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Big Love Watch: Good Girl, Naughty Girl

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SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this post until you’ve watched Big Love. With a butterscotch sundae and a Seven-Up.

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HBO photo: Lacey Terrell

So despite the HBO promos last week declaring that this would be the Big Love everyone was going to talk about, I didn’t see that coming. (I had my money on Lois whacking someone, probably Frank.) Still, Roman’s death would set some interesting stories in motion: the freedom (and fallout) for Bill, Nicki’s loss of her father and the whole succession issue. (Does Bill’s family take up his grandfather’s claim? And does this mean we don’t get to see the Greenes anymore? Please don’t let that be so.) If Roman dies–if, which I’m not counting on until I see a body in a casket.

Until then, this episode is mainly interesting for Bill’s night-off bid, which reminded us that polygamy, at least in this household, is a two-, no, four-way street: Bill’s manly obligations to his wives are as important as their womanly obligations to him.

Still, Bill is coming off increasingly unsympathetic, and increasingly Roman-like, in his business dealings and in the way that–despite all his talk about being different from the compound men–he’s trying to assert his male prerogatives. I was surprised to see him running off to Margene’s after Barb kicked him out, considering how, at the beginning of the first season, we established what a capital crime it is to poach other wives’ nights. That, and it was creepy to hear him vocalize his Madonna-whore conceptions of Nicki and Margene: “You’re a very very good girl” and “you’re a naughty girl.” (Which makes Barb what? His mother?)

Margene–often the naif, she’s the worldly one in the family on sexual dynamics–was the one who picked up on this: “Am I the one it’s easy to have sex with? Am I the play toy?” (She’s also, unsurprisingly, the most sympathetic to Ben for having premarital sex, whereas Bill can only react by first locking him down and then drawing him closer to the Principle lifestyle.)

That good-naughty distinction turned in part on the controversy about oral sex, which, as in The Sopranos’ “Boca” episode, turned out to be about much more. For Nicki, it was an offense to her religious sensibilities–she believes sex is for procreation only–and a symbol of her feelings of competition with Margene. (“She exhausts him! With all of her… demands!”) But as always on Big Love, it’s not that simple. Margene doesn’t see the issue as a competition at all, but takes it on herself to see to Nicki’s sexual fulfillment: “Why don’t you please Nicki?” she demands of Bill. “I know she says she doesn’t want it, but she does!”

Back on the compound, we heard a different take on sex-not-for-procreation, as Lois offered, after 30 years, to let Frank “come in the back door” in exchange for the return of the illicit money he had found. (“If I wanted an old caboose, I’d call Union Pacific!”) We saw Lois’ laundromat being shuttered in the closing minutes, but she’s one of my favorite characters and I’m glad the story is keeping her–her one heart’s desire–“where the action is.” But it looks like that action isn’t going to involve Roman anytime soon.

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