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An Unfortunate Destiny: The Henricksons Face the Outer Darkness on "Big Love"

When faced with tragedy and adversity some see it as divine punishment, others that these are trials to test one's faith, and still others see it as the chaotic nature of life itself.

This week's truly sensational and gripping episode of Big Love ("Outer Darkness"), written by Eileen Myers and directed by Michael Lehmann, pushed the Henrickson clan past their breaking point as it revealed long-buried secrets, set siblings against one another, and perhaps presaged the breakdown of the family's plural marriage itself as Barb faced ex-communication from the Mormon church and Bill sought to unseal himself from Nicki.

Just... wow. I know I wax enthusiastically about Big Love every week but this week's outstanding installment offered one of the most emotionally stirring, taut, and gripping hours of television this year and proved once again that Big Love is one of the most intelligent and resonant series on television today.

Barb. My sympathy this episode lay squarely with Barb, as she faced ex-communication from her church, thanks to her sister Cindy. The look of terror on Jeanne Tripplehorn's face as she confessed to Bill that she had a nightmare about the outer darkness was stirring. Barb has always chafed against the demands that her marriage has placed on her, even as she's tried to fulfill her duty to Bill by following his lead. Yet this week's episode showed that Barb has long doubted whether she really has had a testimony to the Principle. Does she want to be in this marriage? Does she want to seal herself forever to Nicki and Margene? Is this the life she wants to lead, one in which she's cast out of her own church?

Tripplehorn gave a magnificent performance of a woman torn to shreds inside by her conflicting beliefs and the way that that she emotionally and physically collapsed upon hearing the disciplinary panel's decision spoke volumes about her state of mind right now. It was hardly a surprise then to see Barb walk past Nicki in the parking lot without a word. While it might have been Cindy who set Bishop Devery on her trail, Barb blames Nicki for everything that has befallen them. After all, it was her presence by her sickbed that lead to Bill's testimony in the first place. Scapegoating? Perhaps, but Nicki stands to represent everything she hates about her life right now: the betrayals, the lies, the cover-ups, her own eternal damnation.

While the LDS church was up in arms about the series' portrayal of a sacred ritual, I have to say that the writers handled this delicate matter with grace and honesty. The ceremony in which Barb received her endowments was beautifully filmed and the subject matter wasn't made light of in any way, shape, or form but delivered in a matter-of-fact fashion without judgment. That Barb's mother should look so happy--finally!--about her daughter returning to the church, only to realize just what would be happening to her was moving and saddening.

Nicki. I loved seeing Nicki return to the big house and interact with Alby, who shared with her his plan to destroy their parents. I'm still torn about who between Alby and Roman is more dangerous running the compound and, if I'm being honest, I still can't decide. Alby reached out to Nicki in a way that he never had before and offered to let her stay at his side, a move that made Alby's treacherous wife Lura seethe with jealousy. Barb is right however, that Nicki acts as though she has done nothing wrong and shows no remorse for her actions. Whether she is a sociopath remains to be seen but she does have an uncanny ability to cast out any guilt or shame she might be feeling for her own doing. Is there a future for her with the Henricksons now that she has betrayed all of them so many times, so callously and selfishly? I don't know. Nicki seemed to think that Bill's phone call and their lovemaking (after he told her that he wants to end their marriage, no less) meant that he had changed his position on their situation. But it clearly hasn't: even after all of that, Bill tells her that he and Roman discussed unsealing her to him, a move that shocks Nicki to the core.

Nicki, for her part, has been sealed and unsealed before: to the enigmatic J.J. (Zeljko Ivanek) who happens to be Wanda's no-good brother. But this week's episode offered yet another twist to Nicki's long-buried past. It turns out that her marriage to J.J. resulted in a child, a daughter, that she has concealed from Bill and her sister wives. Could this child be the real reason she's secretly been taking birth control pills? I'm not sure, but it's clear that giving up her daughter was the price she had to pay for having her marriage be unsealed by Roman. Very, very interesting.

Sarah. I was happy to see that the writers hadn't completely dropped the Sarah/Scott (Aaron Paul) storyline after she miscarried. Here, Scott turns up after he learns what had actually happened to Sarah... and gets a swift punch from an overprotective Ben. And even though Bill bars Scott from seeing Sarah, they quickly get back together again... and are caught in bed by Nicki. And while Nicki seems to have no problem deflecting blame from herself, she does keep their liaison a secret from Barb and Bill (though she does make them wash the sheets straightaway), proving that there is a strong bond between her and Sarah.

Ted. I could not believe that Ted managed to manipulate his way into Bill's casino deal but he quickly finds himself way over his head when the Greenes kidnap his daughter Kim Lee and hold her hostage in exchange for the letter. That this letter would seem to be the cause behind so much bloodshed and unhappiness--while a young girl's life hangs in the balance--points to how much both sides would want to expose or conceal the truth about their way of life. Cindy doesn't understand the harm she'll do by telling the Bishop about Barb's plural marriage and Ted never understands that he's playing with fire here. You do not want to tick off the Greenes and he's managed to do so. They'll have no compunction about murdering Kim Lee but this could be just the chance the government needs to take action against Hollis and Selma.

Jodean. Wanda, meanwhile, seeks to make over Jodean into her dead twin sister's image. And while Jodean is intently aware of just what Wanda is trying to do, she does let her take her hair down and braid it like Kathy's. Once again I have to compliment Mireille Enos' performance this week: the small differences between Jodean and Kathy are abundantly clear (especially her voice and body language) and the scene between Jodean and Joey in the barn--when he seizes her and kisses her--was absolutely heartbreaking. Jodean speaks of sharing a bond with Kathy that transcended space but it's a bond, given their looks, that transcends death.

Will Joey be tempted by Jodean and try to recreate the love that he's lost with Kathy with her? It certainly looks that way and their scenes together were given an added shade of pain and longing by the haunting and lush musical score, which recalled Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece of mistaken identity and look-a-likes, Vertigo. Jodean may have run off from Joey after their embrace but she did return his passion for a second. Could it be that, like toothaches and looks, she shares that with her sister? (Looking for more info on Kathy and Jodean? Check out my interview with actress Mireille Enos here.)

Bill. Poor Bill is struggling to keep everything together but he's shutting everyone out, deciding to have Nicki unsealed without even consulting Barb or Margene, making plans to set her up in one of Don's apartments. The look of horror on his face when Joey, realizing that Bill has essentially let Roman off the hook for Kathy's murder (thanks to his deal with the DA), says that they are no longer brothers was absolutely wrenching... as was the terror on his face when he fell through the barn floor and looked up at the outer darkness, a darkness that could be facing them all in the end. Has Bill made the right decisions? Has he passed the divine tests beset him? Or has it all been for naught? It was a terrifying and terrific end to an episode that was overflowing with sensational emotional beats.

His decision to get Roman's probation lifted in order to save the life of Kim Lee, even after everything that Roman and Ted have done to him and his family, does point to Bill's unerring belief in the "greater good." But whether Bill will have managed to uphold the peace or unleash a vicious serpent remains to be seen.

Best line of the evening: "More fun than a barrel of monkeys, moron!" - Roman, watching Wheel of Fortune at his motel

What did you think of this week's episode and of the revelation that Nicki has a daughter that no one knew about? Will Bill follow through on his plans to remove Nicki from the household? Will Roman go free, even after killing Kathy? And just what is Alby's plan? Discuss.

Next week on the season finale of Big Love ("Sacrament"), Bill convinces Ray Henry to endorse his plan to rescue his kidnapped niece Kim Lee; Nicki receives a surprise visitor; Alby hatches a deadly plot to consolidate his power; Sarah shocks the family with a surprise announcement.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I don't know how they do it. Every episode of this season has been incredible. Big Love is, without a doubt, the most well-written, superbly acted drama on television today.

The family is facing their biggest crisis to date and, truthfully, I don't know how they'll survive. Barb is a mess and Nicki is definitely "broken" (as Bill says) and Margie is too naive to see what is really happening. It will be very interesting to see how they end the season. I am certain that everything won't be patched up nice and neat!
I don't know what's been more shocking this season - Kathy's death, Nicki pushing Roman down the stairs, or Bill telling Nicki that he want to be unsealed.

I can't believe that Nicki has not showed remorse for her actions. Her crush on her boss was bad enough but the real betrayal was her role in getting Roman released and putting the whole family in jeopardy. I don't know how they could ever trust her again.

Scarily, Nicki and Alby seem to make quite a good team. I would not want to cross the two of them!
cinegod said…
I was stunned when he told Nicki that he wanted to be unsealed. It was a bold move, though I suspect it was more of a reactionary one considering he just found out that the two of them were under investigation for obstruction of justice. (Love how he failed to mention that to Nicki or his other wives.)

I thought the Sarah/Scott story needed more. I didn't really buy how it just all played out in two scenes and we were supposed to believe it. Though, it did illuminate part of the reason why Sarah and Nicki are so bonded. They both are playing the same unrepentant victim. Despite all her posturing, Nicki sees herself in Sarah.
bhayes1 said…
Your writing is fantastic Jace...almost as good as the writing on Big Love.

Last night's was a masterpiece...Emmy-worthy performances by Bill, Barb, & Nicki.

The analogies to the "outer darkness" and the parallel sibling struggles b/t Barb and Bill were well crafted.
S Broggie said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
S Broggie said…
Once again, as has been my feeling several times this season, how will this show not win Golden Globes and Emmys this year? I am a married, middle class, 42 year old man which I suspect may not be the demographic they were looking for, never-the-less I absolutely love this show. Is that wrong, or is it just that good?
Everyone I've turned on to BL is hooked... Yeah, it's that good. Last night proved it once again.
S Broggie said…
A couple more thoughts, loved how Lura is so threatened by Nicki. Lura is diabolical, but was does it say about Nicki when someone so cold and evil is jealous of her?
Also, preview for next week had Roman holding a pretty healthy looking pistol on someone. Can't wait to see who he's got at gunpoint and why!
PS. I'm surprised at the lack of comment on the little boy chasing down the pickup that Jodean drove off in yelling, "the dead girl's in the truck again!" On that note, you think the owner of that barn is going to start taking his stupid keys out the ignition? :-)
Ally said…
Absolutely brilliant episode. One of the best of the season (along with the road trip ep), if not the whole series.
A brilliant review on a brilliant show.

The scene with Joey and Jodean, pure Hitchcock's VERTIGO, the music in the background could have been composed by Bernard Herman.

As for Nicki being a sociopath...sociopaths are defined partly as persons who have no empathy and show no remorse for the destructive things they do. You don't have to be a mass murderer- only a person who can't feel responsibility or compassion for anyone or anything, and are primarily concerned with their self preservation. That does sound alot like Nicki.

As for the temple ceremony...I'll never forget it. Earlier that day I heard a Catholic priest tell of the symbolism that the veiled curtain had in Herod's Temple in Jerusalem- the curtain existed in "the Holy of Holies" because no mortal could look at the face of God and expect to live.

And the ceremony appeared to recreate that practice...a secret kept from non-Mormons until this tasteful and very enlightening portrayal.

A tremendous show, in its best season ever. Long may it run.
Unknown said…
Jace - as usual, a wonderfully insightful deconstruction. I too was moved beyond words by this episode. if this doesn't win Jeanne Tripplehorn an Emmy, well, there's something very wrong in the world. and I'm with you on the music! i couldn't place it but you're right about the Bernard Herrmann similarity.

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