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Mark Blankenship

Mark Blankenship

Posted: March 8, 2011 12:08 PM

Big Love Wife Watch!: Season 5, Ep. 8


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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I predicted last week that a gun was about to go off, but I didn't think it would be that gun. Just one more surprise in the cake-tossing mania of "The Noose Tightens."

Before we get to the hurled desserts, let's look at Ben. Like the Halley's Comet of scripted television, he only gets an interesting storyline every seventy-six episodes, and as the series ends, he's blazing again. The show has long suggested that he's turning into Bill, what with the priesthood holding and the righteous scolding. Now, he's also got three symbolic wives. There's Heather (the Barb), a devout but troubled Mormon that he seems to love the most. There's Rhonda (the Nicki), a compound refugee with twisted emotional issues. And then there's Cara Lynn (the Margene), the naive, susceptible youngster. Ben's trying to take take care of all three women, even though it means barking at Nicki that Cara Lynn needs a psychotherapist and standing behind Heather as she tells Barb the whole truth about why the cops are snooping around. Will he keep following in his father's footsteps? Will he exit the series married to Heather, in an echo of Bill and Barb's early days? Whatever happens, he strikes me as a satellite (or perhaps a comet) -- someone floating around the central action who still has the freedom to break away.

I'm also touched by Ben's naivete. He's trying so hard to be a man, but you can see his confusion and fear as he puts up Rhonda's groceries and stands up to Nicki. Good on him, though, for supporting Heather as she confesses to Barb. And that, of course, is what makes Barb hurl a cake against a window. Shades of Black Swan! It's the season of flying sweets!

Beyond that explosion, Barb doesn't take a lot of action this week, but Jeanne Tripplehorn nails her shuddering horror when she learns that she might be indicted for "procuring." What a gross and awful word for a gross and awful thing... as though Barb were hanging around Hot Topic with a butterfly net, just waiting for Margene to come along.

The writers complicate this potential indictment when Margene and Nicki both remind Barb that she tends to want a new wife whenever she feels she needs a new friend. (She told us at the fashion show, remember, that she was excited to have Margene in the house because she'd felt lonely, and that was also her rationale for welcoming Ana last season.) So while part of Barb's nausea about these charges is based in her frustration that she's being punished for trying to live a holy life, another part is rooted in her deep-down fear that the accusations are a little bit true.

What great drama, right? As I sit here thinking about what Barb is going through, my stomach's in a knot. The poor woman: So many of her actions are taken because she's trying to stave off loneliness, and the consequence is almost always more isolation (excommunication, a re-sealing that doesn't involve her, a solo ride to the police station). When Barb takes a moment in a church, and a woman she calls "bishop" comes up and greets her, I could cheer. She deserves a friendly welcome, people! And she needs some help wiping the icing off the wall!

(Sidebar: A friend mentioned that the female bishop might belong to the feminist-leaning Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Is it meaningful that this is the only place where she finds succor this week? Where's it all going?)

Speaking of complex moments... There's hellish comedy in Goji Michael telling Margene that her family is a cult, and her family using the same argument about Goji Michael in the very next scene. Which Cult is on First?

And the fact is... they both have a point. Goji does seem like a pyramid scheme, and life in Camp Henrickson has certainly cut the wives off from their family and friends. Even though Margene chooses her family over Goji, it's easy to understand why she's still crying and confused. Like Barb, she's been set up to make some very powerful choices in the last two episodes.

Meanwhile, you'd think the choice for Cara Lynn is clear, but you know kids. A math teacher divides one fraction in the nude, and they're hooked for life. I've gotta say... I'm only interested in this story as far as it mirrors the statutory rape case that's bearing down on Bill. I can't exactly root for the thirty year-old and the barely pubescent teen, you know? If I wanted to consider the sexuality of a minor, I'd read Romeo & Juliet.

But lord have mercy... Bill. He sure does sound like a cult leader when he tells Don and Margene that they cannot leave him, evereverever. Then again, when he offers to resign from the Senate if the cops will just leave his wives alone, he seems like he's flailing in a whirlpool. And when he finds out he could go to jail for twenty years, because the District Attorney has chosen to ignore his wives and just come after him? And meanwhile, Alby's trying to buy Don's shares of HomePlus? Damn. If he were living in an ancient Greek palace, every column would be shaking.

But this has all been prologue. Nothing compares to The Nicki & Alby Show. Now that he has forced Nicki into a convent dress (!), held a gun to her head (!!), and oh yeah, murdered Verlan (!!!), I'd say Albert Grant has tangoed right over to the dark side. We've seen how he got there, of course, but there's no coming back. He's not going to get a happy ending with a boyfriend and a dog and Somewhere That's Green. He's the seething embodiment of how religion can infect a soul. He's the dark side of all Bill's tendencies toward self-aggrandizement. (He's also, sadly, the only gay character, which has some unfortunate undertones, particularly on a series that is written by so many gay people. But I digress.)

At this point, Alby may be a caricature... but I can't complain. Monsters make great TV. He's so unhinged in that tent, waving that gun around as Nicki and Verlan stand near a freshly-dug grave, that anything seems possible. He could shoot Nicki, Verlan, himself, the sky. None of it would be surprising. And after he does shoot Verlan, it's clear his rampage has just begun.

And how about the final scene of the episode, when Nicki stumbles into her house, covered in compound dirt and wrapped in a compound dress? It's one of the most powerful symbols the show has ever delivered. In an episode when her desire to get women off the compound makes her seem like a kidnapper and her desire to empower Cara Lynn makes her attack Math Teacher Greg, Nicki's appearance in a Juniper Creek dress is horrifying. Is Alby right? Is this where she'll always be from? Is all of her fighting in vain?

Kudos to writer Seth Greenland for letting us see how Nicki walked right into Alby's trap, barreling in with her bullish energy like she always does, threatening Alby and ignoring Verlan's warning, only to realize that her brother is even crazier than she is. But you know what? Nicki is alive. There's no telling what this experience will do to her, but she has survived it. Because she isn't dead, I think she's earned the right to be First Wife.

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