronizing “adios, scat!” usually reserved for garbage-scavenging creatures. Or when he called her a liar and a thief. And though she probably is cooking up something foul, part of me just wants Marilyn to go all Carrie on Bill (or maybe scare him a little with her Adaleen-like fortress vehicle), just to knock his raging ego down a couple notches.
Or at least get Bill to stop using those off-color double-entendres: “I don’t hate you; I just don’t want to get in bed with you” and “He’s a bit hot-headed. Let me try and calm him down before he goes off half-cocked.” Really, Bill? On the other hand, my favorite line of the night was, again, courtesy of Frank: “Like I never did a thing for him,” he huffed about Bill’s claim that he was raised solely by Lois. “I took him skating.”
After this extremely Bill-centric episode, it’ll be nice to get back to all the other goings on in the “Big Love” universe next week. Alby! Dale! JJ and Adaleen! Ana!!!
What do you think? Are Barb and Tommy going to sweat it out? What about Ben and Cara Lynn? Was it just me, or was Cindy attracted to Bill’s growing political power? How could a reformed Teenie dress up like “Borderline”-era Madonna and do a hip bump with some leering creep? Are Sarah and Scott moving to Idaho? Can you play any Willie Nelson on that thing? Who wants to be a Democrat when we have all the fun?
— Allyssa Lee
Photos: Lacey Terrell / HBO