04/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

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

Welcome to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this week's episode of Big Love.

It's time to climb into the clown car, because "Sins of the Father," the midpoint of Season 5, is a full-on Polygamy Circus.

And... like... I love this show? And I look forward to it? But this episode is not my favorite. Even though they drop Alby and Adaleen and Ghost Prophet and Wanda's CukooBananaPants Revue for a week, the writers still shove too much story in a tiny, tiny hour. Massive developments flicker by in a second, barely registering before they make way for the next crisis, and because there are so many big events, there's no sense of pacing or focus. It's just one heart attack after another.

Case in point: Barb's arc in this episode is fascinating. After she discovers that Margene intentionally kissed Ben and that Bill exiled Ben just as he himself was exiled, she actually admits that she's one step from "loony bin." Then she calls Margene a "flirt" (burn!) and topples a table of her jewelry. Then she gets up in Bill's grill for what he did to Ben and even storms out on him during the party nomination vote. Then she seeks refuge in a Native American sweat lodge with Tommy, and you get the impression that she's looking at his glistening chest just a little too long.

That is a lot of plot, sister! Yet it feels stuffed into the episode's cracks. There are scenes where Barb swoops in for one second, hisses something at Bill, that hustles out of the scene so that the next character can pop on and say something to him. It's like Bill's in a receiving line, and all he's receiving is plot devices.

Meanwhile, Nicki's the victim of dubious writing. Like, in what universe can we accept that she appears at a party election and successfully manages to work for both candidates at once? The vote is held in a public school, not a sports stadium, yet even in those close quarters, no one figures her out. Not even after Marilyn shows up, remembers her from D.C., and keeps calling her Daphne. It's all too convenient, just like it's too convenient that everyone Bill has ever known just happens to show up at the casino at the same time. This pileup of coincidences suggest the writers were so blinded by their predetermined goals for the episode that they forget to make it feasible.

Anyway... Nicki. She at least gets some great laugh lines, from her concern that she is always asked to do "morally ambiguous" things to her exuberant willingness to scold Margene without even knowing why she's in trouble. (Side note: I love how even when they're angry, no one on this show will actually curse. Eff you, Barb!)

Meanwhile, I give Margene props for getting Bill's forgiveness, standing up for herself to Barb and Nicki and Ben, and saucily refusing to let Bill make her the fall guy for Ben's outcastery. Now, I don't r accept that she meets a senator on the casino floor and suddenly becomes his arm candy, but hey... by the time that scene rolls around, I can barely tell what's going on anyway. At the very least, I can see that Margene is sharpening her skills as a self-preservationist.

The sloppy writing for the women's roles makes more sense, of course, when I consider that this episode is really about the men. Of all the stories flying around, Bill's works best, and while I know this episode was filmed weeks ago, I'd like to believe the creators heard us chastising Bill for his arrogance and that's why he finally shows a little humility here. But whatever the reason, I'm happy to see him getting over himself, getting called on his b.s., and acknowledging that he can make mistakes. That "I'm a So-Called 'Lost Boy'" speech is really beautiful, and it makes me remember to have sympathy for this man who was tossed out by his father and forced to become a criminal. (Also... do you think he was a prostitute? That's totally what I think he means when he says he did lots of things to survive that he wasn't proud of. But maybe I'm a gutter-butt. I don't know.)

Where was I? Oh yes... Bill grows on me in this episode. Despite the super-cliche ending---Bill gives an honest speech that wins him the nomination---this sets him up to become more compelling.

(Pulling back, I can also see that the writers may have wanted to assault Bill with every problem in his life so that he would be forced to break down. But you know... three fewer dilemmas would have been just as effective.)

After all this, though, I'm not giving the First Wife crown to any of these suckers. Nope, that title goes to Marilyn. She may not be married to a person, but she's sure as hell married to the political system. She rises out of this episode's chaos like a cobra rising out of a basket, surveying what's around her and waiting for perfect moment to spit poison. When she tells Bill that she's going to take a pound of his flesh, I believe her, and his continuing inability to appreciate her power bodes for serious drama to come. She clearly owns the atlas to this world, while Bill, with his dinky Ronald Reagan parties, barely has a street map. That kind of power gets her the crown.

For more, join me at The Critical Condition