Welcome back to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this week's Big Love.
This week's contest, however, will be a little bit different, since the latest episode, "Come, Ye Saints," is never about power. Instead, playwright Melanie Marnich, writing her first segment for the series, undoes some of the biggest secrets in the Henrickson family. And when they're out in the open, secrets just aren't powerful anymore. When secrets are out in the open, everyone is vulnerable, so everyone is on an equal playing field. Everyone realizes they need each other to survive
Or at least, that's what this family realizes. After the great leveling, the Henricksons come together as powerfully as they ever have. The final credits even roll in silence because there's no more story to tell, at least not this week. In "Come, Ye Saints," the end result isn't a move up the ranks, but a universal explosion of forgiveness, so this week's First Wife isn't the most crafty or persuasive. She's the one who contributes most to the revelations and the recovery.
(Before I go on, can I just reiterate that Big Love is the best drama on television right now?)
For the most part, Barb is getting hit with bombs. She discovers Nicky's birth control, then instantly decides that it belongs to Sarah. Convinced her daughter is sexually active, she loses her mind, and her fit makes secretly-pregnant Sarah race out of the hotel, weeping about the fact that she's a disappointment (even more than her mother realizes.)
Oh, right...the hotel. This episode takes us away from Utah while the Henricksons go on a cross-country pilgrimage to visit major Mormon landmarks. That means no one can escape anyone else and no one can get distracted by Juniper Creek. (This answers a question I had earlier this season about what would happen if the show ever left Utah. Apparently, lots and lots of truth-telling.)
And so, Barb starts expressing herself. After the Sarah smackdown, she hurls a zinger at Bill after she learns he's on Viagra (Right! From the first season!) Eyes blaring, she reminds him that he never needed pills when it was just the two of them.
Granted, Barb is open about her mixed feelings back home, but now that they're on the road, her family can't avoid her uncomfortable truths. She doesn't have much to reveal herself, but the sheer force of her personality pushes other people into action, even if it's because they're annoyed with her.
Margene, meanwhile, is taking big steps. After she and Ben accidentally see each other naked, and Ben finally admits he has sexual feeling for her, Margene firmly (but kindly) rejects his puppy love. It's fantastic to see her embrace her maternal position in the family. She also mothers Teeny, who discovers Ben's love note to Margene. By refusing to shame Ben or lie to Teeny about what's happening, Margene invites loads of forgiveness.
Plus, she's incredibly understanding of Bill, who has his most touching arc in ages. Faced with the realization that his family may be broken----an idea that strikes when he glimpses them through a camera lens, frowning for a family portrait---he has a crisis of faith. His roles as father, husband, and good man all seem threatened, and in an especially elegant scene, he Bill carries the time capsule his family was supposed to bury at the end of their journey. It's tucked under his arm as he wanders down a road, feet blistered, trying to catch up to a family that accidentally drove off without him. He's utterly alone, left with nothing but a ludicrous phallus, which mocks the masculine ideals he's trying to uphold.
It's the most vulnerable Bill has been in the entire series, and his vulnerability is partially caused by Margene. (She tells Barb and Nicky about his Viagra, after all.) But then she also forgives him for being human by trying to get him aroused for his night with Nicky. It's an explosive image, watching a half-naked Margene kiss Bill while Nicky looks on, but it doesn't play like cruelty. It plays like a wife trying to help the rest of her family.
Granted, Margene's good intentions are misguided, but what can you do? Emotionally, she's getting it right.
In this episode, however, Nicky is the biggest force. For one thing, she still has the tiny secret that her boss is flirting with her, though that seems small compared to what else is going on. Second, she's behind two big revelations. She not only admits she's been taking birth control for four years (!), but she also convinces Sarah to tell the rest of the family about her baby.
But here's thing: In both cases, Nicky reveals the big, raw heart beneath her sour expression. Regarding her birth control, she admits that she doesn't want to have children with a man who needs Viagra to want her, and she correctly points out that Bill takes secret pills just like she does. It's hard not to sympathize.
But Nicky's no narcissist. She's discovers Sarah sobbing in the bathroom, learns she's just had a miscarriage, and instantly starts helping. When Nicky says she's in Sarah's corner, you know she means it, because Nicky doesn't mess around with family devotion.
And so it's Nicky who pushes the season's deepest secret into the light. And that's the revelation that leads to the biggest moment of forgiveness. On the side of the road, the family sees Sarah breaking down, and they don't push her away. They pull her close. And for a moment, the pull each other close, too.
For more, please join me at The Critical Condition.