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Indestructible: Truth and Consequences on Big Love

"We're not holy. We're all unholy." - Barb

As dire as things have been for the Henricksons in the past, things looked especially bleak at Christmas, even as Bill noted that they had made it through the darkest day of the year and into the light. But that's the problem with the sunlight sometimes: in the harsh light of day, you can't avoid the seeing the truth right in front of you. Things are not what they seem: plum pudding contains no plums, after all.

On this week's gut-wrenching episode of Big Love ("Certain Poor Shepherds"), written by Jami OʼBrien and directed by David Petrarca, the family has to contend that their own inner secrets may be the thing that destroys them in the end. Even as they make their way onto the ice--to the ironic strains of ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You"--in a show of unity, Bill and his wives are anything but a singular unit, each concealing something in turn, a hurtful truth that puts further strain on this already aching clan.

But as the snow comes down and the Henricksons gather outside in their Living Nativity, putting on a show for the entire neighborhood to see, one can't shake the feeling that each of them has been playing a role for some time now. The darkest days, it seems, are still yet to come.

Before we get into anything, I want to discuss the truth about Margene's admission this week. I had a brief inkling of the truth of her situation last week when she spoke about being a few credits shy of her high school diploma; for some reason that fact stick with me and made me wonder if she wasn't younger than we thought she was.

The truth is that Margene is younger than we thought. She and Ben were even closer in age than we believed over the first few seasons (making their mutual attraction all the more understandable, perhaps), as both she and Ginger lied to Bill when they met. While the family believed that babysitter Margene was 18 years old when she and Bill wed, the truth is far different: Margene was only 16 years old, below the age of consent. Which makes her pre-marital relations with Bill unlawful and morally reprehensible.

It's no surprise that the family reacts the way that they do. They had the wool pulled over their eyes by Margene and welcomed her into their family without knowing what they were doing, believing that she was an adult with the ability to make her own decisions, rather than a minor that they were bringing into their polygamist lifestyle.

For Bill, with all of his talk of cleaning up the compounds and purifying the faith, it's a slap across the face. He's railed against the abuses of Juniper Creek his entire adult life, against forcible marriages, underage sealing, against everything that Roman Grant and his ilk have perpetrated over the years, twisting their religious beliefs and corrupting them altogether.

What happened with Margene goes against everything he has been fighting for, and striving to build with Safety Net. Her lie makes him complicit in the web of abuse, even though he had no knowledge of his actions. Their marriage to Margene began with the basest of lies. From her point of view, it doesn't change anything: what difference could two years shaved off her drivers license really matter? But the truth is that there are forcing looking to take down Bill, looking to round up the polygamists and recriminalize their lifestyle. Two years can make a huge difference at the end of the day, if people were to learn of the truth.

And that's what Margene doesn't quite see. It's not a matter of hiding her drivers license when Bill asks for it or hedging about her true age. It's a shocking betrayal that cuts to the heart of their marriage and puts their very future in jeopardy.

And clearly, as we see at the shelter, it's affecting how Bill sees his youngest wife, as he suddenly treats her at a distance, keeping her at arm's length until he can determine just how to react. How does one recover from his? Does it fundamentally change the way he sees Margene? How any of them do?

While Bill might not know what to do with Margene, Barb runs away from the situation, fleeing the shelter to return to the darkness of the empty houses, seeking solace in the plum pudding and the bottle. This season has seen Barb tempted to experience new things, to taste from the forbidden fruit, but here she has given herself over to excess. As she lurches about the kitchen drunkenly, there's a real sense of sadness and loss over her life, as she finds herself unable to process this latest betrayal.

Her naked drunkenness, her shame, and her anger all coalesce in that scene in the kitchen, as the family enters to find her eating plum pudding out of a can by herself. I don't for a second believe that Barb is an alcoholic, but her behavior is troubling here; she's thrown off one of their strongest beliefs (abstaining from alcohol) because her voice isn't heard in their marriage or in their religion. Still reeling from the horror in Nicki's voice when she attempted to give a blessing to Margene last week, Barb lives in hope that Bill will see her point of view and allow her to bless the congregation. (No way; instead, he asks Ben to do so.)

She is seeing her good works go up in flames. The time and energy she put into the casino have been completely eradicated; her beloved ice cream bar replaced by some slutty dancers grinding away to "Santa Baby." Her marriage has been based on lies. Her quest for religious equality stamped out by traditionalist Bill. The promise of eternity has been damaged by their sin in inviting Margene into their marital bed.

Barb's drunkenness is more than an escape; it's an attempt to stop feeling, to numb the pain and the frustration and the compromise and the lies. Standing in the snow after, her loneliness and isolation is palpable, even as her sister-wives and Bil gather around her. But it's her words that cut like a knife: "We're not holy," she says, sadly but resolutely. "We're all unholy."

Interestingly, that viewpoint is echoed by Alby, for all of his talk of purifying the compound. But Alby's thoughts on purity are very different than anyone else's: he takes it upon himself to poison all of the dogs on the compound, turning on Lura and threatening to have her children reassigned. He kicks Adaleen out of the big house after learning that she still has that "monstrosity" inside of her.

Even more intriguingly, both women flee Juniper Creek and end up at the Henricksons, looking for refuge. In the last three episodes, we've been seeing a nexus of power and influence building up around Bill within the polygamist community. His church is now filled with new faces, his homes bursting with cast-out polygamists (Adaleen, Lura, Lois).

As I said a few weeks back in my advance review of the fifth season, I believe that the endgame is upon us and that Bill will eventually receive his true destiny and will become the true prophet of Juniper Creek, ushering in a new age for polygamy, one that's markedly different from the amoral corruption of the Grants' rule.

There's a moment at the shelter where Lura finds herself trapped between Bill and Alby, between her new life as an outcast and her old life as the prophet's wife. But the scales have fallen from her eyes; she now sees her husband for the monster that he is. She chooses to stay rather than to return and there's hope in the scene where she blinks her eyes after removing her false eyelashes; it's as though she's seeing for the first time in a very long time.

It also connects to the faux plum pudding and the other false faces encountered in this episode, to the lies told to Cara Lynn about JJ by Nicki and Margene and the way that Bill doesn't want to see the truth about his mother. It's not until Bill sees the results, does the truth about Lois hit home, but he can't deny just how widespread her mental state is when Lois takes the kids in search of Santa and has a complete breakdown at the drive-through. It's a gutting reversal for this fierce woman, so canny, so conniving and brilliant, who is undone by her own mind. (Kudos to Grace Zabriskie for pulling off this tough transformation with honesty and grace.)

Nothing is as it seems until we're presented with proof. Just as Bill sees evidence of Lois' dementia (even in the face of her "indestructible" nature), Cara Lynn needs hard proof of her father's death before she can let go. Convincing Gary to drive her to the compound, she stands in the burnt wreckage of JJ's clinic, the realization hitting home that her father is dead even as Adaleen attempts to continue to lie to her.

But Adaleen does finally come clean to Cara Lynn, just as she finally does to herself, realizing that she doesn't want to carry this child to term. She destroys all of her hormones, sweeping the empty bottles into the trash, but interestingly, she chooses to return to Albert, to her grieving son, to promise her eternal support and steadfast love. It's a shocking about-face for Adaleen, but she's always been a survivor at heart.

Elsewhere, Bill nearly crosses a line with his condemnation of Alby in front of his young children, even though he's telling the truth. But these children, already reeling from their mother's flight from Juniper Creek, don't need to see the harshness of their father's true nature. Not yet, anyway. Just as Cara Lynn contends that she always saw her father as a "good man" ("He taught me how to ride a bicycle," she says sadly), so too likely do Alby's children not see him for what he truly is. But it's a testament, perhaps, to Lura's strength that she doesn't go back to Albert and to the compound, even with the threats he throws at her.

Last, I just want to say how happy I am that Tina Majorino's Heather Tuttle is back in the mix this season; I've missed Heather and I'm glad that the writers sought to bring her back for this final season. Her perspective and outlook are needed here, even as she and Ben seem to be heading for romantic territory. I loved Ben's shock upon seeing her, and how much Heather had changed since they last met.

Seeing, it seems, is believing.

Next week on Big Love ("The Oath"), with his swearing-in ceremony only days away, Bill searches for ways to overcome the anti-polygamist sentiment swelling among state officials; Barbʼs strategic attendance at a First Ladiesʼ fashion show triggers
lingering resentment between Nicki and Margene – and between Barb and Nicki; Rhonda and exiled polygamist Verlan try to shake down Alby; Margene and Pam find their niche with Goji Blast and Michael Sainte; Nicki pushes for Cara Lynnʼs adoption; Lois learns the source of her ailment; Ben rewards Heather for her sensitivity.


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