Tuned In

Big Love Watch: Meet the Parents

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SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this post until you’ve watched last night’s Big Love. And beware of strange women bearing videotapes.

HBO photo: Lacey Terrell

In-laws can be exasperating: if they’re not cutting off the electricity and physically threatening you, they’re getting hammered on Stoli and trying to feel you up in the kitchen. In last night’s episode, Bill and Barb got a closer look at exactly what kind of families they each married into. Bill glimpsed the drunken dysfunction that Margene was escaping–so that’s why she was so easily able to tell that Joey was plastered on her visit to the compound. (Margene, on her mother’s offer of vodka: “I’m pregnant, Mom!” “That’s an old wives tale!”) Meanwhile, Barb found that she was not as detached and unflustered by events in Romanland as she likes to let on.

The two story tracks kept this episode more focused than the past several, dropping some story threads–Rhonda, Ben–to focus on these encounters. (Though Bill’s brief ass-whuppin’ of Alby was appreciated.) The visit from Margene’s mother provided most of the comic relief (loved seeing Nicki melting under the attention from her sister-mother-in-law), and gave yet another strong episode to Ginnifer Goodwin, who has indeed been in “the bird-dog seat” this season. But it was Barb’s visit to Wanda at the compound that really paid off, and not just because we saw the return of Bruce Dern as evil scarecrow Frank.

Jeanne Tripplehorn has always played Barb as someone holding it together through force of will and playing her cards very close to her chest. We were eventually bound to see the moment where it all came unglued, if only for a second, when her efficient schoolteacher competence crumbled and she believed that crazy Frank was going to kill her. What other anxieties is she keeping in check behind that placid, everything’s-under-control exterior? How much longer can she remain above it all, as the lunacy she married into circles closer to her home?

Speaking of lunacy, I continue to love love love the bizarre, brand-wielding Greene family, as Ciudad Greene takes Big Love to new heights of Lynchian weirdness. How hilarious, and creepy, was Hollis (Luke Askew) standing in front of a map of the world in his belligerent video, claiming “suzerainty” over Juniper Creek, with androgynous Selma (Sandy Martin) standing by his side? And is there anything in the word of the prophet Joseph Smith about cross-dressing?