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Uninvited Guests: Til Death Do Us Part on Big Love

"We're on separate paths." - Adaleen

While the Henricksons have overcome many huge obstacles over the last five seasons, it seems as though the thing that's tearing them apart might be themselves. Through thick and thin, through betrayal and compromise, Bill and his wives have always seen past the here and now to the eternal, to the celestial kingdom where their family would spend forever walking hand in hand.

But that eternal happiness is now being called into question, as is their felicity among the quotidian existence of life on earth. This week's episode of Big Love ("Til Death Do Us Part"), written by Aaron Allen and directed by David Petrarca, found the Henricksons besieged on all sides: from Albert Grant's vengeful vendetta against Bill, to the LDS Church, and among themselves, as the paper wedding of Bill and Nicki fast approached.

We've been told that their marriage is a legal formality, a means to an end as it would allow the two to legally adopt Cara-Lynn and keep her safe. But it's also thrown the order of their family structure into chaos, it seems. Bill and Barb are now divorced and that opens up a host of questions both celestial and mundane. With law enforcement gathered at the door, the dissolution of Barb and Bill's marriage creates a situation that could spell their doom. It's one that they didn't see coming, even as the audience was waiting for the other shoe to drop as family and friends gathered together to witness the union between Bill and Nicki.

I will say that Nicki is so infrequently outwardly giving that when she does have moments of true generosity and appreciation for her sister-wives, it's entirely genuine, such as it was here. The moment that passed between Nicki and Barb, as she thanked Barb for everything, was a true heartfelt moment in every sense of the words. There was no deception here, no manipulation, no underhandedness. It was a blushing bride on her wedding day, and it was impossible not to feel that Nicki was--perhaps truly for the first time in her life--blissfully happy. She got her storybook wedding, her white dress, and her day in the spotlight. She became, in that instant, the one and only Mrs. Henrickson.

As for Barb, she wanted to be a part of the ceremony in any way that she could. While I worried, early on, that this would be a platform for her bid for the priesthood, Barb put aside any doctrine on Nicki's wedding day in order to serve as a true conduit between Nicki and Bill, to literally marry them to together but also figuratively, to put the hands of her husband and sister-wife together, to join them in an unbreakable bond, linking all three in the act of marriage.

Which is why what came later was such a colossal betrayal. Refusing to acquiesce to the others' request for a resealing, Barb was stunned to discover Bill, Nicki, and Margene being resealed without her. Even if it doesn't change her beliefs--that all four of them are sealed for all eternity--it was enough to rock her foundations to the core. The three of them have pledged themselves to one another... while Barb stands, alone, in the hallway. Does she have a place in this family? In their celestial home? Is she witnessing, in those moments, the end of her marriage altogether, both on paper and in her heart of hearts? Does she still believe her words at the wedding, that her family is "ordained of God?

Barb, of course, is no longer legally married to Bill. While she might retain his last name and control of the family finances, Barb has lost certain legal entitlements. Perhaps most notably the right not to be forced to testify against her husband. Now that she's a free agent in the eyes of the law, she could be forced to speak in court against Bill, currently under investigation for statutory rape.

In the state of Utah--and correct me if I'm wrong here--there is currently no statute of limitations on crimes of this nature, which means that Bill can still be tried for this act even though years have passed since Margene was a minor. But the damage is done: even if Bill was unaware that Margene was 16 when he bedded and later married her, ignorance of the crime does not excuse its execution. Margene may have deceived Bill and the others, but the onus doesn't lie on her as she was under the age of consent and therefore not responsible for her complicity in the affair.

Margene knows she did something wrong, even if it's taken her years to "remember" and admit this to the family. Unfortunately, she did so while Heather was around. It's a weighty knowledge that Heather can't easily shrug off and she ends up confessing her troubles to her bishop... who promptly sees this opportunity for what it is: the plunging of the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of Bill Henrickson. While Heather may have done some maturing of late, she's still woefully naive, and she believes that the privileged information that she shared with the bishop would remain in confidence. But this is a game of politics and of church that the players are engaged in, and the Mormon Church just had a smoking gun fall into their laps.

Meanwhile, while the feds investigate Bill's crime, Margene realizes that her experiences are unfolding once more within the Henrickson clan. While she finds Cara-Lynn's romance with Gary adorable and sweet, she soon realizes what is actually going on right under their noses: under-age Cara-Lynn is involved in a sexual affair with Greg Ivey. While everyone--most notably Nicki, who believes Greg has a crush on her--is oblivious to this fact, it's telling that it's Margene who picks up on the subtle cues, the familiarity between Cara-Lynn and Greg as she stands on her toes and whispers in his ear. She sees the signs because she experienced them. What she sees in that stolen moment is herself and Bill brought to life.

It's interesting to me that a show that focuses on beliefs and values would have so many characters undone by their libidos, as is so often the case with fallen religious leaders in real life. Bill's affair with Margene, Cara-Lynn's with Greg, Ben's one-night stand with Rhonda, and Alby's homosexual proclivities (a shepherd who lay with another shepherd, in Bill's words), these all represent faith-based characters being led astray, their souls falling into perdition, thanks to their hearts. But life is full of repeating patterns: snowflakes, butterfly wings, mothers and daughters. If we don't face up to the past, we're doomed to repeat it... or our children are. A trip to the theatre isn't just about poor people singing about freedom, but an opportunity to engage in an inappropriate relationship. (Greg's mother even seems, for a split second, to have twigged to what's really going on here.)

(And, yes, so too has Lois' mind has been lost, thanks to her husband's numerous improprieties. Her rage at what's befallen her is unleashed upon Barb several times in this episode, Lois' fury embedded in the vicious comment she hurls at her son's first wife: "I'm glad my son divorced you." While she may not mean it, it's a comment that hits home for Barb in that moment.)

Other thoughts:
  • Alby seems hell-bent on "purifying" the compound through any means necessary, abolishing all technology at Juniper Creek after the kids allegedly discovered "sexting," though he's free to pay Verlan to strip for him. (I'm convinced that Verlan was a hustler before meeting up with Rhonda; he's far too easily paid for his services here.)
  • Rhonda claims she lives with Crystal and her friend Jeff, but Ben sees no signs of anyone living there. Is Rhonda just squatting in an empty house? And how long before ticking timebomb Rhonda tells Heather what she and Ben got up to while they were on a break?
  • I'm glad that neighbors Carl and Pam have remained in the series throughout its run. Here, we see these two engaged in a fight about finances in front of Margene's Goji Blast group that's both timely and depressing.
  • Michael Sainte clearly has Margene wrapped around his little finger. It's refreshing to see Sainte be revealed as being a fraud and a crook while preaching prosperity through charity.
  • I'm hoping that Greg and Cara-Lynn's relationship comes to light and that it's Margene who puts a stop to it.
  • Lois and the chicken bones? Heartbreaking.

Finally, I felt as though Adaleen's words about being on a separate path hover uneasily over the episode; they're spoken to Nicki about why she won't attend the wedding (though she does come to her senses in time), but they apply here to the entire cast of characters. While it seemed for so long that nothing could break up this family, everyone seems to be walking on very separate paths these days.

Which is scary, as the thing that the Henrickson clan needs now more than ever is unity, something that's rather scarce these days. Just as Bill and Nicki come together in matrimony, we're seeing evidence of fractures everywhere else. And, what worries me, is that the ice is cracking right under their feet and the Henricksons don't even see it.

Next week on Big Love ("The Noose Tightens"), Bill looks to Albyʼs past in an effort to thwart his ambitions, leading Alby to concoct yet another diabolical scheme to bring down the Henricksons; Barb finds herself targeted as her husbandʼs accomplice as the investigation continues; Nickiʼs “rescue” of a skittish compound wife complicates life at home, and lands her in hot water at Juniper Creek; Margene finds herself at the crossroads in her business with Goji Blast; Don suffers emotional aftershocks that could have a lasting impact on Home Plus; Cara Lynnʼs secret leaks out; Heather apologizes for spilling the beans about Margene.


Hadley said…
Fantastic episode. Much more entertaining than the Oscars! I knew that Margene's secret would cause huge problems for the family but had no idea that it would be sweet, innocent Heather that led to their undoing! Also, loved the moment when Margene realizes what's going on between Greg and Cara-Lynn. Nice parallel with her own story.
Anonymous said…
Terrific wrap up Jace (like always)! It sure seems like there are a lot of loose ends for them to wrap up in this final season, but I trust their writers will work everything in...
Anonymous said…
Seems to me the fracturing of this family unit has begun in earnest. The obvious flirtations of Nicki and Margene are telling...Nicki never looked as pretty or unabashedly coquettish as she did at the theatre with Greg. Yikes! And that was just before her wedding to Bill. It was almost embarrasing to watch...high-school stuff coming from an adult woman. Likewise, Margene's heart just sings when around Michael Sainte and she clearly chooses to believe his words over Bill's cautionary ones. Barb is very much intent on doing her own thing with a vehement, single-minded purpose. One has to wonder what exactly Bill thinks he is holding onto. This was a great episode, filled with more nuances than any thus far. Great recap, Jace.

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