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Big Love Wife Watch!: Season Four, Ep. 7

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Welcome to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this week's episode of Big Love.

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MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

I feel Big Love changing, and while I'm not quite ready for a divorce, our marriage is certainly in trouble.

Every week, you see, the series looks more like a grotesque soap opera. Every call from God and bomb in the casino makes it harder to feel like I'm watching the lives of people who might actually exist.

And look... I don't need a show to be grounded in reality. I dig True Blood precisely because it's so campy and ridiculous, and if I feel a pang of empathy amid the bloody fun, then I consider it a bonus.

But I fell in love with Big Love because it showed me the human heart beating inside a world that seemed alien to me. Yes, it delivered heightened situations and self-aware irony, but it mostly delivered a reminder that I could see myself in people that I once considered strange. The marriage-go-rounds and the Juniper Creek fiascoes were all side dishes, but the main courses were Sarah's disappointment in her father, Margene's struggle to find her voice, Bill's desperation to be happy. You know... stuff that anyone could understand.

Now, however, the show has inverted. Now it's being driven by high-concept stories, and the people... the people are just along for the ride.

I know that I can't stop the show from changing. I can't stop Big Love from being the kind of series that devotes almost an entire hour to the lawless Mexican compound of an albino sadist and his brush-cut caricature of a wife. But oh, how I hate to see these changes taking place.

I really hope this is a bump in the road. That next season, the series will calm down and realize that it doesn't have to go eXXXtreme in order to stay interesting.

But for now? I'm tired. And this week's episode, "Blood Atonement," is especially exhausting.

Consider the fact that Nicki has the most low-key story: She's trying to comprehend how her mother could suddenly be pregnant while she herself can't conceive. Her anxiety over her fertility is compelling, but how can we even notice it while we're wondering how Adaleen could be carrying J.J.'s baby? Based on Wanda's hysterical accusations, my friend Joe thinks that J.J. has injected Adaleen with something that makes her feel pregnant but is actually going to kill her. He thinks J.J. injected Malinda with the same thing, and that's why she has cancer. I think Joe's right, and I'll bet that whatever potion J.J. is brewing, it's the reason he lost his fingernails.

But I want us to be wrong. I just don't see myself giving a damn about some cockamamie"mad Mormon scientist" story.

Meanwhile... Margene.

Really? Really? We're supposed to believe that she is naive and impulsive enough to marry Ana's boyfriend? That she doesn't have an inkling of the problems this might cause? Because come on. I don't buy it. Margene has become too successful as a buisnesswoman to make this kind of deal.

Even if she really is just marrying this guy to protect herself from a future polygamous fallout, I'm irritated that her fake husband is connected to Ana. Like... the writers just can't get enough of her? So they contort their show's reality in a thousand different ways to make sure she sticks around? The show has got plenty to do without her, and the cruel promise that we're never getting rid of her is only made worse by the fact that she's now connected to a Days of Our Lives story arc. She's not just sticking around---she's sticking around in an obnoxious way.

And then there's Barb. Good lord. She had a good episode last week, but now she's in the middle of an attack from the religious right, who are planting fake bombs in the casino. At this rate, I fully expect one of the Native Americans in the blackjack pit to be revealed as Ethan Hunt from Mission:Impossible. He'll pull off his rubber face, slide a handgun out of his dealer's vest, and start shooting at the patrons before he leaps out of a window, lands in a getaway truck full of pillows, and screams, "Looks like your chips are down, Henrickson!"

At least Bill enjoys a little redemption as he breaks his family out of Cidade Green. He forgives his father, accepts responsibility for Ben's recent hardship, executes a heroic rescue, and decides that his possessions and status are not worth more than the love of his family. By not becoming the next generation of Frank, he gets closer to being a decent human being.

But even though I intellectually understand why this shift should be moving, it totally leaves me cold. Perhaps because it happens in the midst of gangland faceoff. Or perhaps because it's offset by Joey's unthinking bloodlust.

Or perhaps... and this is the big one... perhaps it's because while Bill is becoming a new man, his mother is becoming Clytemnestra. I appreciate that Lois owns up to her selfish relationship with Bill (and the fact that she's essentially using Ben as a Bill replacement), but that confession drowns in Hollis Green's blood. When she hacks off his arm, Lois leaves reality. She takes the show to a new place, and I fear it may get stuck there. (I should note, though, that Grace Zabriskie's acting in these moments is as terrific as always.)

However, Lois' violent act makes her the most powerful person on screen. Using the tip of her sword, she lifts the first wife crown out of a puddle of gore.

For more, join me at The Critical Condition