"Big Love," after five seasons, multiple wives and more plotlines than you could shake a stick at, finished out its run with an extended, emotional episode Sunday night on HBO. We got “Big Love” creators (and real-life couple) Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer on the phone shortly after the finale to talk about its shocking conclusion, their love-hate relationship with the blogosphere and whom they’ll miss the most. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
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.
[SPOILER ALERT: Key plot points of the "Big Love" series finale are discussed below, so if you haven't watched the episode and don't want to know what happens, come back later!]
Polygamy may seem like a man’s game — a different bedroom every night, never having to do a dish — but what kept HBO’s “Big Love” from becoming a sexual and marital farce was the more-than-kin, less-than-kind relationship between Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), the three wives of hardware store magnate turned state senator Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton).
Now that "Big Love" is coming to a close, Chloe Sevigny is on the prowl for a juicy role. This week, HBO confirmed reports in the trades that Sevigny was developing a miniseries about Lizzie Borden, the 19th century woman who became a part of American folklore after being accused (and acquitted) of murdering her father and stepmother with a hatchet.
Sevigny is in the early stages of developing the project with Playtone, the Tom Hanks-and-Gary Goetzman production company that produced "Big Love."
When we spoke to her back in December for this profile, she confessed that pitching the project was "the most terrifying thing, 10 million times worse than auditioning. Normally the writer does most of that, but I brought visuals and books. I was totally geeky, and I was like, I don't know how this works but look at this! I just wanted to show enthusiasm."
Sevigny admits that almost all of her roles have been the result of "an incoming call" -- which suggests that taking the lead on a TV project was a brave new experience.
"Yes, fun and scary. Making lists of production designers and costume designers and directors, and things like that. I thought about directing a couple of shorts I had ideas for ... I had always wanted to because it's so hard to find good parts. I was just kind of waiting for something to happen, some kind of spark of inspiration, so when I found that, I was gung-ho."
Although her "Big Love" character, Nicki, is intensely manipulative, Sevigny herself seems much more laid back. Is she bossy enough to run a show?
"Oh my God, I'm bossy! You should see me on the set. Once I had a director tell me, 'You know what I find works for me, Chloe? When I focus on my own job.' I said, 'You're leaving in a week, this is my show.' I'm a control freak. I'd be very good as a director."
-- Joy Press
Even with the threat of the statutory rape lawsuit looming, Bill continued undeterred in his mission to bring Alby to justice, go through with Safety Net proceedings and impose order on Juniper Creek. With a clearly unstable and armed Alby on the loose, everyone went into lockdown mode with explicit instructions to stay indoors. The kids were barred from school, and the wives made sure that they were packing at all times.
The thought of Bill being shipped off to prison became a sober reality, and each wife mobilized to prepare for the worst.
I don’t know about you, “Big Love” fans, but I’m thinking I could benefit from one of jittery Don’s Ativan right about now. Not only has the sugar hit the fan umpteen times over, but now, thanks to Barb, the cake has also splattered against the window. Did this week’s show have you wrapped up in knots or what? “The Noose Tightens” on the Henrickson family in this excellent episode. The third-to-last hour not only drew out the escalating stakes of each family member (the intensity has been ratcheted up to 11), it kept me on edge and wondering what will happen next as the show makes its inevitable course toward the season’s (and series’) end.
Everyone was getting it from all sides. The family’s different varieties of trouble popped forth like so many deep fried layers of the most unawesome blossom in this hour. It was as if the stakes were raised and the burners were torched, and suddenly the Henricksons were on a runaway freight train barreling toward a steep ravine. And oh, no, the bridge is out!
Where to begin? The feds continued to dig into Margene’s underage marriage. They took Barb away for questioning — not just as a warning shot to Bill, but because Barb has become a person of interest, for possible procuring. Basically, the authorities were looking into charging Barb with being the Heidi Fleiss who brought Margie to Bill.
This news, understandably, hit the wife of “deep and abiding faith” hard, even delivering her back to the stained-glass sanctuary of the LDS church for a spell. Barb is no pimp!
A lot of this episode, called “Til Death Do Us Part,” was about choosing sides, perhaps drawing battle lines as the series creeps to a close. After waking up in Rhonda’s bed, Ben enacted the 3-foot rule with his baby-food-eating paramour, keeping their relationship strictly as friends. Heather chose Ben over Mr. BYU. Lois and Frank resolved to be with each other until the bitter end. Margie went to Michael Sainte to be assured she was on the right team. Bill proposed he and his wives get resealed.
The big event this hour, of course, was Nicki’s marriage to Bill. The ink has dried on Bill and Barb’s quickie divorce, which gave Nicki and Bill the green light to go to the altar to get hitched. Nicki, seizing upon her chance to be front and center with the gusto of a bride-to-be at a Vera Wang sample sale, took every last satiny inch that she could get. How about a dress? While we’re at it, a small reception? Barb may have thrown up in her mouth a little upon hearing the latter, but she generously swallowed her bile, put away her gun and allowed the Hummers and those dusty pickups to gum up the cul-de-sac for Nicki’s special day.
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?”)
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.
It was another jam-packed week as January finally arrived in Sandy, and Bill prepared to be sworn into office. This episode, called "The Oath," mixed hallowed words with primal actions in a button-pushing hour that touched on topics such as patriarchal church culture, revisionist history and women's rights.
Bill, just days away from officially taking office, was on the cusp of the biggest thing that's happened to polygamy in 100 years — the "lynch mob" rallying against him and accusations of the animalistic way he went after Margie and married her those years ago be damned.
Turned out everyone kind of knew Margie was underage, but they let Bill pursue her anyway. Back then, Bill's word was basically law and went unquestioned. Now, times have changed. Barb admitted she had a sneaking suspicion about Margie's real age, but admitted "at key moments of my life ... I've lacked the courage of my convictions." A newly emboldened, freaked-out Don savagely reminded Bill of how things really went down. He was going to pursue her anyway. "Didn’t matter that she was outside the faith," Don recalled as they made their way through the seedy casino. "You were obsessed with her, and it wasn't for her intellect. Just what was that about, Bill?"
Bill didn't want to say, but Nicki called it animal urges. Bill still insisted that he's not Roman Grant, even as he couldn't look his wives in the eye and urgently wanted to sweep this nuisance under the rug. Particularly on "the eve of our great triumph."
Though how great is that triumph, really, when you have to swindle, cheat and extort to get there? Bill had no qualms about doing any of that either. In fact, he insisted he was just carrying on what his church forebears have done: lie, and then revise history to acquit themselves. As Bill pointed out, the church has been doing that for years (and on Larry King's show, no less). "Our faith has been sustained on prevarication and lying," Bill told Sen. Barnes. "It's called lying for the Lord."
As if there wasn’t enough sugar hitting the fan this season, the Christmas episode, titled “Certain Poor Shepherds,” dropped so many bombs that the whole landscape has started to resemble a battle zone.
You knew the way Bill insisted they were going to have “the best Christmas ever” that this hour would lead to certain disasters. Bill reminded Margie, who’s Goji Blasting to the max, that they just passed the shortest day of the year, and “now we’re turning to the light,” he said.
“This Christmas is your new beginning. Our new beginning,” Nicki said aggressively to mother Adaleen.
Still, the holidays are also some of the most stressful times of the year, both in monogamous and polygamous relationships. “The holidays can be hard,” Margene conceded to neighbor Pam. “I don’t know how you do it when there’s just two people in the marriage.” Ha!
The separation between men and women was made more evident in this hour. Bill drove that point home when he made that patronizing “separate but equal responsibilities” prayer during Christmas dinner. “You’re very special,” Bill oozed to the ladies at the table, “and entitled to the guidance of righteous priesthood holders.” No doubt he was appreciative of his wives, but the guys still call the shots in his book. That was made crystal clear when Barb was completely overlooked and son Ben was chosen to give a blessing at church.
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.