Welcome to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this week's episode of Big Love.
Sorry for the delay this week---life got hectic---but for the rest of the series, you can expect to see Wife Watch! on Wednesdays.
And now, on with this week's episode, "The Oath," which has considerable highs and considerable lows.
If you've been reading Wife Watch! since the beginning, then you'll know that for me, nothing is higher, nothing is greater, nothing is more joyous than the return of Rhonda, my favorite crafty gal who was last seen warbling "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." before getting shipped off to a faraway compound where Roman couldn't reach her.
Since then, we've met J.J. and Cara Lynn and other residents of Juniper Creek North, so it's easier to imagine what Rhonda's life was like while she was off spot-welding or whatever it was they asked her to do.
The genius of Rhonda's reintroduction is that at first, she seems like a different person: Her polygamy hair has highlights, she's got a baby, and she seems happily married to Cara Lynn's cousin Verlan. What's more, this family is introduced as a blessing for Cara Lynn. They're the only people from her compound who will still talk to her, and as Cassi Thomson's performance makes clear, she's thrilled to have a connection to her old life. Because Thomson makes Cara Lynn so likable, the heart wants to welcome Verlan and Rhonda for her sake.
That's wonderfully disorienting because... really? Isn't Rhonda a Five Star Freak? Has she become a loving mother with a husband who joins her in supporting the outcast members of...
... wait. Hold up. Verlan's taking Cara Lynn off the the side, feeding her some story about losing his wallet and needing cash. And then he's letting his lonely teenage cousin, who's so desperate for acceptance that she'll do anything to please him, give him every cent she has.
Aaaaand we're back. Rhonda's still crazy... and she's got a partner. YES!
I love this girl's villainy. She's like Cruella de Vil in gingham, and by the end of the episode, when she and Verlan are trying to blackmail Alby, it's obvious that she's stepped up her game. Verlan seems like an excellent co-pilot, too. He gives Alby a long stare before he leaves his office, and it's loaded with threats and promises. The stare says something like, "Yeah, we made out in Papaw's hay loft, and I've still got your tubesocks to prove it." I cannot wait to see where this goes.
And speaking of long, loaded stares, what's up with Math Teacher Greg in the food court? He's clearly told his parents something about Cara Lynn that he doesn't want her to know. Don't be surprised if he's not even a math teacher, but part of an elite squad of Compound Busters who rush smart girls to top secret locations where they can compete in academic tournaments.
Meanwhile...Lois and Adaleen continue to symbolize how compound life destroys women. Lois learns she has dementia because of an untreated STD that she likely contracted from Frank. Polygamy, then, is literally eating her brain. And Adaleen, back to her scheming ways, is now stationed outside the trailer where Sister Wives can report abuses to the government's Safety Net program. Like a protestor at an abortion clinic (which Mary Kay Place played in the fabulous satire Citizen Ruth, by the way), she takes pictures of every woman who dares go inside. Polygamy has made her so afraid of being cast out that she now oppresses women who are just like her.
Which leads me to Nicki, who continues to be one of the best characters on television. This week, as usual, she's acting on good intentions in psychotic ways.
For instance, it's great that she's trying to spare Cara Lynn the nightmare of her own compound past, but it's really boneheaded to push an adoption on everyone without waiting one hot second to let people adjust to the idea.
I also appreciate that in the aftermath of Margene's revelation that she was only sixteen when she married Bill, Nicki feels like her family resembles the life she escaped at Juniper Creek. But it's unhelpful to turn that fear into gossip-mongering.
Of course, "unhelpful" is also "entertaining:" I live for the scenes where the three wives fight in public places, and the throwdown at the fashion show---with Barb's estranged sister in the background!---is a classic. Bill can't stand to touch you, Margene! Well, I prefer Margene to you, Nicki! Buy my Goji drink and let me be self-actualized in my choices, Barb and Nicki! Nicki's insistence on pushing buttons makes these scenes possible.
Unfortunately, this episode can't maintain that satisfying tension. Eventually, it descends to the phony theatrics of Margene hitting Bill with her car. Now, I accept that she tries to have a "family evening" at six in the morning and that she's freaking out because telling the truth about her age has clearly made Bill stop looking at her.
What I do not accept, however, is that she's childish enough to barge in on Barb's fashion show or Bill's Congressional work and insist that everyone drop what they're doing to discuss her problems. That just doesn't jibe with the Margene we've seen before, the Margene who had the control and good sense to handle Ana's secrets and Ben's attraction to her. When she runs Bill over in the parking lot, it seems like the writers are working backward. It's like they started with the scene where the senators move up the swearing in, and then they needed to explain why Bill couldn't be there... so they came up with the cheap device of a car accident.
Really, almost everything about Bill's Congressional career feels cheap to me. Plausibility is often denied in favor of metaphorical statements. A friend of mine has noted, for instance, that no Congressman, no matter how unpopular, would be without a staff, yet the show is so fixated on turning Bill into a lone warrior that it ignores that. I also find it difficult to accept that a Congressional body would purposely rearrange a swearing in, thus denying an elected official his seat. But when you need Bill and his family to make a noble entrance in the final act, that stuff has to happen.
Even moments based in truth feel phony here. Utah senators really can carry concealed weapons into Congressional chambers, but when Bill and Senator Dwyer compare pieces, it plays like awkward comedy.
But the biggest problem is that the show keeps trying to cast Bill as a hero. In the final scene, for instance, he strides into the Capitol and says, "Persecuting me violates your own scripture. It makes you all hypocrites and traitors to our history. "
Um... excuse me? Hypocrites? Polygamist or not, Bill lied and manipulated his way into office. As Don suggests, he lied and manipulated his way into Margene's pants. Time and again, he cloaks his venality, arrogance, and greed in the language of holy inspiration, thus debasing himself, his family, and the very faith he swears supports his behavior. That's hypocritical, Bill, so don't get up there and point the finger.
You know... it's possible that the creative team wants me to feel this way, that they want the conflicts to inform my understanding of the show, but if that's so, then they need to stop pushing the Inspiration Button so hard.
With my objections on the table, however, I do commend Barb for forcing her way onto the Senate floor and helping Bill get sworn in. I also admire her calm in the face of the Nicki and Margene's dust-up at the fashion show and her desire to attend that fashion show in the first place. Barb's decisive actions make obvious change, and that once again makes her First Wife.