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Big Love Watch: Straight Edge

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HBO photo: Lacey Terrell

Big Love had kept us wondering for a while whether it was actually going to go the whole Brady-Bunch-forbidden-love route with Ben and Margene, and last night the show finally showed us that we weren’t the only ones who had noticed what’s been going on. I was glad, though, that their relationship, so far anyway, was more innocent than our dirty minds were imagining. And seeing Margene growing a spine and calling Barb out over her suspicions was beautiful: “You’re wrong! And you’re gross! And that sweater thing was my idea, just like the nursery! Knit your own sweater, Boss Lady!”

Speaking of Ben, I love that this is a show in which kids rebel against their parents by saying things like, “You think your dad’s leading you down an unrighteous path?” The scene with Jason Embry getting the Straight Edge sXe tattoo–rebelling against one subculture by joining another–is a reminder of the odd moral and religious universe this show has constructed, as was the resolution of the Roman-Bill conflict.

You have the compound polygamists, who rationalize thieving and cheating the government on the grounds that they’re doing it to promote a Godly way of life. You have Bill, deciding–in a variation on Roman’s sophistry–that it’s OK to go into the video-poker business because he’s trying to follow polygamy in a less exploitative way. (Speaking of which: loved the exchange about how the media never shows the “normal” polygamists.) You have the teenage kids, who are working out their own problems with polygamy by flirting with Straight Edge or mainstream Mormonism. You have the mainstream LDS Mormons, who to much of the rest of the country would seem fairly religiously conservative, but from this perspective are practically flaming secularists. And then there are the rest of us, who are–well, we’re just kind of out there somewhere. We don’t really figure in.

My favorite episode of the season yet, and solidly acted episode all around, from the little funny notes (Mary Kay Place power-sawing a hog, or explaining how she became her own step-grandma) to Chloe Sevigny’s moving performance in the last few minutes, as she realized that her father betrayed her and her family, and that–because of his choices and hers–she can never really be at home at the compound again. But perhaps the best scene was the last, when Rhonda shows up at the Henricksons’ doorstep. Jeanne Tripplehorn did a great job of portraying Barb’s multifaceted reaction–surprise, genuine sympathy, and an obvious wish to click her heels and be shut of these baby-marrying freaks–in one wordless expression.

Daveigh Chase, by the way, was also a great choice as the enigmatic, iPod-stealing, vaguely creepy Rhonda, and I’m glad she’s getting more attention. (“Being sealed to the prophet is a great honor. You’d better be intact.”) She has a way of making you wonder, with one unsettling expression, what exactly she’s up to. Here’s hoping we find out soon.