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The Nature of Sacrifice: Shots Ring Out on Big Love

"The age of false prophets is over."

As we near the end of Big Love's run next week, the notion of sacrifice hovers over the action, with each of the characters being forced to come to terms with their own personal divinity as they weigh the outcome of their actions. For every mother who strives to give their child a better life at the expense of their own happiness, there's another who puts their own insecurities and shame onto their offspring. It seems as though we truly can't even outrun out pasts, much less escape them. There's always a way that the past--whether it be a crazed gunman out for bloody vengeance, a corrugated iron washtub, or our formative experiences in childhood--manages to catch up with us.

On this week's tension-laden episode of Big Love ("Exorcism"), written by Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa and directed by Adam Davidson, the past didn't so much as sidle up to the Henricksons as it did throw a bucket of acid in their faces, forcing them to contend with the mistakes they've made, the things that have divided them, and the strength it takes to hold together in times of crisis.

Things have never looked quite so dire for the Henrickson clan. With a possible indictment coming down on Bill, along with what could end up being a twenty-year jail sentence, the Henricksons are in lockdown after Nicki's kidnapping at the hands of her deranged brother, who is gunning for them. Every relationship within the series is pushed to its breaking point here: the central marriage between Bill and his three wives seems to be hanging on by a thread, Nicki and Cara-Lynn are locked in the sort of war that only mothers and daughters best understand, and Ben and Heather, poised on the cusp of happiness, have their future threatened by the manipulations of Rhonda Volmer.

Just how can they hold together under such pressure? And just how will creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer manage to wrap up five years' worth of storylines next week?

I'm still of the mindset that there's only one way for this story to end, and that's with the restoration of balance at Juniper Creek. The prophethood was stolen by Roman Grant from the Henricksons decades earlier and we've seen throughout the series' run how both his and Alby's abuses have led to the twisting of the Principle and the ignorance and fear that have gripped the compound and the followers of the faith. There's a literal bulldozing of the past here as Bill holds a press conference and oversees the demolition of the UEB building, tearing down the building that represented Roman's reign and the physical fences and obstacles he erected around the compound, separating Juniper Creek from the outside world.

But it's the nostalgic scene enacted at the once-glorious "big house" by Lois Henrickson that brings the point home: this was the house that Lois grew up in as a girl, one that was taken from the Henricksons, just as the Grants took their legacy as prophets. It's only fitting then that Bill should be the one to restore the balance disrupted by that fateful drive between Roman and Bill's grandfather, by becoming the true prophet of their faith, a reformer and idealist who wants to bring the Principle into the 21st century rather than keep it in the darkness.

(Interestingly, I can't help but wonder whether Bill's beliefs will finally dovetail with Barb's newfound belief that women should hold the priesthood. While Barb has found a new church that allows women to serve as priests--though it denigrates plural marriage--it could be possible that the new Eden that Bill creates at Juniper Creek might be one that finally allows for equality between the sexes. Hmmm...)

However, Bill's own ideals are in jeopardy by the decisions he's made and by those statutory rape charges hanging over his head. Will he choose to sacrifice his own happiness, his time with his wives and children, in order to see man's justice served? Bill was quick to point out that he would never have entered into a relationship with Margene had he known her true age, and to separate himself and his motivations from the actions perpetrated by Cara-Lynn's teacher Greg, whom Bill views as a "predator."

For her part, Cara-Lynn would seek to find some equality between the two instances, despite the fact that Greg was fully aware of Cara-Lynn's age. What's truly depressing here is that Cara-Lynn can't see the difference nor appreciate the opportunities she's been given in life, opportunities that her mother loves to tell her were shut off to her as a teenager. Nicki's been living vicariously through Cara-Lynn for some time now, savoring the experiences of freedom and possibility that Cara-Lynn has available to her. But Nicki also seems to want to instill the same sense of shame and humiliation that she had drummed into her, something that no one else--not Roman or Alby or JJ or anyone--managed to do to Cara-Lynn.

However, the vicious conversation between the two in Cara-Lynn's bedroom doesn't need to necessarily be read as an indictment of Cara-Lynn, but rather as a soliloquy that Nicki is engaged in. The words she speaks might seem to be directed at Cara-Lynn, but they're also internalized, the words she can't dare admit to herself, the fears and insecurities she's carried with her for her whole life: fears that she's unloved, unworthy. That she's a liar and a manipulator, that she's an evil creature that no one could possibly love.

Are these two the same? In some respects, they are; they're trapped in an eternal loop of action, their individual behaviors overlapping with one another, their fates sealed unless one of them can break the cycle. Nicki tries to have Cara-Lynn sent away to be reprogrammed and broken down because she can't get through to her, but she fails to see that this is how her own parents dealt with her, that she's perpetuating the cycle of abuse rather than freeing her daughter from it. That for all of her vicarious experiences, Cara-Lynn would throw her mother's love back in her face rather than renounce her lover. In looking to free Cara-Lynn from the compound, Nicki set up yet another set of prison walls for Cara-Lynn to scale...

And Nicki's breakdown after the truth about Cara-Lynn comes out would seem to support this line of thinking, her words revealing that she has failed her daughter in so many ways and, perhaps, failed to stop her from becoming just like her. But, in an act of forgiveness and acceptance, Bill tells Nicki that her entire family loves her and that their love is itself a part of Heavenly Father's love, connecting their relationships to something divine and eternal.

All three wives, meanwhile, must contend with the very real possibility that they'll be separated from Bill, if he's sentenced to twenty years in prison and that, as the legal wife, only Nicki will be allowed to have conjugal visitation rights. (In an act of denial, Margene says they should all leave on a mission together to Africa, someplace that the law can't get them but they can all be together.) But it's not just their sexual needs that the wives are concerned about, Barb in particular: it's the emotional and spiritual needs that will go wanting as well. But what is an earthly prison sentence when it comes the eternity that they will all share together, a celestial kingdom that awaits on the other side of the veil? Those other things, they're necessary sacrifices that they'll have to make. And one would imagine the Henricksons would be used to sacrifices now.

(Hell, Cara-Lynn offers a physical one, setting her math textbooks on fire in the backyard, a pyre of rage and resentment, of crushed dreams and injured feelings. And even Alby this week speaks of sacrifice, saying "No one has sacrificed more than me. I've struggled to stay true.")

Ben, meanwhile, struggled to find a way to tell Heather about his infidelity with Rhonda Volmer after Rhonda threatened to tell Heather herself unless Ben married (!!!) her and looked after her. While Ben admitted that he did have feelings for Rhonda and doesn't want her to dance in "those places," he also feels that he's meant to be with Heather. Rhonda, however, doesn't make things any easier, telling Heather what passed between her and Ben and rubbing her nose in the fact that Ben will now forever compare sex with her to sex with Heather. When Ben says that he can have both of them, Heather throws a milkshake at him and runs off. Could it be that Ben might forsake the Principle in order to be with Heather? Or is he showing his true colors here? Is it not possible for him to be in a monogamous relationship?

In this week's episode, Bill faces down Alby not once, but twice. And, if I'm being honest, I thought that each time someone close to Bill would end up getting killed as a result. When Bill and Barb walk in on Alby and Adaleen at the Juniper Creek Dairy, I was fairly convinced that Barb wouldn't be walking away, especially after Adaleen pulled that gun on her. (Though, despite the fact that Alby charged his mother with the killing of Bill Henrickson, I don't know that Adaleen would willfully kill Bill or Barb, though I could see her trying to protect her son.) Despite the conversation earlier in which Bill said he didn't trust Barb anymore, he doubles back to his wife when he hears screams from inside the store, letting Alby escape in order to safeguard Barb. If that's not love, I don't know what is.

But it's the showdown in the halls of the State Capitol building that had me truly on edge. After the "empty" elevator and Salty's expression, I had a feeling that someone was not going to be walking away from this, particularly as Margene had only minutes earlier excused herself to go to the bathroom. With Margene on her own, an armed Alby stalking the halls, and his irrational quest of "holy" vengeance on the table, it would naturally come down to gunfire in the heart of state politics. But as Bill goes after Margene, it's actually Margene who saves Bill, distracting Alby enough that he misses the shot at Bill and allowing Bill to shoot him in the arm.

It might be over for now, but it's not over for a longshot. And it was interesting to me to see how each of the family members dealt with seeing Bill standing over Alby with a gun pointed at him. While the wives may have escaped with their lives intact, it's Nicki who wants Bill to pull the trigger, verbally willing him to do so under her breath, to enact revenge, to payback Alby for the injuries he's dealt this family. So the question that lingers over that ending is whether Bill enacts his own justice or hands over Alby to man's justice, to the same legal system that's coming after him. The sacrifice of vengeance is a sacrifice nonetheless, but it also makes me wonder if Bill sees that he too should place himself in the hands of the legal machine, to hope that his faith will preserve him and save him and that his own innocence will prevail. We'll have to wait until next week to see...

What did you think of this week's episode? Were you as convinced as I was that one of the wives would not be walking away? And just how will Olsen and Scheffer end the series next week? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Next week on the series finale of Big Love ("When Men and Mountains Meet"), Bill charts out contingency plans for the family, while orchestrating a last-minute preemptive referendum on the senate floor; Barb goes forward with her plan to join a reform-minded church; Margene contemplates taking a hiatus to serve as a volunteer abroad; Nicki despairs being left alone as her family splinters; Cara Lynn considers a return to her roots; Ben enlists Rhonda to help him win over Heather; Don shares some bad news with Bill about Home Plus; as Easter arrives, the Henricksons receive heartening support from their polygamist constituents, briefly lifting the dark cloud thatʼs been hovering over the family since Billʼs election; an unexpected vision leads Bill to a final confrontation with his most deeply-held beliefs.

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