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'Big Love': Road trip!

February 22, 2009 | 10:01 pm

672026_bl3lt_306_0099_2 It’s a shame that tonight’s episode coincides with Hollywood’s biggest night, because while it may not boast a Brangelina or a musical number, “Come, Ye Saints” is packed with just as much, if not more, drama, laughs and heart as any of these honored films.

With Ana’s divorce still stinging and Roman's trial gone by the wayside, it was time for the Henricksons to step out of Salt Lake City and lick their wounds. Which meant just one thing: Road trip! And it was great to see the family focusing on themselves for a change, ’cause it allowed all the little things that had previously gone unnoticed to finally come to surface. Things like:

Bill’s performance-enhancing drug use. We haven’t seen much of the Viagra lately, and I assumed Bill had given the little blue pills a rest. But in the tight quarters of a road trip, things were bound to get mixed up, and secrets and enhancements were bound to be revealed. And of course, it caused three very different reactions in the wives. Margie came with understanding and hilarity (“Am I being a pill?”), Barb with disapproval (“I’m pretty sure you didn’t need it when it was just us,” she reminded. “Pre-tty sure.”), and Nicki believed (not incorrectly) that it was all about her.

In addition to the lost Viagra, Bill was steadily stripped of his manhood in this hour. Refusing to acknowledge the Ana debacle, he focused his energies instead on running a tight ship, getting the brood out to Hill Cumorah, N.Y. — the place where Joseph Smith, on orders from the angel Moroni, found the gold plates that were translated into the Book of Mormon. There, they’d bury a time capsule that they had assembled, and the kids will be treated to some sort of fireworks extravaganza. So this pilgrimage, like this episode, was going back to the basics, to the beginning of their faith, back to the family. Only, Bill could not see the forest for the trees. The cold, sterile time capsule represented more of the family than the unhappy members milling around him. But he tried to stay strong, eyes on the prize, continuing to bulldoze his way to that hill and bury the time capsule, no matter the cost — literally leading his family into the wilderness, pageant and bad feelings be damned. And he suffered a lot of hard knocks because of it. Like when he was accosted by the Baptist minister (Mac from "Night Court"!). Or made fun of by his wives, for his clanging musical act suggestion (Cher? Really?). Or defaced by that deviant juice box. Or abandoned by his family at the rest stop, forcing him to suffer his own mini-pilgrimage, barefoot, to the hotel. Not that any of this was a bad thing.

Twice we saw him regard himself in the mirror (once when his precious blue pills went down the rabbit hole, the other when he was tending to that phallic time capsule), and staring back at him was one weary mug, and a life dangerously close to going down the drain. So it was only when the family, sick and tired of the car rides and the posturing, abandoned him in that wilderness for the lights and spectacle of the extravaganza, that Bill finally let his whole plan go, and admitted that he has felt lost. And for once, his words of prayer did not ring hollowly:

“All along this trip I’ve been looking for your presence, I haven’t found you anywhere. And I don’t feel you here. I’ve never been so worried for my family. I thought we’d be OK if I could just find you. I feel lost, forsaken, and I don’t know what to do.”

And maybe it was that humility (and the angel Moroni above him, though he was oblivious to it) that finally let him abandon all his pretense and symbolism and focus instead on the present needs of his family. Because boy, did they need it.

Margie has been a little unmoored herself as of late. Her mother (or, as Nicki so warmly called her, “that box of soot”) had been riding with her this entire time, and Margie was lost as to where to lay her to rest. Luckily she didn’t have to decide, because Ginger literally fell off the wagon (ha!) and ended up on the train tracks by the river boat casino. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly where Ginger would want to be — within earshot of the clinking slots and the crooning of Jim Nabors.) And Margie's own moment at this crossroad, seeing her mother blow away from her, was a turning point. So when Barb filled in as proxy for her mother’s baptism, Margie was finally able to cry and let her go, and seemed to make Margie’s entrance into the family complete. Which was why she was able to deal with…

Ben’s massive crush on her. Now, I also thought this had gone by the wayside, but their chemistry came back in full force during that alphabet road game. Ben brings out this younger side to Margie (she’s playful and says bad words!), and in another life perhaps they would have dated. But after their um, revealing moment in the hotel room (what were they both doing there, anyway?) and that oh-so-very high-school note that Ben passed along (and Teeny promptly discovered), it was time to lay things out in the open. And while Ben made a pretty good case for himself: “I am a very normal guy in a very abnormal household. This just happened to me,” kudos to Margie for finally owning up to her role as wife and mother, and putting her foot down in this relationship. Whereas a younger, more immature Margie might just have shrugged off the attention, or even reveled in it, it was nice to see this older Margie take responsibility and confront Ben head-on, telling him to get over it, and himself. (Though maybe if Ben had taken a cue from Aunt Wanda’s school of courtship and chased her at night and locked her in the trunk, who knows what might have transpired?)

And who knows what’s going to happen with Nicki and the D.A.? The flirtation seems to have ramped up. Nicki bragged to Wanda that Ray Henry is not just any guy: He’s a real mover and shaker, and “he wears cardigans.” And the writers’ running gag about the button-up knit tickled me to no end: From Nicki’s gift to Bill, to Wanda’s warning: “You’re a married woman: You can’t be talking about another man’s cardigans,” and Henry’s throwaway comment about Hawaii: “I picked up a nice cardigan there…” Ha!

But the heartbreak came with Barb and Sarah. The mixed signals between mother and daughter, so real and relatable, was also what made it so wrenching. Barb, who can’t understand Sarah’s distance, finds Nicki’s birth-control pills and automatically assumed they’re Sarah’s. “If you are having sex with someone, even thinking about it, you need to stop!” sobbed Barb, a devastated mother whose faith and idea of family is crumbling in front of her. “Sex is sacred — for a union you know is true!” And for Sarah, who’s been trying to evade her mother’s prying stares across an entire country, the weight of this is too much. She can’t bring herself to tell her mother she is with child (though, for a couple pregnant pauses on the road, I thought she might) not for fear of punishment, but for fear of disappointing her. “I can’t be with her,” she sobbed. “Everybody’s so disappointed in me. I just don’t want to be here anymore.” Poor Sarah is willing herself into oblivion. And Barb, who’s arrived her own crossroads of faith, blamed herself: “If we’re on this one true path, then why is this happening?”

All this while, I had been staring death rays at Nicki, praying, pleading with her to fess up and say the pills were hers. And thank goodness she finally did, because had she let this go on any longer, I don’t think I could have forgiven her.

But she came clean, and redeemed herself when she came upon a compromised and sobbing Sarah in the bathroom: “I’m losing my baby.” And when she gently encouraged Sarah to tell her parents — another example where the other wives were able to mother Barb’s kids when Barb could not. But the waterworks really began when Sarah finally was able to look her mother in the eye, and her mother wholly embraced her. And then when she did the same with her father – sob! All this time Bill was treating the time capsule as his precious entity, but it was at the expense of his living family, who were all knee-deep in their old wilderness. And it wasn’t until they all crossed that bridge and stopped in this moment of solidarity that they finally all arrived together on the same page. And that was all that mattered.

What did you think of the episode? Do you think Nicki will continue to take her pills? Will Bill continue to take his? Should a married woman be talking about another man’s cardigans?

--Allyssa Lee

Photo credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO

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