The Big Review: Big Love Season 3, Ep. 4 (Spoilers)

05/25/2011 01:05 pm ET

If this episode of Big Love is a little disappointing, it's partly because last week's installment was so gobsmackingly good. Anything short of the Six Feet Under finale (or that Lafayette scene in True Blood) would've been a comedown.

But still, while it has some excellent moments, this episode, "On Trial," lacks the show's usual cohesion. Whereas last week's multiple plot strands were elegantly twisted around a single theme ,most of the stories in this segment are sloppy.

I mean, I understand the shock value of learning that Lois lives in her car, but the feet-only shot of her urinating outside is needlessly provocative. What does that teach us about her situation that we don't learn from seeing her dirt-smudged face as she wakes up in her backseat, on the run from the vengeful husband she tried to kill? There's no reason to oversell the fact that she's living like an animal.

Similarly, why is the montage of Margene dancing herself into a frenzy so long? After several scenes of her attempts to imitate her dead mother---including flirting Don Embry, of all people---it's clear that she's having grief issues. Do the endless smash cuts of her sweaty hip-shaking really add to the revelation?

(Oh, and on that note... I joked about it in yesterday's Wife Watch!, but it's cheap to have Margene mimic her mother by sexy-dancing to the song "Take Your Mama." I guess they couldn't get the rights to "(I Just) Died In Your Arms." Curse you, Cutting Crew!)

Anyway, the excess information is highlighted by David Knoller's clunkily-paced direction. To be fair, my research tells me this is his first time directing a full-length episode, but still... scenes like the moment where Barb and Bill's mothers chastise their children for proposing to Ana never hit their stride. In that scene, Bill walks to each of his wives to declare his love for them, meaning Bill Paxton has to maneuver an obstacle course of set pieces and fellow actors. His physical roadblocks are so dominant they pull focus from the storytelling.

Yet the episode does have resonant moments. Nicky's shady motivations grow more fascinating every week, and I appreciate that we still don't know exactly what she wants. Because the show trusts us to accept the slow development of her feelings, we can be surprised when she, oh, pushes her elderly father down a flight of stairs. It's clear from Chloe Sevigny's acting that Nicky assaults him for a reason, but it's possible even she's not sure what that reason is.

Likewise. Sarah's thousand reactions to her pregnancy are refreshingly dense: Her research on giving the baby to a religious family is a reminder that her "teen rebellion" is complicated by her upbringing, but her irritation with Mormon parenting and her unspoken-yet-obvious consideration of abortion make her ultimate choice impossible to predict.

Unlike, say, the no-brainer obviousness of Rhonda's storyline. Of course she takes Adaleen's bribe money, and of course she hitchhikes to L.A. to push her demo tape. And because this is TV, of course the trucker who gives her a ride is a dirty, dirty child molester.

Sigh. Normally, the show is above that kind of cliche.

Episode Grade: C