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Damage Control Time for the Henricksons on the Season Premiere of "Big Love"

I can't tell you how happy it makes me that HBO's Big Love is back on the air again. Always a favorite in the Televisionary household, it's an insightful and keen look inside the nature of modern families, seen through the prism of a closeted polygamist clan in sandy Utah.

Last season's finale left the Henrickson family in emotional turmoil. Barb had been outed as a polygamist at the Beehive Mother of the Year reception, in front of her family and curious onlookers; Nicki nearly had a breakdown at the thought that they had to flee before they were dragged from their houses by irate townspeople. Bill had a snake in his midst as well as employee Wendy figured out that he and Don Embry were polygamists; Bill wrongfully believes that it was Wendy who ratted Barb out (nope, it was all Roman). And Bill's sister-in-law, the delightfully cuckoo Wanda poisoned commune enforcer Alby and conspired with Bill's mother Lois to move the body.

Whew. That brings us up to date, more or less. In the season opener ("Damage Control"), things went from bad to worse as Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn, in her best role to date) retreats inside her own world and decides to move out of the three-house complex she shares with Bill, Nicki, Margene, and the kids. Faster than you can say whiplash, Barb enrolls in classes at the local university, hoping to earn credits for a Master's degree in social work, and shuns Bill altogether, after he tries to impose his will on her. You can't help but feel bad for Barb; sure, she "chose" this life with Bill and the decision to share her marriage with Nikki but one can't shake the feeling that it truly was a marriage of convenience rather than a religious experience for Barb. (The fact that Barb was dying and Roman paid for cancer treatment, using his own daughter Nicki as way for Bill and Barb to uphold their end of the bargain, goes a long way to explaining that as well.)

I loved how Margene and Nicki each tried to persuade Barb to come home in their own way. Margene attempted to emotionally blackmail Barb, putting one of the kids on the phone ("When are you coming home, Mother Barb?"), while Nicki tried to reason with her, saying that they could lock themselves in her house and not let Bill in (as she shook her head at Bill). It was a classic scene that showed both the strength and division of their union. Hell, my heart broke a little when Margene admitted to Barb that she didn't know if she could stay married to Bill and Nicki if Barb weren't there.

Say what you want about Barb walking out on Bill (at least temporarily), but she did turn up at that awkward dinner with their polygamist-hating neighbors Pam and Carl and manage to charm everyone at the table, deflecting the taint of polygamy off of Margene and putting a gloss on their chilly relationship with their nosy neighbors. To me, Boss Lady really is the true hero of the series, shouldering an insurmountable burden with a martyr's smile, reminding us of a mother's sacrifice for her family and her husband.

If I feel bad for Barb, then I can't help but feel positively crushed about her and Bill's daughter Sarah, who is trapped by her parent's decisions. (The sins of the father and all that.) Tainted by the whiff of polygamy, Sarah doesn't fit in anywhere. She disagrees with her parent's decision and doesn't hold her father's religious convictions, instead turning towards a support group for ex-Mormons, where she once again encounters prejudice and lack of acceptance. I'm glad that Sarah is taking a stand and reaching out for support, though I do wish that her friend Heather Tuttle (the incomparable Tina Majorino) had played a role in last night's episode. But perhaps it was all the more telling that Sarah went by herself to the support group, even if she did so under an assumed name. And she did find some support from Scott, who offered to find her someone to talk to.

Meanwhile, Nicki... is going to get all of them in some major trouble. She's still playing both sides against each other and just turned the nasty conflict between Bill and Wendy into something else altogether when she made it clear to her mother Adaleen that this woman is a thorn in her side. Cue menacing black HumVee, which terrorizes Wendy and causes her to crash her car in the parking lot of Home Plus. I LOVED the fact that Adaleen brought Nicki a gun, concealed in... a Tupperware container. If that's not the perfect image of suburban angst, I don't know what is.

Roman and Alby still terrify me. Especially Roman (Harry Dean Stanton), with his snake oil salesman grin and aura of self-entitled, pathological eeeevil. But then again I suppose it can go to your head when someone, outside your meeting, is shouting how you are the true prophet and will lead them to heaven. Loved that Alby knows that Wanda and Lois had something to do with his poisoning but can't remember what happened at Wanda and Joey's that day. Still, once Alby's fully recovered, there's going to be hell to pay. And we all know that Bill's screw-up of a brother Joey is the weak link...

Next week on Big Love ("Writing on the Wall"): Bill is forced to rethink the latest Home Plus advertising campaign when a billboard is defaced with anti-polygamist graffiti; Wendy pays Barb a visit; the family forgets Nicki's anniversary; Roman makes his move to divide and conquer the Henrickson clan by forcing Joey to betray Bill.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); America's Got Talent (NBC; 8-10 pm); Gilmore Girls (CW); On the Lot (FOX)

9 pm: The Unit (CBS); Veronica Mars (CW); House (FOX)

10 pm: 48 Hours Mystery (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC)

What I'll Be Watching

9 pm: MI-5 on BBC America.

Missed MI-5 (aka Spooks) the first time it aired (if you can call it that?) in the US on A&E? BBC America is giving you a second chance to catch this taut espionage series from the beginning. On tonight's episode ("One Last Dance"), Zoe is held captive when a Kurdish terrorist group seizes control of the Turkish Embassy in order to demand the release of certain prisoners.

9 pm: Veronica Mars.

I'm still so bloody angry at the CW I can taste it. But before Veronica Mars disappears off the airwaves completely, catch the few summer repeats while they last. On tonight's repeat episode ("Wichita Linebacker"), Veronica attempts to locate a missing playbook to prevent a football player from losing his place on the team, while Keith hires Weevil to keep him from returning to a life of crime.

Comments

ticknart said…
While I think that any time Tina Majorino's character shows up on Big Love the show (which is great) gets a little better, I don't think she would have been right to help Sarah through her problems. Heather's a good friend, and she doesn't like the idea of polygamy, but she's also a pretty devout Mormon. She would probably have pushed Sarah toward the church, rather than let Sarah find her own way through the mess her parents have put on her.

Still, I hope that Heather doesn't stay away too long.
Anonymous said…
Yay! I'm so glad that Big Love is back. Last night's episode reminded me exactly why I love the show so much...the interplay between the wives during Barb's departure was funny and sad and completely engaging. The writing and acting are so sharp and unpretentious in this show, which always makes it a joy to watch (even if you're squirming under Roman's snake-like stare)! This definitely is the best family drama on TV today.
Anonymous said…
What a great way to start the season. Everything I love about the show from last season was there, and the episode also propelled us into a new season.

"("When are you coming home, Mother Barb?")," - a small moment, but a big example of why I love this show so much.
Anonymous said…
I agree with, well, EVERYTHING you say here, but especially this: "Boss Lady really is the true hero of the series, shouldering an insurmountable burden with a martyr's smile." The scenes of her in the swimming pool, slamming her hands through the surface, were almost suffocating in intensity.

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