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Big Love Watch: Help Me, Rhonda

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Big Love is on a tear right now; while this episode didn’t quite match last week’s, it was again one of my favorites yet. It feels like the first season was just a prologue to this one–the show spent some slow time building its wide web of relationships, and we’re now seeing that pay dividends.

Another great week for Chloe Sevigny, who was able to take Nicki from comedy (“Yes! She can spot-weld too!”) to drama (that great confrontation with Adaleen), maintaining her character’s balance of selfishness and sympathy in both. But while we’re talking about the showdown, Mary Kay Place, who’s done solid work week in and week out, really showed her strength not only in that scene but when she destroyed the incriminating tape, finally showing the first chink in her armor as the heartbroken mother and First Wife threatened and hurt by Roman’s old-goat crush on Rhonda.

And then there’s Rhonda. Rhonda Rhonda Rhonda. I’m hoping that the final scene–with her packing her bags, donning her Hard Rock jacket and walking away from the safehouse–is not the last we see of her for a while. First, because she’s such a fascinating character, creepily intense, both deeply materialistic and deeply judgmental (“Sports games shouldn’t be played by girls. It interferes with the menses.”) But more important because she’s such a moral catalyst for this show.

I don’t know how seriously, for instance, we’re supposed to have taken Bill’s offer of information on Rhonda as leverage over Roman, but as desperate as he was, it was a cold move for someone who was abused and turned out on the streets as a kid by the compound. Between this and the video-poker deal, is Bill turning into a suburban Roman? Should we keep him away from the teenage girls? (Speaking of which: Amanda Seyfried had the other great performance of the episode, being scared and mortified by Alby’s sneaking up on her not-a-date date with the 28-year-old.)

Other highlights:

* Loved the scene with Margene and Ben’s girlfriend, confiding about wanting to drink and sneaking cigarettes. Margene doesn’t want to be Ben’s girlfriend–she just wants to be a 16 year old girl again.

* Good to see the HBO Deadwood Actors Full Employment Program continuing, with Jim Beaver (Ellsworth / Vietnam Joe) as the video-poker entrepreneur.

* “He’s not just a progressive. He’s a liberal heathen Democrat!”

* Finally, loved, loved, loved the misdirection and payoff with Lois’ cockamamie scheme to manipulate Wanda into murder, the gun in the baby carrier and Wanda’s giving it to Bill (“This is your mother’s. She was going to shoot the DA.”). Like Chekhov said, if there’s a gun on stage in the first act, it had better be in a courthouse trash can by the final act.

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