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Schemers and Dreamers: Lucky Charms, Cancer Scares, and Brood Mares on "Big Love"

Is it just me or is this season of HBO's Big Love shaping up to be the very best one the series has done to date? Taut, suspenseful, and emotionally resonant, Season Three has ramped up the drama and tension that have been slowly building over the last two seasons; every episode is a paragon of subtle narrative storytelling and serialized sizzle.

While you've already read my advance review of Season Three's first three episodes of Big Love, you've now seen the third season's second episode ("Empire") last night so we can get discuss specifics.

Last night's superlative episode of Big Love, written by series creators Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen, featured a mix of both good and bad news for the Henricksons as Bill made his case for the Indian casino, the family started dating Ana as a group, Roman blackmailed Bill, Barb received news about her health, and Sarah made a shocking discovery. So, just another day for everyone's favorite polygamist clan then?

Nikki. I cannot believe that Nikki is deliberately trying not to get pregnant and is willfully deceiving both Bill and her fellow sister wives by secretly taking birth control pills. Interestingly, Nikki tells Adeleen that she saw how Adeleen resented her children by making her more mother than wife to her father but is that really why Nikki is going to such lengths? She's always been extremely self-serving (though I do have to say that her fear and concern for Barb's health was genuine and heartfelt) and manipulative but also been portrayed as a true believer in their religion, which states that the purpose of wives is to expand the family. So what's the real reason? Is it a quiet form of rebellion? A way for Nikki to gain control over her destiny and her life by not becoming a brood mare? What do you think?

Margene. Even after becoming Bill's good luck charm with Weber Gaming and finding a calling for herself in sales, Margene proves that she is far more self-sacrificing than Nikki as she tells Barb that she'll put her professional life on hold to become a mother again. The scene in the fertility clinic between her and Barb was as touching as it was sad. Their sisterhood is meant to be supportive and nurturing and each to make sacrifices for the other. That she would choose to expand their family once more so soon after giving birth to a baby while Nikki goes to great lengths not to get pregnant really shows major character growth for Margene.

Barb. I'm really happy that Barb isn't facing another cancer reoccurence and that the diagnosis was negative. Like Margene, she put her family before herself, pushing Bill to make his intentions to date Ana clear in case something should happen to her and concealing her health scare from everyone--even Bill--so as not to jeopardize the fragile balance of the family at a more than difficult time. The look of sadness on Barb's face when she realized that she would have to tell Bill she was in the hospital was profound... as was the look of dawning realization when she realized just what she had done in pursuing Ana, even though she herself wasn't sick after all. That final shot of Barb, surrounded by the family's children, her sister wives, Bill, and Ana but standing alone, was absolutely heartbreaking as she learned that she wasn't sick but realized that she had altered the fabric of their family for no reason. It doesn't point to good times ahead for Boss Lady.

Sarah. Well, now we know another reason why Sarah is so desperate to get out of Utah and away from her family and Scott: she's pregnant. Dumping the news that she wants to attend school in Arizona (despite the family being strapped with the casino business and Weber), Sarah then breaks up with Scott outside the creepy runaway home (a.k.a. The Butt Hut) and is later seen crying while holding a copy of a pregnancy book. Poor Sarah. She, along with Barb, have got to be the most tragic figures in this story and I don't think that the Henricksons are going to be very supportive when they learn that their teenage daughter is carrying her boyfriend's child. Not good.

The Butt Hut. How entirely creepy was that house for compound exiles/runaways? I was surprised that Sarah would want to go there with her friends and Frankie but I didn't quite expect to see what they encounter there: a mix of "pure" girls waiting out the time until they are eighteen and can return to the compound and the misfit boys kicked off the compound, clearly engaging in drugs, alcohol, and sex. And, quelle surprise, Granny herself--Wanda--happens to live there in a room decorated with a collage of photographs of herself.

Roman. I can't believe that Roman would threaten to expose Bill's family yet again if he didn't deign to become his Errand Boy. Yes, Roman is against the wall and facing not only man's justice but his own mortality, but he proved once again that his protection of Nikki only goes so far as his own self-preservation. And of course it all comes down, once again, to schemer and opportunist Rhonda Volmer...

Lois. I literally gasped when Frank threw Lois against the wall and began to strangle her. Their messed up realtionship has been at the heart of Big Love since the very first episode and Bill's entire character has been shaped by Frank's decision to kick him off of the compound as a teenager. That thirty years of betrayal and rage would be crystalized in this one moment (complete with Wanda blindly thrusting in the air with a chef's knife) was absolutely perfect... and that Frank would be knocked to the ground with a shovel held by Frankie's mom only fitting. That scene of Frank bound and gagged in Lois' basement definitely points towards a reckoning coming between them and if I were Frank I'd be very, very scared.

Don. Poor Don. Bill's never been very supportive of him throughout the last two seasons (or very nice to him) but he made up for it this week, lending his old friend his support and trust when he told Don to seek the bank loan for the casino, after two of Don's wives ran off with their kids. The hug that they share before Ben's flag-raising ceremony was touching and heartfelt. I'm glad that the series' writers are dealing with Don and Peg's relationship more and I am interested to see where they take the former polygamists now that they are forced into monogamy against their will.

Wanda. Bill's sister-in-law is clearly becoming unhinged once again, as she threatens to harm Kathy if Alby doesn't reassign her... but Alby has unknowingly tipped his hand when he tells Wanda that he will be very displeased (and even send her someplace far away) if anything happens to Kathy. Wanda's already suspicious about what Joey and Kathy are whispering about and she knows that the Jane Doe defendants against Roman Grant are being protected. I do think she's put two and two together and realized that Kathy is going to testify against Roman... but will she out her sister wife?

Ana. I think it's abundantly clear that the life of plural marriage doesn't suit Ana, as much as she might claim she's open to it. The two "group dates" that the family goes on with Ana are both a disaster. The first time she's questioned about "bone meal" and other bizarre topics, though she does get, as Nikki says, "the front seat and endless refills" of soda. The second time, she's deserted by everyone at the communal table, alone in the shared backyard. I just don't see a future for her with the family, no matter how hard everyone tries to win her over.

Best line of the evening: "Wanda, why are you massaging that bird's anus with a Q-Tip?" - Lois

Next week on Big Love ("Prom Queen"), Bill attempts to bribe Rhonda into going underground at Roman's behest; Bill's commitment towards Ana is tested; Margene receives some disturbing news about Ginger; Wanda reveals a long-buried secret about Nicki's past.

Comments

Anonymous said…
The first two episodes of this season have been brilliant. I don't know how they're able to cram so much into an episode without it ever feeling rushed. Each storyline is given so much thought and care and the performances have been truly fantastic.

The scene you mentioned at the end, when Barb receives the good news that her cancer has not returned, was perfect. I love how Barb smiles at Bill and he smiles at Nikki and Barb looks at her family only to set her gaze on Anna. And, in that split second, without any dialogue, we see exactly what's going through her mind - What have I done? Incredible!
Unknown said…
With each of the "dating scenes" I find myself hoping that Ana pulls herself away from this mess, and runs towards freedom. And I don't think my reaction stems from compassion for her, or for Barb (the wife I feel most empathy for )but rather, towards the goal of deflating Bill's plan. I realize that polygamy is what he knows, is how he was raised, but it's so strange to me that he would continue to embrace a philosophy that has created the tensions that resulted in his expulsion from the compound, the Prophet's abuses, his inability to publicly claim all of his children, and so on. Whereas in the two previous seasons I felt he was the Good Guy, I now feel so negative towards him that I applaud Nicki's secret rebellion. I do agree with you, though, that, in this season of secrets, the mere fact that she is preventing conception is not all there is. Maybe it is her fear of becoming a bitter old baby machine and not a desirable woman, as she implies to her mother. But I think there's something more there....

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