'Big Love' recap: Breaking up is hard to do
We’ve reached the halfway point of “Big Love’s” final season, folks — just five(!) more episodes before the end of the series. And for a hot second during this episode, titled “The Special Relationship,” it almost looked like things were looking up for the Henricksons. Sen. Barnes had an abrupt change of heart and decided to fast-track Bill’s Safety Net proposal and shelve the pending legislature demanding his impeachment. All Bill had to do was silence his on-air rabble-rousing. The honorary first football of the session was thrown and passed. Play ball!
Of course, the good things of this world don’t last, and all wasn’t as it initially seemed. Barnes was prompted by powers that be over at LDS to appease Bill so they could ask him to stay as far away from the Mormon name as possible (the Utah government and the LDS church in particular do not come across favorably in this hour, likening polygamists to fanatics who would be “blowing up abortion clinics” or “women who couldn’t get a man any other way”). “We’ve spent 100 years separating our brand from you group of polygamists,” Barnes stated. “Do you really think you could come along and change things?” Bill ultimately decided there was no deal. “You’re poking at a sleeping giant,” the LDS members warned. “Push me,” Bill retaliated. “Someone might reveal the church’s influence on the statehouse.”
So Bill burned his bridges once again with the state Senate and the LDS church, endangering his Safety Net (destined to fall “into the bottomless abyss of committee”) and his position in office in episodes to come. But let’s move on to the more interesting stuff: the family. The big news, of course, is that Barb and Bill are (gasp) splitting up! Even writing those words seem unfathomable, but kudos to the writers for transforming a notion that seemed utterly ridiculous and infeasible at the beginning of the episode into one that made logical sense by its end.
In order to adopt Cara Lynn, Bill needed to be officially married to Nicki. Which meant he needed to divorce Barb (only on paper, of course. Spiritually, they’ll still be together). To Nicki, of course, this was as if someone swooped in on a golden unicorn and told her she won the Megamillions lottery on Christmas: She’ll get her daughter officially a part of her family, and she’ll be the first wife and technically have Bill all to herself, just like she always wanted.
Only, Barb wasn’t so keen to sign off on the idea. First of all, there were her own traditions, which still weighed heavily: No one in her family has gotten a divorce, ever. And then it forced to her consider how closely she guarded her relationship with Bill. When Nicki accused Barb of claiming exclusivity on Bill, Barb finally consented. “You bet I have a special relationship,” Barb said. “I earned it.”
Well, Nicki pointed out that Barb can’t have her cake and eat it too — even though second wife’s manipulation machine was churning overtime to achieve that same thing for herself (“It’s part of being married,” Nicki reasoned. “Sometimes you have to throw an elbow to get your needs met.” Ha!). Barb wanted exclusivity with Bill, “and now you want the priesthood too,” Nicki raved. “Well, you can’t have everything, Barb. Cara Lynn needs protection too. So what are you going to do about it, Mrs. Priesthood?”
> Ah yes, the priesthood. Prompted by Nicki, Barb revealed to Bill that she believed she had the priesthood. Bill — first angrily, then with resignation — told her he couldn’t give her what she wanted. And that was where the crux of their difference resided. Both were thinking about the family (Barb: “I’m starting to feel a greater responsibility to do what is right for our family.” When the LDS asked Bill to think of his family, he responded, “I always do”). But Barb was not content to sit back and let Bill shepherd alone. And the fact that the decision to separate came logically after a loving, civil discourse at the exact BYU bench where Bill proposed to Barbara Dutton all those years ago made it that much more bittersweet. It was clear there was no love lost between these two. Bill was letting her go because he can’t give her what she wants. Barb, emboldened by her own “faith in action,” decides to divorce him so she could empower the family.
It’ll be interesting to see where the show goes from here. Barb, for all her flailing, remains the righteous center of this nutty household and Bill’s moral compass. Bill flat-out said all his blessings could be traced back to Barb’s acceptance of his proposal. More recently, Barb was the one who reminded a wavering Bill that “Mormon” was more than just a word; it was who they are. “Principle bows to expediency?” Barb said, cutting to the quick. “They excommunicated me, but they do not dictate my identity.... Some things mean too much to yield.” So what’s going to happen to the family when this “special relationship” is severed? Part of me wonders if there will be some sort of compromise after this initial shock wears off, with the family coming to accept Barb’s priesthood calling — just as they’ve come to accept her wine drinking. But part of me is looking forward to the deliciously devious dictates will Nicki command when she turns into full-blown megalomaniac and unfettered dictator as first wife.
Margie, on the other hand, is the one who seems to be playing her (limited) cards straight, and people seem to love her for it (maybe because she smiles once in a while?). She won over the reporter from the local newspaper, as well as Mr. Goji Blast himself, Michael Sainte. Margie’s the most confident when she’s on the sell, and advocating her lifestyle was like getting Juniper Creek women to join her Goji Blast team: It’s just a matter of believing in the product that you’re selling.
She also had the least invested in the church’s traditions. “Bill, just let her have it,” Margie shrugged about Barb’s priesthood calling. And perhaps because she had the least amount to lose, she became a neutral, rational voice in the house’s ever-evolving battle for power. Margie sided with Barb about the damages of divorce, and yet agreed with Nicki about Barb’s jealously guarded relationship with Bill. And Margie’s been given the mantle as the family’s “sunny” face of polygamy (which may need more rays once Bill gets ostracized from the state Senate and attacked by the LDS). Wouldn’t it be something if Goji Blast ended up keeping the family afloat, and Marg became the houses’ main breadwinner? Everyone would just be a part of her downline. (On a side note, loved how neighbor Pam stepped up as Margie’s wingman and added the point about Goji leading to lustrous, manageable hair to a crowd of impressionable, heavily coiffed Juniper Creek women).
Cara Lynn’s a smart one; not just good with numbers, but quick to figure out that most everyone around her was in the business of telling lies. And it was with eerie echoes of Margie, Rhonda and any other teenager wanting to be rescued that she went to math teacher Mr. Ivey for some extracurricular help. At first, the 37-year-old seemed to rebuff her small advances, drawing the line and reminding Cara Lynn that their relationship was strictly academic-based. But when she showed up despondent at his door (“How did you find out where I lived?” “Google.”), he was hard-pressed to turn her away. “I want to fly away, anywhere, I don’t care,” Cara Lynn sobbed. “Everyone here is a liar. I can’t trust anyone.” Will the church-abiding Mr. Ivey, who insisted he wouldn’t live with a woman outside of marriage, take advantage of Cara Lynn’s vulnerable situation? I was kind of hoping that she would be the one to break the cycle.
Because Rhonda’s still in it to win it, pushing Verlan to do whatever Alby bid to get the $50K they needed to purchase their dream home in Henderson, Nev. Though it looks like she’s going to have to get by Alby first. Alby, sensing a certain cutthroat kinship in Rhonda’s husband, has decided to take young Verlan for himself and proclaim him an “Albyite” (did “Albertist” sound too harsh for his flock?).
Looks as though Alby’s gone off the deep end, and bought into his messianic complex hook, line and sinker (check out the awesomely heinous portrait of himself as benevolent shepherd/savior on the wall of his office). Now that he’s boldly calling all the shots, it seems as though Alby’s going to pour his own milk and drink it too, as he not only took Verlan’s sly crotch shift bet but raised it, effectively moving him and his things into the Big House.
Alby sent Verlan to ice Don as retribution to Bill. And Don nearly met a cold, watery end in that fishing shack on the lake had it not been for son Greg and his little brother. Though did anyone else get massive creeps when Bill told Don, “Heavenly Father wasn’t done with you yet,” as if he was Heavenly Father himself?
Lois continued down her dark descent into dementia, and Grace Zabriskie continued to rack up bonus points in the category of fierce acting. A homesick Lois, uncomfortable in her new surroundings, called Frank to come pick her up. Only the newly mustachioed Frank had no idea of her condition, and Lois insisted no word be uttered. “He’s not to know my private particulars,” she said resolutely. “No one speaks of this. Ever.” But Bill being Bill, couldn’t keep well enough alone (“Why do you always have to complicate everything?” Frank complained). “Lois is crackers?” Frank asked, and then peeled away before Lois could make it outside. It was bad enough that her mind was slipping, but now Bill had stripped her of her dignity as well. “Blabbermouth!” Lois raged. “I have only a little bit left. A tiny bit. And you’ve taken it.” Young Ben, in an earnest but clumsy effort to fill the ill-fitting shoes of a priesthood holder, offered hollow words of consolation —“Grandma, it’ll be OK” — only to be ripped a new one. “What in damnation do you know?” Lois shot back.
Really, Barb would be better equipped to support Lois in the battle against her own obsolescence.
What did you think of this episode? Will Barb and Bill really get divorced? Will Nicki get the wedding she’d dreamed of? What was up with that lingering stare between Margie and Michael Sainte? How awful are Rhonda and Verlan's diaper-changing skills? Does anyone just wish they lived in Houston?
Photo credits: Isabella Vosmikova / HBO