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The Quilt: Leaving and Those Left Behind on "Big Love"

The honeymoon is over.

Much this season has been made about Bill's shifting vision for his family, whether that be his decision to begin his own church, or launch a political campaign, or out the family as public polygamists. But the wives have, for the most part, held their tongues when it's come to outwardly disagreeing with the direction Bill is taking their collective family, even though most of them have dealt with their own inner turmoil in various ways.

Barb has struggled to keep it together, even though she's been thrust once more into the role of the public spouse, the politician's wife, and a casino owner all at the same time. Nicki has finally realized that she loves her husband and will support him, though it's clear that she is suffering from a massive identity crisis, and Margene has sought security through her own business and through a fraudulent marriage with Goran that will give her some leverage when it comes to their inevitable exposure as polygamists.

Eldest daughter Sarah has never believed in Bill's vision quest nor in the Principle that he holds so dear; she has seen first-hand the consequences of her parents' polygamist relationship both for her mother and for herself. If anyone was going to escape the never-ending cycle of plural marriage that the Henricksons are enmeshed in, it was going to be Sarah herself: headstrong, independent, and more than willing to slay her father's sacred cows.

This week's episode of Big Love ("Next Ticket Out"), written by Patricia Breen and directed by David Knoller, featured just that moment as Sarah Henrickson opted to leave her family behind for different pastures, announcing her intentions to move to Portland, Oregon with her husband Scott.

While I'm quite sad to see the stunning Amanda Seyfried leave the series, it's also a fitting end for her character and a triumphant one at that: she got out. It's what Sarah has always struggled for and failed to achieve as she was dragged back in time and time again. This time, she and Bill are able to make peace with one another and move past their issues to show their mutual support and love for one another, even if they don't see eye to eye on the choices that each of them are making in their respective lives.

But that's the point, ultimately. Sarah is now an adult, capable of making her own decisions and her own mistakes, just like Bill. She wasn't given a vote when her parents decided to marry Nicki or Margene and she was dragged along into a polygamist family without a say as to whether she was for or against this development. And it's been clear since the very beginning of the series that Sarah was very much against a polygamist lifestyle and couldn't ever quite wrap her head around why Barb even considered opening up her marriage in the first place.

To put it bluntly: Sarah wanted out. With the election looming and a possible public outing as polygamists on the table, Sarah wanted desperately to cling to some refuge of normalcy, to not get caught up in the age-old battle between the polygamists and the general public, to remove herself from the playing field. Her so-called honeymoon to Portland wasn't that at all but an escape route, an effort to start over somewhere else, somewhere where she wasn't the daughter of polygamists or the sole dissenting voice in a household.

Sarah's departure represents, coming on the heels of her turning up to support her family during the television interview, the hope of understanding and solidarity but also the need to become truly independent and to stop fighting someone else's war. She's chosen herself but it doesn't seem at all like a selfish decision but a wise one, a brave one, and an honest one.

I'll admit that the family's gift to Sarah of a handmade quilt, with each of them getting a square (including Bill's, which had his oft-seen apron), was extremely touching and brought tears to my eyes. As did Sarah's final scene here, as she prepares Teenie's birthday cake and takes one last look at her sprawling family, tears springing to her eyes. It was the scene of the ultimate outsider, a woman looking through a window at a world she didn't belong to, perhaps not truly ever.

Barb. Barb won't be taking over Sarah's role in the family as the speaker of hard truths any time soon. Her speech to the Eagle Rock Forum was based on facts about the over-dependence of many Utah women on prescription medications (and, apparently, Benedryl) but it was was the result of her own emotional breakdown in the face of the pressures from the casino, the campaign, and the sense of impending doom looming over their heads.

Barb has tried so hard to be so perfect for so long that it's only fitting that huge cracks would be forming in her facade at this point. The Eagle Rock speech was connected narratively to her breakdown in the bathroom a few weeks back, an act of catharsis that's desperately needed for the Boss Lady. The pressure of keeping everything together--her family, her marriage, her business--is too much of an onus to bear. She's also not helped by the growing lack of communication between her and the partners in her marriage; Barb ends up telling Nicki that Joey killed her father, believing that Bill had already told her. Not so.

Barb has attempted to flee this marriage before and, unless things change quickly, I could see her attempting to bail on her husband's vision. Her frustration, sorrow, and anger were never more keenly felt that when she acquiesces to Bill's demands that she recant her statements, saying, "I certainly have no voice of my own."

But much of Barb's anger this episode is also directed at herself for failing to see Marilyn for who she really was and allowing her access to the safety net that is their business by hiring her. She's quick to point out to Tommy that she acted out of spite and not business acumen but what kills her is that she may have made the casino and the Blackfoot tribe vulnerable because of her mistake. There's a brief moment once more of connection between her and Tommy at the casino that speaks volumes about their shared grief, their muffled voices.

Nicki. I'm not quite sure what to make of Nicki's sudden transformation from uptight and prudish prairie woman to full-blown sexpot but I can't help but wonder if the trigger isn't so much the realization that she wants to be free from her past as the child of Roman Grant and Juniper Creek and more to do with whatever JJ and Roquet are doing to her. (After all, Adaleen also spoke of a euphoric and positive feeling once she went on the mysterious treatment regimen as well.) Nicki claims that she has realized that she loves Bill, but I wish we had just one more beat to see where this epiphany has come from and why she has come to this conclusion now...

Though her feelings may have changed, given the fact that Bill concealed that Roman's murderer was in fact his brother Joey. It was the slap heard round the world (or at least the Sandy neighborhood where the Henricksons live) as Nicki walloped Bill for keeping this from her, after she had given him her heart. It's another betrayal in an already tenuous marriage, but it's oddly reversed by the end of the episode, as Nicki tells Bill that she loves him and wants him for herself. Given that Nicki was raised in a polygamist environment and never questioned the Principal, this is an intriguing development, to say the least. She promises Bill that they would never leave Barb but her voice is less certain when it comes to Margene.

Do we believe that this sudden change in her belief system is brought on by her wanting a husband, anything, to herself? Is it the result of Roquet's suspicious treatments? Or is something else going on here? Something far more worrisome that speaks of a personality shift underway within Nicki herself, the result of that awful confrontation with her brother Alby, destroyed, infected, and cursed by his association with Juniper Creek? Hmmmm....

Margene. I definitely believe that Margene is playing with fire when it comes to Goran and Ana. She might have claimed last week to be doing this for altruistic purposes (to keep Bill's unborn child in the country) but this is her version of a potential escape hatch, a way to distance herself from the rest of the Henrickson clan if they are exposed, as she could claim to be married to someone else. But it's also placed her in a bit of a legal and ethical situation as well. Fraudulent marriages, if detected, can result in hefty fines and even jail time... and Marilyn knows that something is going on between Bill and Margene already, after she spied them kissing at the casino.

The fact that Marilyn is already sniffing around Margene isn't a good thing; she knows too much about Bill's investment and the way that they pretended not to know one another at the fundraiser. Not good. Add to that a fake marriage, an intense rivalry between Bill and Goran, and Margene may as well light the first match. Worse still, Margene herself is now having second thoughts, ones that might point to her own attraction to Goran and ability to, er, stray into other people's marriages. Not good. Not good at all.

Marilyn. As for Marilyn, I'm extremely concerned that she will end up undoing everything the Henricksons have built with one stroke. She's made it her mission to destroy Bill but I'm not really sure why. Because he was suspicious of her? Because he saw through her fake charms? Because he's not playing her game?

The drunken phone call she made to Barb creeped me out more than anything else this week, just because it revealed just how calculated and morally repugnant Marilyn is. She's been nosing around the Henricksons' tax returns, their bank account information, and she's likely close to figuring out that they're polygamists after she realized that Barb wasn't shocked or surprised that Bill was having an affair with Margene.

But what her final game plan is remains a mystery for now. Will she out the family and destroy Bill's campaign? Is she going to offer her support and information to Bill's opponent, Leslie Usher (the always superb Amy Aquino), and truly squash his campaign from every angle? We'll find out next week, though I have to give Bill and Tommy credit for managing to lift information from Marilyn's computer like that. Nicely played.

Adaleen. We'll also have to wait to discover just what Adaleen found at Roquet's office, something shocking and terrifying enough that JJ chloroformed her and is likely now keeping her imprisoned, lest she speak out about just what he's been doing to her, Nicki, and likely countless others. It turns out that Roman had recalled JJ from Kansas to censure him... and that was why he was at Juniper Creek before Roman was killed. Whatever JJ was doing in Kansas, it's got to involve fake pregnancies, embryos, the treatments, and something truly, truly horrific. (The true tip-off was JJ's insanely freaky mother expressing her reluctance to toast Adaleen's miraculous pregnancy.) And the new state-appointed trustee on the UEB board is already sniffing around Kansas. Which means that whatever it is that JJ's been up to is about to come tumbling down. I just hope Adaleen isn't collateral damage...

Alby. As for Alby, he's coming apart at the seams. He had no problem lying at the investigatory hearing about his relationship with Dale and scarily was able to just pin the blame on his former lover, incriminating him for embezzling money and using it to rent an apartment. Which made absolutely no sense to the investigators, either. But privately, Alby is a wreck. (You would be too if you were haunted by visions of your vengeful dead father.) The scene where he listens to "These Boots Were Made for Walking" and dances with and kisses the illicit photograph of him and Dale in bed together was outright Lynchian. I'm concerned that Alby is going to do something self-destructive before the season is out... or step all too easily into the role of the ruthless prophet of Juniper Creek.

Wanda. And then there was Wanda, who has been stricken mute by the appearance of her twisted and creepy family coming out of the woodwork. While JJ is blackmailing her about Roman's murder, she clearly has information about JJ's scheme in Kansas but she can't bring herself to say anything about it and is reduced to little more than knitting frantically. I can only hope that Wanda doesn't get left behind--or worse--in the coming storm.

What did you think of this week's episode? Sad to see Sarah go? Wondering what Marilyn has up her sleeve? Curious to see how the writers can wrap up all of these diverse storylines in just one episode? Discuss.

Next week on the season finale of Big Love ("End of Days"), Bill tries to protect his candidacy; Jerry and Tom's tribe leadership is jeopardized; Margene wants to keep Ana and Goran in her life; Nicki is desperate to get pregnant; a polygamist scandal in Kansas makes national news.


Murph said…
I was sure Wanda was going to stab J.J. with her knitting needles. She has resorted to violence before, and he surely deserved it. Zeljko Ivanek is so terrific in this role, even better than the one he had in Damages.

Great episode all around. I'll be sorry to see the series' season end next week.
Bella Spruce said…
I thought the storyline with Sarah leaving was handled beautifully and, even though I'll be very sad to see her go, it does make sense that she would try to escape and I'm relieved that she and Scott have a chance to build a family of their own away from the chaos. It's a chance at a happy ending, at least!
Hadley said…
I totally thought that Wanda was going to stab JJ with a knitting needle! (And I kind of wish she would have! Although, it may have been too much after Lois chopping off Hollis' arm last week.)

At least Nicki got her away from that horrible place and out of JJ's grasp. Poor Wanda.
Andrea said…
Grew up in a Utah Mormon household where anti-depressants were everywhere and my mother coped with being imperfect while everyone projected flawless images.

Ironically, I now live in Portland too (yea Sarah).

No one quite gets the Benadryl comment, however. Mormon mothers use Benadryl to subdue children and make them go to sleep, so parents can have peace.

The children get the Benadryl while the exhausted brood-mare mommies get the Xanax, Paxil cocktails.

Andie in greater Portland.
Barbara said…
What do you make of JJ's mother's muttered slam at Adaleen of "mongrel!" Is she not a purebred because she's not from the family stock (incest, anyone?)or is that just a general welcome, mother-in-law to new daughter-in-law? I must admit that I prefer it to the father's "Babydoll." What a fascinating and twisted group.
Mister K said…
Seeing Sarah leave made sense storywise, but it was still a very buttersweet moment. She has always been one of my favorite characters on the show, and I'll miss her a lot.

I loved watching Nicki slap Bill. It was a brief moment of honesty and empowerment that was long overdue.

Overall, I think this was another excellent episode. Seeing how everything is building towards this week's climax, I can't wait to see how it all goes down.
Unknown said…
But didn't Nicki first act out by dressing provocatively when she showed up at the motel? You know, with the side ponytail? Didn't that occur before Adaleen found out she was pregnant, and before she started getting the hormone treatments?

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