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'Big Love' recap: To protect and to reform

January 23, 2011 | 10:01 pm

“Sometimes we have to walk from the past and sometimes we have to embrace it. Heaven help us to know the difference.” — Adaleen

This week’s episode, called “A Seat at the Table,” revolved around Bill’s attempt to rustle up some political and polygamist support to get his Safety Net in place. The ordinance appeared to be a twofold operation. It would allow compound polygamists the rights to public services but also put those polygamists closely under government rule, which opens the door to compound reform.

Bill said outright that he wanted to diffuse the charge that he has a polygamist agenda, but there was no diffusing happening whatsoever during this pivotal hour. Survey says this act is not a great idea, but it did allow some good drama to be played out. And it introduced a new polygamist father — Bud Mayberry, head of the Apostolic United Brotherhood, played with rustic backwoods appeal by Robert Patrick. T-1000’s been busy; Bud has eight wives and 27 children on some kind of compound in Utah and doesn’t give a “rusty hubcap” about big bad Juniper Creek.

Bill approached various polygamist compounds to come forward during the Safety Net meeting. But instead of engaging in civil discourse as planned, the forum turned into an unruly free-for-all after Nicki decided to air out her Juniper Creek grievances to the public.

“Girls are treated as chattel,” the second wife declared, pointedly ignoring Bill’s death-ray stares to simmer down. “Brainwashed to have babies until our uteruses fall out and drop dead in childbirth!” Of course, that ignited a verbal firestorm, which quickly devolved into chants of “Liar!” against Bill himself.

Helping to stir the pot was Alby, who shrewdly hung back and let Bill ruin his reputation on his own. And sure enough, Bill lost some polygamist support because of the uproar. “The Principle was doing just fine before you brought this scrutiny upon us,” Bud claimed. 

“You’ve reinforced the worst stereotypes about us,” Alby said, adding fuel to the fire. “The Principle can’t survive in the glaring light. It needs protection.” Alby craftily is building up his own case as the  preferable alternative to this “lying polygamist” (“It’s in all the papers,” Alby proclaimed) who attracts all this negative attention. Particularly now when the House is looking to pass a bill making polygamy an impeachable offense and a second-degree felony, which would effectively make it open season on plural marriages. “Such a visionary, Bill,” Albert cooed. “Such a keen tactician.” 

“This is what your pride hath wrought,” Bud pointed to Bill, conjuring up a pulpit and fire and brimstone. “Now blood will rain down from the skies.” Or, you know, Bill will be impeached and sent to jail, and so will all the others who have stepped forward and made themselves known along with him. 

Bill’s getting no love from the other side either, despite some sugar-coated attempts to sway House representative Midge (Amy Sloan, who carries some Sissy Spacek undertones) over to his side (and entreaties to Barb, Midge’s old babysitter, to butter her up). And while Midge may be under the dietary rule of her strict, anti-porn Major mother (Mariette Hartley!), the House rep refused to kowtow to Bill and join him on his Safety Net legislation. In fact, she went the other way and was looking to enact the bill outlawing polygamy. So Bill, who was looking for a seat at both the political and polygamist tables, has only succeeded in alienating both sides.

And lest we forget, there are still huge trust issues with Bill. People still see him more as Slick Willie than family-values man. “Bill Henrickson, you’re a liar,” reminded Home Plus employee Charlie, in one of my favorite lines of the night. “You’re a liar ... because you lie!”

Now that the family has been dubbed “the lying polygamists,” there’s been no end to taunts and stares and outright hostility. And it doesn’t seem so much that they’re in a plural marriage but the fact that they lied about it that really rankled the public.

The glare of public life shone harshly on all the members of the Henrickson clan, leaving them scurrying for safer grounds like woodland creatures caught in the headlights. Barb, however, resolutely soldiered on. “I can’t not live my life and hide just because everywhere I go, I’m wearing some scarlet P,” she said practically. Though she is looking for someone to align herself with outside of the family.

Mostly, Barb was hoping to find some sort of solace and solidarity from her mom, Nancy (welcome back, Ellen Burstyn!). It’s always a treat to see Jeanne Tripplehorn and Burstyn together. We discovered that Nancy herself used to be a rabble-rouser, lobbying against LDS and for women’s rights. Barb, trying to get on her mother’s good side, joined the left-leaning think tank Sunstone in order to align herself with some like-minded thinkers. Nancy, however, wasn’t quick to forgive Barb for being “brainwashed” by Bill and leaving LDS in the first place, and made it known during a particularly revelatory symposium about how excommunication affects families. But Barb’s mama was also hiding some shame of her own. Years ago, Nancy caved into church pressure and abandoned Betty Ford at an airport after she had invited her to speak out about women’s rights (“You leave Betty Ford out of this!”). And now Nancy is still facing the same sort of pressure from the patriarchy, as husband Ned strictly forbade her to see her daughter.

Still, the embarrassing outburst at the Sunstone symposium didn’t stop Barb from continuing to push all sorts of buttons and boundaries. The first wife has turned into a free-thinking, boozing, dancing malcontent who gives out questionable material to impressionable young teens and is just a couple steps away from burning her bras. Her latest act of rebellion: giving out blessings. “It’s just olive oil, Nicki,” Barb tried to pass off. “It’s in case I have the sudden urge to toss a salad.” Bill has allowed Barb a longer leash to give time to find herself, but will assuming the duties of a priesthood holder be the straw that broke Bill’s back?

Biglove11_20 There was a lot of mother-daughter relationship exploring in this episode. Barb was looking for support from hers, and took strength from her mother’s activism and wanted to take it further. Margie went back to where she and her mother had lived. Bill’s mother, Lois, seemed like a ghost of herself when he went to go visit her shambles of a home at Juniper Creek. Midge and the Major were both strong women rallying against the scourge of their day: The Major was scorning porn and Midge was taking steps to eradicate polygamy. “No offense, but it’s a bit like legalizing marijuana or prostitution,” she said. 

Nicki was also trying to get her mother to join her in speaking out on behalf of repressed women across the compounds. Adaleen, however, wasn’t ready to let go of her past just yet. Nicki’s mom refused to go to the Safety Net meeting, and she refused to leave the Big House. It was the saddest thing to see Adaleen shoot herself up with hormones and lay out Roman’s suit, picture and hat on his side of their marital bed. Adaleen has returned to the place where she was happiest — “I need to be with that right now,” she told her daughter. “Sometimes we have to walk from the past, and sometimes we have to embrace it. Heaven help us to know the difference.”

Nicki, however, was determined to move forward and speak out against the atrocities imposed upon her and other women at Juniper Creek. Nor was she going to idly sit back and watch Cara Lynn go down that same road. Only what Nicki saw as protection, everyone else saw as projection. While Nicki was married off to some creep at 15, Cara Lynn is the awkward math geek who wants someone to share a soda pop and some kisses with (though did it have to be at the Mathletes competition?). Interestingly enough, it was Cara Lynn’s math teacher who actually suggested that the choice be given to Cara Lynn herself. “You’re the one who’ll have to decide,” he said to his student, when Nicki asked if she could receive more tutoring. Though while Nicki may not want the same fate to befall her daughter, the way she demanded that Cara Lynn quit Home Plus and stop seeing “that boy” was more fundamentalist than fun. “This place is no different from the compound,” Cara Lynn declared.

Nicki can’t help but be rigid and suffocating with Cara Lynn, even as she clearly envies the relationship her daughter has with her sister wives. But Nicki being Nicki, she can’t extricate herself from any situation she’s involved in, which led to tense moments with her daughter and some even tenser moments with her sister wives. The most heartbreaking was when she eviscerated Barb for introducing Cara Lynn to "Our Bodies, Our Selves." “I will not have my daughter defile her body the way that yours did!” Nicki spat. My heart still aches when I think of how Barb’s face crumbled.

Margie had been sitting under a black cloud this whole episode, as the unemployed third wife went back through her own past — and the mobile home site where she and her mother lived for eight years — to see where it all went wrong. Ana tried to convince her to get away from the family, reminding her that she was young and that she could start over. Margie’s response was to obliquely refer to Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul,” a song that she and her mother adored.

“She’s just a girl who wanted to get out,” Margie explained. She could have been talking about herself. Poor Margie’s development had stopped three credits shy of a high school diploma, which may be why she chose to bare her aching heart and soul to 15-year-old Cara Lynn rather than her fellow wives. “What was I thinking?” Margie moaned. “How did I even get here?” Margie was stifled by her very existence. She used to be carefree and dance to Human League, but now she has kids and can’t even begin to let loose without people looking at her as if she’s loco or knocking down pregnant women by accident (which, again, caused people to look at her as if she’s nuts). The walls were closing in upon her, and crazy town was her inevitable next stop. Kudos to Ginnifer Goodwin for playing unhinged so well. “I’m sinking, Bill,” she said. I need a BIG time out.”

As Dolly Parton said, Margie’s just a wild mountain rose who needs freedom to grow. And thankfully Bill, in one of his more judicious moments, was able to recognize it. Bill knew enough to give Margie what she wanted: her freedom. “I want you to know you have permission to choose to … to go,” he said. “If this marriage makes you unhappy. If I make you unhappy. Because you deserve to be happy.” It was touching to see Bill act out of pure love, and it underlined the fine distinction of choosing to be someplace as opposed to feeling like one’s being kept there against one’s will. And judging by the peace in Margie’s eyes at the end of the episode, it was Bill loving her enough and giving her that freedom to choose that made all the difference.

So everyone’s growing, and it’s like all the members of the family, as they evolve and change, need to re-learn how to deal and be with one another. So how fitting was it that Nicki, in an effort to make peace with Barb, visited her in her fortress of solitude, the dance studio, and allowed Barb to lead and show her how to move to the music? Let’s hope these are the baby steps to a new and improved partnership.

So the wives are growing, but are their mothers? Or are they frozen in time? The episode ended with the sister wives learning new steps, but the parting shots of Nancy and Adaleen were mired in the past, to the tune of the old standard “You’ll Never Know” — Nancy was going over old footage of Betty Ford, and Adaleen made her bed with Roman and was laying in it. And what of poor Lois, now a ghost of herself? What will happen to her?

What do you think, readers? Are the daughters doomed to repeat their mothers’ pasts? Is Bill going to be his own undoing? What’s cooking under Alby’s buttoned-up sleeves? Should Margie stay in the family? Will this family survive the season?

— Allyssa Lee


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Photo credits: Chloë Sevigny and Bill Paxton; Matt Ross: Isabella Vosmikova / HBO (2)