02/02/2011 12:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Big Love Wife Watch!: Season Five, Ep. 3

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


Did you guys know that when I started writing Wife Watch! I was only eleven years old? I didn't want to tell you because I was afraid you'd judge me, but now I don't care, because I've been drinking red wine in the dark.

Ahem... yes.

This week's segment is officially called "Certain Poor Shepherds," but I'm sure the kids on the street are calling it "Kwazy Kwismas" or "Margie's Gift (For Telling Lies)." (And for those who are counting, that's two Christmas episodes that aired in January, including the recent season premiere of RuPaul's Drag Race.)

Predictably enough, this episode plays like a launching pad for the rest of season, stuffing the plot with convenient revelations that can play out for the rest of series. On every HBO drama I watch (True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Big Love), the third or fourth episode of the year always feels like it was written by Johnny Appleseed, tossing handfuls of storylines into the ground and leaving us to watch them grow.

That said, the holiday chaos is entertaining, and it delivers a surprise winner in the race for First Wife.

The winner is not Margene. After getting her position back last week -- and even getting Bill's permission to leave the family if she wanted -- she finds herself with renewed passion for her fella. Then, hilariously, he decides to buy all his wives handguns for Christmas, and just like a man, he can't comprehend why they wouldn't love a gift that he himself will so obviously enjoy. In order to complete the family's transformation into The Flaming Guns of Juniper Creek, he needs to register them all for classes and licenses and what have you... which means he needs Margene's driver's license. And that, of course, will show her birth date. And that will reveal that when she joined the family, Margene was only sixteen.


This is a problem for three reasons:

First, it once again makes Margene seem untrustworthy (remember when she was secretly macking on Ben and secretly selling jewelry?) and gives Nicki yet another excuse to be awesomely unforgiving about everyone's failings but her own. (Five years from now, my strongest memory of this show may be cackling with glee at Nicki's crazy-ass rebukes.)

Second, it complicates Bill's political life even further, since any reporter could dig up Margene's records and piece together that Bill was committing statutory rape when she joined the clan.

The third problem has more to do with the audience: Are we supposed to believe that Margene was only, like, seventeen when this show started? Or that she's barely in her twenties now? I don't have the energy to go back and sort all that out, but Ginnifer Goodwin doesn't look like a college junior. She's a great actress and cute as two buttons, but I just... can't go there. How do you guys feel about this?

Another plot development that leaves me skeptical is Lois' journey into dementia. I accept that it's happening, but doesn't it seem like she goes from sixty to zero in just one episode? Last time we saw her, she was fairly cogent, and now, within just a few scenes, she's looking for Santa at the Tasti Freez.

I think I can get past that, though, because Lois' descent is so sad and potent. How striking to see her next to Adaleen in the Christmas dinner scene: One mother receding from view. Another carrying a new and troubled life. Throw in Margene's history with her mother and last week's fireworks between Barb and hers, and you've got a picture of the awful legacy that everyone in the Henrickson family was running from. Judgment, madness, shame, and abandonment stalked them all, and now Adaleen and Lois sit at their table like burned-out husks, like physical reminders of what growing up in those lives can do to a person.

More than anything that happens in the Senate or the casino or HomePlus, these are the events that connect me to this show. In scenes like these, the sometimes-exhausting contrivance of the writing falls away and leaves a human core to be observed.

Somewhere between contrivance and emotion, there's Adaleen, Nicki, and Cara Lynn. Nobody wants to be totally honest, but everyone wants to love and be loved. For me, this struggles pays off in two ways this week: First, we get the scene where Nicki forces her daughter to face the truth about her father, just like Nicki herself never faced the truth about Roman. It gives me hope that Cara Lynn, who is so smart and resourceful, can escape her legacy and not end up like Lois or Adaleen. Second, we get the scene where Adaleen goes back to Alby. It's just so sordid, the way she mothers him after he screams that she's unholy, but it's also a reminder that Alby is not pure evil. He's a man who took a cannonball to the soul when his lover committed suicide, and he is trying to make sense of his place in the world. Is he finding his place without hurting people? No. But good on the show for letting us see that's he's still human.

And then there's Barb. Poor Barb. Her drinking problem has been telegraphed from the moment she pulled into that liquor store, and the show is too on the nose when it uses the collapse of the casino and Bill's bait-and-switch with the church service to push her into a drunken fit in the final scene. But still: Jeanne Tripplehorn is such a fine actor, and the creative team is so talented, that these fussed-over moments have power. I am especially impressed by Tripplehorn's acting when Bill "surprises" her by letting Ben conduct part of the church service. You can see her hurt ("I thought Bill heard me when I said I needed a place to have authority and worth") and her decision not to steal the light from her son's big moment. Arrgh! As I write this, I'm reminded that I'm on her side. Bill, man. What a jerk. You pray for God to take some of the burden off your family, but you don't notice all the ways that you could do it yourself.

But! But! Because this show is so complex, I also give Bill a lot of points for getting Lura and her children into a shelter, for stepping in when Alby tries to forcibly remove them, and for giving Alby a well-deserved sock in the jaw. Even better, Bill also lets Lura say what she wants to do. (Funny how often he can't let his own wives do the same thing.)

In the moment of choosing, Lura opts for freedom. Alby had all the dogs poisoned. He's clearly coming after her next. And no, she's not blameless. She's part of the reason Alby's lover killed himself. But in this moment, she's also smart to get away. It gives her more power. It gives her more freedom. It makes her First Wife.

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