'Big Love': The family outing
Well, he did it. This episode was called “End of Days,” but really, this Season 4 finale just set up the series for a whole new beginning. Not to say that there weren’t more than a couple moments in this jam-packed episode that made it seem like the apocalypse was nigh (hello, hell-raising Adaleen!). But the big game-changer, of course, was that Bill made good on his word and announced that he was a polygamist after winning his bid for Utah State Senate. At his press conference, Bill publicly presented an alternate version of the American family in his red, white and blue wives. And with this, he effectively changed the crux of the show as we know it.
Alas, there will be no more hiding out in the sunny suburbs of Salt Lake City after this. And Bill, his family, and by extension, the show, is banking on what we’ve already come to know and love of them so that we’ll follow them as they enter into this new public phase. As Bill said, “I thought when people saw you, they really saw you, they couldn’t help but love you.”
Part of me, however, wished Bill’s whole campaign was just some kind of fevered snow globe dream, as this season has really challenged much of what we knew and loved about the Henricksons. But maybe that’s because I missed more of the interaction between the wives and the slow-building character development that had been glossed over in favor of the driving plot this season. We did get a taste of some of these moments in this episode, like when the wives all went out dress shopping at Dillard’s, and Nicki made that power move and put on Barb’s red suit to see what first wife felt like for size. Or when Margie brought up the idea of giving Nicki one of her eggs in that meeting behind closed doors. “I don’t want one of your big-headed babies!” the second wife lashed out indignantly. Barb tried sensibly to assuage Nicki with the idea that “We’re more than just our ability to conceive.” Of course, Nicki would not have it, as she adamantly refused her membership into the We Who Are Infertile Club.
For me, it’s these intimate, familiar moments that really give this series weight. Plus, I just like it when the sister wives are doing it for themselves. They bicker like siblings, but it’s so apparent that there’s real affection between them. Nicki called Margie a tramp, said she was exactly like her mother and questioned the third wife’s dedication to the family: “I’m becoming seriously concerned about your ability to settle down and commit to a serious polygamist relationship.”
At the same turn, Nicki also warned Margie not to step on the broken window glass with her bare feet. And that scene where Nicki had Margie cut off her compound braid spoke volumes about how far Nicki has come, and how close they really are. These scenes remind the audience of the emotional investments we have in these characters. As a result, we’re more willing to follow them into this newly exposed season and space.
This episode was also about men fighting for their families. Even though they stood on opposite sides of a screen, J.J.’s statement to Bill rang true: “You and I aren’t so different, Bill. We want the same thing: what’s best for our families.” Bill, as we all well know, is embarking on this campaign to keep his family from living as second-class citizens. J.J., on the other hand, has an interest in preserving the purity of the Walker line (that eugenics experiment of the 1950s is probably where he lost his fingernails), even regaling his son about the end of days and clearing out all the dead bodies and moving into a new house (always painting a sunny picture, that one). Tommy and Jerry have their own loyalties. And all of them have dipped on the other side of good to achieve their ends.
Of course, the “disgusting” egg-sperm omelette in someone else’s uterus business that Nicki pooh-poohed was exactly what J.J. had in mind in his Sunshine laboratory experiments all along. He’d been concocting little J.J.s and Wandas and setting them loose all over Kansas, and was going to inject a cocktail of J.J. and Cara Lynn into Nicki (which was so wrong on so many levels). Mother hen Adaleen, understandably, was more than ruffled about being the incubator for poor Wanda’s egg. It always seems like Adaleen gets at least one scene per season to remind us that she’s not just some demure compound wife. She really let it burn with this one (so much for practicing the art of perfect obedience). Hell hath no fury like a mother hen who’s been wrongfully inseminated! And that creepy mirror image of a bald J.J. and a bald Malinda, tied back to back and burning in a pit of their own making was a scene right out of the inferno. (It also echoed the damning picture that J.J. and Malinda took of Joey and Wanda as they burned Roman’s body.)
Also trying to work for the best interest of their families were Tommy and Jerry. When shifty Leila showed up at Blackfoot, my first thought was that Sarah was going to get a beat-down for taking her baby. But no, Sarah had already high-tailed it to Oregon and Leila has gone back to dealing … only, we’re not talking Pai Gow here. Turns out the Flutes were turning a blind eye to her illegal transactions (on the casino grounds, no less! The soda shoppe patrons would throw a fit if that meth got on their root beer floats) because Leila is a relative. They’ll do whatever it takes to protect their family, even lie to the DEA and put their casino business -- which, as Tommy said, was the only good thing to happen to them in 150 years -- at stake. “They are our family,” explained Tommy simply.
Barb, who’s all about family and loyalty (and not just her own), wanted to preserve the personal relationships along with the casino. But Bill could not allow the Flutes to put his business in jeopardy. So it’s with understandable indignation that Barb found out that Bill ruthlessly cut Tommy and Jerry (hey, Tom and Jerry!) loose from their own casino. And it seemed like Bill’s sniffed out something unsavory brewing between Barb and Tommy as well, which gave him all the more reason to tear the two apart (alas, Barmmy fans, it appears as though the sweat lodge was about as hot and heavy as their relationship would get).
Alby was also embattled, though sadly it’s mostly in a war against himself. “My struggles are only of this lifetime, and the end of days are near,” he raged. “I am not interested in this pettiness anymore.” I also would have loved to have seen more of Alby and his continued downward spiral in this episode. First he claimed that he was going to name himself successor to Roman’s throne, and denounced Dale as a traitor and embezzler. And then he literally tore down the Big House office’s heavens, clawing at the wallpaper and all but wishing himself into oblivion. Lura, by default, has also been banished to her own prison, and would do anything to return to her Father's good graces once again. Though when Alby tenderly lifted her chin and then brandished the box cutter, I was afraid that he was going to perform a little face-off on his tattletale wife. Instead, it was like he was inviting her into a small window into his suffering by gashing a bloody tear upon her cheek. Has Alby lost his marbles? Is he mentally fit enough to take over Juniper Creek?
I was a little confused with Marilyn, however. It was surprising to see her adamantly insist that she wasn’t who Bill said she was when he condemned her as a “morally bankrupt viper.” With all her power and connections, I thought she would be a little more cutthroat about her dealings with Bill rather than making it sound like she was the one who had been duped for supporting Bill’s state Senate bid in the first place. She did, however, make some cogent points when she learned of Bill's intention to come out as a polygamist: “Do you really think the world is going to embrace you? Sad, stupid man.”
Of course, that’s what we’re all thinking. And this episode showed that it’s hard out there for a polygamist. The risks are high: If they’re not being put to task by Larry King and indicted on intermarriage and incest, then they’re having a hard time at school, as seen with Don’s kid after he hurled a rock at the Henrickson window in angry revolt. Still, Bill was barreling toward this end, and there was nothing that could be done to keep him from wavering from his testimony.
Still, how shocking was it to find out that Barb (gasp) had leaked out the paternity test information about Ana? It was her only way to derail Bill from stubbornly going along with his vision. And I loved Barb for standing up to Bill and forcing him to be honest with himself. Barb, who had been unmoored all season, had found her ground, and she was standing firmly on it. After repeatedly questioning Bill’s vision, and even going so far as to try his sabotage his campaign, he finally came clean on his reasons for pushing forward. “We’ve gone off the tracks,” he admitted. “I’ve seen the darkness in me, too. With Don. With Ben. With you. I’ve fallen short. Completing this journey, stepping into the light is the only way I know how to redeem myself.”
Bill's honesty was more than convincing. And I was prepared for Barb to acknowledge her husband's concession and reaffirm her support of him (“Am I a good man?”). Only, this time, she didn’t: “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I want a different life, I think,” she said simply. And then: “I’ve needed you for 20 years. I don’t think I need you anymore.”
So Barb was detaching. And while I was sure at this point that she was going to go her own way, she hasn’t fully separated from the family ... yet. (Neither had Margie, even though her three-pronged love affair with Ana and Goran looked a lot more fun and a lot more inclusive.) Was it because she didn’t want to leave him hanging in such a public setting? Barb, who looked about as uncertain as Margie at Bill's announcement, still got up on that platform and joined hands with her husband and wives and completed the final action of this season's controversial opening sequence. Whether or not she will continue to support him in private remains to be seen. (Though they may as well hold tight to one another at this point; who will lend them a helping hand now?)
And I know I haven’t been Bill’s greatest champion this season. And I still maintain that the guy is a megalomaniac. He’s done many things -- this season particularly -- for his own selfish gain, has bullied people to get his way, and sacrificed people to achieve them. His hubris has been on display in a major way. He’s cheated on his wives. He prides himself in being a man of principle, and a man of the Principle, and will use any instance to make his righteousness known. He’ll play a tetherball game to the death if he had to, to save face. At the same time, there’s no doubt that he strives towards a righteous path and inherently wants to provide for his family, his children, and his children’s children. His intentions, however flawed, come from a good place. In his moments of clarity, he can admit his faults. He has an uncanny way of convincing you to give him the benefit of the doubt.And you can’t help but to admire Bill for having the guts to come out in such a grand manner. As crazy as this plan was, he was all in from the start, and followed it through to the very end. (It also helped that this validated Don, and ensured that his sacrifice wasn’t all for naught.) In no unclear terms did Bill present himself and his wives as this new, alternate face of America, connecting up on the platform, hands clasped and united as a red, white and blue state. And while there are some who have decried the series for being too over the top, I, for one, am still on board for next season. We’ve come too far and loved them too much to dismiss them at this point.
What did you think? Are you on board with this new “Big Love” chapter or will you excuse yourselves away of this outing? Where will the family go from here? Who do you think Barb voted for? Are Ana, Margie and Goran one highly-charged back rub away from becoming polygamists themselves? Who will take over Juniper Creek? Did J.J. and Malinda survive Adaleen’s fury?
-- Allyssa Lee
Photo credits: Lacey Terrell / HBO