SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, put a gun in your purse and watch last night’s Big Love.
One of the advantages to doing a show about polygamy is that the family dynamics are so, well, dynamic. When the members of the Henrickson marriage are together, there are so many different relationships, histories and tensions being reference at once that the show becomes like a complex atom with a cloud of electrons circling at different orbits.
“Strange Bedfellows,” featuring Bill’s trip with Nicki to Washington to seek a Congressman’s endorsement, had each of the wives mostly separate, and maybe as a result, it seemed less focused than last season’s outstanding road-trip episode “Come Ye Saints.” But it underscored how, for all their conflicts, each member of this plural marriage draws strength from the others. Here, each spouse, left to deal with a crisis alone, seems at to lack a crucial support.
Bill, left to his own devices, manages best, securing a not-quite endorsement with an assist from Nicki in impressing power player Marilyn (Sissy Spacek). Still her distraction in dealing with Cara Lynn—and her failure to understand the sensitivity around guns in the nation’s capital—leaves Bill with another problem to deal with at episode’s end. Nicki, trying clumsily and alone to connect with Cara Lynn, alienates her further (and in turn leaves Margene dealing with a home invasion). Barb, meanwhile, manages to botch not only her sensitivity training but her actual attempts to practice real-life sensitivity with her Native American colleagues at the casino.
You have to wonder if each of them—Bill, Nicki, Barb—wouldn’t have been better off with the assistance of Margene, who often serves the role in the marriage as the people-person with the gift of making connections and navigating through the secular world. Margene—who was so instrumental in helping Bill gladhand on his way to the casino deal—might have felt more at home in Washington, might have been able to intercede with Cara Lynn, and might have smoothed things over at the reservation. Instead, she was herself stranded, with only Ben showing for her big audition, for which she’s so grateful—against the better judgment she showed when he confessed a crush on her last season—she gives him an un-motherly smooch on the lips. Divided, they fall.
The compound, meanwhile, was mostly secondary, beyond Alby’s hookup with his lawyer hottie and J.J.’s intimidation of Wanda and Joey, which seemed to hint at big trouble to come. But the storylines were mainly significant for showing us that Harry Dean Stanton is going to continue to get work on Big Love—even if as a corpse or a ghost.
A lot of threads here, but I think I’ll enjoy it more when they come together. Now, though my gun is not loaded, a quick hail of bullets:
* One nice thing about puttig Bill in a super-secular setting like Washington, is that his essential squareness, his Hank Hill-ishness, really come to the fore. (“I wouldn’t give you a thousand dollars if you were Nancy Reagan herself,” could have come straight from Hank Hill’s mouth.)
* I’m assuming, and hoping, that Spacek, an actress I love, will have be back and have more to do eventually. She seemed a bit wasted as a D.C.-bitch character who existed mainly as an obstacle, but if Marilyn makes it to Utah, as she suggested, I hope the show will put more flesh on her.
* As you saw, we have a new Teenie. The role was recast over the break, for familiar child-actor reasons: the previous Teenie looks too old now. But it was cute that the writers actually felt obligated to rationalize Teenie’s recent absence. She was at camp! A camp where they evidently do cosmetic surgery on you and return you to your parents looking somewhat familiar, yet eerily different.
* “There’s no bottoms.” Perhaps the closest Nicki has ever come to dirty talk.