Monday, March 08, 2010

Big Love, "End of Days": We stand alone together

A quick review of last night's "Big Love" season finale coming up just as soon as I try on the dress you picked out for yourself...
"You sad, stupid man." -Marilyn Densham
There are several moments in "End of Days" where Bill is confronted with the hypocrisy, selfishness and destructiveness of his actions, first by Don, then by Marilyn, then by Barb. Considering what a monster the character has become, these should be satisfying moments of reckoning. But they're not, because Bill Henrickson is so lacking in any kind of self-awareness, so consumed with a belief system that, as Marilyn notes, is really "just another excuse for f--king around," that he's incapable of feeling shame or remorse. It doesn't matter if the wake-up call is coming from a hated enemy like Marilyn, or the best friend Bill betrayed, or his #1 wife - Bill had a testimony, and he's going to follow that no matter who gets hurt in the process, end scene.

And while I've been known to obsess on TV shows with reprehensible main characters who are incapable of learning or changing (Tony Soprano, to name one), those shows came with charismatic actors in those roles, and/or such assured storytelling around the anti-hero that I accepted the lack of growth as the price of admission. But as played by Bill Paxton, Bill is an incredibly bland and opaque main character. And as we've discussed in many previous weeks, the show's storytelling this year has become such a ridiculous mess - trying to stuff what felt like three seasons worth of plot and character arcs into a 9-episode bag - that I'm finding it hard to care about any of it.

The acting by many of the female castmembers (here the wives plus Melora Walters as Wanda and Mary Kay Place as Adaleen) is still great, even if the characters' journeys only sometimes make sense (Nicki's arc, in particular, was all over the map this year). That, plus my vague curiosity at seeing how much ruin descends on the family now that Bill has stupidly come out of the closet, may keep me watching through gritted teeth next season. But this year was a pretty spectacular creative failure, and I hope the creative team is more capable of learning from its mistakes than Bill is.

What did everybody else think?

42 comments:

Jeff Polman said...

Right on the money, Alan. Worst season BY FAR. There were so many plot ropes that they strangled each other to death. (What the hell was Sissy Spacek's character ever up to?) Might have to re-watch the wonderful "Come Ye Saints" from last year to clear my head.

Ken Raining said...

You could not be more right about this show. I've never been more than lukewarm about it (and only continue to watch it because my wife does), but this season was an epic failure. I am glad, at least, that they did have the balls to have Bill follow through on his promise to reveal himself as a polygamist, because to not do so would have been a huge copout. However, the whole "Bill running for State Senate" thing has been such a ludicrous premise... a man with the skeletons in the closet that Bill has, not to mention the enemies that would love to take him down, would never get close to election day. You're right, he's not one of those HBO "bad people that are somehow still likable"; he's just an ass.

Kensington said...

Ugh, what a train wreck this season was, and unfortunately the finale went back to the well of frying-pan-in-the-face excess that I hoped it had gotten out of its system when Lois chopped off Hollis Greene's arm as if he were made out of Silly Putty.

For an example from the finale, is there anyone associated with Juniper Creek who is capable of dealing with a problem without getting murderous? Anyone? I gather that Adelade set JJ and his wife on fire, but I couldn't tell for sure because my eyes were rolling.

I really hope that the producers and writers do some soul searching this year and rethink what they seem to want out of Big Love.

It would be lovely to think that next season could be smaller and quieter, with a focus on what it takes to make a family like the Henricksens work, but that would hardly seem to be in the cards based on the finale.

If that's the case, then I hope they'll at least try to keep their ambitions more in line with what can be realistically accomplished in ten episodes (which I understand is what the length of next season will be).

Laurel said...

Did anyone catch Amanda Seyfried on the E! red carpet pre oscar show? When asked why she left BL she inferred that the plotlines were just too crazy and she no longer wanted to be on the sinking ship. She seemed really sweet by not wanting to say anything bad about the show but you could tell what she was saying without her actually saying it.

All I have to say about the finale is I am glad it is over. I feel like I survived! I hope that the show can pick itself up, brush itself off and start over next season.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Alan, and, unlike you, I've been a supporter of this show's many virtues --until this season. To have a main character who is so thoroughly despicable, selfish, perhaps sociopathic could only work if he was as dynamic -- and flawed -- as a Tony Soprano, or one of my favorites, Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, both eminently watchable, giving surprisng performances.
And that Bill, no matter what he does, never faces -- and is never changed by -- the consequences of his bad acts weakens the story, further alienates me. Cranston's character knows he's lost his moral center, sees his life spin out of control -- and he began his unlikely quest as a drug maker to save his family from ruin after his death, which is another key difference -- Bill's quest has been purely selfish all the way.

As a woman, watching this finale make me feel like another abused sister wife. Barb and Margene have both become strong, autonomous characters -- so why don't they leave Bill up on that stage? He's just napalmed their lives; now, I kept screaming, this is your chance. Poor Nicki's just all over the place; a mini-skirt is not self-affirming, and her sudden "love" for bill smacks of despair.

What a mess, and I don't think I care to see where the action picks up next year, because despite all the frenetic activity this season, NOTHING HAS CHANGED. And too many great characters, like Tommy, were merely props to toss away. Too much waste, the Juniper Creek hijinks wearing thin, not enough satisfaction.

Shame on the creators of this show; they've squandered a lot of good will this season.

CARL said...

Oh Lord,where to start. I don't think since the last season of Roseanne,I have seen a show lose it's way creatively from one season to the next. I was watching this on Tivo last night and couldn't believe what I seeing. I kept thinking,this is a joke right? And who from HBO watched this and said "yeah looks great"? They should be fired. I know this sounds silly,but they should seriously consider this as a "dream" season. Let Margene or Teeny wake up and say "You won't believe this nightmare I just had"
And the big question,where do they go from here? The premise the series was built on is gone. There is no conflict. Just more screaming and characters completely directionless. An embarassing mess.

Elinor Ferrars said...

I have to disagree. I enjoyed this season, though I found it the most thoroughly depressing one so far. Bill Paxton has taken the self-righteous, faith-obsessed, sexist, power-mad polygamist dad to a new level of despicable. And he's always the hero. Love all the wives' stories, they're like watching a multi-car pileup. Some of it is completely unbelievable, but that's kinda what I look for in good tv. Thanks for your posts, Alan!

Elinor Ferrars said...

Laurel, I saw Amanda Seyfried on E. She did her best not to sound overly negative, but I got the impression it was because her character didn't play a big enough role.

mrsb said...

Though it was all smashed in together with too few episodes, I enjoyed the show this season. Maybe it's a little out there, but a lot of cable shows are.

And I'd just like to add that I totally called the whole JJ sperminating everyone thing last week, lol! Though it ended up being a bit creepier than even I thought it would be!

Oskar said...

I completely agree, but I still sort-of respect the show for being so balls-out crazy that they were not only slightly mediocre, they really accomplished a fiasco this season.

And you know what, I'd rather watch a show where the really fail in a spectacular way than a show were the writers are really not trying anymore. Here's hoping they go equally balls-out next season, just dial down the terrible.

Anonymous said...

I think my problem with the Bill character is that he just seems so incredibly vacant. It's not just that he doesn't stop to consider the consequences of his actions, but I get the sense that he's not even really capable of comprehending them.

My feeling at the end of the finale was "We waited all season for THAT?" I guess I'm glad they actually went through with the coming out, but I'm not really sure where the story goes from here. First of all, in real life Bill would immediately be impeached and tossed out of office, but I doubt the show will go that route. In general I just think having the family go public changes the entire tone of the series, and not for the better. The show has always been at its best when it focuses on the minutae of the family's complicated living situation. Having things taken to a grander scale where they have to deal with public scrutiny not only seems like something beyond the original premise of the show, but something the show isn't all that well-equipped to deal with.

I also think the JJ storyline was a total misfire. Maybe it would have been intriguing if we'd had any hint all season long where it was going. Instead they dragged out all the revelations until the last possible minute. The writers said they wanted to tackle the incest angle, which is fine, but they didn't really seem to tackle it so much as use for shock value for the finale. I kind of doubt we'll see any of the fallout or repercussions of it next season since the show clearly doesn't care about the actual psychological and societal implications of such a scheme and is just interested in over the top twists like Adalene setting JJ and wife on fire. (A major wtf moment.)

Laurel said...

Elinor,

I am glad to get someone else's take on that. She did say that her character didn't get enough to do, but it seemed to me like there was more to it because she made a comment about how crazy the show was this season. Maybe I am projecting my feelings onto her!!

Anonymous said...

Finale was a mess like the entire season has been, but there was some good moments buried in there. I think Barb decided to stay for Nicki and Margene, even though she's had enough of Bill. I'm basing that on the hair braid cutting scene, and its too bad they didn't have time to explain it better. But its an interesting development for Barb's character (especially at a time when Nicki wants to usurp her and Margene may jump ship to another multi-wife family) and made me realize that buried under all the nonsense this season had yet another strong arc for Barb. Too bad they wasted so much time on the other crap.

KronicFatigue said...

The writers had two interesting ideas for this season, but executed them in the most ridiculous ways. First, Bill becoming his father by kicking out Ben only to find redemption could have been interesting. But instead, they had Margene hit on Ben, Ben run away to Mexico, get kidnapped and caged in an ostrage pen, and then be saved when his grandmother cuts off Hollis' arm. Yikes. Similarly, Bill decide to intentionally expose his family is interesting, but the whole idea of running for office is absurd. How will being a politician protect him? His Casino and Home Depot business can be boycotted/bankrupted still. Ugh, forget it, this show made no sense and it's not even worth thinking about.

CARL said...

Alan,
Do you think any of this would have been better had they had more time? Say 13 episodes? Or was it the writing as a whole?

Miranda said...

Regardless of the actor's reasons for leaving, I do think it made sense, character-wise, for Sarah to get the hell out of Utah and away from Bill. For me, that was the most satisfying development all season. I imagine a very happy fictional life for her in Portland.

kishkeking said...

I don't understand why the writers had such small ambitions for Bill this season. If I was in the writers room I would have pushed to have Bill run for President. Meanwhile, it would be revealed that JJ was impregnating women not just in Kansas but across the country for decades. So much so that Bill would win enough electoral votes to be our first plural marriage pres.

janiejones said...

I agree with all sentiments especially Anon 1:28. The comparison of feeling like an abused wife via Bill was well written.
I have felt like my personality and intelligence was stomped on while watching Big Love this season during that hour. It's disheartening when you realize a show can dig deep and instead comes up with ridiculous story lines of large proportions.

Alan, your description of Bill as bland and opaque rang crystal clear.

The show had opportunities galore to take some or a few of the issues and explore them within 9 episodes. Instead we were given a train off of it's tracks.

Not that it would have redeemed the season but if Barb had left
Bill, I would have felt some type of satisfaction.

Major disappointment.....could vie for the biggest in television for the year for me.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Major disappointment.....could vie for the biggest in television for the year for me.

If I revive the Festivus column this year (it took last year off), I know what's gonna be at the top of the list...

JanieJones said...

Comment never appeared...
Argh...just like this season except I wrote it more succintly and with a bit of critical thought.
I agree with Alan's assessment along with many.

My intelligence felt a bit insulted as the season progressed.

This season of Big Love could vie for my most disappointing show of the year.

Mark said...

The show has come off the tracks, jumped the shark etc..The only good thing I can say is how stunning did Chloe look last night in the courthuse scenes. The straight hair look is a great look for her.

Jeff Polman said...

Did forget to mention that the closing shots of the family holding hands in front of the hushed, emptying audience with the wind blowing across the podium as if from heaven itself was a haunting and very powerful moment.

The Chancellor said...

I have to agree with Alan and the majority of commenters that this season was pretty much a flop. That said, I'm hopeful that the last few mintutes of the season finale, with Bill saying to Barb, "...we're off the tracks...," before we see Bill and the wives standing alone together, that we'll see a creative arc next season focused on how the family deals with going public, rather than the casino, Juniper Creek, Albie's sexuality, Ciudad Green, etc., etc., etc. If that's the case, the characters we're most invested in can take center stage, and there's certainly no shortage of stories to tell there.

Nickname unavailable said...

This season was just a mess. The fact that they start a casino and they don't have enough to write about with that and all the issues that could/would come up with that, they had to go and have Bill run for office.
I love that Barb finally stood up to Bill on the fact that she doesn't need him anymore and that this isn't the life she wants is very big, but they didn't do anything with that. Fine she said it and oh well.

Anonymous said...

I used to love this show, but only watched sporadically this year due to the ridiculousness of the storylines (my husband continues to watch it every week). All season-long, I've been asking how Bill running for office furthers his goals (or the goals of the show's creative team, whatever those may be). Last night, my husband and I agreed: having Bill "come out" at his victory celebration just proved how stupid he (and the writers) are. The results of the election haven't been certified, the voters are going to cry voter fraud, and Bill is never even going to take office. So what was the point?

Like Alan and many others, I always found the relationships among the wives and children to be the most interesting aspect of the show. All of this other crap just gets in the way of what was a great show. Of course, my question has always been: how did Bill get one of these women, not to mention all three of them, to marry him and agree to this lifestyle? I get it with Nicki, and sort of get the Barb background with her illness (although it seems to be a great leap from grateful to please share a bed with my husband), but how about Margene? I think it's clear from what we have seen that these women agreed to this arrangement due to forces and deficiencies internal to them, not to any great attraction on the part of Bill (who has been aptly described by others as vacant). Why don't they explore that? That is the show I signed on for, not this craziness.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

If the "Lois Chops Off Hollis' Arm" show was the official "jump the shark" episode, then last night's finale was the "Dragnet" episode.

As in DUMB-DEE-DUMB-DUMB.....I know; I'm showing my age.

Do the writer's really expect us to believe for a second this scenario at the end of the episode with a man just elected to the state Senate...and a red state Republican to boot...standing on the steps of the state capitol to announce to the world that he has three wives and a busload of children? And the three women who have gone through so much angst these weeks and months are still with him in this ludicrous situation?

BIG LOVE has become like an out of control sketch on SNL that seemed a lot funnier and smarter in dress rehearsal.

And Alan, everything you've said about the Bill Hendrickson character is right on the mark...you could loathe what Tony Soprano was but he had personality and charm. Bill Hendrickson is just a bland, self righteous back stabber with little sense of empathy. Its very hard to like the guy....and he doesn't have the charisma to make him somebody you love to hate.

Anonymous said...

Would this really make your Festivus list? I didn't think you cared enough about the show to be that upset.

Larry said...

I keep hoping that, at the start of the next season, Bill will wake up and discover it was all a dream and that he actually manages a B&B in Vermont.

Though that would be more plausible than many of the contrivances that were passed off as stories this season.

Anonymous said...

I think they'll have to sell the house and move in with Wanda at the compound next season. It should be good.

//chops

Anonymous said...

The ONLY good thing about this season, is that Chloe Sevigny finally escaped from those awful Civil war-era frocks and got some decent clothes.

Brian said...

I don't understand the easy complaints about this season: 1) Bill is so unlikeable; 2) the show is, vaguely, a "mess" . . . as for 1) this show is trying to do a difficult thing--offer a main character who can be delusional/moronic/patriarchal/selfish/misguided (pick your mix of the above for Bill) who's also unsympathetic and something of a mirror/cipher figure, reflecting his church and the patriarchy--he doesn't have to be charming or have charisma, etc., especially in a show that's not really about Bill but about his wives and the effect of the patriarchy on women . . . Bill is a male sucked dry of an obvious identity, even a clear masculinity, because he's constantly acting and reacting rather than actually thinking or feeling . . . and even then, there's some sympathetic backstory to him at times if anyone cares (abandoned as a lost boy, etc.); 2) yes, the show is stuffed with plot and, no doubt, at times a bit too much, but the show is also about the particularly American, capitalist delusion about growth--add more, do more, make more (more Home Pluses, more wives, more kids, etc.); in these ways, Big Love and polygamy are all about a patriarchal delusional sense of infinite growth in a part of the US that believes it can mix (capitalistically expanding) state and (polygamously expanding) church . . . if people insist on pointing out the show's failures so much, at least do so while considering the show's attempted critical framework and crucial metaphorical premise

Anonymous said...

shows like this one run their course pretty quick. tough to keep churning out stories that matter. esp when the actors are terrible like paxton

Moshen Family said...

I think Sissy Spacek had the best lines of the whole series when she totally blasted polygamy and the ridiculous way polygamists use God to justify their sexual appetites. Boom. That's it. Shows over; it's all hypocrisy and the women are fools for falling for it.

Lepidoptera said...

It's funny, when Zeljko Ivanek was killed off of Damages, there was a shocking sense that the show had done itself a tremendous disservice by offing one of its strongest characters, and that the actor (on his way to Best Supp Actor Emmy) was being robbed of the role of a lifetime.

This time around, it seems like a blessing to Mr Ivanek that he has been released from this colossal mess. As with nearly everything this season, his acting was always watchable, and his story arc never touched down.

One has to wonder if, at the close of the penultimate episode, Amanda Seyfried was crying tears that she would miss these freaks, or if she was feeling like the rest of us about this entire misguided season.

It is not impossible to come back from a misstep - I would argue that Damages is doing it this season - but Big Love Season 4 was not a misstep, it was a catastrophe, and the Nets have a better chance of coming back from a 20 point 4thQ deficit than the Henricksons do from this season.

Anonymous said...

I agree with those that said that this show is at its best when it is focusing on the development and evolution of the women, the family unit and (I'm know I'm in a minority) comparing that unit to the backward nature of the compound.

One of my favoite moments this season was when Barb told Bill that she was afraid of the effect his "coming out" would have on the children. If next season focuses on that, I would be really impressed. Instead it will be Bill fighting for his seat (and defending himself from the backers he defrauded), Margene having a a polygamist affair, the Greens seeking revenge and Albey going crazy.

Even if they did the whole "ripped from the headlines" thing with the underage marriages and the lost boys that would be really cool. Instead it was an after thought/throw in story this season.

When its good its a great show and that is what will keep me watching.

blinky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hollywoodaholic said...

Just how did Aladeen manage to catch and tie up JJ and the wigless wonder? And how could a Senator-elect make such an alarming statement and just get a wave of silence instead of a mad dash of press corps photographers? Oh, why do I bother even asking?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Okay, discussing actual religions (as opposed to what people like Alby and JJ and Bill practice) likely falls under the boundaries of the No Politics rule of commenting. Just safer for everybody if we steer clear of that.

Mark Jones said...

This season was one hot mess, for sure. My wife and I were really hoping early on that Bill would decide to throw his hat in the ring for the position of Prophet rather than run for office. It seemed like a nearly sure thing, storywise. It would feed Bill's ego (from abandoned Lost Boy to successful business and family man to Prophet, succeeding his enemy Roman and putting him in a position to set right everything he thinks is wrong about Juniper Creek). It would provide years of story possibilities. And it would suit Bill's personality ("It's my way, or the highway!") far better than the give and take required of _successful_ politicians.

As it stands now, however, I hope that next season starts with Bill's opponent sitting in the legislature, while Bill struggles with the fallout from his coming out of the closet--and burning a lot of supporters in the process. A boycott of Hendrickson Home Plus, for instance. Or of the casino. Plus serious attention from the authorities which would turn up all sorts of skeletons in his closet. (Falsified employee records, for instance--Don's not the only known polygamist at the store now; the authorities may look more closely.) And now that Bill knows Joey killed Roman, doesn't that make him an accessory after the fact if he doesn't come forward? Or all of them?

Liz Coopersmith said...

Not so much disappointed on this end. Bill is CLEARLY delusional, but it never really surprised me that his wives were wiling to go along with it, because they've been going along with his crap for years. It's not a reality-based dynamic. I actually liked how the writers have been setting up this train wreck, combining Bill's delusions of grandeur with his wives' increasing independence and priorities outside the home. Barb has the casino, Nikki has her daughter, Marge has her business. Plus, you can tell that they really didn't think he was going to win,which means their lives weren't really going to change. And what happened once Barb realized he COULD win? She dropped the dime on him so fast it literally made my head spin. They put together a hell of a scenario for next season - whether he makes it to the state capitol or not, everyone's lives are changed forever. I can't WAIT to see what happens next year.

Anonymous said...

I honestly thought that Barb only got up the end b/c it was one last thing she would do for Bill....that she wouldn't embarrass him (or the family) by not standing up at that moment and then share with the sister-wives that she was leaving the family once they got home.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks the ending on stage didn't really happen? Barb said she would not go, so this scene was all in Bill's head.