Welcome to last installment of Wife Watch!, the blog post that will name, once and for all, the most powerful wife on Big Love.
So here we are. The end of the road. My journey with Big Love has been bumpy, but now that the car has stopped and I know we're not going to hit a guardrail, I'm glad I went on the ride. There were problems, yes, and fights, but all in all, the show was always engrossing. If nothing else, it demanded a response, which is more than I can say for most of the stuff on TV.
My whole fractious relationship with this series is crystallized right here in the final episode, "Where Men and Mountains Meet." Let's work backwards from the final image, since the ending is always so important to understanding the middle and the beginning.
The last things we see are the three Henrickson Homes, still standing like they were in the pilot. They could've been burned down or blown apart or who knows what else, but they weren't. Like the family itself, they remain.
And how appropriate that each house is so strongly identified with one of the three wives. Sure, all the houses were technically " Bill's house," but he floated between them, never quite having the same dominion over any one structure as the women who lived in them full-time. That idea resonates with the penultimate scene, when we see the three wives hugging each other in a circle, living and strong and united, as Bill's ghost flickers behind them. He's present, yes, but the women are the ones carrying on. (And for the second season in a row, our final look at the wives shows them in coats -- one red, one white, one blue. Are these women America? I leave that to you.)
That circle of women sums up what I love about the finale: It's suffused with this wonderful grace, letting Barb become a priesthood holder and the head of Bill's church after Carl murders him on the street; letting Margene travel around the world do works (with a really cute haircut); and letting Nicki get the stability she's been craving. It also lets the family reunite: We see Sarah in the kitchen, right after her new baby has been blessed in the church by Barb (a major function for a priesthood holder.) We hear that Teeny is in the bathroom (we'll miss you, girl!). We see that Cara Lynn and Heather have stuck around, as have Ben and Scott and all the young 'uns.
In one sense, then, the series says, "Families will thrive if we allow women to be equal, to be free and blessed and honored." And hey... that's great. God knows, when Bill asks Barb for a blessing as he's bleeding on the road, I'm incredibly moved. What a wonderful final gesture, what a wonderful evolution. It all starts, of course, when Bill is standing before his newly vibrant church, filled with polygamists who were inspired by his bold introduction of a Senate bill to re-legalize polygamy. As he looks around the room, he sees not only his parishoners -- including Barb, who ultimately can't join another church -- but also the spirits of Mormon ancestors.
And who is the oldest spirit he sees? Is it Joseph Smith? No... it's Joseph's wife, Emma, whom we met during Bill's fever dream a few weeks ago. The oldest spirit in the room is a woman, and that helps Bill see that women are central to the power of his faith. Then he goes home and writes a new declaration for his church, which we can assume states that women can hold the priesthood and even lead the entire congregation. Before he dies, we sense Bill changing, and as he dies, he makes that change manifest by asking Barb for a blessing. Again, I'm moved by the act and by the larger message it implies.
But also... doesn't that imply that men are just standing in the way? By choosing to let Bill die, and then following his death with scenes of great renewal for the wives, the series seems to say, "Hey, polygamy is great because it creates supportive communities of women. The only problem is those pesky men. If we just shoot them (or in Alby's case, lock them up) and give all the power to the ladies, then everything will be okay."
That troubles me. My partner Andrew also raises a good question: What happens when Margene meets a new man on her World Tour For Peace? Or when Barb falls in love? Or Nicki? What happens then? The series doesn't answers these questions, and it doesn't really have to, but as it's presenting its vision of female empowerment, those questions nag at me all the same. Surely the answer isn't merely just getting rid of the dudes.
I'm also wondering if Frank killed himself after he injected Lois, whose death struck me as an uncomfortable mix of dignity and resignation. That's not a bad thing, though, since there's no point in pretending she had any easy choices.
There are smaller questions that bug me, too -- Who watched the kids while the wives went joyriding in Barb's new car? Why did that awkward speech from Nicki seem to make Cara Lynn forgive her? -- but they seem nitpicky compared to the sweeping ambition of the final act. Still and all, I'm glad I watched, and like I said, I'm glad I watched the show. Flawed? Yes. Boring? Never. Occasionally exhilarating? Damn right. And don't forget wonderfully acted.
And finally... it's clear that for the episode, the season, and the series, Barb is the First Wife. When you end the show leading a church, then you're definitely going out on top.
With that, I'd like to thank all of you for joining me on the Wife Watch! journey. I have loved discussing this show with you, and I am incredibly honored to be part of the conversation. Look for the return of True Blood Sucker Punch this summer. (It won't be at HuffPo, but it will be at my website The Critical Condition and one other location to be announced shortly.) And hey, maybe HBO will deliver another great series in the fall that can reunite us once again!
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