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Saints and Sinners: Things Fall Apart on "Big Love"

Secrets have a nasty way at surfacing when you least expect it.

And nothing proved that adage better than this week's episode of HBO's Big Love ("Come, Ye Saints"), which had the entire Henrickson clan pack up and make a 2,500+ mile road trip in order to visit the Joseph Smith shrine in Cumorah, New York, where Bill hoped to bury a time capsule for future generations to discover.

Of course, this being Big Love, this road trip is not your ordinary vacation but one made a hell of a lot more difficult by the competing interests of Bill's three wives, the many secrets being kept by him, his wives, and his brood of children, and the way that family vacations seem to tear people apart more than they do bring them together.

Margene and Ben. I'm glad that the writers haven't dropped the storyline involving the seemingly shared attraction between Margene and Ben and that it finally (after three seasons) came to a head in this week's episode in which both Ben and Margie saw each other naked. For Margene, it was an opportunity to finally prove her strength and determination, placing herself in a maternal role and spurning Ben's advances, especially after he wrote her a love letter that declared his romantic feelings for her. It was such a wonderful moment for Margene as a character and proves just how far she's come from the easy-going third wife we saw in Season One; instead, Margene proves that she has just as much grit and determination as Barb or Nicki and lays it on the line with Ben.

For Ben's part, I can understand his confusion as he and Margene are pretty close in age and they've always been physically affectionate with one another. But he is going down a very dangerous road: Margene is his one of his mothers and there is absolutely no hope of a future between them. Still, I couldn't believe that he would risk someone finding out about his attraction by writing a letter to Margene... which Tiny does find in the car. That he was so blase about anyone learning makes me very worried that this attraction isn't going anywhere and that Ben won't drop it just because Margene says so.

The letter also manages to distract Margene as she places Ginger's ashes on the roof of the car... and then drives off. The look of absolute shame and sadness as Margene tells the others that her mother is gone and blew off into the wind was heartbreaking; it's really the first time that Margene comes to terms with the fact that Ginger has died.

And Margene's bathing suit drop-by at Bill and Nicki's room, to help him get over his, er, "pill" dependency? Priceless.

Wives' World. I loved the road trip that the three sister-wives take to find a suitable place for Ginger's ashes, a pilgrimage as important as the one that Bill is undertaking. After everything that happened with Ana, I was glad to see that Barb wanted to mend some fences and have the three of them spend some time alone for a change. I am sure Bill thought it was a good idea... until Margene came clean about the fact that he's been taking Viagra (a subplot running since Season One). Naturally, Nicki thinks it's more about her than anything else, Barb feels betrayed that Bill never told her (and throws it in his face that he never needed any pharmaceutical help when it was just the two of them), and Margene is actually sweet and supportive about the whole thing. Sigh.

Bill. I loved the moment when Bill is trying to get the entire family to pose in a photograph when he realizes just how off the rails his family has gotten. This isn't the portrait of a loving, happy family but a collection of unhappy strangers griping at one another. And this trip does test his faith in numerous ways: he's forced to admit that he's only human to his wives, face up to his daughter's sexual activity, prove his devotion to his religion when faced with intolerance, and literally carry his family's past, present, and future barefoot along a long road. (Loved that the women forgot him at the campsite and drove off without him.) That he asks his god for a sign while facing away from the spectacle of the flying angel in Cumorah only makes his question all the more desperate and moving.

Nicki. Nicki, meanwhile, is continuing to flirt with her old boss Ray, who still believes her to be someone else... and even goes so far as to buy Bill a cardigan. I can't help but feel that she is going to go down a very dangerous road with this so-far innocent flirtation. And I couldn't believe that Nicki didn't immediately come clean about the fact that the birth control pills were HERS and not Sarah's, even when Barb summoned Sarah to her room and railed against pre-marital sex. Still, Nicki proved her loyalty to Sarah in the end by coming clean about the fact that she's been taking oral contraceptive for FOUR YEARS now and lying to all of them about trying to have another child. What was shocking to me was that Nicki didn't seem to think she'd done anything at all wrong by keeping this from them. Still, her support of Sarah showed a compassionate side to Nicki that doesn't often materialize. Like Margene putting her foot down with Ben, the way that she consoled Sarah pointed to the fact that she is becoming more of a mother to the children.

Sarah. And then there was Sarah. After finally coming to terms with the fact that she wanted to keep her child and raise it herself (even going so far as to set up a makeshift family with Heather in Arizona), Sarah lost the baby in a heartrending plot twist. It was only a matter of time before the family found out just what Sarah was concealing and, once she and Bill decided to take one last father-daughter outing (to Chicago), I knew that everything would fall apart. Still, I didn't anticipate that Sarah would miscarry on the family trip... nor that she would turn for help to Nicki, of all people, and have Nicki be so understanding and supportive. She was right to tell Sarah that she had to tell her parents about what had happened. The scene in which she does so, silent of all dialogue, was beautifully understated and poignant.

Can Sarah find a place among the chaos of the Henrickson clan? Will she run to Arizona? That remains to be seen, now that her secret is out and her child is no more. But at least she won't be burdened with carrying that guilt around any longer: sometimes the truth really can set you free.

Next week on Big Love ("Fight or Flight"), Nicki finds herself in hot water at home and at work; Glory smuggles a prized church document to Bill; Joey wants to add Kathy as a second wife.

Comments

Anonymous said…
It was satisfying seeing the entire Henrickson family together and having several of this season's secrets surface. I can't believe that Nicki has been on the pill for 4 years! It's wrong that she lied to the family but I do feel bad for her as it's clear she doesn't want more children. Of course, she has much deeper, darker secrets that could further jeopardize her relationship with the family.

And although Sarah losing her baby was heartbreaking I'm glad that her secret is also finally out and that she doesn't have to carry that burden anymore. And I was happy to see Barb and Bill embrace her and comfort her instead of being judgmental or angry.

Overall, a very interesting and thought-provoking episode!
Oskar said…
I liked how Sarah's story and Nicki's story really paralleled each other this week. Both of them had done things that are generally accepted outside their particular brand of mormonism (Nicki on birth-control, Sarah having premarital sex) but absolutely forbidden within the confines of their strange family. And they both suffered dearly from it when the truth came out.

I was a little surprised at first just how well Nicki handled the situation, being so supportive and non-judgmental about Sarah, but it does make perfect sense. You'd expect that Nicki would come down on her like a ton of bricks (she generally does not play the role of the loving caregiver, but rather the unforgiving fundamentalist), but she had just suffered through basically the exact same thing. She had been viciously attacked by Barb, Margie and Bill for taking birth-control (which most people think that she had every right to do), and she saw how Barb was doing the exact same thing to Sarah. She needed someone to understand and support her, and when she saw what Sarah was going through, how could she not play that role? You can say a lot of things about Nicki, but you can't say that she doesn't love her children (biological or otherwise).

I think it's very interesting that every single secret revealed in this secret-revealing episode had something to do with sex (Bill's taking Viagra, Ben being in love with Marge, Nicki taking birth control, Sarah being pregnant, even to a lesser extent Nicki's flirtation with her former boss). It was the common thread running through all plot lines. Another interesting thing is that most of these secrets are things which are more or less accepted in the rest of society. I already mentioned birth-control and premarital sex, but it's also not that weird for a boy of 17 to fall in love with a 23-year-old (especially considering the amount of time they spend with each other). Neither is it strange for a man to need Viagra or a woman falling for her boss.

(as an aside, I'm really curious to see where Nicki's story is going. She's the most committed fundamentalist of the whole bunch, but she seems to be taking more and more steps away from the family. I wonder if she does leave them by the end of the season, I wouldn't be surprised at all)

But in the very special life that this family is leading, each and every one of those things are potential time-bombs. I don't think the writers are trying to teach us a lesson on the dangers of fundamentalist attitudes towards sex, but I do think that they are trying to show how even the most pious of us still are human beings, and deserve to be forgiven for our sins.

Very good episode. My favorite in a good long while.
Anonymous said…
This is a stunning episode, possibly the strongest in a very strong season.

Personally, I believe this show has surpassed 6FU as my favorite HBO show.

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