‘Big Love’ may well be one of the most underrated series on television. Although continually overlooked in favor of HBO’s bigger, flashier shows (‘The Sopranos’, ‘True Blood’, ‘Boardwalk Empire’, etc.), it has steadily, quietly grown into a real powerhouse drama. With this past Sunday’s premiere, the show returned for its fifth and final season. Considering everything that has happened to the characters in the last few years, I can hardly imagine how this thing is going to end.
The episode title, ‘Winter’, tells a lot about where the characters are. This is a cold, bleak time in the Henricksons’ lives. As we last left things, Bill had been elected to the Utah State Senate, and immediately announced his polygamist beliefs to the world, dragging his three wives up on stage with him. He believes that bringing their religion out into the light will be his redemption. Unfortunately, this move has left the family terribly alone.
The voters are upset. Bill’s employees and campaign staff feel betrayed. He has no friends or supporters on Capitol Hill. The only person who had his back there has resigned in a DUI scandal, and the new Senate Speaker (Gregory Itzin, a brilliant addition to the show) is actively and openly plotting to have him ousted.
Things aren’t very good at home either. Neither Barb nor Margene wanted to go public in the first place. Only Nicki is on Bill’s side, and she’s clearly just trying to get back in his good graces after her many recent transgressions. There’s a great deal of friction between the wives.
Margene’s been fired from her job at the home shopping network for violating the Morals clause in her contract. She’s being replaced by a new cheeseball motivational speaker (Grant Show). Further, when the INS got wind of her false marriage to Goran, Bill had to negotiate a settlement where she would immediately divorce him and Goran would be deported. It looks like Ana (and Bill’s unborn baby) will be going with him.
Nicki’s young son Wayne is being bullied at school, and the school board is reluctant to do anything about it. When Nicki foolishly tries to confront the bully herself, she inadvertently causes him to run into a pole and knock a tooth out. This leads to a huge moment of humiliation for Bill at the school board meeting, made exponentially worse when Margie blows her lid and swears at a reporter on camera.
When Bill forces Nicki to apologize to the bully’s parents, they discover that the family are secret polygamists. Yet even they want nothing to do with him, and are terrified by the added exposure he’s brought to their kind.
In the midst of all this, Barb has decided to take up drinking – just a glass of wine, but that’s more than enough to be scandalous in their faith.
Back on the Juniper Creek compound, the conservatorship has been dissolved and Alby is now in total control of the UEB. Despite this, he seems distraught and has been acting aloof. No doubt, he’s troubled by Bill’s public actions, which he believes undermine his self-appointment as the new Prophet. [Mrs. Z reminds me that Alby’s lover killed himself at the end of last season. That probably has something to do with it too, huh?] After a sojourn in the desert, he claims to have been “purified,” and vows to purify the faith. That can’t be good.
In a misguided PR move, Bill decides to hold an Open House so that he can show the public just how “normal” and unthreatening his family really is. Nobody comes… Until, at the very end of the day, a small group of polygamists turn up to thank Bill for what he’s doing. This is the only tiny glimmer of hope he’s had on this troubled path that he’s chosen to walk.
As a season premiere, ‘Winter’ is very low-key and rather depressing, but it certainly seems like an appropriate extension of last season’s finale. Knowing its history, this series has a tendency to ramp up the drama quickly and take the characters on incredibly unpredictable journeys. (I still think that the Season 3 finale, in which all of that year’s storylines were turned completely upside down in the last few minutes, was a downright miraculous piece of storytelling. I have no idea how the show’s producers pulled that off.)
A couple of little things bother me, though. In this age of Reality TV, where a real (jackass) polygamist has his own show on the TLC network, I feel like Bill’s announcement of his faith would make him much more of a national media sensation, and that he would suddenly have hangers-on crawling out of the woodworks to share the spotlight with him. Likewise, I think that after being expelled from the home shopping network, Margie could very easily move her business to the internet and capitalize on her notoriety there. (Monica Lewinsky sold handbags for a number of years, didn’t she?) Perhaps the show will somehow address (or qualm) these issues in the following episodes. No matter what, I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.