‘Big Love’: “Behind every man there’s an exhausted woman”
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There’s a lot going on this weekend: the Olympics, Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day, the Lunar New Year. And a new episode of “Big Love!” And maybe the writers were trying to give us the best Presidential Olympic Valentine Year of the Tiger gift ever, because “Under One Roof” was pretty great – it fired on all cylinders and had a super strong finish. In the words of the Mexican bird man, this episode was super bien. A lot of the greatness had to do with the women of the show being front and center, supporting one another and asserting themselves all over the place. For example, Marilyn Densham, who plowed her way into Blackfoot Casino, Bill be damned. While there’s no doubt that Marilyn’s got some of her own tricks up her sleeves (maybe something that has to do with the Nez Perce tribe of Idaho, which was not happy with the Blackfoot infringing on their territory), it was great to see her go toe to toe with Slick Willie and knock him off his high horse. My favorite was when she defended Barb and ripped Bill a new one, all in one fell swoop: “It just so happens I like your wife. I respect her,” she said. “Heaven only knows what she’s doing with a horse’s ass like you.” Booya! It may have not involved pig’s blood, but it sure was effective nonetheless.
Though she couldn’t have done any of this without Barb. And again, there’s no doubt that Marilyn was getting chummy with Barb to achieve her own end, but it was nice to see the unmoored, harangued and put-up first wife being bolstered and acknowledged for once. “Behind every man there’s an exhausted woman,” Marilyn commiserated. And it’s no surprise that Barb was crushing on Marilyn: Here’s this strong woman who speaks her mind, has ambitions and is not afraid to follow them. Perhaps more alluring — she doesn’t have to be attached to any sort of man to do it. Barb looked so comfortable and so carefree over a round of root beer floats when she hearkened back to her old life and shared that story about her Rockefeller Republican mother and seeing the ocean for the first time. “You never told me that,” said Sarah. “Well, there’s a lot of things I haven’t told you,” Barb answered.
Maybe because Bill’s massive ego demands most of Barb’s space. And it was strategic of Marilyn to see that and expose it to the hilt. Though after an extended crisis of confidence that turned her into milquetoast, it was refreshing to see Barb voice her fears and opinions and come into her own. Barb was clearly wooed by Marilyn’s attention and pampering (did you see her use the mug Marilyn gave her during the pitch meeting? Speaking of pitch meeting, did you see how Tommy’s gaze on her lasted a couple beats too long?) and her confidence grew in leaps and bounds because of it.
Had it not been for Marilyn, I also don’t think Barb could have confronted Bill about his premarital dalliance with Ana (and Margie, for that matter). Or delivered that awesome speech outright questioning Bill’s motives. “Everything’s supposedly for a higher good: The wives, the babies, the campaign, the billboards, the big new campaign headquarters,” she said. “But I have to ask myself, Bill: Is this truly for us, or is it really just for you? Or are you just trying to fix something that’s broken in you?” Way to go for the gold, Barb! She couldn’t have stuck the landing better had she finished with two snaps at the end.
And while, again, there’s no doubt that this new contract will most likely not end well, but how great was it to see Barb cross out her husband’s name and sign the contract for him? (Though really, Barb was taking a move out of her husband’s own playbook: Get into bed with someone first, and then deal with the consequences later). And who knew Barb could be such a mean girl? After kicking down Margie’s booth at the convention last episode, she was so effective at freezing the third wife out while dishing out the dirt about Ana. “How’s Bill?” Margie asked innocently, when Barb revealed Ana was expecting Bill’s baby. “Well, how would you imagine?” Barb snapped back. Rowr!
So, yes, Ana’s back, and pregnant with Bill’s baby. And while I wasn’t sure about how I felt about her return (as Nicki said, “We don’t need to scrounge around a restaurant for a baby” - ha!), I found Branka Katic’s comic relief hilarious enough to tolerate the fourth wife’s presence … for now. Loved Ana’s deadpan reaction when her erstwhile husband came up to her at the bar: “Oh crap. Bill.” Or when she gasped in dismay upon seeing the three wives all lined up and sitting pretty at one of her tables. Of course, this too cannot end well, because a pregnant Ana who at first wanted nothing to do with the family and now has a fiancé and is looking to draft paperwork and visitation rights – but only with Bill – does not make the happy formula for the “It’s Complicated” sequel. And Ana has some serious leverage in the situation – with a baby out of wedlock and dirt on their polygamy, all she has to do is say the husky word and she can take down Bill’s campaign and the family lickety-split.
Though Bill may think that Barb “and the sisters of mercy can be a bit overwhelming,” I happen to love it when the show focuses on the wives. My favorite scene was when they had that intervention for Margie (devised by Bill, no less), and ended up baring their truest feelings. Margie, who is moving closer and closer to burning her bras, has taken to making speeches to her Toastmasters club with titles like “Independence and Autonomy: Choices for Women,” and defended her wish to have Bill wait a year before coming out as polygamists. “I’m not being resistant, I’m stating my opinion,” Marge asserted. “I went from being a little girl to being a married woman. There was no in between. I’m finding my voice; what’s wrong with wanting more?”
Margie also got Barb to finally (finally) voice her fears about “not being able to keep up with Bill on the vision after this vision, whatever it will be.” And spurred Nicki to rant and rave about the anger of her own lost life. “I never had the little girl part, let alone the in between!” And the way that Chloë Sevigny tore through that speech and toppled over that chair on her way out is the stuff that satisfying drama (and Emmy reels) are made of.
Nicki’s still reeling from the damage of her own broken childhood. Of course, most of her histrionics do bring it back to her, like Melinda says, but I would be pretty messed up if I was married off at La Esperanza when I was a teenager too. And that whole sequence where Nicki drove up to the fleabag motel and came upon the sealings, all angry and rebel yell in a mini skirt and heels and legs out to there, pretty much rewrote the book on disturbing. To watch Nicki go into room after room looking for Cara Lynn was like having front row seats to the freak show. The images of girls crying (sad), a teenager kneeling and reading scripture with a man who looked old enough to be her grandfather (shudder), and then to Cara Lynn, who was to be married off to some polygamist hobbit (“You’ll be my seventh. That makes us both so lucky” – make it stop!) left an icky film that won’t rinse away. But good for Nicki for retuning back to the scene where she was married off to J.J. and physically stopping her daughter from entering into the same fate. Though whether or not that rebellious ponytail (“It’s ridiculous,” said Adaleen. “It’s on the side of your head!”) also survives this fallout remains to be seen.
And in comparison to that fruitcake parade, J.J. and Adaleen’s union almost seemed normal, didn’t it? And dare I say it, but J.J. seemed almost tender and admiring of his new wife (and Adaleen could not look more uncomfortable – were her undergarments made out of wool?). But no: He’s still a monster, right? Right?
Certainly, anyone who was born of those parents cannot be right in the head. The way that J.J. and Wanda’s Mommy and Papa came in and descended upon their poor daughter was like a scene in a horror movie. It gives me the heebie-jeebies to think about her mother forcefully asking her for a hug. And then the way her father came close, brushed the hair back from her ear (the way J.J. did earlier this season!) and whispered “baby doll” was enough for me to crawl out of my skin. No wonder Wanda had to go to her (drug-addled?) happy place (“She’s in the nursery with the ponies”); if I had parents like that, I would wish myself into an ether, too.
The creepiness doesn’t end there: Hollis Greene is back! And looking all relaxed and Hannibal Lecter-esque at his Mexican outpost, with Selma, apparently freed from the clink and the clutches of her dictatorial brother Roman, all suited up by his side. When I saw Greene’s henchwoman — so recognizable with that chopped-up Flowbeed hair — holding that red pepper, I knew things were going to get hot. Turns out Lois was trying to sidestep having to pay Greenes the middleman charge by going to the mercado to pick up the birds directly from the supplier herself. Only Hollis was not willing to let her get off so easily. So much for the Grand Tetons. (On the upside, however, loved how Jodean acted as the bilingual go-between in all the proceedings; drolly translating everything from “super good” to “Can I touch his beautiful hair?”)
And I know he’s a sociopath who tried to kill his father, but one had to have a heart of stone not to feel for Alby in this episode. He’s fallen so head over heels for Dale that he rented an apartment, carving out yet another compartmentalized space where they could be alone and themselves — Dale could put syrup on his omelet without being judged.
Only Alby’s love for Dale was not enough to keep him from drowning. Particularly when a heartbroken Lura had discovered their secret relationship. (Silly me for thinking that Lura would be helpless to do anything about it once she found out.) Though when Alby, in a rare moment of sibling vulnerability, spoke so tenderly of Dale to Nicki (“Don’t judge me,” he said. “He sees the good in me”), I didn’t know who to feel sorrier for: him or Lura, who was just around the corner listening.
In this episode, one got the sense of how hard it was for Dale to be Dale. (“If you love the church; if you want your place in heaven; if you love your family, then you must find a way to stop”). You could literally see this man shrinking from the weight of these demands and the fear of damnation as they clashed against his true nature. He also became the collateral damage in the fight between alpha dogs Bill and Alby. Poor Dale ultimately could not reconcile who he was and what others required him to be.
We all knew that was not going to end well. But still, how devastating was it when Alby happened upon his body in the apartment? Even as you knew it was coming (it always happens after someone goes out on a limb and tells someone they love them – Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!), it didn’t lessen the shock to see it actually played out. And huge props to Matt Ross for pulling it off so convincingly – it was wrenching to see Alby give his would-be savior a kiss on the foot before collapsing on the floor beside him.
What did you think, “Big Love” fans? Did you find this hour as excellent and exhilarating as I did? Was it me, or were the wives not as impressed with Bill’s mansion on the hill as he wanted them to be? Is Jodean going to come to Lois, Frank and Ben’s rescue, or will she just leave them hanging? What’s going to happen to Alby? What will happen between Alby and Lura? Was Cara Lynn sealed to Toby?
-- Allyssa Lee
Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO