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'Big Love': The call to duty

January 25, 2009 | 10:01 pm

672022_bl66_061a_4 Obligations weighed heavily in this week's episode; the tug between who people are and who they’re “supposed” to be, and the fine line between serving others and serving yourself. And how sometimes, as Barb sagely relayed to Margene, “the choice is not ours” to make.

Margie learned that the hard way. Still plowing forward on her new power high, the shiny new wife largely ignored her duties as kid-watcher in favor of shilling 15 gaming machines to the sports bar next to the dry cleaner, and even went as far as tweaking Bill’s ear and asserting that she will not be the one to procure the next Henrickson baby. Of course, Margie also can’t help but to wear her emotions like a bright red dress (you know the one), and her increasingly shrill blather about discovering her true calling could do nothing but prime her for a big fall. And kudos to the creators for setting it all up so believably. But yikes, did she really come out and say all those very un-PC things to Jerry Flute? Cue Bill (and then myself) slack-jawed. Bill’s “lucky charm” just ran herself right out. Still, I was kinda hoping Bill would show a little faith and bring Margene along to help make reparations with Jerry, like she wanted. But of course he didn’t, and her subsequent dressing-down — in hushed tones and in the cold comfort of the bedroom, no less — stung as much as a slap on the face. Ginnifer Goodwin was great with Margie’s ramped-up braggadocio and deflated demotion in this ep. Never mind that there was some truth to what Margie said: The wind in her sails was lost, and she was firmly relegated to the supportive role of third wife and resident baby mama once more. Now where will she direct her endless energy?

No doubt into the courtship with Ana. Initially, I liked how the Serbian waitress was a nice spitfire of a challenge for Bill and a way to explore the complexities of introducing a potential new wife into the family. And I can see why Ana’s lust for Bill and kinship with Margene would prompt her to give the Henricksons a shot. But now it all seems a bit tired and forced. While the whole by-the-book group-dating attempt created hilarious scenarios (that surreal evening at the drive-in that was right out of "Happy Days," except, you know, with more women), the chemistry between Bill and Ana has now desiccated into something drier than bone meal and as yawn-worthy as the Weather Channel, and their contact reduced to small “what are you going to do?” smiles across a widening, nonalcoholic divide. Ana is the odd woman out in this relationship, and while I am content to let her fade out into the sunset, it seems the Henricksons aren’t letting her off the hook that easy. Though now that Barb is cancer-free (yay! Go Jeanne Tripplehorn and her blessed swell of relief upon receiving that phone call!), I wonder if the head wife will still be as gung-ho about greenlighting Ana into the family. At least Chloë Sevigny’s sour Nicki got some choice zingers out of these awkward encounters. My favorites: “What more does she want? I mean, she got the front seat and they gave her endless refills” and “I don’t see why we have to bend to her. We’re a catch!”

Bill insisted he’s not wooing Ana to be a “broodmare,” but he still got on Nicki’s case for four childless years of not holding up her end of the securing-their-place-in-the-eternal-kingdom bargain. But who can really blame Nicki for putting her ovaries on the back burner, especially after witnessing Adaleen resent her kids (read: her) for making her “more mother and less wife?” But Adaleen (who seems to be one Jane Doe short of snapping from her own weighty obligations) appears incapable of throwing her daughter (and perhaps herself) a bone, instead lacing compliments with arsenic (“Look at you: You just give and give and don’t know how to stop”) and sharply reminding Nicki that procreating is her job (“If you’re letting a desire to have a relationship with your husband stand between you and your duty, you’re on the path to ruin”). And if that wasn’t cutting enough, in came the lemon juice: “Your problem is you never wanted to submit,” Adaleen coolly continued. “Let’s face it: You’ve always been a little selfish.” Ouch. The truth hurts (just ask Margene and Jerry Flute).

To be fair, Nicki took the same route, spouting duty and everlasting glory and whatnot when Margene asked if she actually wanted another child. With the exception of Barb, it seems the higher calling is increasingly being used as an empty placater — something to say as a comforting platitude, to whip someone back in line, or as a simple out when you’d really rather not to talk about it. (It also led to a funny harrumph from Margene, who clearly wasn’t buying Nicki's staid response: “I thought we could have a serious conversation about this.” Ha!) But the question of whether Nicki even wanted another baby was posited three times: from Margene, her mother and the fertility doctor. And it was to the doctor, with whom she has the least amount of connection (and thus, faces the least amount of judgment), that Nicki blurted she’d never been allowed any other option, and came clean that she was not ready to have another child.

So how devastating was it to discover that it’s not any of the wives, but Sarah who will produce the next Henrickson baby? Sarah, who ran straight into Scott’s arms (and bed) as a knee-jerk reaction against her family’s values, and who now is in a family way herself. No wonder she wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. And Scott’s offer to follow her to Arizona sounded hollow at best, another insincere attempt to do the right thing. Sarah seemed to recognize this, and called the relationship off (which may be another attempt to push everyone away, but to which I say good riddance: Call me protective, but Scott always leaned on the wrong side of dubious to me. I haven’t forgiven him for strong-arming Sarah into giving up her carnal treasure, and his half-hearted apology for pushing her too hard came too little too late). That shot of her crying on the bed, however, alone and clutching Scott’s sweater, was devastating, and sadly mirrored her mother’s internal struggle scene from the last episode.

And leave it to this show to dutifully undercut this family’s ’50s-style innocence — the proud American flag-raising, swelling patriotic music, the call to defend holy values in an increasingly secular world — with these final disturbing images of teenage pregnancy and Lois hog-tying and gagging monstrous Frank, even as she reassured Bill that “all good things come to those who wait.” It’s a pungent and lasting reminder that these sordid and unsettling portraits are just as much a part of this family as all the rest.

And now the obligation falls to you: Should the Henricksons continue to see Ana? Did Sarah do the right thing by breaking up with Scott? What's creepier: the halfway house, or the fact that it's called the “Butt Hut”? Will the constipated parrot be Wanda’s undoing?

—Allyssa Lee

Photo credit: Lacey Terrell/HBO