'Big Love' recap: Farewell
In the end, it was as it should be. The family stayed together.
At first glance, after everything the Henricksons had been through, with the loss of Home Plus, Bill’s upcoming trial for statutory rape, Barb’s imminent baptism at a reformed church, Margie’s desire to fly and Nicki's dislike of being touched, cutting Bill’s life short -- gunned down by poor, unemployed, separated, disgruntled Carl (Carl, of all people!) -- seemed a bit of a cop-out and a big warning never to re-sod your neighbor’s lawn. After the fraught neighbor’s weary mug and fleecy vest appeared ominously in the background, you knew that Bill was in trouble. Particularly because it came on the heels of a revelatory vision where Bill received a nod of approval from Emma Smith in front of his bustling flock of parishioners.
Gunned down now? By Carl? On Easter? But the more I thought about the end of the series finale, called "When Men and Mountains Meet" (a line taken from the poet William Blake, who himself had differing views on traditional marriage), the more it made sense. Had Bill survived, he most likely would have served his time in jail, and his family would have suffered that much more. They would have lost the houses, Home Plus, their dignity, etc. Bill, in his disgrace, may or may not have been compelled to allow Barb to give the priesthood blessing. Marg wouldn’t have had the heart to leave her husband to go serve those in need. Or Bill would have run away to the hills and become prophet of Juniper Creek (where it seemed he was headed, what with his vision at the church with Joseph Smith’s wife Emma Smith giving her nod of approval on Easter Sunday), which wouldn’t have made sense for Margie or for Barb.
Ending Bill’s life on that cul-de-sac effectively put a definitive end to the show, but it also made him a martyr who made the ultimate sacrifice for his family. His wives could celebrate his life and be reborn in it, rather than be stifled by it and their sense of duty to him. And if you think about it that way, this ending was how it should be. As much as this show’s premise revolved around a polygamist patriarch, the true heart and soul and growth within the series revolved around the sister wives.
This way, the wives’ stories didn’t have to end with Bill’s death. Bill brought them together, allowed them to grow as individuals and in love with one another, and in the end, they were able to take that security in their love and find the faith and courage to live out their true callings. Nicki became the loving, gooey center of the family, a weepy heart on a sleeve; Barb was able to be the priesthood holder at Bill’s church and christen her grandson; Margie was able to realize her desire to cut her hair, get out into the world and help the world on her Mercy cruises. And Ben and Heather ultimately ended up together, despite Ben’s indiscretion and his star-crossed attempts to woo her back.
In the end, both Bill and the show were all about the family. “The only thing that matters are our families -- our marriages,” Bill said, holding the peace of the world within him. “Faith comes from that love, not the other way around.”
And there it was, simple as that. Ultimately, nothing else mattered. Never mind the hairy legislation to get polygamy legalized again, the threat to put Bill away for statutory rape or Barb coming thisclose to getting baptized at a reformed church. Barb realized she was nothing without her family and that she had laid Barbara Dutton to rest long ago.
Also laid to rest: Lois. In a sad, tender scene, Frank made good on his promise to his first wife, lovingly recounting stories of their youth as she lay next to him and drifted off into a sweet oblivion. “You gave 'em what for,” he said proudly. Oh, Pancho. Oh, Cisco.
Oh, jalopy. After all those years that Barb spent suffering in that ol’ heap of a station wagon (particularly when Bill got to cruise in that sleek new SUV), it also finally came to light why Bill held on to that big hunk o’ junk for so long: Turned out the outdated wagon wheels represented Bill and Barb’s relationship before she got sick and they took on new wives. Bill was utterly crestfallen that she would trade it in for a newer, shinier, topless version without a thought to its past or its meaning. “You got rid of us -- you threw us away without so much as a second thought,” he said, wounded.
What it really represented was not so much a turning away from the past, but an embracing of the present. And the future, which lay wide and open before them. I loved that scene of the wives together, joyriding around together in Barb’s new Mini Cooper convertible (dubbed “Honeybee,” though Nicki suggested “In Your Face” would be a better name -- ha!). Seeing them grinning from ear to ear, giving one another knowing looks, hair flapping in the wind and without a care in the world, made me want to preserve that moment in amber forever. Part of me was wishing they would just pull a Thelma and Louise and go riding off into the sunset together. (Margie said as much, though she included the husband in the mix: “Let’s go pick up Bill and all of us just keep on driving.”)
Nicki and Cara Lynn made up after Nicki apologized and wisely opened up about her own fears. “You chose something that couldn’t last, and that felt safe,” Nicki began. “Because maybe you wanted to learn what love really is, because you didn’t understand it. ... I’ve been through that.” And Nicki was lovably Nicki with her share of zingers (“If you want to be Margene Without Borders, you hardly have to leave home to do it”; “You thought you could just say I reject your church and I have the priesthood and I find greater comfort with lesbians and reformed churches than I do with my sister wives?” and “It’s good to have an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out” were a few of my favorites). But she also realized her fear of being alone. “I don’t have one ounce of the milk of human kindness in me,” Nicki confessed. “I know,” Barb responded, before pulling her into an embrace.
And it was the concluding sister-wife embrace in Barb’s dining room with Bill looking on, and then the tune of Natalie Maines’ lovely version of the Beach Boys’ classic, that choked me up in the end. When again will we see and be moved by such an indelibly drawn portrait of a messy, broken, loving family? God only knows.
What did you think? Do you wish there was more to “Love," or were you satisfied with the ending? Were you as pleased as I was to see Sarah and Scott’s shining faces again, even if just for that brief moment? Was it enough to hear Teenie was still around, even if she was putting on mascara in the bathroom? What about the show will you miss the most?
— Allyssa Lee
Photos, from top: Jeanne Tripplehorn, left, Bill Paxton, Ginnifer Goodwin and Chloë Sevigny; Tripplehorn and Sevigny; Goodwin. Credit: Chuck Zlotnick / HBO