Tuned In

Big Love Watch: Principle vs. (Self-) Interest

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Before you read this post, whip up a batch of turkey tetrazzini and sit down to watch last night’s Big Love:

As frustrating as Bill Henrickson can be—for all his righteousness and his rationalization of his own self-interest—his one saving grace has been his dedication to the idea that he could improve on the abusive form of polygamy in which he was raised. The defining experience that turned him against his upbringing, of course, was being turned out on the street by a father who saw him as a threat. Whatever Bill was, he was determined not to become that guy.

So much for that. What was interesting, and all the more mortifying, about his decision to kick out Ben was that it came not after Ben took the heat for the kiss with Margene, but when Margene owned up to it. In other words, he’s punishing Ben not for his acts (or not only for his acts) but for Margene’s—which make Ben the same kind of male threat that Bill’s father came back when.

It’s always been a delicate, maybe self-deceiving act, Bill’s attempt to find a third way between the secular/LDS and the polygamist world. But last night, we saw that it may be flat-out impossible—that every compromise Bill makes in the effort to win autonomy for his family simply make him more like Roman and the other abusive Juniper Creek alpha dogs.

Equally as nauseating as Bill’s turning Ben out was his asking Don to “take a bullet” on the polygamy investigation. For the good of The Principle, of course, which as always is synonymous with the good of Bill. Bill’s stated plan has been to win election to the State Senate, then declare himself so that his family can live openly as polygamists, but after having had his partner take the fall for a fraud in which he also participated, is there any way he can? It seems that every step Bill takes to gain the power to be independent only pushes him farther toward what he’s ostensibly running to change.

Beyond that, there was so much going on story-wise that I’m not even going to bother encapsulating everything here; the episode seemed to move forward something like eight or ten plots. (Too fast, often; Nicki basically seemed to teleport into the Colburn campaign.) But while that can be a problem for Big Love—and the season does seem rushed by its nine-episode order—it was more effective this week than last, partly because the Henricksons were together and able to play off each other.

Meanwhile, I’m still not sure what J.J.’s game is here—his daughter, Bill, Juniper Creek? But Zeljko Ivanek has become a strong addition to the show, bringing something of the menace of Roman Grant and the creepiness of Hollis Greene. My only concern is that, with only five episodes left, his arc has time and room to play out in a satisfying way. The hail of bullets:

* Having Bill walk in to Margene’s confession by finding her crying in an elephant costume was a beautiful setup.

* I only wish I could have had more of Frank, Lois and JoDean’s romantic trip to smuggle birds at the Mexican border—”Let’s stay at a Holiday Inn Express!”—but it was worth it for the classic scene of Lois chipperly taking a cellphone call while ducking the Border Patrol. Incidentally: Does “Give my regards to Hollis” mean we’re going to see more of him? Or is he content to lay low behind the lucrative parrot-smuggling trade?

* Alby’s promising Adaleen to J.J. was perhaps a new height of creepiness even for Big Love, but I’ll admit being puzzled by the contrast between her traumatized call to Nicki and her cheerful acceptance when Nicki showed up. (“It’s not unusual for a child to resent a parent’s new marriage.”) Was it for her benefit or for J.J.’s?

* So has J.J. successfully enlisted Joey in his “truer cause” against Bill? Yes, he has his brother-in-law over a barrel, but previously, Joey has never met a dilemma that would not leave him in the throws of an agonized decision. He seems surprisingly untraumatized when he shows up at Bill’s announcement.

* Nothing says love like grape jelly, does it?