03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Big Love Wife Watch!: Season Four, Ep. 1


Welcome back to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that names this week's most powerful wife on Big Love.

I've missed these recaps, and I've missed this show... so I'm happy to take another dip in Juniper Creek, staring dreamily at the women in their polygamy hair and wondering if anyone is developing a Broadway show called Joy Book!: A Sing-sastional New Musical.

Before we crown Season Four's inaugural First Wife, for the episode "Free At Last," you might want to look at the final Wife Watch! of Season Three, just as a refresher. Lord knows, it took me a minute to remember everyone's names when I watched the show on Sunday night. Also? I was even more confused because I accidentally DVRd the episode off HBO Latino. Let me tell you, hearing dubbed Spanish come out of Nikki's mouth was a trip.

Fortunately, HBO reruns episodes like it's the law, so after a few minutes of El Amor Grande, I was able to watch the full English-language version.

And lord have mercy... things are going down! This week's episode finds every character in some kind of crisis, so the First Wife title goes less to the woman who's got it all together and more to the woman who is the least out of control.

Which means Barb is off the list. Remember a few years ago, when she was almost named Utah's mother of the year? That seems like a different woman, right? Now that she's been excommunicated from her church and thrust into an uncomfortable position as the wife of a casino boss, Barb is adrift. Her conflicts with Bill's Native American casino partners---we must have crab legs!---are both petty and poignant, since they underscore the sudden slackness of her grip.

But I sympathize. I mean, the poor woman is also trying to worship in a new church that just happens to be run by her husband, her son Ben, and her husband's best friend. Last season, it seemed like Bill was starting to admit that he doesn't know everything, but based on his insistence in this episode that he handle absolutely everything from the casino's business to Nikki's problems with her ex-husband, we can assume that his status in his new church has reinflated his ego. And I'm guessing Ben is going to step up his sanctimonious, "daddy love me" behavior, since it's obvious he's desperate for his father's attention. If Bill doesn't acknowledge Ben's new Christian rock band soon, the kid may end up forming his storefront church called the Temple of Papa's Approval.

I mention all this because I suspect Barb's immediate family will continue pushing her off balance. Toss in Sarah's hesitancy to embrace the family's new religion, and you've got a tornado of conflict swirling overhead. (Let's begin our season-long mourning, by the way, that Amanda Seyfried has announced this will be her last season on the show.) I assume Barb will have a major collapse by Valentine's Day.

Of course, she could turn out like Lois, who makes a strong grab for the First Wife crown. You've gotta respect a woman who responds to adversity by making a small fortune as an ethically shady dealer of exotic birds. If this enterprise affected more than just her, I'd be tempted to give her the crown.

Of course, Lois did lose some status when she placated Frank by cutting him in on her profits.

And by the way... I'm dubious about the Frank-Lois storyline. It's a little one-note, you know? Girl meets boy. Boy acts sweet, then abusive. Girl pulls a gun. Rinse. Repeat. Can we mix it up a little? Or send Frank away for a while?

The writers may have to send Frank away, because there's apparently a new crazy couple in town. The reliably creepy Zeljko Ivanek is listed in the new opening credits sequence (more on that in a minute), which suggests that his character J.J., long-lost first husband of Nikki, will be around for a while. I say bring it on! I love that he and Nikki still have sexual tension and that their daughter Cara Lynn is playing both parents to get what she wants.

And now Nikki is negotiating her status in three families, which may explain why she feels wobbly in all of them. For instance, she's clearly proud that Cara Lynn is a math genius---and I loved watching Chloe Sevigny's performance when she announced that news---but she's uncertain on how to mother a girl she just met.

Meanwhile, Nikki's not sleeping with Bill and is barely back in the good graces of Margie and Barb. And she's caught in the middle of this "Roman's dead and Adaleen put his body in the freezer" brouhaha. The poor woman cannot catch a break. Everyone wants something from her, but everyone resents her for trying to give other people what they ask of her. In trying to belong to everyone, she's alienating herself across the board.

Nikki dominates my sense of this entire series because, really, she's living in the ultimate blended family. Everywhere she turns, she's got another intimate relationship, yet that's causing her identity to fracture, not coalesce into multi-clan bliss. Her character embodies the show's biggest questions: How big can love really be? How do we handle the mess of so many hearts?

But you know who isn't asking herself those questions right now? Margene. Sure, her home shopping show is a little dubious, but whatever... her sassy Southern boss clearly likes her and will give her time to get back on track. Meanwhile, she's popular at the casino and she's confidently manipulating Barb into doing more work there. As Barb said, she's blossoming.

And who am I to deny a blossoming flower? As we kick off season four, Margene is First Wife.

Sidebar: Let's talk about the new opening credits sequence. Now, it's not like the old one, with the ice skating and the cosmos, was a masterpiece... but is this an improvement? Characters slow-falling through negative space while they make "meaningful" faces at the camera... it reminds me of a low-budget music video from the early nineties. Next week, trying muting the credits and playing Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" while you watch. Perfect fit, right? But I'm not sure Big Love should channel the spirit of Simon Le Bon.