'Big Love' recap: The beginning of the end
The end is near, “Big Love” fans. After a frenzied Season 4 that seemed crammed tighter than a size 8 in size 2 skinny jeans, it now seems that the show has taken some lung-clearing deep breaths out in the desert and returned for Season 5 — its last — in top form. Let’s open a box of Russell Stover chocolates to celebrate, shall we? Have a chew.
Loved that the season opened with a clear breath of fresh outdoorsy air. The family was sitting comfortably around the campfire listening to patriarch Bill (Bill Paxton) singing a yarn about mining for gold in the Yukon. There were no casinos, no D.C. lobbying, no ostrich farms in Mexico, no parroting on the black market. This premiere took us back to where it all started, and back to where we could love them best: to the family. Just a husband, three wives and their children (who were themselves also streamlined: Teenie has apparently gone away to live with Sarah). Back to basics. Back to nature. Back to the core of things. It seemed like the election, the coming out, all the stuff that happened out on the reservation, was all just a bad dream.
Or was it? As the cameras panned through the campsite, there were the salacious headlines, splashed across the newsprint. Only, they were yesterday’s news, now old and dated and in a receptacle, set aside as kindling for the fire. It’s been just a week since Bill won the election as state senator and came out to the world about his plural marriage. After the prying media circus descended upon them and their suburban Salt Lake City cul-de-sac, the entire crew took off in the middle of the night to get away, lick their wounds and feel like themselves again. It seemed to do the trick, though Bill was keen to get a move-on back to the city before temperatures dropped. “There might be flurries in the patches passes,” he remarked. Barb, however, foresaw something far stormier and threatening. “An avalanche,” she remarked. “Won’t that just take the cake?”
It was a telling reminder that the Henricksons would have to face the consequences of their momentous coming-out to deal with soon enough. And sure enough, their return to civilization did not go quite as they had planned. The public did not welcome Bill and the family with open arms, as Margie had hoped. Rather, after much of the tabloid-style curiosity had died down, the reaction had been more like spit in the eye, as the family experienced the cold, harsh reality of abandonment by his constituents, exclusion from his fellow elected officials, feelings of betrayal at Home Plus, and hostility on the playgrounds.
This season seems to be focused on dealing with the repercussions of being out as a plural family, and living as a polygamist family in this modern day and age, particularly when the wives have as much of an agenda as the men they are supposed to serve. And I’m as pleased as punch to see that the show is also making an effort to focus intimately on the family for its final season. There was a lot of talk in this episode about one’s core — the resigning state speaker lost his core beliefs with a DUI, Margie was fired from the Home Shopping Network on account of losing her core conviction, Barb is trying to find out who she is at the core. And we, as the viewers, get to the core of what it’s like to be polygamist in this modern day and age.
When we first see Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), she was at the campsite wearing an ill-fitting men's coat — a vestige from a skit performed for the children about Charlie Chaplin, no doubt. But her men’s hat and jacket perhaps also signify the mantle that our beleaguered first wife wants to take. She’s still very much unmoored, very much like the homeless tramp she'd been imitating. Barb’s stood steadfastly to the principle and the idea of patriarchy for so long, and now she’s set on trying things out to find her own footing. And now that the casino had been wrested out of the family’s control, Barb’s looking for validation in other things: like (gasp) alcohol. After a heated internal back and forth outside of the State Liquor store and a flirtation with a red wine bottle over a skillet of coq au vin, Barb is still not sure what she wants from her life, but has started taking little thrilling sips of a way of living heretofore untasted (to the tune of Janis Joplin, no less) and decided to live in the moment, for once — her stake in eternity and her role as a “good girl” be damned.
This did not sit well with Nicki (Chloë Sevigny). Nicki still hasn’t forgiven Barb for ratting the family out to the media, and things have been prickly between the first and second wife ever since. And now Nicki’s taking Barb to task for imbibing in the forbidden (fermented) fruit. The second wife may have abandoned her braid and denounced Juniper Creek’s compound ways, but underneath that chic bob of hers, she still maintains her rigid, self-centered personality (On the subject of Nicki wanting to have Bill all to herself, Barb stated, “It wasn’t news. You’ve never been good at sharing.” Burn!).
One thing’s for sure: Nicki is not content to stand by idly in the family. “I’m a bigger person now, and I won’t go back to being small,” she declared.
And the magic trick Nicki performed at the beginning of the episode showed the second wife still had some tricks up her sleeves. Like when she went after the red-headed Boy Scout who bullied son Wayne and wrote “Plyg” in permanent marker on his forehead (“Is that turpentine?” a horrified Barb asked when she saw Nicki viciously trying to scrub the markings off, her son’s skin turning redder by the second. “It’s diluted,” Nicki dismissed. Ha!). Rather than talk to the principal, like any sensible adult, Nicki chose to avenge her son’s bully the only way she knew how: by cornering him with threats and playground taunts. “How does that make you feel, tomato head?” she neener-neenered. “Stupid ketchup head!” Her plan would have worked, too — if only that darn fence pole hadn’t been there to knock some teeth out of him. Oops.
Nicki’s unconventional parental tactics will also no doubt cause friction between her and Cara Lynn (Cassi Thomson), now that young, smitten Greg Embry has gotten her daughter’s attention. And what’s going to happen when Cara Lynn inevitably finds out that papa J.J. had been playing Dr. Frankenstudamentalist with reproductive cells and was subsequently burnt to a crisp by his latest wife (and Cara Lynn’s grandmother/mother) Adaleen (Mary Kay Place)?
Oh, Adaleen. Another woman who finds herself unmoored and alone. Lura (Anne Dudek) had kept her prisoner in some dark underground shed as punishment for her transgressions. She was released on her own recognizance with a warning that there was no one to protect her now, and a command to look at Leviticus 20:14: “And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.” [Insert creepy chills here.]
As for Lura herself, however –- well, she may be married and therefore aligned with someone of power, but it doesn’t mean that she herself isn’t immune to feeling isolated. Alby (Matt Ross) returned from the desert like Jesus after his 40 days, stating that he was “purified in the desert. Now I’m going to purify the faith.” And all signs point to taking down Bill. Alby has seemingly lost the last vestiges of his humanity after he lost Dale, and has taken on the form of an unfeeling, vengeful monster with Bill as his biggest opponent. “He took away everything I loved,” Alby said simply. Where does that leave Lura, who seemed to operate solely for the purpose of pleasing her father? That’s right, out of the loop. Poor Lura.
Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin) was as cute as a button in her knit cap, but that didn’t stop her from sobbing by the light of the moon during their camping trip –- the tabloid pages open, her Hearts on a Sleeve line dead and her life as an independent, successful saleswoman down the drain. Poor Margie. Every last semblance of power that she accrued over the last season had been unceremoniously stripped from her. Bill even quietly but firmly arranged for her power marriage to Goran to be undone, and basically sent the hunky Serb and Ana, who's carrying Bill's baby, back to Eastern Europe, leaving Margie as the forlorn unemployed third wife, without friends, no severance due to a “moral clause” and still with a compulsive need to be accepted and liked. But when cold Beverly closes a door, Goji Blast opens a window. Namely, a new MLM pyramid scheme courtesy of new guest star Grant Show. You knew that cheeserific rendition of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” and enticements to become “the you that you were always meant to be” were designed specifically to catch the attention of miserable housewives everywhere, and Margie was ripe for the picking. Wanna take bets now on whether or not Margie’s going to Goji Blast big, or go home? Sigh – this can’t end well.
So Margie’s a depressed potty mouth (pulling a Sean Penn at the school board meeting), Nicki’s a bully and Barb is a lush (“Cheese on rice, I am not an alcoholic!”). Though as much as the wives insist on being their own people with their own agendas, there is no question that the love still flows strongly between all of them. When Bill asks Barb what it means when she said she didn’t need him anymore, Barb responded that she didn’t know, but, “I don’t think it has to do with not loving them.” And Nicki defended her wish to have Bill all to herself as simply that — a wish, and not something that she would actually want. But how will they survive with all these external forces tugging all around?
Certainly, Bill’s been getting it from all sides. His employees at Home Plus have been quitting in droves, and his fellow elected officials want nothing to do with him. “You’re alone,” declared the new speaker Sen. Barnes (Gregory Itzin). “The body politic is going to expel you like antibodies attacking a virus.” His wives haven’t decided if they’re fully on board. Bill wants to make sure he and Barb are on the same page, and that she agrees that the husband leads, and the wives follow in harmony. But Barb’s inability (or is it unwillingness?) to assure him shows Bill that things are a lot worse than he might have thought. Bill was intent on going public and attending the school meetings all together as an outed family, and in hosting an open house for his constituents, "to show that we're not alien monsters." He was hoping that this would help them turn the corner. But clearly, he gauged the temperature of his electorate all wrong. He weathered a short initial meeting with his voting public with little more than spittle in his eye, but his 40,000 constituents felt they were better off away from this freak show than with it. And that scene of those sad little colored lights highlighting the Open House “to-nite” sign, tumbleweeds all but blowing in the foreground showed Bill exactly where he stood.
Yay to Don (Joel McKinnon Miller) for standing up to Bill and telling it to him like it is. Clearly, Don’s buzz cut wasn’t the only thing that grew over this tumultuous election period. After seasons of taking the bullet for his employer, Mr. Embry had finally had enough. “You have to get used to the fact that your actions — rightly or wrongly — hurt others,” Don asserted. Go, Don! It’s about time Bill had some reality knocked into him.
It all came to dramatic blows when Don came over to an empty open house and told Bill to get off his high horse. “Why can’t you ever apologize and say you’re sorry?” Don demanded.
And here, in this deep valley, after being abandoned by his constituents, his fellow elected officials, and with the wavering trust of his wives, was where Bill finally buckled. “I’m deeply sorry for what you went through,” Bill began to Don. “I’m sorry for what I did to you. What I asked of you. And my family — my wives, my children. The suffering they went through. The price they paid. I am culpable. I’ve gone and torn my family apart and I am truly sorry.” It was a tough reckoning for someone who’s built himself up so high and with so much pride, but it’s not until one takes the blame that one can move on.
And it’s easier to love a man toppled off his untouchable pedestal, isn’t it? Margie, who had been so mired in her own grief, offered some of her old optimism to help bridge the gap. “We’ll get by, I know it,” she said, trying to be cheery. But in what direction? To be a voice for other suburban polygamists, who came by the house at the end of the episode?
And will his wives be behind him when he gets there? Because, as Bill sang at the beginning of the episode, and as Johnny Horton warbled over the credits, it’s not enough to find that gold in the Yukon: “a man needs a woman to love him all the time … a true love is so hard to find.”
What do you think? Will Bill sacrifice the power he’s gained to preserve his family? What did the flurries at the end of the episode mean? How cute was Margie’s purple coat? What are your hopes for these final 10 episodes — is this season primed to be bigger than Xango? Bigger than Noni Juice? How do you think it’s going to end?
Photo credit: Isabella Vosmikova / HBO (2)