Welcome to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this week's episode of Big Love.
So here we are at "Exorcism," the penultimate episode of the entire series. As we begin our journey through its twisting halls, I'd like to ask you a hypothetical question...
If you were walking through your backyard and saw a distraught teenager burning all her books on a barbecue grill while sobbing that she was useless, would you run upstairs to check on her mom? Or would you, I don't know, stay with the girl before she burned down the house or decided she had a taste for barbecued housecat?
More to the point: Wouldn't Margene or Barb or Bill stay with Cara Lynn as she was freaking out like that? Doesn't it strain credulity that they'd all rush after Nicki as she breaks down about her daughter's shame and self-loathing? One or two of them, sure, but all of them? That may create a lovely scene of the four main characters gathered together in a moment of support, but it ignores both the logic of storytelling and the history of the characters we've been watching.
Those two problems -- logical lapses and character inconsistency -- plague this episode. They've plagued the entire season, really, but this episode is so frantic, so full of plot lines that have to be wrapped up nownownow that the problems are impossible to ignore. It strikes me that things are happening because the creative team has decided they should happen and not because they flow naturally from the story we've been told. (You may remember this occurring all the way through Season 4.)
For instance... Cara Lynn's breakdown. Taking the large view, it is symbolically valuable for this character -- the young girl blossoming into womanhood -- to collapse in a heap. She's been straddling the line between polygamous and mainstream worlds, and since we've already seen Sarah (another blossoming young woman) choose the mainstream world, it's interesting to see Cara Lynn go in a different direction. If Sarah represents the ability to escape conflicting identities, then Cara Lynn represents the inability to do so. She's caught in a devastating limbo, accepted by none, yet manipulated by all.
And given all that -- plus that fact that her mom just discovered her affair with Math Teacher Greg -- a breakdown seemed inevitable anyway, right? So why send Nicki into her room to deliver a crazy Mommy Dearest speech about what a manipulator she is, topped off with a plot to send her to crazy Mormon boot camp? Why let Nicki become such a gorgon?
My issues with Nicki hardly stop there. This episode clarifies how cartoonish she's become this season, what with her raging narcissism and sour decrees. Like a sitcom character, she reacts to pretty much every situation in the same way---with a disgusted, harsh comment that obviously serves her interests. Lord knows, I've enjoyed this quality in her many times, but when it pushes her to make ludicrously hateful speeches, followed by thunderingly obvious rants about how she is the root of her daughter's shame... well, I'm off the train. I do occasionally need my crazy leavened with love, and whereas I used to get that (remember when Nicki helped Sarah through her miscarriage?), I just don't anymore.
Which leads me to something my partner said as we watched this episode: Where is the "love" in Big Love? For two seasons now, people have screamed at each other about how much they love one another, but their actions have undercut their words at every turn. I'm rooting for people to get the hell out of the Henrickson family, and that's because I don't see anything worth sticking around for. Every moment is questioned by Barb, overdramatized by Margene, sniped at by Nicki, or sanctimoniously dismissed by Bill. Instead of support, the family offers guilt and shame, blended with one titanically stupid choice after another. What are they even fighting for anymore?
Rrrgh! I'm also frustrated by the constant bait-and-switch of this season. The show keeps promising that someone will take a big action and actually change the family dynamic, but then... nothing. Lois is going to kill Frank? No! She's almost going to kill him several times. Margene is going to develop a business? No! She's going to drop it just as it's about to alter her situation. Bill's going to prison? No! We're just going to talk about it all the damn time. Barb is going to act on her new faith? No! She's just going to repeat herself every damn episode, saying, "I'm searching" or "I'm questioning" without actually doing anything. Stagnation! So much stagnation!
And good lord, even the last scene of this episode is a cheat. Alby and Bill finally have their face-off in the courthouse. The guns come out. The lights go horror-movie red. People start shooting. Bill stands over Alby, who's been wounded, and prepares to fire. Nicki whispers, "Do it!" And I whisper "Do it! Then something will happen!"
And instead... nothing. Bill just stands there. Meanwhile, Alby has fired at Margene from point blank range and missed.
This half-assery echoes an earlier scene, where Bill and Barb run across Alby and Adaleen in a Juniper Creek gas station. The episode teases us that Adaleen is going to shoot Bill. Once Bill chases Alby into the back, Adaleen pulls her gun on Barb... a potential substitute for Bill. And what happens next? We see Bill almost fight Alby behind the store, then we hear a gunshot from inside... and soon learn that Barb somehow took Adaleen's gun. No one actually got shot. So again... back to neutral.
I'm not saying I want someone to get shot, but I do want something to change. And Margene quitting Goji doesn't count, because that just takes her back to neutral, too.
So to review... As the series chooses fighting over love and stagnation over change, the characters become cartoonish grotesques who are trapped in ever-escalating patterns of behavior.
Is there any way out of this trap in next week's series finale? I don't know. I'm hopeful, because I've generally enjoyed this season, but I'm not expecting miracles. Just a few honest moments would do.
Oh... and this week's first wife? I'm going with Heather, who hurls a milkshake at Ben and storms away after learning that he wants to date her and Rhonda at the same time. (Looks like my theory about Ben becoming Bill was spot on.) Her response makes sense and signals change. Granted, she might show up next week with a prairie dress and three matching wedding rings, but for now, she's First Wife.
NOTE: Next week, I will not only name the First Wife for the episode and the season... but also for the entire series! Oooh!