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Big Love Watch: Bingo!

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this, watch last night’s Big Love. Or I’ll spank you.

HBO photo: Lacey Terrell

So Bill is officially a jackass now, right? The irony of his video-poker deal is that he sees it as a means to eventually stop living a lie (having to deny being polygamists), but he can only achieve it by perpetrating another lie (pretending, as Don Embry says, that his wives have a say in the family business, while he actually runs the family as patriarchically as any compound husband). This season seems to be driving Bill, or at least those of us watching him, to realize that his attempts to be different from Roman, to be some kind of better, enlightened despot, are doomed; that road runs unavoidably to Juniper Creek.

Barb at least seems to be realizing that, getting increasingly alienated at home and determined to ensure that Sarah can have a mainstream LDS life, after Sarah tells her that their household is no different from the compound: “You’re asked to do the same thing.” “Which is?” “Settle for less than you deserve.” I don’t know if she’s going to leave Bill at some point, but she at least wants to clear Sarah’s path to leave. (And by the way: what’s with her getting all handsy-wandsy with Heather’s dad?)

The parallels between Bill and Roman are only part of what’s at work here, though. One thing the show has done really well this season is to highlight the parallels between compound life and the mainstream world. Juniper Creek is not always so different from the outside world. When it’s threatened, the leadership issues color-coded alerts and cracks down on liberties. People rationalize their self-interest in the name of principle. (“It’s no sin to make money from sinners.”) And when Sarah’s boyfriend tells Lois that she’s legally entitled to “support” from Frank, she responds by ransacking Frank’s house. Hey, justice is justice, and power is power; the only differences are the rationalizations you use to exercise it. I’m starting to think that the real hero of Big Love is Joey, who just wants to get by, not to defeat his enemies or strike a blow for some principle (little-p or big-P). “I’m just trying to be practical,” he tells Bill, upon shacking up with his potential second wife. “Not celestial.”

Things are not looking good for Joey, though, with Alby taking Roman’s place at the head of the compound. And with Barb alienated, and Nicki finding a new outlet for her addictive personality–the bingo parlor he brought her to–Bill may be losing his family support through the very plan he thought would ensure his family’s security. The poker scheme may pan out for him yet, but I wouldn’t bet all my chips on it.

Other highlights:

* Keith Olbermann scores the cool cameo of the year with his Countdown roundup of polygamy news, especially his pitch-perfect kicker about the trigger-happy Greene women: “…and a shoutout here to Squeaky Fromme.”

* I’ll miss Roman being separated from the action, but I do enjoy him as a disoriented patient, singing dirty schoolyard rhymes and demanding, “What’s my platelet count?”

* The freezer subplot was perfect on so many levels. It was in keeping with Nicki’s handywoman character (of course she would give a giant freezer as a gift); her rejection by Adaleen and subsequent assault-with-a-motor-vehicle of said appliance was both funny and touching; and it all set up the fitting denouement–that, naturally, she swiped the freezer from Margene.

* Rhonda finally achieves Nirvana, guesting on a cheesy daytime talk show. She can die happy now.

* Finally, several good moments for my favorite character, Lois: her discovery of Bill’s payment to Frank for legally marrying her (the note on the photocopied check: “marrying Lois / roofing shingles”), her clumsy but effective lies to both Sarah and Barb. I especially love how, after lying to Barb about “walking in” on Sarah and the boyfriend, she nervously slams the cell phone shut–this is a distinctively Lois move–as if she’s afraid it will bite her if she stays on a second longer. No one on television can hang up a phone as well as Grace Zabriskie.