‘Big Love’: The heart of darkness
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The end is near, ‘Big Love’ fans. The penultimate episode of this season has come to pass, and it looks as though the family has gone the way of the McConkey barn: in shambles. Everybody has been cast into their own outer darkness. The Henricksons parted with Nicki, Joey parted with Bill and, most achingly, Barb parted with her beloved church. It was an hour filled with heartbreaking separation and uneasy alliances. (And one that received a lot of attention for depicting a sacred Mormon ceremony.)
Nicki, as we all know, had been banished from the Henrickson household and had taken refuge in her old room at the Big House. Alby, whose confidence had been growing in leaps and bounds, pampered her with fresh calico dresses, an offer of Adaleen’s Hummer and a chance to partner with him in his continued bid for compound power (much to spurned wife Lura’s dismay). And though Nicki demurred that she doesn’t belong at the compound anymore, she may not have anywhere else to go, as a refreshingly frank Barb, still stinging from the betrayal and her own worries of being excommunicated from the LDS church, wanted nothing to do with her (“You’ve just driven the love right out of me, and I’m detaching”). And Bill, either because of his feelings of being cuckolded or his own moral uncertainty, has come to the decision to have her unsealed. “There’s something in you that’s deeply broken, and I don’t know how to fix it,” he said gravely. Though if his unsettling fantasy sequences reveal any sort of truth, he loves Nicki more than he can say and feels more than a little complicit in this whole debacle. I can’t tell if his decision to be unsealed from Nicki is a result of his not wanting to deal with his own feelings of failure or if he really does feel that she is sowing unrest in his family.
(If unsealed, then Nicki will have an 0 for 2 record, as lurking J.J. reminded us at the Big House. And if his creepy mug — so effectively played by Zeljko Ivanek — weren’t enough of a reminder of her first marriage, she had a daughter with him as well?)
Bill himself felt as though the heavenly Father was throwing every trial in the book at him. And there is no denying Bill is troubled, as was made clear on his haggard face. As Barb so astutely stated, “We’re just free-floating out here. ... We have no structure, we have no church.” Barb came to him in a moment of crisis and fear, and he hollowly told her to have faith. But in what? In him? What moral compass does he follow? Bill insisted on ending his marriage with Nicki but then slept with her anyway. He trades alliances as easily as he does his morals, and it’s as though his quest for power is stripping him from his true self, whoever that is. Does he really feel that strongly about the Woodruff document, or is it just his ballooning pride and hunger for power that made him insist that Ted get the church to admit of its existence? Bill quickly gave up his stake in the document and made a deal with the D.A. to lift Roman’s probation in order to get Hollis to give up Cindy and Ted’s kidnapped daughter.
So Bill operates without a church and without any accountability. And it was because he got back into bed with Roman that Joey severed his ties. “Maybe it’s the heavenly Father’s judgment,” Joey said of Bill’s trials. “Maybe it’s his retribution.” At the beginning of the episode, we heard the nagging sound of alarm, for Bill to finally wake up and really see what’s going on around him. And at the end, when he took his nasty tumble, I thought for a second that Bill’s flippety-floppedness had caused him to buy the farm (talk about retribution!). But no, Bill rolled over and looked up through a hole in the ramshackle barn, and we were treated to gazing at a starry night sky, however framed in cobwebs, spread out above him. Though whether this is a clear-eyed revelation or another outer darkness remains to be seen.
This hour, however, belonged to Barb, as she faced losing her membership within the church. Barb has always been the moral center of the Henrickson family, so it was unsettling to see her flounder. (On the plus side, we got to witness an amazing Jeanne Tripplehorn take us through Barb’s faith-rattling, heart-wrenching journey, from fear to desperation to painful acceptance.) This is the church that Barb had been raised in all her life, that her family had been a part of for six generations. Detaching herself was not easy, especially since it was not her decision to do so. And though she didn’t want to question Bill’s authority (“I didn’t feel I was allowed to miss it”), “I do miss it,” she said of the church. “I miss the ritual and the sense of purpose.” And faced with this potential separation, she begged to enter the temple one last time, to participate in an endowment ceremony and meet her mother and sister in an all-white celestial room that I’m assuming is like heaven. (It was this part of program that the Mormon church had criticized for depicting a religious rite that was considered sacred and private.)
All this time, Barb’s allegiance to the church was like her allegiance to her family; as she had so quickly stated to Margie, “there is no difference between the two.” But discovering that the church had possibly initiated this threat of excommunication because of Bill’s hubbub over the Woodruff letter forced Barb to grapple with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her time: her mother and sister in the LDS church, or Bill and her own family.
And if you thought Jeanne Tripplehorn was incredible in the episode so far, her stand in front of the disciplinary committee was absolutely riveting. And her speech touched upon some hot-button issues. “You openly disparage my family, but you hide the truth about our history,” stated Barb, the camera zooming in on her. “I love the church. I love it more than I can say, but I believe the church and its leaders are in grave error on polygamy, and on the kinds of marriages and families it creates. I can’t forsake my family.”
Though her delivery was firm, it was no less wrenching when the stake president, in a grimace of disappointment, proclaimed Barbara Dutton Henrickson to be taken off the record books and severed from her family, her ancestors and progenitors for all eternity. And as he uttered these words, the camera slowly panned back, detaching itself from a clearly devastated Barb, fighting tears and mustering all her courage to stay faithful to her convictions, no matter the cost. (Emmy voters, take note!)
What did you think of Barb’s speech? Was Nicki’s arrival at the excommunication too little too late? Are Sarah and Scott getting back together? Will Bill and Nicki really become unsealed? Will they be prosecuted for obstruction of justice?
-- Allyssa Lee