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True Love and False Prophets: An Advance Review of Season Three of HBO's "Big Love"

“The most distressing thing that can happen to a prophet is to be proved wrong. The next most distressing thing is to be proved right.” - Aldous Huxley

Truer words were never spoken, especially in the case of HBO's drama series Big Love, which returns next month for an explosive third season. When we last saw the cast of the pay cabler's provocative series, Bill (Bill Paxton) was considering taking a fourth wife even as he was embattled from multiple sides in a war with the Grants and the Greens. Meanwhile, Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton) had been arrested after attempting to return to the compound following his attempted assassination at the hands of Hollis Green's followers. He had been set up by his power-hungry son Alby (Matt Ross), who like his father before him, had usurped control of Juniper Creek and laid claim to being the polygamist sect's new prophet.

Roughly set six months after the action of the second season finale (which aired in 2007), Season Three of Big Love ramps up the tension by using Roman Grant's upcoming trial as a ripped-from-the-headlines thread that weaves its way through a phenomenal third season, while the Henrickson clan tries to keep a low profile and distance themselves from Roman's case even as they find themselves sucked in against their will. Long buried family secrets are unearthed, vengeance is taken, and vendettas and murder plots become part of everyday dealings, even as the polygamist Henricksons try harder than ever to blend into the neighborhood.

I had the opportunity to watch the first three brilliant installments of Big Love's third season last night and could not shake them out of my head. I've always had a fondness for this sophisticated series, which deals with the trials of marriage and family in a most unique way, but I've never been as captivated and enthralled by a drama series like this since The Wire.

Each of the three episodes of Big Love provided for review is pitch-perfect in every respect, offering a glimpse into a secret life that most of us don't share whilst making its characters absolutely sympathetic by having them engage in a quotidian suburban existence filled with block parties, chores, and children's school events. The Henricksons' polygamist arrangement pales in comparison to the lives of the more radicalized followers of their belief system: the Grants, the Greens, and other members of the Juniper Creek compound, including Bill's mother Lois (Grace Zabriskie), his brother Joey (Shawn Doyle), Joey's poisoner wife Wanda (Melora Walters), and his new would-be bride Kathy (Mireille Enos). The Waltons this isn't.

So what can we expect from Season Three of Big Love? Let's discuss.

Season Three finds the Henricksons at a crossroads. Bill's acquistion of Weber Gaming has produced a windfall for the clan, even as business at Cost Plus is drying up due to the economic recession. Bill's next target? Partnering with a Utah Indian tribe to build a Mormon-friendly casino right over the border, an hour's distance from Salt Lake City. Even as he faces added pressure from building this gambling business with partner Don (Joel McKinnon Miller), who faces his own battles in Season Three, Bill finds himself further drawn to Serbian waitress Ana (Branka Katic), whom he intends to make his fourth wife.

But will Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) stand for the addition of a fourth to her already burgeoning family? That's the real question but Barb begins to worry about her own future when it appears that her cancer, in remission for seven years, may have returned. Terrified about the future of her family, Barb begins to embrace The Principle and reaches out to Ana, making formal gestures of wanting the family to begin dating her collectively. Ana, for her part, does not seem ready to commit to the rigors of plural marriage and complications quickly ensue. Look for a truly touching scene between Barb and Ana in the third episode ("Prom Queen") that is a testament to both the acting prowess of Tripplehorn and Katic and the quiet power that the series' writers manage to find in the smallest of scenes.

Second wife Nicki (Chloƫ Sevigny) meanwhile is forced to make a stunning sacrifice in the season opener ("Block Party") even as she faces added pressure to conceive another child and she deceives her sister wives and Bill from the true reasons why she opts to take a part-time job. Hint: it's not for the reasons she gives (i.e., debt) but rather something closer to her father's trial situation, something involving the identities of the Jane Does ready to testify against Roman Grant on the charges of forced matrimony and forcible copulation. And something very unexpected about Nicki's own past comes tumbling out in the wake of yet another family tragedy (and a luckily averted one to boot) in "Prom Queen." To say that this news changes our perceptions of Nicki and her past is a major understatement; in fact, it sheds a whole new light onto why Nicki is as manipulative and screwed up as she is.

Third wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodman) has already given birth to her baby and continues to try to force an eternal bond between Bill and Ana, her only real friend and ally. She also discovers that she has a knack for salesmanship, as she begins to take a larger role within Weber Gaming and becomes Bill's good luck charm. But will Margene's innate outspoken brashness be a positive or a negative in business dealings? And how will the sunny Margene recover from a crippling tragedy that leaves her in an utter state of denial? Hmmm...

Meanwhile, oldest daughter Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) continues to walk her own path as she attempts to pull away from her family's polygamist beliefs, continuing her relationship with Scott (Aaron Paul) and looking to attend college away from her family in Arizona... even as this comes as news to her best friend Heather (Tina Majorino), with whom she planned to attend the U. Episode Two, "Empire," features a shocking twist for Sarah, which I didn't see coming at all. And one of the most heartbreaking moments of the series to date, set to Alphaville's "Forever Young," occurs between Sarah and her believer brother Ben (Douglas Smith) at the very end of the third episode. Just what it's about, as the siblings watch the sunrise for the last time before life changes inexorably, I won't say but the scene is gut-wrenching, understated, and beautiful.

What else can I reveal? Look for Lois and Frank's relationship to take a twisted turn in the second and third episodes; the truth about Bill's sister Maggie, who killed herself during Bill's exile from the compound, comes out in the third episode; Adaleen (Mary Kay Place) plots in pursuit of her own brand of justice; Bill is faced with his own past repeating itself when his father Frank kicks one of his sons, Frankie, off the compound; Alby runs into some trouble in a public bathroom (ahem); Wanda is pushed to her limits in the face of secrets between Joey and Kathy; Kathy has a twin sister... who is given to Frank as a bride; and Barb squares off with her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and conniving sister Cindy (Judith Hoag) over the issue of their gaming business. All this, and a realization leads the family to take not one but two separate stands against injustice, fear, and tyrrany.

All in all, the first three episodes of Big Love are absolutely bewitching. Alternately dealing with the rigors of everyday life and the infectious stranglehold of cults, Season Three of this remarkable series is a veritable roller coaster of emotions. If these opening installments are any indication of the season ahead, Big Love is poised to take its justly earned place as one of the very best dramatic series on television right now.

Season Three of Big Love launches Sunday, January 18th at 9 pm ET/PT on HBO.


Anonymous said…
OMG! Thank you for this great review. I got goosebumps reading it! I love this series and, from your thoughts on Season Three, it looks like it just keeps getting better. I am so excited for it to start and so jealous that you got to see the first three eps!
Anonymous said…
I was also lucky enough to see these first few episodes and, if you liked the series before, you will be absolutely blown away. I think this show is really overlooked and agree with Jace that the writing and acting is comparable to a show like The Wire. It is one of the best family dramas ever to grace the small screen.
Mazza said…
What a great review! I love that you give us a lot of information without spoiling everything about the season. I am very curious about the Nicky and Sarah stuff and what you could be alluding to. All I know is that I'm drooling with anticipation for January 18!
Anonymous said…
I have never been addicted to show like Big Love before...I have season two on DVD that i have yet to watch...I guess I should get to that soon since the third season is on it's way. :)
Anonymous said…
Great review! I just watched S2 on DVD so can't wait to see what happens to the Hendrickson's next season!
Anonymous said…
After seeing the previews, it seems obvious that Sarah is pregnant, but I am interested in learning Nikki's big secret (there have been several subtle clues laid in many scenes with her mother brother and father, but now we get to finally know!) and what situation Margene will have to face, or I suppose, refuse to face. I certainly hope that her baby is okay! I simply cannot wait until the new season starts!

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