Monday, February 23, 2009

Big Love, "Come, Ye Saints": I will turn these cars right around!

Haven't posted on "Big Love" in a while, but last night's episode (which I didn't get to until tonight) was so good -- and so delivered one of the things I've been hoping for from this show -- that I'll offer up some spoiler-y thoughts just as soon as I change out of this bathing suit...

I had largely given up on writing about "Big Love" because there were only so many ways for me to say "I love the Henricksons and wish I'd never see the Juniper Creek gang again." And then they went and gave us this lovely episode that featured Juniper Creek only in passing (with Nikki calling Wanda for advice on her flirty boss) and simply focused on the sprawling Henrickson clan and its many iterations. God, I hope the showrunners were paying attention to how strong this hour was -- and why it was -- and that maybe they'll ease back on the compound for a while down the road.

In addition to the lack of Roman, Lois and company, what made "Come, Ye Saints" work was that it was a classic family road trip story -- but a "Big Love" family road trip story. Everyone gets on everyone else's nerves, but because there are so many grown-ups and so many kids -- and because most of the adults (and some of the kids) are keeping secrets from each other -- the conflicts are blown up and never-ending. The wives finally find out about Bill's Viagra habit. Ben wrestles with having a hot sister-mom who's much closer to his own age than to his father's. Nikki cops to taking birth control. Sarah tries to keep her pregnancy a secret. And Bill's usual mask of self-denial briefly takes on some cracks, as the strains of the trip help him almost -- almost! -- see what a burden this lifestyle is on all his wives and children.

And yet there's that beautiful, sad moment at the end -- so well-played not only by Amanda Seyfried and Jeanne Tripplehorn, from whom I've come to expect excellence, but from the more uneven and opaque Bill Paxton -- when the family finds out about Sarah's pregnancy and the miscarriage, and suddenly the huge family becomes not a burden but a blessing. Four parents and seven siblings means a lot of shoulders to cry on, after all.

There are episodes of "Big Love" that I largely suffer through to get to the good stuff. This one (not just the family scenes, but moments like Charles Robinson's cameo as the angry preacher) was all good stuff, from start to finish.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

It wasn't just good, there were also so many darkly funny moments (like the kids playing with Margene's mother's ashes).

I was half-expecting to see Bill spot Christie Brinkley in the car beside him on the highway.

More of these episodes, please.

Unknown said...

At the end of this episode, I actually thought "Oh, I hope Alan is watching this one!".

Yes, my life is really that lame, lol.

Awesome episode, full of family angst.

Unknown said...

Watching all the secrets that have been festering for ages come out into the open was riveting. Didn't we see Bill take Viagra in the very first episode? Even without that, seeing all the interactions (who was riding in the card with whom) was interesting.

Amanda Seyfried was wonderful tonight. Aside from the scenes with her miscarriage, I was almost brought to tears in the scene she shared with Bill in the car. When he suggested that they spend a day together in Chicago, she was more excited and happy than I remember seeing her. Bill has always seemed more focused on the boys, and you could really see what Sarah lost when the family became plural.

Anonymous said...

I watched this episode instead of the Oscars and it was a good choice. Without any external forces at work, meaning Roman, this episode may be my favorite to date. Almost every personal secret was revealed in believable ways and that last scene.....whoh. Samantha couldn't tell her parents she was pregnant, but when she had a miscarriage all were told. That scene will be a moment in TV time to remember.

Anonymous said...

One other note. Maybe I've been too heavily invested in the BSG incest scenes that I almost didn't see it as so bad had Benny and Marge hooked up. Marge was tough and stern there and her performance carried most of the show

Hoof Hearted said...

Like Granola Mom, I was also hoping that you would post a review of this tremendous episode, Alan. Definitely the best of the season and maybe the best of the series. To have such a strong episode end with such a gut-wrenching scene was just amazing. Whatever occasional doubts I have about this show become a complete non-issue when they can deliver an hour like this one.

Anonymous said...

I loved this episode for the same reasons -- lots of family stuff, hardly any Juniper Creek stuff.

I found it a typical TV cop-out that Sarah lost her baby, though it was handled quite well. And I'm a little sick of Bill's businesses being on the brink of disaster virtually every week. But I really liked seeing -- in a show that's largely about people living their lives a certain way because of their religious beliefs -- so many aspects of what that really means.

I also really enjoyed the endless hypocrisy from Nicki, who's about the best unlikeable character on TV right now. She got mad because Margene came in to give Bill a jump-start in the bedroom, even though she was doing the same thing for herself, dressing him in a cardigan in order to fantasize about her boss. And her defense to taking birth-control pills for four years and lying about it -- which goes against everything the family believes, supposedly her most of all -- was that Bill was "taking pills" too. That was kind of hilarious.

Unknown said...

The other funny line from Nicki's explanation of why she was on the pill for four years: "I was addicted!"

She has some of the most amusing moments. The whole business with Nicki and Bill trying to get aroused for the other (she with the cardigan, he with the glimpse of Margie in that adorable swimsuit) was funny and creepy.

Then there was the clear bond between Nicki and Sarah. Nicki may not be in love with Bill, but she loves her family.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you'd post about this episode Alan.

Now I am definitely not in the crowd that dislikes Roman/Compound storylines, but I think this was my favorite of the season. Maybe in my top episodes of all time.

It was just brilliant. I can't really think of any criticisms.

Was anyone else creeped out by that angel floating around at the end?

Bianca said...

Yes the angel was a little creepy to me. I really loved the end though. It was incredibly moving.

Nikki being "addicted" to birth control pills was absolutely hilarious!

Anonymous said...

I never realized just how white "Big Love" was until Charles Robinson had his cameo. I seriously can't remember another black person having a line in the show. That can't be right, can it? I just seriously can't think of any.

Anonymous said...

It might be....but that's more just because it's set in Utah. I don't think there a lot of non-white non-Mormon non-Republicans over there.

Anonymous said...

At the end of this episode, I actually thought "Oh, I hope Alan is watching this one!".

I thought the same thing. This episode might be the best one of the series.

Anonymous said...

Best episode by far in the entire run of Big Love, and so good and redeeming that I feel paid off for watching every prior episode. There was just so much pay off in so many ways.

Beautifully done.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god.

I've loved this show since it started, but this might be the best episode. Seriously. Wow.

I want to say I've always loved the storylines involving the compound and characters like Roman and Albie, so I don't share the opinion of some, but I have to admit this episode without any of those characters was easily one of the most moving episodes of the series. Hell, maybe you guys are right. I dunno.

Anonymous said...

I think this whole season has been strong but this one had me in tears by the end. In addition to the good stuff you've all mentioned, the moment that Margene stood on those railroad tracks and said her mother was gone was simple and devastating. After the weeks in which she refused to deal with her mother's death, you'd expect a typical TV resolution (tears, a group hug) but instead we got to see the family cope in their unique way - a baptism-by-proxy in the motel tub. Another great thing about that scene was that things were still tense between almost everyone, but they set their own troubles to the side for the moment. (As opposed to having the baptism healing all of their troubles, as a lesser show might have tried to do.)

Hopefully enough viewers caught Amanda Seyfried's performance here after watching her on the Oscars... big night for her! (Did anyone else have the urge to correct her when she was giving out an award and said something about having three dads, and not three moms? It wasn't until that moment that I realized her "Mama Mia" and "Big Love" characters both have triple parents.)

One last thing - I loved in a previous episode where Ana voiced what I am always thinking - why is it okay for Bill to have many wives and still date, but she is in trouble for seeing an old boyfriend? I am glad that Ana's marriage failed, because the life isn't right for everyone, and it's good to see that not everyone can adapt so easily. I would love it to just end like that - although I'm skeptical that we won't see her again. Since she and Bill consummated their relationship, I worry we'll have a return of Ana with big belly or an infant sometime next season.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Completely agree with all of the praise heaped on this episode so far, but wanted to add that the quick looks we got at Mormon hostory, and a modern polygamous family's view on them, were yet another thing this episode did really well. They really demonstrated how foreign Mormon culture really is to much of America without doing any cliched or hackneyed "fish out of water" stuff. They also found ways to criticize some of Mormon history (the treatment of blacks, the in-absentia baptimisms) without being heavy-handed. What amazes me the most about this show is how well it balances critiques of religion while never mocking or looking down at the character's religious beliefs.

Dan Jameson said...

This wasn't a season finale, was it? How many episodes do we have left?

Oh, and I concur, AWESOME episode.

Anonymous said...


I think we were watching at the same time, Alan. I went straight to House Next Door and was disappointed their post wasn't up yet. I didn't even think to check here because it didn't seem likely you posted about it while I was watching it. Weird!

Anyway, I haven't been able to stop thinking about this episode since watching it.

The moment when Bill was taking the group photo, looked up and finally saw the sadness and worry on the faces of everyone in his family--that hit me like a ton of bricks. I've never felt so much compassion for that character--I don't think I've ever really felt compassion for Bill, and I'm a big fan of the show! A lot of the scenes in this episode--especially this one, and the one in the car with Sarah--showed the DAD side of Bill, that we rarely see. Not spiritual figurehead Dad, just Dad, like anyone else's Dad.

Margene putting Ben in his place, like a mother should. An awesome moment for that character. Ben has been the oldest son, mostly left to do whatever he wants, and also encouraged to emulate the most arrogant qualities of his father. Then with Sarah depending on him so much lately...he was starting to feel like a big man, who can take what he wants and have agency over the women in his life. Like Bill, really. And he took it too far. When he gave her the note...the weird arm-grabby twirl he gave her was so subtly inappropriate. It was practically a background shot. It wasn't really until Margene asserted herself that I really saw where they'd been going with the Ben character this season.

Nikki's whole birth control thing is fascinating to me. I used to have nightmares about getting married, and sometimes watching this show reminds me of how they felt. Ana's perspective was the big one, of course. Her reaction to being told where to live, being told she had to give them her money, giving up mundane decisions about her daily life to a man. It's like a hyper-exaggerated, specific manifestation of the vague feeling of dread I had about marriage in my younger years. But Nikki's story has that too. Even more, really. The idea of not wanting to have a baby but having the choice taken away is absolutely horrifying. A person's bodily autonomy trumps cultural and family obligations ten times over. (Seeing it from her doctor's perspective earlier this season drove that home. It was like "wow, someone has this girl under their thumb and she has few choices"). But...Nikki would be the first to say it's her duty. She believes it more than anyone. She's a hypocrite and also a compulsive liar, obviously. And yet, in her position, so entrenched in the cultural norms from birth, not wanting to have a baby, knowing that lying about it would be the only way to keep control of the situation...I'd do the exact same thing.

I kept having the feeling during this episode that scenes were ending right before someone was going to say something important. Especially, of course, Sarah telling someone that she was pregnant. The wordless ending finally had me in tears after being close to it at many points in the episode.

Effing amazing hour of TV.

Anonymous said...

The premise and the characters within the family offer so much potential they seem to squander viewer goodwill. I assume they feel the need to have a "bad guy" in Roman and all that melodrama around the cult storylines, and power intrigue, but still.

Am I the only who has trouble following all those compound wives and their loyalties? Mostly, I give up and use that time to go make a snack.

But I agree, this was a great episode and showed what this show could be if they would focus more on what I believe most viewers care about.

Susan said...

What an excellent episode. I especially loved Margene in this one. The storyline with Ben went all the way back to season 1 - if I remember correctly, Ben was spending time sleeping in Margene's house, staying up late with her, and Barb felt it was inappropriate. Back then, Margene thought it was fine and nothing was wrong. But now she's come into her own, enough to put Ben strongly in his place without any hints of flirtation. And enough to say goodbye to her mother for good.

I also feel the miscarriage was a copout, although I thought it was handled well. It just always seems that when teen characters on tv get pregnant, the miscarriage route is the most convenient way out. I was much more curious about how the family would handle the pregnancy, whether they would want her to raise the baby, or give them the baby, or give up the baby for adoption. I also thought it was interesting to watch a religious teenager, for whom abortion is truly not an option to consider. However, I did think that the family's reaction was completely moving, especially Nicki's sympathy and support.

I also thought Bill's prayer in the field was very powerful, especially because his back was to the angel - he never turned and saw it. He truly is lost.

Also loved the funny little moments - the boys playing in the ashes, Margene rushing through her Mormon holy site index cards, and everyone forgetting Bill on the road.

Anonymous said...

I share the sentiments that this was the best episode of the season (maybe series), but also want to say the Juniper Creek storylines seem a lot better this season than previously. Maybe, it's because Roman Grant hasn't had much focus this season. Either way, I hope this episode gets Big Love some Emmy recognition along with confirming Amanda Seyfried is becoming a future star.

Anonymous said...

Annoyed that am a college kid whose residence hall doesn't get HBO. Tried to get the cable guy to come here and was scolded by Dean of Students. All for Big Love and True Blood. Do not regret trying. Too irritated by missing this episode, and having to watch the online recap as a replacement, to use pronouns in sentences.

Anonymous said...

Love the show, but while the performances are consistently fantastic, I think the writing quality is variable. Sarah getting pregnant seemed a bit cheap as a plot device, and I agree with the other poster that the miscarrige is a cop-out resolution. (Nothing but high praise for Amanda Seyfried, though, who got some great scenes ot of the storyline.) I would have liked to see the crazy Sarah and Heather playhouse actually go forward... My main criticism this year is that the plot hurtles forward at such a speed that rich, unorthodox situations get wrapped up in a pat way that isn't worthy of the show. I'd love to see them linger over some of their tossed-off bits, even if they don't drive the plot: Barb and the Eagle Forum, anyone?

Anonymous said...

I thought the incident with the angel was the high point of the entire series. The uncanny music (mystere de la voix bulgare?) fit the awe-inspiring otherness of a divine encounter. The fact that it was a stage-managed pageant, and Bill never saw it-- and most of all, as the preacher said, the whole story might have been from the mouth of a charlatan-- suggests the position that human beings find themselves in. Possibly duped, lost, and yet in the presence of mystery.

Bix said...

I don't necessarily see the miscarriage as a cop-out. If she was going to get an abortion and then miscarried, THAT would be a huge cop-out along with being pretty cliched (Julia on Party of Five is the best and most recent example that I can think of).

Anonymous said...

So you don't know this but a lot more women than you think get pregnant and either miscarry or have abortions. A lot. Statistics vary but a quick googling suggests that as many as 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. I have no statistics on abortion but, anecdotally, I've been talking to my girl friends about this and a LOT of them have been pregnant at some point.

So what I am saying is that while Party of Five was a cop out, I thought Big Love's story was very realistic and handled with a lot of sensitivity.

I love how this show seems like it is about a guy with a bunch of wives but it is really all about the women. The things the women go through are strange because of their plural family but universal at the same time.

Anonymous said...

So happy that you posted about this episode. I truly enjoyed it for all the reasons shared above.
(And also because there were some scenes in Sacramento.) I live just a short bike ride away and was sooooooooo excited when they were here. And yes, I tried many ways of sneaking on the set, but they had Old Sac on complete lockdown.

Anonymous said...

This episode was awful.

The only redeeming feature was the kids freaking out after learning that they smeared Grandma on their face. But then that moment was ruined by the cliché smashing of the urn. Seriously, did anybody not see that coming when Margene showed the ceramic vase with duct tape?

We can see pregnant teenagers on the "N" so that wasn't anything special.

This season, we've been subjected to every thought of Bill's evil and greedy heart. The problem is that we're just supposed to think that a vacation trip going two-thirds across the country and back just happened with no planning? That a time capsule was filled overnight? Seriously, the women have meetings every damn day to plan out every mundane detail, this surely would have been brought up while they were discussing the weekly grocery list.

We've seen every moment of mean spirited behavior from Bill scamming out the casino, to his backroom deals, to his being lied to by his BroInLaw and the government guy. But we couldn't be shown a glimpse of something nice like planning a vacation of this magnitude? The obligatory nod to Ana's existence seemed like it was just thrown into this episode.

Bring back the compound. Without that aspect, this show is simply a bunch of hypocritical, backstabbing religious zealots not unlike the ones we see every day that spout Leviticus to condemn others while they shove shrimp cocktail in their mouths. The compound IS the reason for Bill's failures and successes as a human. Without showing that the show is empty.

Anonymous said...

I just watched Mamma Mia this weekend for the first time, and now Big Love, and I'm blown away (well, re-blown away) by Amanda Seyfried's acting abilities. I noticed this for the first time when I saw her character in Mean Girls and didn't recognize the amazing Lily from Veronica Mars. I enjoyed her character a lot in Mamma Mia, but I kept thinking that it was going to ruin Big Love for me a little bit. But without major makeup or prosthetics, she was unrecognizable as that happy, slightly flighty girl from the movie. Really, it was cool to see her with Meryl Streep, since I think that's the level of talent we have here.

Unknown said...

Just as we don't see the women plan out their groceries every week, I'm sure they discuss many things that we don't see them discuss on the actual show.

I wasn't bothered at all that we didn't see any planning of the trip or filling of the capsule.

Bill's successes or failures might be influenced by the compound in some ways, but they are more influenced by his trying to make a good life for his family, and by trying, no matter how hard it is, to be a good man in the end and do what is right.

I thought this episode was fabulous without the compound at all. I hope we see more episodes like this one. The family dynamics are what really make the show.