Welcome to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this week's episode of Big Love.
In the season's penultimate episode, "Next Ticket Out," writer Patricia Breen lays Bill's cards on the table in this conversation with Ana:
Bill: Doggone it! Margene is my wife! I can't share her with you and Goran.
Ana: Why Not?
Bill: Because it's unnatural, that's why.
Bill: A man has to know his woman is his. It's just the way it is.
Ana: Are you aware of what you're saying?
Bill: Of course I am. A woman cannot have two husbands. It's just wrong.
Ana: How can YOU say that?
Bill: I'm not a hypocrite. I explained our religion to you. I told you all about it!
As you read this, you have to imagine Bill Paxton delivering his lines with a high-pitched, baby-has-a-tantrum voice and a look of bewildered irritation on his face.
This is the clearest the show has ever been about how Bill's faith or hubris or whatever has warped him into a self-centered, self-righteous, and immature hypocrite with a raging God complex. He may believe he gets his instructions from The Principle or from God, but he interprets those instructions to mean that everyone in his family should do exactly what he says at all times.
Granted, he's not tyrannical about his power. He doesn't beat his wives or try to psychologically wound them into submission the way Frank, J.J., and Roman have done. He uses everyday weapons like guilt, hectoring, and pouting to get his way.
Given the scene I just transcribed and several others like it---Bill tells Barb she has "defied" him, as though he's her king; he tells Marge it's wrong to hide her polygamy for the sake of her business, despite what he did for HomePlus---I'd say this episode offers the series' most scathing critique of what polygamy does to men. Bill obviously has decency and compassion, but they're perpetually strangled by his twisted worldview.
Consider his small, kind act of letting Barb make an unpopular statement about scrip addiction among Utah women: Barb basically has a nervous breakdown before he lets her speak her mind. And last week, before he was willing to renounce his earthly power for his family, they had to face a massacre in a Mexican compound. If it takes situations this extreme to make Bill acknowledge that maybejustmaybe he isn't the world's most Knowing Man, then he's clearly been deformed by his life. He clearly spends most of his days believing he's some kind of god.
I'm surprised, frankly, that the series has pushed it this far. There's always been tension about the sustainability of the Henrickson's life (and the value of polygamy in general), but the negative was generally tempered with the positive. For every scene of Roman raging or Barb weeping, we'd also see Marge taking succor in her new family or Adaleen taking control of her destiny. Now, the bad obliterates the good. A halfway-happy birthday party for Teeny just isn't a balance for Bill's sanctimony, J.J.'s craziness, and Roman's ongoing power to shame Alby out of happiness.
Has the series painted itself into a corner? Can it pull back from this anti-polygamous path and restore some balance? Should it? As I said last week, I can't keep the show from changing, but it's hard to imagine how I could stay connected to a series that seems to dislike so many of its characters' choices. If I want a stern moral lesson on Sunday nights, then I will go to church.
It's also hard to trust that things will correct themselves when the writing in this short season keeps disappointing. Like, did you notice that the first scene of "Next Ticket Out," when Sarah, Ben, and Teeny set the table, is nothing but a blast of exposition? There's so much happening in so few episodes that the series doesn't have time to let events unfold organically. Instead, it has to pause the story and catch all the characters up on what they've been missing. It's a clunky technique, to say the least.
Also clunky? Nicki's storyline. Intellectually, I can see how her attempt to become more "normal" could be moving, and Chloe Sevigny and Matt Ross are such great actors that when Nicki tries to get Alby to leave Juniper Creek and chase the happiness he was starting to feel as an openly gay man, I'm touched. But overall, there's something half-baked about her arc. Instead of arriving at them slowly, so that we can experience them, too, Nicki just announces her personal revelations flat out. "I want to be normal. I want out of this life. I like flaunting my boobs." When we're told these things instead of being shown them, they're less satisfying. It's like if someone says they love you with an expressionless face. It's hard to believe the words if you don't see the proof that they're true.
Oh! And since when did Nicki not love Bill? How can this be the first week she really loves him? Just telling me she's never loved him isn't good enough, since it negates everything she's been doing for years. I may understand that Nicki wants Bill all to herself now, but I don't feel it. You know what I mean?
(And don't even get me started on Other Nicki... the one who's angry a Joey for killing her father and trying to protect Wanda from herself. That feels so disconnected from the show that I can't deal right now.)
Sadly, I don't feel much for Sarah's decision to move away. Amanda Seyfried isn't coming back and there was no way Sarah could do anything but get out of Dodge, but it bums me out that her departure is handled in such a perfunctory way. Her wistful moment in the kitchen plays like one more task on a checklist, not a scene that's given time to breathe.
Margene fares better, but this recap is getting long... so I'll just give her props for calling Bill on his b.s. (once again) and correctly pointing out that by Bill's own standards, her paper marriage to Goran shouldn't mean anything.
And then there's Barb. She makes an honest but politically unsavvy statement about Utah women and pills. She realizes the extent to which Marilyn is in cahoots with the Religious Right, and she realizes that she hired this viper just to lash out at Bill. She fights against Bill's attempts to silence her, control her. (Like Nicki wanting Bill to herself, her unhappiness underscores the show's newly apparent distrust of polygamy.)
And finally, she gets Bill to change. She gets him to defend her drug abuse comment on air. She moves the mountain, and even if it's just an inch, it's enough to make her First Wife.
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