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'Big Love' recap: "The Noose Tightens"

March 7, 2011 |  5:00 am

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!

(Or is she? As Nicki so astutely mentioned, “We’ve certainly established that you have a roving eye when you get lonely in your marriage.” Ha!) And now she may go down like the Hollywood madam? Even the soothing activity of icing cakes couldn’t put Barb at ease. Particularly when the news came out that it was Edgar Allen Poe-spouting Heather that spilled the beans about Margie’s true age to her bishop.

Speaking of Margie — the leaky basket has returned. A weepy, unraveling third wife was also summoned to the feds for questioning, and her strict instructions to keep her responses to “yes, no, I can’t recall” were trumped by the cold, hard truth of her real birth certificate. Though her five hours of questioning will no doubt feed the flames to convict Bill to a 20-year sentence, it was interesting that the external male forces — the federal investigator, Michael Sainte — seemed more concerned that Margie was coerced into this cultish group against her will. Though it was funny (and telling) when Barb, in an effort to deter Margie from Sainte’s Goji Blast pyramid scheme of success, brought out cult pamphlets and asked cult-identifier questions, like if this group separated her from her family and friends, and if the group leader is always right. (“This isn’t North Korea!”)

All the wives were embattled in this hour, but I have to give Nicki the medal for jumping head first in knock-down drag-out crazy (maybe that’s what happens when you become first wife — more responsibilities, more crazy). Margie got squeezed and juiced, and Barb smeared a cake, but Nicki got freaking kidnapped and was nearly shot by her brother. 

To think, it all started out with good intentions. Nicki doggedly continued her Safety Net campaign, luring an abused and skittish sister wife like a stray dog out from behind a tree with her arm outstretched and tasty morsels of what her life could be like (a house! Legally married! Nice things!), if she just followed Nicki into the car and out of Juniper Creek. Funny how Illeana (who had more than just a passing Zelda Rubenstein vibe) was left to wander aimlessly in the backyard like a mongrel waiting to be put into a home. “Nicki rescued her,” Margie explained to Barb.

Nicki found her calling to save women who have been preyed on. So how shameful was it when the news got out that Cara Lynn’s been involved in extracurricular bedroom activities with Mr. Ivey? As it turned out, little Cara Lynn has crafted herself into every bit as good of a liar as her mother. Though I can’t tell if CL is really into him because all that compound living has left her one braid short of a dozen and conditioned her to attach herself to any man who says he loves her; or if she, you know, really does love him.

It was a nice show of sister-wife solidarity when Margie, who had been known to side with Cara Lynn, took a hard motherly line with the underage teen when she discovered the truth about her after-school tutoring. And it was with the rage of a woman humiliated that Nicki went full-on claws-out tiger mom, first on Cara Lynn, and then on Mr. Ivey. And how intense was that scuffle between the two? It was like something had unfurled within Nicki. The grapple embodied her own shame and anger at being a victim to this very same fate, and her anger that her daughter had not only single-handedly derailed her one calling; she made a mockery of it. The domestic scrap was made the more terrible that Cara Lynn was witness to it all. “Please, don’t do this to me,” Nicki said in the end, with all the sadness of the world. 

If that wasn’t enough, Nicki slung an arsenal’s worth of angry and hurtful words at her brother for his plot to kill Bill, was taken hostage in Alby’s secret cabinet, mouth covered in duct tape, outfitted in an ill-fitting straitjacket of a compound dress, and then kidnapped in an SUV and taken to a tent for execution. And there were some tense moments there when I wondered whether Alby or Nicki would meet his or her maker. Not put-on, ostrich farm/Mexican standoff tense, but full on, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting tense.

-4 Poor Verlan got the bullets instead — the young, dim-witted mustachio was a scapegoat to the very end. Sadly, it was when he was just starting to show some gumption that he got his retribution for his insubordination, falling victim to Alby with nothing more than a couple flimsy $50 bills and some furtive touches. Alby kills those closest to him. And as maniacal and monstrous as Alby was in this hour, I still felt for the guy. There’s so much self-loathing behind that imposing fortress of hair, no matter how much he tries to mask it. If anyone is in need of some psychotherapy, it’s him. Bill went for the jugular when he brought forth cousin Madison, whom Roman paid off to keep quiet about his and Alby’s relationship. This episode smartly reminded us that Alby was clearly a product of his horrendous upbringing, damaged by who he is and his family’s attempts to squash it.

All this, as Lee Hatcher (who received so much air time – who knew he would figure so much into the family’s end game?) informed Bill that the D.A. would be pursuing an indictment of Bill on statutory rape and spiritual marriage, among other things. Which meant that the deal that Bill put on the table to Sen. Barnes — “If my family and my wives are left alone, and no charges brought, then I will resign. … I don’t want to see my children seeing my wife as a procurer, or me as a rapist” — was not made after all. I applaud Bill for offering to give up his beloved office, the one that makes him “too flipping important,” if all the charges against him and his family were dropped. But part of me felt Barb’s pain, and agreed that if Bill resigned, then everything that they’ve sacrificed up until this point would have been for naught.

So…will this indictment turn Bill into a convict? Or will it turn him into Richard Kimble, a fugitive running for the hills? Maybe it’s just me, but there was something incredibly creepy, tender, and prescient about the way Alby touched Nicki’s horrific compound lapels and said, “This is who we are. This is who we’ll always will be”? That, and a disheveled Nicki emerging out of the darkness like a ghost from Juniper Creek (which made me just about jump out of my skin, and still gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it). As of now, methinks Bill will off Alby to restore the Principle to its former glory … at Juniper Creek. Remember how Alby said that no one from the Creek has ever been successfully prosecuted? I’m not a math whiz, but I can put two and two together.

Randomly funny: Nicki sewing to the jaunty tune of “The Lonely Goatherd” from the “Sound of Music.” Maybe that “Les Misérables” outing has turned her on to wonderful world of musicals.

Also funny: Adaleen as the coat check/receptionist of Alby’s office, complete with doorbell and sliding door.

What do you think? Will Don sell his Home Plus shares to Alby? Did I see correctly, or did some of Greg’s kin have the telltale bouffant of compound women? Will Cara Lynn manipulate her way into marrying Greg and playing Little House on the Compound? “Just where have you two good-time gals been?” With everything this family’s been through, is there any chance that this show will conclude on a hopeful note? How many more innocent cakes have to fall victim before this series ends? If the line of questions end up being too much, keep the responses to Yes, no, or I can’t recall.

—Allyssa Lee


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Photo credits: Harper Smith / HBO