‘Big Love’: Making contact
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Sometimes, all it takes is a little connection to get things moving. Characters came together throughout this episode, titled “Strange Bedfellows” — some for the better, and some for the worse, but all of which set forward a nice, exciting momentum for the rest of the season. First, Bill trekked out to Washington, D.C., to try to get an endorsement from Congressman Paley (Perry King of “Riptide”!). Bill was oozing confidence in spades; he knew that if he could just get an audience with the Congressman he was sure he could win him over.
Of course, all this confidence could only end in hubris for our overly ambitious polygamist. After getting the runaround from Paley’s office, Bill tried another tactic to secure some Congressional face time: Crashing a fundraiser put together by lobbyist Marilyn Densham (hello, Sissy Spacek!). Too bad he showed up at her office and mistook her for a receptionist. And then made things worse by disingenuously trying to balm things over. And then lashed out when she didn’t fall for his smarmy charm. (“Lady, at this point, I wouldn’t give you $1,000 if you were Nancy Reagan herself.”) Oh, Bill. All that condescending talk is not going to win you any favors. And I loved how Marilyn took him to task for it. “You’re out of your league,” she said point blank.
The D.C. trip was also supposed to be a romantic getaway for Bill and Nicki to reignite the old, wavering flame. Only, Nicki decided to tote Cara Lynn – and a small gun (“I checked it in separately,” she said as explanation – ha!) — along as protection.
Sure, Nicki’s long lost daughter wanted to see the sights and soak up some culture, but Nicki also seemed to need her daughter to serve as a buffer for any untoward advances. (Though it was funny when Nicki acted like paranoid country mouse visiting the big city: “Don’t flash any money. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t let anyone proposition you.” And then punctuated the rant by looking pointedly at the two scantily clad women who passed them at the station and called them “whores.”)
The two spouses, however, are still not exactly on the same page, as seen when Bill bought her a barely there negligee that came like drink refills at Chili’s: bottomless. “Is this how you see me?” asked Nicki (read: a whore?).
Cara Lynn also got a rude awakening into how others saw her in this hour. (She also offered my second favorite line of the night, delivered to her birth mom in a fit of rage: “I have seven mothers, and you’re not one of them!”) Without any hobbies to speak of, the sidewalk caricaturist ultimately rendered Nicki’s fish-out-of-water daughter into one humongous and sad pouf of hair. And I know that moment with Cara Lynn on the bed unveiling the sketch was supposed to be a poignant glimpse at how she appeared to outsiders. Only, I could not stop laughing at that big mushroom on her head. In the artist’s defense, her hair was particularly high that day – like, Bumpit high. Maybe the height of her pouf was inversely related to how naked and exposed she felt everywhere else.
Ultimately, though, Bill’s weekend in D.C. was a success – not only did he get Paley to make a contribution to his campaign, but he and Nicki also made some reparations to their relationship. The scene where Nicki revealed that she wants more for Cara Lynn was both genuine and touching, and Bill’s honest words of comfort actually acknowledged her struggle (“It might not be what you’ve imagined; maybe you’ve imagined more. It’s OK; we can get there.”) and offered hope that she wasn’t alone in all this. And for the first time in I can’t remember how long, Nicki gave in enough to lean on her husband for support.
At the end of the episode, Bill all but preened as he looked out on Capitol Hill, his oyster – this semi-endorsement from Paley was what the Heavenly Father deigned, after all, and he was unapologetic about pushing his luck: “It’s what I do.” But lest he forget, it was all through the help of women that the wannabe state senator won the Congressman over: The only way that he could have gotten into the party at all was through that woman in the sitting room. And the only way that he got Marilyn to change her mind about him was through a woman (Nicki) as well (though how much do you want to bet that Marilyn changed her mind because of the Indian gaming casino?).
(Fun fact: The actress who played Bill’s escort to the fundraiser is Nancy Olson, whom movie fans might recognize as Betty Schaefer in the 1950 classic “Sunset Boulevard.” Not only do Betty’s two love interests in Billy Wilder’s film, Joe and Artie, get name checked during the episode, but there’s a funny line about someone taking “a terrible spill in the backyard” as well.)
On the compound, Alby and Dale’s lusty looks and furtive quickies have escalated into a full-on affair. They’ve even taking to wearing matching robes and shacking up in a hotel for their own getaway, and talking about reform on the compound. This can’t end well: First of all, Dale is convinced that “same-gender attraction doesn’t exist in our pre-earth life, and it doesn’t exist in the celestial kingdom. We are not stuck with this forever.” And the trustee seems consoled by that idea.
Only, it seems like Alby doesn’t want this relationship to end — now or in eternity. And despite sharing his wish to break free “to the other side, where all the people are,” there’s still a whole Big House of inner conflict and compartmentalizing going on. Alby’s not willing to share all of his secrets – he wants to keep talk of the $100-million Kansas, “the new Zion,” out of the bedroom, and won’t disclose how he got that scar on his cheek (which I believe was from trying to kill his mother with the bomb at the end of last season). Not to mention that covert snap shot that he took of them in bed together, which was both tender (I have a lover!) and hard evidence.
And how disturbing was it when he gaped like a goldfish and said he wasn’t gay? (It was reminiscent of Season 1, when he went cruising to that motel and ended up butting his head repeatedly against the wall.) Not only that, but he stood naked and judged for his indiscretions by his haunting father (welcome back, Harry Dean Stanton! So good to see the real you, and not that hollowed waxy model that got pummeled with that coffin lid), who told him to do everyone a favor and take a leap out the window. Not even the flimsy scrim of death can stop Roman from terrorizing his son.
Roman’s been busy this episode – which is saying a lot, considering he’s a dead man. His death (and bits of Joey under his fingernails) has sent Joey along the path of Leland Palmer on “Twin Peaks:” possessed and aging before his time. J.J. chipped away at the already paranoid Wanda with buzz words like DNA and exhumation, all while nefariously sucking away on a fast food drink (again!). Which, of course, sent Wanda and her delicate constitution into a frenzy, and baited Joey into a grave-digging madness.
Back on the reservation, Barb was getting her own reality check. Scott was away in Idaho, and Sarah was twiddling her thumbs as a lonely newlywed. After all those overtures to get away from her family, now it’s like she just can’t get enough, dropping by and hugging Barb unexpectedly, jumping at the chance to go to the casino for a visit and playing “assistant” to Barb’s well-intentioned but utterly useless sensitivity training seminars.
Loved how her role-playing exercise (my favorite line of the night: “The Mormon culture is very self-reliant, which is where the ‘welfare cheat’ line came from.”) and Barb’s gentle yet persistent badgering ended up in an expletive-filled rant about being in a cult and wanting to be left alone. And if that wasn’t enough, Barb had to go and hit a local meth head with her ginormous SUV. So much for building bridges. Sarah acted like she was sorry for Layla’s entire people when she apologized profusely for the bump. And as if to make some kind of reparation for the cloud of guilt that seemed to have invaded her psyche, Barb’s eldest courted the drug mule, her baby and a truckload’s worth of trouble when she invited them stay with her in her home. This, also, cannot end well.
Nor can anything that has to do with J.J. Sure, J.J. barging in on Margene’s house was violently disturbing (and gave a horrific glimpse of what this man is capable of, both in his growly timbre and brute force). But if you think about it, Bill and J.J. are a lot alike. Ultimately, their fundamental beliefs are the same: that women are mere vessels by which the men can achieve their ultimate goals. For Bill, it was the highly condescending way he requested to speak to a woman’s boss. For J.J. the highly volatile way he demanded to talk to a man.
Though high-five to Wayne (or was it Raymond?), who tried to do his part to defend Nicki’s honor when J.J. the Hun dropped in unannounced. “Mother doesn’t love you!” the little guy squeaked, to no avail. Luckily, Ben swooped in like a lanky knight in shining armor and provided a more formidable rebuff to J.J.’s hostile attack.
Ben to the rescue! My heart swelled when he stood up to J.J. and fulfilled his manly duty to protect the households while Bill was away. Loved how he didn’t back down when push came to shove. My, how he’s grown (both figuratively and literally – did you see how he towered over J.J.?).
That invasion and tussle, however, was more than enough to rattle Margie. Though who couldn’t see the barrage of red flags waving when she asked Ben to stay the night?
Poor Margie. Shilling her “Hearts on a Sleeve” line live in prime time was the biggest moment of her young life. Too bad no one in any of the three households could make it out to support her. Not even Bev at VSN was willing to muddy her business with such a thing as affection and give the attention-starved third wife a hug. Margie’s plight was made even sadder when she revealed she never had anyone in her life before she got married. What’s the point of having a big family when you can’t even depend on them? Even her bond with Jodean — who is as brusque and as grim as her twin sister Kathy (may she rest in peace) was sweet and light (and kudos to Mireille Enos for playing both so distinctively) — was futile, as she was commanded back to the compound by her husband, Frank.
Is it any wonder that all Margie’s anxiety and stress and abandonment issues were then funneled toward her knight in a black suit jacket Ben, who sacrificed his budding career as a praise band rock star in order to show his support? Ben, who rejiggered his priorities and actually put Margene first, came to save the day, once again. Not only that, but he called Margie out for the star that she is (swoon!). So it wasn’t really a surprise that this rush of gratitude, combined with three seasons’ worth of sexual tension, ended in a kiss. Only, this wasn’t just a quick smack. This one was mediated, deliberate: One that stopped worlds and hearts and branded Ben as “Mr. Margene Heffman” (a nice gender role reversal). And left Ben with a face full of confusion to go along with his newly glossed lips.
What do you think? What’s going to happen with Margene and Ben? How much of the Kansas compound do you think has to do with the season’s endgame? What do you think the significance was of the footage of “Swanee River” and blackface during Margie and Jodean’s bonding moment? Do you buy Cara Lynn’s explanation why she didn’t tell her father she was going to Washington, or could she slyly be trying to pit her parents against each other? Initial reaction to the new Teenie – yay or nay?
— Allyssa Lee
Complete ‘Big Love’ coverage on Show Tracker Photo credit: Lacey Terrell/HBO (3)