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'Big Love' recap: Coming of age

January 31, 2011 |  6:01 am

As if there wasn’t enough sugar hitting the fan this season, the Christmas episode, titled “Certain Poor Shepherds,” dropped so many bombs that the whole landscape has started to resemble a battle zone.

You knew the way Bill insisted they were going to have “the best Christmas ever” that this hour would lead to certain disasters. Bill reminded Margie, who’s Goji Blasting to the max, that they just passed the shortest day of the year, and “now we’re turning to the light,” he said.

“This Christmas is your new beginning. Our new beginning,” Nicki said aggressively to mother Adaleen.

Still, the holidays are also some of the most stressful times of the year, both in monogamous and polygamous relationships. “The holidays can be hard,” Margene conceded to neighbor Pam. “I don’t know how you do it when there’s just two people in the marriage.” Ha!

The separation between men and women was made more evident in this hour. Bill drove that point home when he made that patronizing “separate but equal responsibilities” prayer during Christmas dinner. “You’re very special,” Bill oozed to the ladies at the table, “and entitled to the guidance of righteous priesthood holders.” No doubt he was appreciative of his wives, but the guys still call the shots in his book. That was made crystal clear when Barb was completely overlooked and son Ben was chosen to give a blessing at church.

Barb couldn’t help but add her own prayer to the mix. “Cara Lynn, Nell, remember, too, that as daughters of the heavenly Father, you have free will, your own personal relationship with him, and the divine ability to discern the truth that God spells in your testimony,” she said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Cara Lynn’s math teacher. Sure, he gave Cara Lynn possibly the world’s most boring Christmas gift for a teen (a biography on cytogeneticist and Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock). But he used it to make a salient point that genes are associated with who we are, but “they don’t dictate who we become.”

Biglove11_12 Only Cara Lynn seems to have some sort of inkling as to where she is headed, faking a stomach ache and asking Ben to cover for her as she and Gary sneak over to Juniper Creek to dig out the truth about her father. “We’re all going to perdition anyway, so what the heck?” she shrugged. Adaleen wasn’t any help in the J.J. situation (“Do you think he’s mad at me?” Cara Lynn asked her grandmother/mother. “Oh, I’m sure he is,” the spitfire Adaleen answered like a champ). But it was just a matter of time before Cara Lynn found out the truth. I’m glad they got it over and done with quickly, so that she and Nicki can deal with the consequences, move on and we can finally put J.J. and the eugenics storyline to rest. 

Speaking of moving on, who foresaw Lura taking her kids and flying the coop? As restricted as a woman’s life is on the compound, I always pegged her to be a Lady Macbeth-type and figured she’d be with Alby until the bitter end. Just a couple episodes ago she had Adaleen locked up underground and scorned her lack of protection. When did she lose bloody control of the Big House and become so weepy? My first thought was similar to Alby’s upon hearing that she had left the compound. “She’d never leave me,” he assured. “She’s confused.” But Lura insisted this was a different Alby. “He’s frozen inside,” Lura reported to Bill.

Part of me thought Lura surely would have used Alby’s hidden life against him, but rather, she fell right into the women’s shelter that Bill had partnered up with. And while it took some adjusting to accept Lura’s new direction, Anne Dudek played the role of battered wife to great effect. The way she took off her ginormous Bambi-size fake eyelashes and blinked her eyes with relief was so telling, like she was finally able to take off the blinders and see the world for the first time. It was a poignant glimpse into this fortress of a woman. And she remained a fortress throughout the episode, choosing to stay in the shelter rather than don those horrible meringue shoulder puffs back at Juniper Creek with Alby. It resulted in Alby basically damning her to hell, and Bill letting loose a sucker punch along with an ugly torrent of words. “You’re a filth,” Bill spat. “You’re a sinful, shame-faced coward who lives a secret life. Who takes out his own self-loathing on innocent women and children. You disgust me.”

And me, too: There’s a special place in perdition for men who needlessly kill dogs, and the sympathies I had for the damaged, stunted son-of-Roman were dropped when he put an end to “that satanic howling” and ordered all the dogs on the compound be poisoned. Are we supposed to see him as a flat-out monster now? Nicki said he was worse than Roman. Though I have to say, I am excitedly creeped out by the new Adaleen-Alby mommie-son dearest relationship that was forged at the end of the episode. What, with Adaleen looking at distorted images of herself in the mirror, and dispensing of all her hormones in the toilet, I thought she was turning over a new leaf and saying goodbye to her past. But no: Adaleen is a Juniper Creeker for life, and she saw her chance to align herself with its leader and make it (and herself) strong once again. “My darling boy, I will never leave you,” Adaleen cooed. “I’ll take good care of you.”

Heartbreaking was Lois’ descent into dementia. Bill had to have known something was amiss, but chose to skirt the issue rather than deal with his mother’s sickness head on. “All I could think is there’ll be a day where she won’t know who I am,” he said when receiving her diagnosis. “She’s always been so ... indestructible.” Her misguided mission with the boys to track down Santa was so sad. “Am I in trouble?” she asked. Oh, Lois. 

The biggest bomb of the hour, of course, was dropped by Margene. Oops -- third wife conveniently forgot to tell the rest of the members of her family that she was not 18, but (gasp) 16 when she and Bill got married. While this epic news was a big horse pill to swallow (really, nobody checked on the health insurance or got a glimpse of her driver’s license?), it effectively made Bill a criminal and no better than those compound leaders for marrying someone underage. So it’s statutory rape and sexual misconduct? And this, on top of the proposed legislation to outlaw him as a polygamist. Sadly, there’s no amount of turpentine, diluted or otherwise, to scrub this ickiness off. “Congratulations, Margene,” Nicki hissed. “You just ruined Christmas.”

It was enough to send Barb to the bottle. Well, that, and the fact that Bill doesn’t get her and that her casino ice cream bar had been, um, stripped down in favor of lustier treats. (The shot of Barb and Bill holding poinsettias, eyes agog at the strip tease, was priceless.) And the scene of Barb in the dark, drunk and eating plum pudding out of a can, was equal parts humorous and terrible -- the rest of the family uneasily watching this one-time pillar of strength and family values lose herself so completely. “Merry Christmas!” she flailed, a sad woman gone wild. Out in the backyard, the flurries had given away to a steady snowfall. “We’re not holy,” she proclaimed. “We’re all unholy.” “No, that’s absolutely untrue,” Bill retorted. “C’mon, it’s still Christmas!”

Christmas is all about miracles, but it doesn’t necessarily make everything better. Nor do random Christmas gifts of matching guns, which only served to show how out of touch he is with his wives. Last year he gifted an electric razor to Nicki, a curling iron to Barb, and “You got me a scale,” Margie said. “While I was pregnant.” This year, Bill got everyone a pistol 'cause he thought it’d be fun to go to the shooting range together. “Guns are practical,” he insisted. “The world’s an uncertain place.” When the gun gifts weren’t exactly met with the requisite gratitude and effusiveness (“I already have a gun, anyway,” Nicki reminded him), Bill all but blew a fuse. “I’m sorry you hate my gift idea, but they’re paid for, that’s what you’re getting,” he said. Which is fine. But why’d Bill have to guilt the wives and bring up people dying? “This, the trials we’re facing, the wars overseas -- this is about nothing more than gifts!” he bellowed. “We should be counting our blessings.”

Bill, idealist to a fault, insisted that the family put on a good face to the public, even as small earthquakes were crumbling worlds around him. First, he brought the extended family (which now includes newly confident and attractive Heather Tuttle, apparently) over to Sen. Barn’s office to sing “The First Noel,” a calculated move to offer some good tidings while the speaker’s wife was in the hospital.

Then, there was the most awkward couples skate ever, a clever revisit of the opening credits from the show’s first three seasons. Only, it wasn’t all smiles and smooth skating and gauzy veils and God Only Knows. This time around, Bill urged that it was “now or never,” and the husband and wives gingerly stepped out onto the ice skating rink to the tune of Abba’s break-up song “Knowing Me Knowing You.” The world just about stopped. Mouths were agape, cameras flashed, and the other skaters avoided them at all costs, leaving them at center ice. You could cut the awkwardness with a three-pronged knife. “Just don’t let go of each other,” Bill maintained.

Bill also insisted that the family, still reeling over Margene’s news that they married a minor, go out to the soup kitchen and serve. Margie tried to placate things a bit and atone, leaving Bill looking as though he wanted to disappear inside the soup pot. “I’m so sorry for what I’ve done,” Margie pleaded. “All I wanted was to be a member of the family. “It’s not your fault, Margene,” Bill placated, all the while looking as though he didn’t want to touch her with a 10-foot pole. This whole ordeal made him feel like he was being tested. “Why are you trying this family, and me, so unmercifully?” Bill prayed. “Are we sinning? Have we strayed? We struggle to keep your commandments to dwell in love. ... Please, spare my family these unending punishments.”

Though after everything that had happened, I could think of no worse Henrickson punishment than what Bill had the family do at the end, which was to go out into the snow and act out the nativity scene for the gawking, drive-by public. There they were, playing the holy family, when, as Barb said, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Please, let them go inside already –- the snow has really started to come down, and it’s freezing out. Surely, Bill can’t expect them to stay that way forever.

What did you think of this episode? Will the family ever get a break? Is Barb priming to leave the family? Was Nicki right to tell Cara Lynn about her father in that way? Will Ben and Heather get together?

-- Allyssa Lee


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Photo credits: Isabella Vosmikova / HBO