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Eternity: Til Death Do Us Part on "Big Love"

"It's always complicated with you." - Heather

"There's work to be done." - Joey

"Without an eternal marriage, this is just all there is." - Barb

This week's phenomenal episode of Big Love ("The Greater Good"), written by Paul Redford and directed by David Knoller, picked up many of the series' weightiest themes--family, marriage, fidelity, eternity--and ran with them, offering an intelligent and gripping installment that pushed several characters past their breaking points and advanced the season's overarching plot.

While the focus fell primarily on the domestic sphere this week, the episode also picked up the larger forces operating around the Henrickson clan, thrusting their stories against a larger backdrop of destiny and free will, the secular and the spiritual, matters of church and state, and pre-determinism. Will their little nation of polygamists be able to chart their own destiny? Can they take rein of their own political future? And can the light of prophethood ever truly be snuffed out?

Add in several new mysteries coming to light and you have the makings of a remarkable installment that effortlessly set up the season to come.

The title of this week's episode is clearly meant to bring up a discussion of utilitarian principles: what does one man's--or one family's--happiness matter compared to the happiness of the larger group? It's a question that's lain at the heart of the series since the very first episode. In a marriage or in a family, one's own happiness is often second to that of the group and we've seen this explored through the multiple wives and characters of the Henrickson clan. The path they've largely been on throughout the series has been one of secrecy and fear: each of the wives attempts to hold onto their individuality by retaining control of their own inner mysteries while each is terrified of being exposed for what they are and what they believe.

In this week's episode, Bill made a decision that will affect not just each of their own personal lives but also the lives of the polygamist nation at large. In attempting to run for public office and eventually expose his true self, he's taking the first steps towards creating a new political destiny for the believers of The Principle, hoping to not only seize control of their own political power but also offer a public face for polygamy, one that isn't bound up with the abuses of Juniper Creek or the relics of a bygone century.

But not everyone believes that Bill's testimony should point him toward a state senatorship. Margene is outright opposed to the idea for her own personal reasons as her lucrative business gets off the ground (she has a projected yearly revenue of over $130,000) while Barb hates the idea of groveling and lying to the Mormon Church in order to pretend to be reconciled against polygamy and on the side of singular marriage. Lying is lying, even if it is only temporary but a strong public facade is what is needed for this campaign, the promise of family values and Mormon belief.

It's Nicki who believes Bill is destined for great things but not the grubbiness of public service; she--like Bill's brother Joey, newly returned from Arizona--feels that Bill should be the next prophet of Juniper Creek. Roman wrongly wrested control from the Henricksons and Bill should be the rightful heir. It's a sentiment that's strongly echoed by Joey, who gives Bill a copy of their grandfather's testimony. But it's a celestial kingdom that the pragmatic Bill doesn't want control of--he believes he can better help the 10,000 believers in Juniper Creek through bureaucratic rather than spiritual means. But, as in many a Shakespearean tragedy, Bill may not have control over his path; kings and prophets are ordained by God, after all, and a throne is a hard thing to refuse.

Besides, Bill's rival for control of Juniper Creek is Alby, who is already using Roman's death as an opportunity. His hunger for power knows no bounds and we see him approach Adaleen about a power grab using spiritual leverage: he can continue to disseminate Roman's words and wishes from beyond the grave. But Alby's quest will perhaps be tempered by his own carnal desires as he's fallen head over heels for the UEB's newly appointed state trustee Dale (with whom he previously enjoyed some, er, parkside sex). The scene between the two of them at Alignment spoke of a powerful attraction that can't be diverted, no matter what the consequence. Could it be that Alby is more human than we realized?

Joey and Wanda's return from Arizona, meanwhile, kicked up suspicion in Nicki's ex-husband JJ (who happens to be Wanda's brother); he knows that Joey was involved in Roman's death (even if he doesn't know the specifics) and claims to have seen him at the big house the night of Roman's murder. But there's something else going too, another mystery to be solved at a later date. Just what did JJ mean when he said that he had "something precious" of Wanda's? And why did she freak out when she heard him say this? Hmmm... Could it be that Wanda herself has an unknown child? Or is it a secret even more damning?

As for JJ, Zeljko Ivanek infuses him with more subtle horror than I thought possible. The dinner scene in the Henricksons' backyard was palpably filled with tension and with the threat of violence. Add to that the fact that Margene subtly noticed that the cruciform vegetable-averse JJ had no fingernails and we have ourselves the start of yet another intriguing subplot. Just what is going on in Kansas and why does JJ want Bill to stay away? What did happen to JJ's fingernails? Were they forcibly removed during torture? Did they fall off of their own accord? (And why can't I stop shuddering when I think about it?)

Plus, JJ doesn't quite seem to be done with Nicki. He's letting her off too easily, really, after she kidnapped Cara Lynn and has placed her back in mainstream schooling. Cassi Thomson's Cara Lynn has been a fantastic addition to the series so far this season. Her mattress-flipping scene with Nicki, where they discuss questioning their faith, was absolutely fantastic. It's good to see Nicki have someone to bounce off of, even if Nicki seems blinded that Cara Lynn is going down the same path she did. But Nicki herself is trying to feel, even in the face of her upbringing. She's questioning her feelings for Bill while acknowledging her ongoing attraction towards Ray Henry (Charles Esten), even when he slams the door in her face.

But it was the final scene of the episode, which depicted Sarah's wedding to Scott, in which Nicki's true feelings came to the fore. After Sarah attempted to secretly wed Scott in front of a justice of the peace--a ceremony to be attended only by Ben and Heather (a very thankful reconciliation, I might add)--and threw off Barb and Bill's desire to see her sealed in their newly consecrated church, she finally came round to understand that she did want her parents at her wedding, even if they don't share the same belief system that she does. But it was her decision to arrange a secular wedding, free from the eternal sealing, that struck home for Nicki.

As Barb says earlier, without the promise of eternity, life on earth is all that there is. For Nicki, the notion of Sarah parting with her husband upon death is absolutely heartbreaking and one can't shake the sense that she truly believes that our lives are akin to the blink of an eye, a flap of butterfly wings in the face of the eternal and immortal. But, even if that is the case, Nicki would seem to finally understand that life on Earth also means giving into your feelings, whether that be mourning the passing of one's parents or the pangs of love and loss.

Next week on Big Love ("Strange Bedfellows"), Bill, Nicki, and Cara Lynn travel to Washington, D.C., where Bill tries to obtain a Congressional endorsement and repair his relationship with Nicki; Margene's product line heads to primetime but her on-air triumph is tempered by a case of mistaken identity; Barb and Sarah lead a series of seminars on sensitivity training at the casino and hit a young Native American woman with their car, prompting Sarah to personally compensate the victim and her baby.


Ailee said…
Sarah's wedding ceremony (and the family's reaction to her getting married but not sealed)was absolutely heartbreaking. And, as always, it was beautifully written, directed, and acted!
Tamara said…
The first episode of the season was great but I liked this one even better. Last season was really about Bill struggling with his identity and this season seems to be more focused on the women really coming to terms with who they are. Barb is trying to take on some of the casino business but is really lost. Margie is asserting herself and becoming more independent. Nikki is questioning her faith. Even Sarah is trying to find out who she is outside of the family as she creates her own family with Scott. I can't wait to see what journeys these women take over the course of the season. I'm sure it will be brilliant!
ewench said…
I watched Big Love with a sinking feeling because two emotions overtook me that never had before when watching this series...boredom...and incredulity.

I appreciate all the effort put toward character but the show moves clumsily, jerking from scene to scene and all happening way too fast for me to become emotionally involved enough to care.

Bill gets a testimony to run for Senator but wait, is he sure!? The wives all differ on opinion, does it matter?? Can he do it, what will happen, oh yes he is, he is now Sure and announces it to the wives and they exchange Significant Glances.

Sarah decides to get married by a JOP, but Barb will be Upset and Sarah needs Heather, will Heather come?? Yes, she will and all is Happy but oh dear, guilt settles in, an epiphany occurs, angels sing and she decides to do the Right Thing and marries with the Family. It’s all too quick and forced.

All storylines have the potential to be interesting but are careening forward at such a frenetic and unrealistic pace that I am just watching it all feeling totally detached. And eventually bored.

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