'Big Love': All aboard
It’s the penultimate episode in this fourth season, “Big Love” fans, and after last week’s crazy, south-of-the-border detour, it’s nice to see all the action has been brought back to Salt Lake City and focused squarely on the family.
This episode, titled “Next Ticket Out,” had the Henrickson clan bursting at the seams. Never mind the opening sequence of domestic bliss, which had everyone coming together at the dinner table and Bill proudly sporting his World's Greatest Dad apron and serving up platter of barbecue — all to the tune of the Build With Bill campaign jingle, which was so cheesy it could have been manufactured in a Velveeta factory.
No, this supper was just a flimsy scrim that unveiled the rampant dysfunction that was gurgling just beneath this well-scrubbed surface. And this was the episode in which everyone was brought up to speed and all season's ducks were lined up in time for next week's finale. Although, with all the story lines going on this season, there was a lot to catch up on: Margie’s paper marriage to Goran. The discovery that Joey killed Roman. Teenie's entry into teendom. Nicki's problems conceiving. Marilyn’s extortion of the casino.
And Sarah moving to Portland. After the news had been revealed that that actress Amanda Seyfried was leaving the series, part of me was afraid that Sarah would meet some untimely demise and be left for dead as the hapless victim of some tribal meth war. So it was with relief to discover that Scott just found a job in Oregon, and the newlyweds had merely decided to make their way west. Basically, Sarah was intent on getting herself the heck out of Dodge before the runaway campaign train reached its inevitable end.
Though who can blame her, really? Portland is reputably a lovely city (despite Nicki’s insistence that its streets are laced with heroin). And now that there aren't any family members held captive in ostrich pens down in Mexico, Bill is back on his megalomaniacal campaign track and running full speed ahead.
This time, however, Sarah is not the only Henrickson not on board. Barb now regards the state Senate run as that annoying thing on the to-do list that constantly tromps on her freshly-mopped floors, and something she’ll finally be glad to be through with. Margie admitted that she used her marriage to Goran to distance herself from the family's eventual exposure. Even Teenie said she doesn’t want to be outed and risk losing her popularity (though she may have single-handedly sabotaged her own social standing with that bizarrely intense and lengthy Yankee Doodle Dandy of a tap routine during that on-air interview).
Only Ben and Nicki have secured their seats aboard the Build With Bill bullet train. Though while Ben is two pompoms and a megaphone short of becoming Bill’s most ardent and unwavering cheerleader, it’s unclear whether Nicki is really and truly aligning herself with her husband, or if this is another plea for love and attention. Nicki is still looking to find herself. As a result, she’s finding herself in revealing tight-fitting tops and short skirts (and it was touching, if a little uncharacteristic, to see Cara Lynn stand by her mother and support her new look).
Though it appears that Nicki still wants it to be all about her as well. Did you catch her (unsuccessful) effort to bring it back to her when Sarah revealed she and Scott were moving to Portland? And when the second wife said that she didn't want to share anymore and that she wanted to be Bill’s one and only? (Does this mean that Nicki could be ... monogamous?)
Though to her credit, Nicki tried to spread her newfound message of love to her spiraling-in brother. Poor Alby, however, continued in his downward slide of compartmentalization and self-destruction. In public, on the witness stand in court, he denied any kind of knowledge of his and Dale’s sacred apartment. In private, however, he stepped out of his shoes and laid bare his mourning. The way Matt Ross stumbled through Alby’s grief, spinning around his prison cell of an office with the blown-up photo of him and Dale, to the tune of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” was heartbreaking. And though Nicki tried to coax out Alby’s human, vulnerable side, Roman’s unrelenting death grip on his son ultimately proved too strong. Alby clamped his emotions, rejected his sister’s pleas for new outfits and new chances at life. He also succeeded in bringing Nicki down with him, shaming her into buttoning up into her "Little House on the Prairie" duds once again.Also on the compound, something’s rotten with the Kansas ranch and why J.J. was called to Juniper Creek and why he was censured, and Adaleen was chloroformed for her snooping insolence. Wanda has retreated herself into a knitted silence (thank God Nicki saved Wanda and Joey Jr. from J.J.’s creeping, fingernail-less clutches). And what’s up with J.J.’s doctor delusions, and the way he prescribed medication for Nicki's high blood pressure? Is this why he's using Malinda as a human medical experiment? Could he be cobbling together some kind of Franken-Walker?
Back on the campaign trail, Bill continued to rack up points for hypocrisy, sanctimoniously pulling a Trump and firing Barb for hiring Marilyn behind his back. The guy who would stop at nothing to uncover J.J.'s documents at the Kansas ranch decried Marilyn's underhanded actions as "unconscionable." And Bill declared his family and his faith were the foundations for every decision that he made, while snapping that his family act like one in front of potential voters.
Though the women in this episode actually called Bill out for not practicing what he preached. First, Marilyn took him to task for cheating on his wife. State Senate opponent Leslie Newton Usher (Amy Aquino) questioned his family values. Margie challenged his insistence on having her marriage to Goran annulled. And Ana flat out called him crazy for his unbelievable rant about how a woman taking on another husband was “unnatural.” (“A man has to know his woman is his. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “A woman cannot have two husbands. It’s just wrong. I’m not a hypocrite.”)
And Barb continued to question Bill’s motives as she became more and more unhinged. And though her medication quote in front of Salt Lake City wives was admittedly a little off-topic (and ruffled the feathers of good ol' anti-depressant-taking neighbor Pam), there's no denying that it came from a place of truth (“We are asked to be perfect, and it is an impossible standard to meet”). And I liked how she stood by her words, no matter how nutty, lashing out at Bill and her situation in general when he insisted that she take it all back. "I'll retract. I'll retreat. I'll apologize," she ranted. "You write out whatever you want me to say and I'll say it. Because I certainly don't have a voice of my own."
At least Barb, as unmoored as she has become, still has enough of a moral center to atone when she had done wrong. Like when she came clean to Bill, and when she apologized to Tommy that it was her own wounded pride that brought Marilyn on board (though she was rewarded with a chastely hot hug of comfort from Tommy for it).
Also self-aware: Margie. Although it took her forever to finally admit that her marriage to Goran was selfish, at least the third wife had the maturity and the wherewithal to realize that she was in danger of falling into the same extramarital trap with Goran that she did with Bill. And I got a kick out of seeing a clearly ruffled Bill size up his hunky Serbian competition and challenge him to a ferocious game of ... tetherball? The metaphor was slathered on pretty thick as Bill and Goran slapped around a big ball for bragging rights as to who was king of Margie's court, and the slow-mo action and the Olympic-style music was played to hilarious effect. Of course, Bill's got too big of an ego to be shown up by this Eastern European himbo playing house with his shiniest wife. So he acted like typical Bill and stopped at nothing to be the big man on the block, volleying up a sweaty fury in order to win at all costs and not lose face, not even relenting after Goran got smacked in the face.
So Margie and Barb were somewhat pulling away from Bill as Nicki was tightening her grip on him. And part of me entertained the thought that perhaps both Barb and Margie would desert Bill, leaving Nicki to remain in the Big House as Bill's sole wife. Though, of course, it's highly unlikely that this would happen, as the family came together as a united front by the hour's end. Sarah, sweetened by her father's support of her move to Portland, returned the gesture and came out in support of her father, despite his many flaws. And Bill (finally) spoke out in Barb's defense and in effect acknowledged that women are, indeed, Utah's greatest natural resource.
Ultimately, the episode gave Sarah a nice send-off. The backyard scene book-ended the episode with some more nice family sentiment, and allowed Sarah to step back and look fondly at her crazy, mixed-up family. Her eye contact with birthday girl Teenie made me wonder if the younger Henrickson daughter will now take over Sarah’s spot as her family’s anti-polygamist voice. And the quilt that Sarah received as a gift was very sweet, particularly after seeing that Bill sacrificed his own identity and cut up his beloved Hot Dog Man apron for his eldest daughter (though I'm still not convinced it makes him any less of a weenie).
What did you think? Does this make you excited for the season finale? What do you hope will happen? Where’s Joey in all this? What is Marilyn’s ultimate endgame? What secrets will be found in Kansas? Will J.J.’s father please stop saying “baby doll” so that we can all sleep at night? How many licks will it take for Bill to find his moral center?
-- Allyssa Lee
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Photos: Scenes from "Big Love." Credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO