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'Big Love' recap: Every which way but loose

March 14, 2011 |  5:00 am

It’s the second-to-last episode, “Big Love” fans, and another hour with my stomach spent in knots. This one, called “Exorcism,” was where all the demons came out to play.

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.

Margie exorcised herself of the Goji Blast brand, packed away all the “Change Begins Within” tees and aligned herself fully with Bill and the family. She was a bit weepy (“Bill changes my oil!”), but more intent about keeping the family together as much as possible, suggesting more than once that they all move in together under one roof, and offering to have another baby with Bill. It’s interesting how the tables have turned between Margie and Pam. When they first met, Margie was the mess to whom Pam suggested anti-depressants, now it’s Pam who has become the wife unhinged. And now that she and Carl were separating, Margie felt she had to hold on to what she had tighter than ever.

Barb was trying to be the most practical about what to do if and when Bill was imprisoned, and there was a nice moment of sister wife bickering and despair when they each got choked up at the thought of losing their husband (“Bill always changes my oil!” Margie cried — how I’m going to miss these weekly wife meetings!). Nicki, however, went for the jugular and said that Barb “just can’t wait for Bill to be out the door, so you could be our priestholder.”

So Barb’s cheating on the family by attending another church, the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which allows women priests, but is not on the plural marriage bandwagon. If that wasn’t enough of a slap in the face to Bill, Barb said she was “exploring this as Barbara Dutton.” Ouch. And while I’m all for Barb discovering herself, Bill does have a fair point when he questioned Barb’s commitment to the family, and whether or not she’d bail when the going got tough. Barb, still stinging from being left out of the resealing, like Bill had “already written me off,” wondered if the family could hold together with everything Bill had imposed. “You’re pushing us until we break,” Barb insisted. “Boxing us into a corner, holding onto doctrine, refusing to bend, to the point where I can’t say with certainty that we’ll hold together.” “That’s the difference between us, Barb,” Bill responded. “I won’t accept anything but our family holding together. Now and in eternity.” Barb has to make a choice whether she comes before her family, or the family comes before her. Will she be willing to sacrifice her greater good for the sake of her family?

-2 The most heart-wrenching story in this hour, of course, was Nicki’s. And for these past two episodes, Chloë Sevigny has just been killing it. Nicki found that just because your treads are fine and you can rotate your own tires doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory. It was with creepy Romanesque echoes that Nicki considered Fernridge Academy — where the halls were bracketed with prison bars and the students marched despondently like Holocaust victims, beaten into submission with a curriculum that included manual labor — was a suitable place for Cara Lynn to be cured of her deviance. “I grew up with manual labor,” Nicki said agreeably to the stern head matron. “It shapes character.”

Cara Lynn, ever her mother’s daughter, put up a good fight when the matron and her heavies came to take her away, using her wiles to strike fear and shame into her mother to win her case. “She’s ashamed of where she comes from, ashamed of who she is,” CL stated, when Nicki announced to Bill and Barb that Mr. Ivey “seduced” her. “A terrible mother and a terrible wife.”

But Nicki ultimately prevailed, as the mother mixed in her own shame and self-loathing into a horribly awful and unrelenting dose of hateful, hurtful words — the most disturbing bedtime story ever. “When we confronted him, he was relieved. He was happy to be rid of you, and why not? He got what he wanted from you,” Nicki said, her words landing like daggers. “Stop talking about love. People like you don’t deserve love.  … I know what you really are: a little manipulator and a liar. For all you know, you’re probably on birth control pills. Stop crying. You had them fooled, but not me.”

Oof. Clearly, Nicki was talking about herself as much as her daughter in that case, but a 15-year-old doesn’t bounce back from words like that right away. And Cara Lynn, now infected with her mother’s own shame and self-hatred, found herself facing a hell of her own making, purging her math books and her iniquities in an agonizingly painful show. “I’m worthless, a worthless awful liar. No one has ever loved me, and no one ever will,” Cara Lynn cried. “I mean nothing to anyone! I am sorry I’m sorry I’m messed up. I’m sorry!”

Which went to show how fully and completely Nicki perpetuated her own damages on her daughter. And while it was no surprise that messed-up Nicki’s own broken self would lash out in full force once the Cara Lynn/Mr. Ivey relationship was brought to light, the extent to which Nicki clamped down on her daughter, and then realized that she was the one who caused her daughter to hate herself, was as devastating as anything we’ve ever seen. Bravo to Cassi Thomson for playing a nuanced Cara Lynn, alternately manipulative and oh-so-young and crushed, and an Emmy nod, please, for Sevigny, for Nicki’s complete and utter breakdown when she realized her daughter has been damaged by her own hand. “Everything I wanted for her, everything I tried to do for her, I failed,” Nicki sobbed. And hearty applause to Bill for bringing Nicki back from her outer darkness. “Nicki, do you believe I love you? My love is Heavenly Father’s love,” Bill began. “Do not let any of that shake your faith. … If I lose you, if I lose any of you, I lose everything.” Sob.

I’ve got to hand it to Bill. Even though he’s done some questionable things throughout the years, he’s fiercely devoted to his family. I’ve never questioned that he loves them, and when push came to shove, as it most certainly had in these episodes, he has made it a point to show how important it is to keep them together. And you’ve got to give him credit for that.

Elsewhere, Lois and Frank continued their bittersweet love affair. When the news got out that Alby was on the lam, Lois and Frank made out like a bunch of bandits to the Big House to relieve it of some copper piping. The duo remind me of the Thenardiers from “Les Misérables;” crooks who’ll slip in during moments of chaos and revolt to see if they can’t make out with some loot. Though given Lois’ longer lapses into oblivion, it doesn’t seem like they’ll ride out happily into the sunset when all is said and done.

Ben, on the other hand, wants to have his cake and eat it, too. Rhonda the black widow manipulator came out in full force, first trying to blackmail Ben into marrying her by threatening to spill the beans about their tryst to Heather, and then by spilling the beans herself. “Congratulations, Lesbo,” Rhonda said to Heather, dropping any last vestige of civility between the two. “You won. Ben and I had relations. But don’t worry: He doesn’t want to marry me.” A dumbfounded Heather just about tossed her cookies. “How could you have done to me, with her?” she asked Ben. And Ben, ever the peacemaker, diplomatically suggested a compromise: “I can be with both of you!” Good one, Ben. Way to shake things up. (Can you imagine Rhonda and Heather as sister wives? I smell spin-off!)

Show of hands: Who was afraid Adaleen wasn’t going to live to see the end of this hour? When I heard the gun go off at the Juniper Creek general store and saw Adaleen slumped against the cooler with a defeated look on her face, I could have sworn that Barb had taken her mother-in-law down.

The good, old-fashioned showdown, however, was saved for Bill and Alby — set up like an old-time Western, with pistols cocked, a long dark corridor and a pretty girl stepping out from the bathroom as a diversion. I was shocked to see Alby take a shot at Margene (not Margene!), and then gasped when Bill took aim at Alby and a fine mist of blood sprayed from his neck. Turned out it was just a flesh would (intentional, or just bad aim?), and Alby sputtered and gasped his way up, all while being held at gunpoint. Nicki, in a somewhat surprising turn, whispered for Bill to “please, do it” and mercifully kill the long-suffering Albert, once and for all. But Bill did not pull a Roman and kill his nemesis. Instead, to Alby’s confusion, he merely said, “It’s over.”

Bill’s words recalled what he said earlier in the hour, in front of the news cameras as the UEB house that Roman Grant Built was torn down. “Like the walls of Jericho tumbling down…today begins a new chapter of Juniper Creek,” Bill said. “The age of false prophets is over.” Which only convinces me that much more that Bill, facing a statutory rape conviction, will make a run for the hills and assume leadership of Juniper Creek.

What do you think? How do you think it’ll all end? Were you surprised to see Nicki plead for the death of her brother? Were you also pleasantly surprised to see Selma Greene make an appearance? (Does this mean Hollis died from that machete slash?) How fun was it watching the bloopers from the “Big Love: End of Days” special? Who knew Jeanne Tripplehorn was the one to crack?

—Allyssa Lee


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Photo credits: Harper Smith / HBO