‘Big Love’: New beginnings
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Welcome to Season 4, “Big Love” fans! At long last, HBO’s extended family drama is back: Let’s all make like Lura and pop open a contraband can of Coors to celebrate! And this episode, titled “Free At Last,” sure was a doozy. Right off the bat it’s clear that this season isn’t going to be like the others. For one thing, the opening credits have changed: There’s no more skating on thin ice to the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows.’ This time, Bill and his wives are floating through the outer darkness of their teaser trailer, to the Engineers’ ethereal song ‘Home.’ And there’s no togetherness in this one. They’re all pretty much alone in their frames, except for the last one, where Bill and someone else are just reaching — only, they never connect. It’s all so ... so distant. And so lonely. Not only that, but this new credit sequence goes into a new opening as well: Instead of being thrown into the messy maelstrom of wives and kids and households like we had at the beginning of other season premieres, the episode began with a pan in on a city street that was quiet – too quiet. Wait: Is this the same “Big Love”? Turns out it’s just the beginning of a lot of new setup. Behind those seemingly deserted streets lay enough undercurrent to churn out a volcano, and it’s as if this quiet moment was allowing us to take one last deep breath before diving headlong into the season. Slowly, we get the faint whisperings of a hymn. And then we enter into a storefront that stands for a church – Bill’s church. An oil portrait of Jesus hangs behind Bill, Don and Ben on the stage platform. The women and children are all seated tidily in rows in front of them, and everyone is polite, obedient and intent on making their testimonies before one another and before God. Eager Margie goes first and talks about the casino, then Barb reveals hopes for her family, and then Nicki, with daughter Cara Lynn by her side, stands up in atonement for her indiscretions and asks for forgiveness.
But this small scrap of order is about the only thing that goes according to the Henricksons’ plan in this episode. The calm of this church scene is undercut with scenes of the Feds busting in on Roman Grant’s wives in the Big House. The FBI demands where, in the name of the Prophet of Juniper Creek, Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton) is hiding. Adaleen (Mary Kay Place) claimed she hadn’t seen him in six weeks and throws out the notion that he may be on the lam in Mexico (especially considering his love of canciones mexicanas).
So the Feds were hot on Roman’s trail, even bumping him up to their 10 Most Wanted List, and his mysterious whereabouts permeated the entire hour. Nicki (excuse me, Nicolette Eugenia Grant) got questioned for the mysterious money that’s been dumped into her account. Bill’s efforts to finally open the Blackfoot Magic Casino were marred by the FBI’s surveillance. Even Adaleen crumbled like a sack of bacon bits under the pressure.
Of course, Roman hasn’t left the Big House at all. Rather, the Prophet had been chilling down in the cellar with all the other dead meat all along, “apparently struck dead by joy in the middle of his prime,” clucked Adaleen. Not sure why Adaleen was so manic when she called Nicki out to haul over a generator and unlock the secret of her dead father, though. While I love Mary Kay Place and would happily sit by and watch her shriek out platitudes about the other white meat (“Just … get the bacon!”), Adaleen’s frenzy seemed a little much in this situation, particularly because she’s usually so cool and calculated. Perhaps she couldn’t handle the weight of this big secret – she did pass out from the excitement, after all.
While Adaleen was content to keep Roman’s whereabouts — and therefore, his image — locked tightly under the rug in the cellar, Nicki made a beeline for her brother Alby (Matt Ross), even pulling a Mike Tyson on Lura (“She bit me!”) to get past his head wife’s imposing linebacker-esque shoulder poofs and report their father’s demise. Alby, of course, all but does the dance of joy upon hearing the news, much to his sister’s dismay. And did the shiny glimmer that erupted in Lura’s eyes signal jackpot or what?
Though Lura wouldn’t have been so joyous had she known what her husband was up to that morning. Perhaps emboldened by his absent father and flush with liquidating Roman’s assets for himself, our resident bathroom dweller has ventured out in daylight for his thrills, hanging out in parks in shorts and a baseball cap but still as buttoned up as ever. It doesn’t take long for someone to see through his binoculars, however. A hunky runner man immediately confronts Alby at his game (“I’m watching birds,” Alby responds unconvincingly), and the dashing peregrine and the brooding chicken hawk have their own tumble of a workout in the brush. Of course, this can’t be a no-strings-attached dalliance: Turns out Alby’s outdoor tryst was with Dale Tomasson (Ben Koldyke), the trustee appointed by the state to put Juniper Creek affairs in order during Roman’s absence. Ironically, Dale testified that that he brings “no hidden agenda” to his UEB dealings (Also ironic: The compound wives who duct-taped their mouths outside the courthouse in silent protest). Ooh, boy: Did you catch how neither Alby nor Dale could look each other in the eye when Bill formally introduced them? Hold on to your hats and glasses, kids — this is going to be a wild ride.
Also doing her fair share of bird watching and cruising: Lois. Bill’s mother has moved off the compound and into her own apartment and has squawked up a pretty penny for herself in the exotic bird-smuggling business. She’s also watching her back against her vengeful ferret of a husband, Frank (Bruce Dern). How great did Grace Zabriskie look all dolled up in a colorful noncompound dress, chic sunglasses and scarf, when Lois arranged to meet Frank for their ice cream date? Love how Frank went straight for her jugular and how Lois smartly fended both him and his truckload of “filthy washburn” chaperones off with her clutch-sized gun. Clearly there’s something deeper going on between these two than their desire to off each other (“I was wrong in attempting to hasten your demise,” offered Lois as an apology), which we’ll do doubt see when Lois lets Frank in on her bird-smuggling business, and Frank lets her, you know, live. Co-creator Will Scheffer mentioned that we’d get to the bottom of Lois and Frank’s relationship this season, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what makes this creaky, kooky couple tick.
But back to the casino: After two seasons, the Mormon-friendly outfit is finally opening and Bill’s hard-won Weber gaming can finally start cashing in. Even Kenny Rogers is booked to perform (though the Gambler got lost in a diverted flight, and a little lost among the rest of the story lines as well. At least it gave Ben and his new band their first paying gig. Take that, Bishop Pence!). Too bad all the federal sniffing around the casino have put Jerry Flute and his uptight son Tommy (Adam Beach) on edge. “We thought you were the sunny face of polygamy,” complained Tommy to Bill.
(Though if there really is a sunny face of polygamy, you sure won’t find it on J.J.’s pale mug. All Nicki’s ex-husband — played so creepily by Željko Ivanek — has to do is enter a scene and the temperature drops 10 degrees. It’s enough to send daughter Cara Lynn scurrying back into the trunks; though whether the line she gave her father – that she doesn’t really like it in the suburbs, that she wants to go back to Kansas when he does – is true or not remains to be seen.)
Barb, for her part, is not helping to keep the natives from being restless. Still reeling from last season’s LDS excommunication, the head wife is desperately trying to keep from becoming unmoored. Poor thing can’t really get a handle on anything these days: Her attempt to get daughter Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) and fiancé Scott (Aaron Paul) to be sealed in Bill’s church seems a Hail Mary pass at best, and her fretting over the casino’s uniforms and crab legs is not earning her any fans over at Blackfoot, despite Bill’s not-so-PC plea to “be careful not to step on anybody’s moccasins.”
“I’m just drifting.” Barb sighed. And in a role change, it’s Margie who bolsters her sister wife up – though maybe it’s also because the third wife wants to distance herself from the casino so she won’t be so distracted from her home shopping jewelry biz. “You’re just changing is all,” Margie assured. “We all are.” Though just when you think that Margie’s matured and grown up, the young wife gracelessly adds in a part about making up for Nicki’s wifely slack in the sack. “I’ve been picking up your share, believe me,” claimed Margene. “Not that I mind!”
Nicki and Bill have had problems with their own reconciliation since last season’s faux pas with Ray Henry. So it was fortuitous that they were able to have some alone time while transporting Roman’s body from the casino site — where Alby so lovingly dumped him — back to the Big House. This way, they were both able to bury her father and at least a bit of the bad blood (over cold burgers and a concoction of fry sauce) between them. And to the choral version of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, it was Bill who got his one last face-to-face with the hollowed-out Roman, and put his ever watchful hound dog eyes to rest.
Bill assured Alby that he didn’t have any taste for the Prophets. He does, however, have a taste for profits. In the same way that Nicki clicked open the refrigerator door to uncover the cold, hard Roman Grant, at the end of the episode it was Barb — successfully stepping in for an absent Bill at the casino — who had the armored security guard click open the money carrier door to uncover the cold, hard cash. And while Bill took his wives all by the hand in a gesture to thank the Heavenly Father for their abundant blessing and for finally being free from ‘the ghost that has haunted us all through these years,’ he also got distracted and broke the family circle when Jerry and Tommy Flute arrived, bearing Roman’s 10-gallon hat. “Are we correct in assuming that this would be yours?” asked Tommy.
What did you think? Will Bill be the one to literally and figuratively wear Roman’s hat this season? Will Nicki and Bill ever see eye to eye again? What did you think of the new opening credits? Wasn’t that the ‘True Blood’ guy hanging out behind Margie at the slot machines at the end? Baked salmon or crab legs?
— Allyssa Lee