Pardon me as a I finish up singing along with A Juniper Creek Christmas (favorite track: "Silent Wife") and shift gears into 2010 and a new year on the compound. HBO's promos of their polygamist drama's fourth season swore "Everything. Will. Change." Did it?
Boy howdy it sure as H-E-double-hockey-sticks did! At least, with the opening credits. The most central struggles in "Big Love" have always been about balance the Henricksens' struggles between the compound and the LDS church, the prairie and the suburbs, the Principle and their faith, Home Plus and Weber Gaming, and most of all, Bill's attentions and affections among his wives. The opening credits for seasons 1-3 showed Bill and his wives skating on metaphorically and literally thin ice. In the new sequence, we see Bill, Barb, Nikki and Margene falling through the darkness, having completely let go and drifting away from each other, without Bill or any of them being able to control a thing. Have they lost the battle?
Though the title of last night's episode was "Free at Last" (a nod to the "ghost who's been haunting us," as Bill refers to the deceased Roman Grant), the Henricksens are far from free of anything, most especially the fallen leader of Juniper Creek. The episode should have been called "Weekend at Roman's," since the prophet's corpse steals far too many scenes. (What was more chilling: the corpse in the meat locker? On a deck chair in the desert? In the back of Alby's car? Collect all 3!) But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Free at Last" hit the ground running and was manic in its action, somewhat to its detriment. The interactions among Bill and his wives are what drive the show even the most mundane family tasks take on new meaning and difficulty when the responsibility is shared among three wives and seven (or so) children. And somehow, miraculously, it doesn't get old. Stop me if I've got it wrong, but the adventures at home (or Home Plus!) with the Henricksen clan have always been more interesting than the "What's new at that crazy ole Juniper Creek?" or "What government agency is after Bill now?" story arcs.
And yet "Free at Last" gives us plenty of answers to those latter questions. At Juniper Creek, Frank and Lois continue their flirtatious dance of death, Adaleen is keeping Roman in a meat locker (to protect his legacy, of course), and Alby is hiding in the bushes and cruising fellow gay men. In fact, Alby's lover from the park turns out to be ... a state employee! And ... the trustee for the Juniper Creek fortune! It's the kind of reveal "Big Love" would have typically saved, at least for a few episodes. But with lightening speed we had a new character dropped into the mix and become explosive in two ways. I'm not willing to call "Sloppy plotting!" on this development yet (because I hear Alby and Dail may be destined for more), but I will call its name in regards to Ben's sudden turn as a praise-band pop star, a subplot moment shoehorned in to provide payoff for a mediocre gag later in the episode (Kenny Rogers' plane was diverted? He can't come to the grand opening of the casino? We're doomed! Wait ... Ben has a band!). Oh and as for the government agency? It's the FBI, concerned because Adaleen is up to her old tricks, writing checks in a dead man's hand to her estranged daughter's fake bank account, and of course Bill gets caught up in all sides of the mess.
"I'm just drifting," Barb laments at one point to Margene, who responds cheerily, "we're all changing!" Yes, but I'm more with Barb on this one. I need for Bill to reach out and grab his wives and bring them and this episode together in a way that is not so uneven and rushed. Still, let us not forget some of the gems this episode provided (as noted in the Musings). And to be fair, I've been befuddled by Big Love in the past and have always found it to set itself right in the end. Maybe what this episode lacked was emotional resonance. And possibly the Beach Boys.
Next Week: The Henricksens continue to grapple with their beliefs, Ray the DA/flirt puppet and Nikki possibly rekindle some illicit romance, and Bill's hubris reaches new heights as he considers his possible role as the next prophet
Musings and Miscellanea:
(photo courtesy of HBO.com)
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