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Big Love Watch: Arc of the Covenant

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Everyone thinks of Big Love as a show about a guy with three wives. They forget that it’s also a show about three women who have two wives and a husband. By their belief system–shared more deeply by some of them than others–Barb, Marge and Nicki are as much married to one another as to Bill.

The second-season opening jumped directly off the events of last season’s finale, at Juniper Creek (the investigation into Alby’s poisoning) and at home (where Barb feels shell-shocked and humiliated after being outed at the Beehive Mother of the Year ceremony). What I liked about this episode was that the fallout from the latter–Barb leaves home temporarily, feeling unsupported and pushed around by Bill–was as much about her relationship with her sister-wives as with her husband.

Both Nicki and Marge processed the events in their own way. Chloe Sevigny had complained in interviews last season that Nicki was too unlikeable, but I think she sold the character short. Nicki’s more complicated than she initially let on. She’s still the pushy, ambitious Nicki we know, angling to become First Wife; and yet she also wants Barb to stay, because she genuinely believes in the religious marriage commitment, and because she is, maybe, not ready to be First Wife after all. Meanwhile, Ginnifer Goodwin beautifully played the needy-trying-to-be-brave cell phone call with Barb, cheerfully offering up solutions as fast as her panicked brain could come up with them and ending, pathetically, “Barb, I don’t know if I can be married to Nicki and Bill if I’m not married to you.”

Each of the women needs this marriage for different reasons. Barb, as she reaffirms to Bill, is not truly committed to polygamy, but she’s struggling to make her commitment to him substitute for it. Nicki believes in plural marriage out of faith and birthright. Margene just needs to believe in a family, any kind of family, that can work. Whatever their reasons, they’re still in this together–for now.

Other highlights:

* Loved the parking-lot scene, with Nicki and Marge talking to Bill in direct eyeline with him, while pretending they didn’t know him.

* I always want more Harry Dean Stanton than I get, but he had a few nice scenes last night. Liked the juxtaposition of his condemning the polygamist compound that got busted–”Stupid greedy perverts”–with his attempt to buy off / threaten Joey’s vote on the board by promising him a new wife from his bridal registry: “There are rewards for following God’s path. Check this out.” (Or, should Joey choose what’s behind door number 2, Wanda could be awarded to Alby–or Frank.)

* “I’m just trying to keep it together. Asking myself, What would Abraham Lincoln do?” Does Bill remind anyone else of the polygamist Hank Hill?

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