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There Will Be Rest in the Hereafter: Fathers and Sons on "Big Love"

"You are on the wrong path, brother." - Joey

Last night's episode of Big Love ("Sins of the Father"), written by Seth Greenland and directed by David Petrarca, focused squarely on the choices made by Bill Henrickson, both in the present-day as it related to his decision to exile Ben and in his own distant past. The people we are today are forged by the choices we make in our lives and by those made for us by others. Bill's formative years were shaped by Frank's decision to throw him out by the side of the road and force him to fend for himself on the streets, one of the so-called Lost Boys, the detritus of a polygamist society that had been corrupted and run on fear and jealousy.

Bill has long since sought to find a different path for himself in life, one that included following a belief in the Principle that wasn't as twisted and evil as his father's or Roman Grant's, an inclusive spiritual quest that was about family, unity, and empowerment.

Lately, however, Bill has taken a journey that has led him to abandon many of his callings, turning his back on the church he built to instead pursue political ambitions and forgetting his own past by giving into seething jealousy and transforming his once democratic family into a tyrannical authority over which he presides. Over the course of this week's episode, Bill realizes his transgressions and attempts to undo them but his greatest sin--being doomed to repeat his history because he has forgotten his own--proves out of his control to take back.

Bill. While some viewers have questioned Bill's motivations this season, I'm glad that the writers are allowing Bill to be a flawed individual, one who makes mistakes--often monumental ones--and who is clouded by the same sort of pettiness and emotion that we all are. I was glad to see that he recognized that he had made some pretty gigantic mistakes this week and fell into some of the same traps that he has often accused the wives of falling into: allowing personal jealousy to cloud his judgment.

While he may not have meant for things to get as bad as they did between him and Ben, there was no mistaking his intention when he said at the end of last week's episode that he thought a change of scenery would be good for Ben. For Ben--who had idolized his father and followed him without question--it was tantamount to banishment. Bill may not have meant it that way; after all, he was banished from Juniper Creek as a teenager and forced into a life of criminal activity, a Lost Boy cut adrift from the only home he had known, pushed out by a jealous father and a weak mother who fearfully couldn't act upon her child's defense.

Fortunately, Ben does have a support network in place that Bill didn't have as a Lost Boy; he turns to Sarah for help and therefore very luckily has a place to stay. Bill wasn't so lucky. I do believe that there was some level of miscommunication going on between Bill and Ben. For his part, Bill calls Ben repeatedly over the next few days but doesn't get any reply to his numerous calls and he never tells Barb that he has "banished" or "exiled" Ben; he seems to think that they are spending some time apart to work through their issues. It's not a belief shared by Ben, however.

Swept up by the stress and climate of the political campaign, Bill is making decisions that are far more personally-motivated than he should be doing. His jealousy leads him to push Ben away and to place Margene in the doghouse. He also wrongly makes an enemy out of Marilyn (Sissy Spacek). Arriving in Utah to show her support of Bill during the nomination process, Marilyn manages to coerce him into taking her to the Blackfoot Casino, where she wants to make a presentation to Tommy about representing their interests in Washington.

Rather than allow the meeting to unfold naturally and allow Marilyn to get her point across, Bill allows his personal distaste for Marilyn and her methods to influence him. Wanting a negative outcome, Bill sets Marilyn up and tells Tommy that she is a liar and a thief, leading Tommy to decline her offer. Marilyn, however, is not that easily defeated; she goes above Tommy to his father Jerry and then confronts Bill. He's very unwisely attempted to knock Marilyn out of the game but she's not having it. Not at all.

But Bill does make one act of recompense: he pays for the proper burial of the Lost Boy killed in a police shoot-out. It's an act of kindness that's deeply personal for Bill and one that perhaps places the past into perspective. As for why he does it: "I would have wanted someone to do the same for me," he says. Perhaps the past won't repeat itself, after all. Except that he's denied the chance to make it up to Ben, who has fled with Lois.

Barb. Poor Barb attempts this week to take on the role of the dutiful politician's wife but discovers that she's in the dark about everything that's going on under her own roof. As much of a shock as Margene's feelings for Ben were to Bill, they come as a total betrayal to Barb, a gut-wrenching realization that the circle of trust surrounding the sister-wives has perhaps been irrevocably broken. Her efforts to get Bill to discuss the Ben-Margene incident during their home-schooling was classic Barb passive-aggression but she's shocked to learn that her knowledge about the incident is wholly lacking. Her castigation of Margene--both her "flirt" speech and her vindictive kicking of Margene's jewelry stand--show a seething pit of anger within Barb, a feeling that her family is once more on the wrong path.

I thought it interesting that Barb escaped the claustrophobic atmosphere of the political campaign for the casino, a place where previously she felt vulnerable and out of her element. And yet, there's an honesty, a silence, an easiness about the casino that she can't find at home. (I also loved the small touches: her Boss Lady mug was a lovely memento of bygone seasons.) I was glad to see as well that she and Tommy have reached not just an understanding or a tolerance of one another but something approximating true friendship and respect, as Barb comes to know Tommy's tragic backstory--the death of his wife and two sons, killed by a drunk driver--and sees a very different side of him during the sweat lodge.

It's the sweat that gives Barb something close to release, the solemn silence of the lodge transforming into her own bathroom as the steam releases everything that is pent up inside of her: the rage, sadness, frustration, betrayal, and loss that she's feeling. It's a moment of transcendent release and beautifully played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, who lays bare those emotions without any artifice. A heartbreaking moment of loneliness.

Nicki. Bill's mistreatment of Nicki also comes into play in this week's episode, as Nicki confronts Bill about why he uses her for "morally ambiguous" missions but would ever think of asking Barb or Margene to do the same. Yes, Bill's using Nicki's "dark gift" for what he believes to be a righteous cause but he's casting her in the role of a spy, something that her father Roman did often. Even the language of their discussion--in which he calls her a "good girl" and his "spy"--seems to echo that of Roman in Season Three, when he placed her undercover at the D.A.'s office. I was glad to see that Nicki is thinking about her propensity for manipulation and lying and why she continually gets put into these positions.

The exchange Nicki shares with Barb at the casino (as she enjoys a sundae) about who she is could be taken at face value as a comedic dialogue about the many guises Nicki is forced to wear this week, from Bill's assistant Daphne to his sometimes-but-not-in-public-wife to Bill's ace in the hole. But it's also an honest expression of her own identity crisis at the moment. Does Bill see her as a wife and mother? Or as a saboteur?

Margene. Margene, meanwhile, finds herself cast out of everyone's good graces but doesn't hide like Nicki but confront Bill head on and beg for forgiveness, something he's not ready to give her. But she doesn't stop supporting him either, sticking close to his side in various guises of her own, the single mother/creator of Hearts on a Sleeve but it's clear that Margie's own heart is on her sleeve. She deeply regrets what happened and she doesn't apologize for having needs greater than Nicki or Barb; in fact, she demands an extra night with Bill and offers to buy it from one of them.

Are things done between her and Ben? Perhaps, now that they've both been honest about their emotions. And the final scene between Margene and Bill proves that there's still hope for the two of them after all of this. Mending those fences will take time but there's a willingness on the part of Bill that points to an epiphany on his part.

Lois and Frank. I was glad to see that Bill's actions towards Ben drew Lois and Frank back into his orbit as he was forced to contend with the results of his exile on Lois and Joey and on the twisted patriarchal rule that his father Frank imposed and still does, treating Jodean as little more than a work mule to cater to his every whim. (Her disgust at Frank--as evidenced by the peanut shells--is apparent from her every expression.) Lois has lived with an enormous amount of guilt that she stood and allowed Frank to cast out Bill, to throw him away like little more than garbage. But she's quick to stand up to Bill, to express horror at his behavior and to say that she had nothing to do with Ben's exile and that he's too good for Bill. For Lois, it's history repeating itself all over again... and this time it's Bill throwing his father out of the casino, a symbolic about-face that's utterly ironic.

Jodean and Joey. Loved the scene between the two in which Jodean expressed her gratitude to whoever killed Roman Grant, saying that she was "at peace" since the death of the prophet. I was glad to see Joey and Jodean interacting again; the last time they really shared a scene was after Kathy's death as, in a Vertigo-like twist, Joey attempted to recreate Kathy in her twin. There's still tension between them and likely attraction but there's precious little that they can do for one another in their current circumstances. Here's to hoping that we see more Jodean in the very near future... As for Joey, I'm glad he told Bill that he is on the wrong path. Joey believes that Bill should be the next prophet of Juniper Creek but is he acting here on behalf of JJ or out of his own convictions? Just what are JJ's plans for Bill and how do they involve prophethood?

What did you think of this week's episode? Glad that Bill finally came to his senses? Just what will happen to the Henrickson family and how much more pressure can they take before breaking? Discuss.

Next week on Big Love ("Under One Roof"), Ana resurfaces with a surprise revelation that shakes up the family; Bill tries to rebrand the casino and expand its advertising into Idaho; Lois, Ben, and Frank go south of the border to visit a bird vendor; Margene worries about the impact of Bill’s future outing on her booming business.

Comments

Veronica said…
I was so glad that Nicki said something to Bill about her latest "assignment" and agree that Bill is using Nicki just as her father and mother did. He is so focused on the political path that he doesn't see what a hypocrite he's becoming!

Loved the scene between Joey and Jodean.
Jane Grey said…
I liked the "Lost Boys" storyline and agree that it's good to see some cracks in Bill's armor. And I'm glad that his family is starting to confront him about it. The scene where Joey told him that his is on the wrong path was excellent.

I also like that Barb and Tommy are finally able to relate to one another a little bit and that Barb is more comfortable now at the casino (LOVED the Boss Lady mug)!

My one complaint - I do not like the new Teeny. I don't know what it is about her but she just seems too precious and "child actor" like. Kinda makes me want to pull on one of those pigtails.

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