'Big Love' recap: Bridge over troubled waters
Brr, it’s cold, isn’t it? As we continue through the second half of the season and the rift within the family became more and more pronounced, it’s as if a bleak chill has descended upon the households and settled into their very being.
Though to be fair, it wasn’t all just frigidity and ice in this hour. This episode had its share of fiery arguments and started off with some good old-fashioned body heat (something we haven’t seen in a while). And for a second there, I thought Barb and Bill had second thoughts about their decision to split.
But no, even though the couple clearly hits it off, Bill and Barb are still going through with their split decision. While they both insisted that the dissolution of their marriage is just on paper only, their words, actions and the episode’s title, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.,” implied there was more to the decision than what lay on the surface. And the ominous feeling of doom is getting harder and harder to shake.
The show continued to explore the divide between modern women’s beliefs and a patriarchal society. Barb enlisted the help of women’s priesthood advocate Renee Clayton (Judith Ivey), who told her that polygamist women were the first feminists, and polygamy helped get women out of rigid Victorian constraints. This emboldened the first wife to continue to take an active stand for what she believed, even refusing to partake in the sacrament at church. Barb felt she’d been given the priesthood and wanted her own front-and-center place in Bill’s church plan (“I think she’s gone off the reservation,” Nicki said, putting in her two cents). Bill, steeped in tradition, can’t step beyond the boundaries of what he felt was divinely granted to grant her what she wanted. (Barb’s mom, Nancy, thought her daughter was batting for the other team: “Look me in the eye — are you and Renee Clayton being lesbians together?”)
Ultimately, it’s this division that is tearing them apart. Barb and Bill’s marriage worked because Barb put Bill before herself, bolstered him up and deferred to his judgment. But now that Barb cancelled her subscription to the Bill Henrickson Principle, there’s a real chance of this family falling apart. The Principle is the foundation the family was built on. Barb separating herself from it caused a fracture in the family community (what’s the point of communion when not everyone takes it?). Thing are looking grim and bleak. The world Barb helped Bill build is crumbling, just as the LDS protests are crumbling Bill’s Home Plus store plan. Bill has lost his Girl Friday, and increasingly both he and Barb stand more and more alone the more stridently they adhere to their beliefs.
“A marriage always changes and evolves,” Bill reasoned to Margie. Still, he admitted to Barb that this is the first time he’s really worried about their relationship. Without a shared faith, this paper divorce was starting to feel all too real. “Barb, I can be moved to make many compromises,” Bill began. But allowing a woman the priesthood “is one thing I just will not do.” Barb also refused to budge in this schism: “Then I can’t go to your church anymore.”
Ouch. Divorce is painful, folks, no matter how much one tries to sugarcoat it. Margie, a child of a split herself, knows that firsthand, and (rightly) worried that this separation will come to no good end. Perhaps that’s why she concocted escapist fantasies about Mr. Goji Blast himself, Michael Sainte, and enlisted his support for a rally for children of polygamist families.
Nor did it sit well with Ben. “Divorce doesn’t happen in a marriage — it ends a marriage,” the eldest son said as he handed out printouts on problem solving to his parents. Apparently to Ben, being married makes everything OK. It gives women definition, no matter if they came with a dumpster’s worth of baggage, haven’t seen their husbands in days and work as hostesses at some joint called the Golden Fleece. The wannabe Navy man had been acting as surrogate husband for Rhonda — proffering her a hamburger when she asked for French fries, giving her rides — while Verlan was off at the Big House doing Alby’s bidding. But while Heather (who we learned was apparently betrothed to someone else at BYU) called Rhonda a “dead-end kid” who wouldn’t live to see 20, Ben's eyes were glazed over by the gloss of matrimony. “She’s going to be OK,” he said confidently. “She has a life. She has a husband. They have each other.” Thus it was with slack-jawed disbelief (and growing lust?) that Ben saw that “hostess” meant little stripper/singer from the prairie. Rhonda wasn’t saved from being an exotic dancer after all. And perhaps it was with a sad combination of pity/desire/need to save her that he approached her from behind and rescued her abruptly in a passionate embrace.
So Ben discovered that a marriage does not necessarily make everything sacred, or ensure one’s happiness. It was interesting to see the idea of happiness, and what constituted happiness, come into play in this hour. Nancy wondered why Barb couldn’t just leave everything well enough alone and be happy with her houses and children. Cara Lynn found happiness in someone whom she thought could protect and take care of her. Nicki said she was happy finally getting the coveted front-and-center spot she deserved.
But does getting what you want really make you happy? Well, certainly not when a prenuptial agreement is thrown your way. Barb wanted the priesthood but was unwilling to relinquish her role in the family, so she asked Bill if she could continue to stay in charge of the finances. Bill, after a small waver, thought that this concession would help restless Barb be happy and keep them together. But nobody brought it up with Nicki, who understandably balked at this amendment. The prenup undermined her position as the one and only wife. “Right now I want to punch you in the face,” Nicki fumed to Barb.
But Bill, unwilling to give up any more of his connection to Barb, took Barb’s side. “Barb relinquishes nothing,” he stated to Nicki firmly. So bravo to Nicki for telling it like it was. “You’re doing this because you’re afraid of losing her, and you’re taking it out on me,” she declared. “It isn’t fair, Bill, and you know it.” There have been theories that the series will end with Barb and Marg leaving the family and with Bill alone with Nicki at Juniper Creek. But if Bill continues to blatantly treat Nicki like second-class wife, who knows how long she’ll stick around as well?
So the divorce proceedings are still going through. And Cara Lynn is really going through with her hot-for-teacher affair, which apparently has made its way over into the fast lane (poor Gary Embry got unceremoniously dumped to the kids’ table, relegated to one small line supporting Margie’s rally). So yeah, they kissed, but did Mr. Ivey really just say he was falling in love with her? What the what? This whole story line seems a little quick and hard to swallow, especially now that Nicki “call me Nicolette” Grant has started to make googly eyes at him as well.
What else? Oh, the state Senate has declared an edict against the Henricksons again, as the impeach Bill Henrickson bill was formally introduced, and Bill continued his Sisyphean task of speaking out in an environment that would rather not hear him. The LDS has also started staging protests outside Home Plus stores that threaten to put them out of business, and issued a statement basically declaring open season on the family.
So has Alby. The underutilized Bud Mayberry made a blink-and-you’ll-miss it appearance to warn Bill that Alby and his new “Purity Campaign” and “moral toil” were trying to get the other polygamists to sever their cooperation with the state and with Bill. He also tipped off that Bill has a target on his back.
Hardened Alby continued to use dim bulb Verlan to fulfill his needs, vowing to fix his “natural inbred deficiencies” while simultaneously cheapening him and stringing him along with $50 bills. “Even a fool can be useful to a man who knows how to use him well,” Alby declared. “Go to your room.”
In other news, Bill is trying to do right by his mother and asked Frank to take Lois in. “She’s forgiven you, and determined to be here,” Bill said. And it was another chapter in the twisted love-hate relationship between Frank and Lois, one that involved knives and old radio shows and a trip to the ocean. Lois, unwilling to be put in a home, had Frank promise to put her out of her misery when she lost herself for more than two days. “We’re all we got,” she said. “We’ve got to be able to count on each other.” Like Cisco and Poncho, she and Frank would just gallop away together into the sunset. “I didn’t say that it was great,” Lois stated. “I just said that’s how it ended.”
Ultimately, as the snows continued to come down, we saw folks coupling up to a sad version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (“What is this ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’?” Nicki asked. “It’s about reaching out from loneliness,” Margie explained). Cara Lynn sought shelter from the cold from Mr. Ivey; Ben and Rhonda headed off to parts unknown hand in hand after they kissed; Lois and Frank drove wordlessly together into the dark road ahead (“Oh, Poncho!” “Oh, Cisco!”). The only one alone in the montage was Bill, proudly putting up the sign to his church on the window of the storefront, and then admiring it from the outside.
What do you think? Will Bill’s unwillingness to waver on his Principle leave him with nothing but a sign and a storefront when all is said and done? Team Bill, Team Barb or Team Nicki? Do you think Rhonda’ll live to see 20? “Lesbian pioneers, Barb?” Is there any chance that this family will end this intact? Discuss below, but let’s keep the same rules as at Disneyland: Be aware, be alert. That’s all.
Photo credits: Isabella Vosmikova / HBO