Monday, March 23, 2009

Big Love, "Sacrament": New religion

Quick spoilers for the "Big Love" season three finale coming up just as soon as I take my kid to work...

Todd VanDerWerff, in his weekly reviews of the show at The House Next Door, has been talking all season about the possibility that Bill would one day evolve into Roman. That subtext becomes overt as Bill takes Roman's advice about seizing power from God, here by deciding to form his own church. I know Bill's intentions are better than Roman's, and he'll likely never mass the number of followers -- or the body count -- of his father-in-law, but it was still troubling to see him leading the family in the sacrament to launch his church.

And speaking of Roman, while I really hope he's dead for real this time, this show has faked me out one time too many on killing off various Juniper Creek characters (Roman, Alby, Bill's dad) without ever going through with it. Now, Joey seemed to be a lot more thorough than the Greens were when they shot Roman, but still. After the wonderful compound-free detour that was "Come, Ye Saints," the show went very, very heavy on Juniper Creek drama for the rest of the season, and I'm so, so tired of it all. Outside of wanting a bit more backstory on Selma Green (like why Hollis allows her to dress as a man), I'd be happy to never see any of those characters again, and to just deal with the problems Bill and his wives face from the modern world.

I'm also not sure how I feel about Barb inviting Nicki back into the marriage. Yes, she felt bad for Nicki after learning about her daughter, but even that original sin shouldn't absolve Nicki of all the terrible things she's done since joining Barb and Bill's family. I think Chloe Sevigny does a wonderful job of playing Nicki as more than just a caricatured witch, but from Barb's point of view, I don't know that I'd ever allow her back, let alone be the one to bring her back.

What did everybody else think -- about the finale, and about the season as a whole?


floretbroccoli said...

The Greens, not the Grants, shot Roman.

I do wonder if the producers hedge their bets on whether Harry Dean Stanton will be up to another season of work, so give themselves an out. Then, when he's hale and hearty, they write him back in.

Not only does Hollis allow Selma to dress as a man, he referred to her as "my brother Selma," during the first season.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Typo on Green/Grant. Fixed.

Taleena said...

While I am a lot more tolerant of compound shenanigans than you, Alan, I also hope that Roman is gone for good and that Ray Henry manages to also take Hollis Green out of the picture. I have been predicting to my sister that Bill is going to morph into another Roman from the moment we found out that he's the grandson of the old prophet before Roman.

I find it really interesting that Margie is coming into her own. The jewelry business, selling her car, realizing that she needed to take steps on her own to secure stability outside of Bill and then confronting him about the fact that she has grown and changed since Bill married her.

I am glad that the news that her daughter was going to be listed in the joy book pushed Nikki to make a big break from the compound stuff and realizing how toxic all those relationships are. I hope that both Margie and Nikki realize that their lives are not only what Bill wants.

Anonymous said...

I'm kinda sorry to see Harry Dean Stanton go, he was the original Juniper Creek gangsta. Alby for all his machinations, cannot hold a candle to him. "Want a half a sandwich?" Classic HDS.

I'm not surprised Bill finally decided to make the Church of Dad their religion. The dixie cups, the bread crumbs - notice how Sarah didn't take "the sacrament".

I'm also not surprise that Lura knows how to make a letter bomb!

When Cara Lynn was telling Nikki how she killed a small animal back in Kansas, I thought, apple sure doesn't fall far from that tree. I think Chloe Sevigny should win an Emmy for this season, she's been outstanding - heartbreaking, broken and evil in a prarie skirt.

Anonymous said...

You hit on the same things I've been thinking about, so I'll just post a portion of an email I just sent to a friend:

I haven't seen any LDS reactions to last week's show, but I for one think it was handled totally respectfully...I think it took for granted that Barb and her family found it beautiful and peaceful and joyful. That seems to be the position that the entire show is working from--whether it's the LDS church or Roman's cult or the Greens' cult or the beliefs the Henricksons have built their family on, the show treats those beliefs as true, and it's only the imperfect people running things that make everything so toxic and corrupt.

And now Bill has sort of taken Roman's advice about taking the power from God and made himself a prophet or something? What he and his family don't yet see is that there is hardly a thing separating him from such psychos as Roman, Hollis, and Alby. He's already prideful and sexist and horribly destructive in his decisions. Always backpedaling and covering his ass. Declaring himself leader of his own church is the cherry on top. And it's classic Bill--can't run a business, can't run a family, hey, maybe running a business, a family, AND a church will make everything better.

Meanwhile, what's more [crazy]--Alby and his CTB wife making bombs, or Barb's "I'll take your sperm to India!!!!" idea...

Also I have to say I didn't follow ANY of the various switcheroos with the stupid letter the entire season.

Finally--you watched previous seasons, right? Before the episode where Roman tried to get Kathy to marry Hollis Green, I had no idea that Selma Green was even a woman, let alone Roman's sister--did you? If it had been revealed before, I forgot it. I love how they just have a major female member of a Mormon polygamist cult just be a tranny with no explanation at all, and none of the other characters really seem to notice.

Anonymous said...

Although I like Sevigny, I think her character has been sufficiently loathsome this season for the other characters to oust her from the marriage. I'd like to see a flashback to when Nikki was taking care of Barb during her illness just to learn and discover why Bill married her in the first place. As it stands, I remain curious why Bill would fall for Roman's obnoxious daughter.

Shawn Anderson said...

I'm with you Taleena... from the moment that we found out Bill's lineage and reason for ousting, the over-arching story for the series was how does Bill eventually become Roman.

After lurching much faster towards that endpoint during season one, it felt like they slowed the progress on that front down to Breaking Bad speed, as if realizing they were going to last for more than a couple seasons, they needed to drag it out a bit.

When Roman tells Bill "You have to take authority from God" (and Bill acts on it,) it feels like the first overt jump towards this endgame since season one. And it's telling that Roman gives him a big kiss before doing it -- Roman thinks he's being like the Godfather, kissing brother Fredo, but in light of what transpires, it instead feels like the God(s) of BSG (or Kings, for that matter) interfering to better facilitate the transfer of power, planting the seed that begins with that kiss.

Even though we've seen relatively little of Nikki's ex J.J., the fact that it's Zeljko Ivanek, you almost have to assume he's going to fill the 'big bad' vacuum left by Harry Dean Stanton's Roman.

Ms Shea said...

I think Barb's main problem with Nikki was the birth control--Nikki's refusal to have more children. That's why Barb was won over by finding out about Nikki's daughter. It doesn't make up for everything, but it's a big deal to Barb that Nikki is bringing another child into the family.

Oaktown Girl said...

I, for one, never knew what the deal was with Selma. After reading this post and the comments, I guess I have a better idea now. Sure, I'd love to get the backstory on that.

This episode was very Juniper Creek-heavy. I prefer the episodes with more balance or more family- centered, but oh well. It was nice to see Nicki remove her daughter after finding out she was being put in the "Joy Book" (and what a perfectly sick thing to call it, by the way. I wonder if that's taken from real life?) I didn't like Zeljko Ivanek as a Big Wig vampire in True Blood, (I thought it was an incredibly dull casting choice), but I love him in this role as Nicki's uber-creepy first husband.

If Roman's character is really dead, I'm fine with that. It feels like we are left what could be some really interesting plot developments next season, and that's good.

Anonymous said...

The sheer amount of plot, and the new near-disasters that seem to strike this family on a weekly basis, made this season exhausting -- and the fact that the characters just keep moving forward through it all without breaking down more often seems unrealistic. (The last three episodes seemed edited strangely, skipping over key scenes, as if they couldn't fit the whole story in before the last episode.)

I wasn't surprised by Bill starting his own church -- actually, I had expected it to happen much sooner. But while he's neither as grandiose or as self-centered as Roman, he does manage to keep botching things up time and time again in the name of protecting his family. It's this self-assuredness, coupled with not thinking things through very well, that will probably end up being his downfall.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who was totally confused by the Roman/Greens storyline? I can never figure out if they're allies or if they hate each other. A couple of years ago the Greens tried to kill Roman. Then we found out Selma is Roman's sister and Roman tried to marry Kathy off to Hollis. Then it seemed like the Greens were protecting Roman and then Selma was selling him out.

Oaktown Girl said...

I remain curious why Bill would fall for Roman's obnoxious daughter.

I think the backstory we're supposed to imagine (and it's not unrealistic), is a young, healthy, sprightly, pretty thing (Nicki) taking care of not only Barb, but Bill and the kids as well. She's a godsend, basically keeping the household from falling apart while Bard is at death's door and may or may not live. Once Nicky helped pull the family through that crisis, it's easy to see how Bill could not imagine life without her. And then, isn't it just oh-so-convenient to revisit the concept of "The Principle" again?

Anyway, that's the way I think we're supposed to believe things went down.

Shawn Anderson said...

Anon, RE: Romans/Greens confusion

Both Roman and Hollis claim to be the one true prophet, which makes them enemies. But Hollis is married to Roman's sister Selma (probably set up originally to bring peace to the two camps,) which makes it understandably complicated. Sealing Kathy to Hollis was meant to kill two birds with one stone: Help ease relations with the Greens and serve punishment to Kathy for testifying against him.

The connecting theme here is women are property, and their hands in marriage are used as bargaining chips, a practice which obviously has a long history. It's long been hinted that even Nikki was married to Bill as a part of the business negotiation between Roman and Bill (Roman fronted money to start the store, with 15% of the store's profits coming to him).

Anonymous said...

Another thing Todd has talked about all season is his xpectation that next year will focu on Margene. Tonight definitely set the stage for that. While Nikki has been pushed out, I can see Marge making that choice on her own- especially if the jewelry ends up being lucrative at all.

I understand your reluctance to write about it consistently, Alan, but I really do enjoy seeing Big Love pop up around here every now and then. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

In addition to the reasons previously mentioned for bringing in Nicki, I think a lot has to do with the importance placed on bringing children into the home (and ultimately, into eternity).

Of Nicki's myriad offenses against the family, the one that seemed to turn Barb against her was the secret birth control "addiction."

With Barb seemingly on the edge of a breakdown, her "solution" is to go to India so that Bill can "father" a child.

Then, she seemingly turns on a dime and lets Nicki back into the family when Nicki brings the daughter she had formerly abandoned.

Going back into past seasons, she tried to make Rhonda part of the family.

I think a large part of her motivation to allow Nicki in was as compensation for her inability to have more children.

Cree said...

As hard to watch as Nikki can be sometimes, I love the job that Chloe Sevigny does with the role!

The compound stuff does get old, but if they decide to bring Zeljko Ivanek, as the father of Nikki's daughter, back then I will roll with it. I could probably watch the man eat dirt he's so good.

That being said, Bill is definitely taking a step towards becoming Roman. He's been so out of control this year that forming the church is his attempt to regain a stronghold over the family. I hope they explore that angle. He has the some of the same ingredients in his heart to become a false prophet like Roman.

I hope the last scene didn't mean that all is forgiven and forgotten with Nikki. She's pretty much a terrible person and they would all be fools to let her back into the fold that easily. But if Barb and Bill have decided that she's paid enough of a price then they're the fools. It will come back to bite them. It was a nice moment of redemption when Nikki brought her daughter from the compound, but it's not enough to fully pay the price she owes.

I thought the season was pretty uneven at times, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I thought that finale did a great job of tying up the loose ends and setting the course for season four.

Anonymous said...

Saw 'Big Love' in HD for the first time last night. Dang, that Ginnifer Goodwin is a cutie!

TC said...

@ Cree
That being said, Bill is definitely taking a step towards becoming Roman. He's been so out of control this year that forming the church is his attempt to regain a stronghold over the family. I hope they explore that angle. He has the some of the same ingredients in his heart to become a false prophet like Roman.
Ooh, this reminds me of last week's ep when the LDS church people ask Barb if she had received "testimony" about the polygamy. She said no, but my husband did.

It's funny, I kind of always thought Bill was running his own mini-church with the family, what with all the baptisms and such.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the finale but I thought the season 2 finale was a lot better.

I really really really disagree with the view that the compound storylines aren't good, as I have always found them pretty captivating and suspenseful, especially last season.

The storyline I am actually most disappointed in is that of Sarah's, and her decision to get married. For the first two seasons I thought her arc was pointing in the direction of her distancing herself from this lifestyle, not just of polygamy but of the whole Utah LDS conservative lifestyle. I think it would have been a lot more interesting for her character to go out into the world on her self, and leave the state or something. I don't really like the direction she's taken in the episodes following the miscarriage.

The notion of Bill starting his own religion has the potential to be a very interesting storyline in the remaining seasons, so I'm quite intrigued to see where the writers will take this.

I'm also interested to see what will happen in terms of the compound. I think Roman is dead, as even if he hadn't been murdered he was about to be arrested again, so I think his story and his arc have concluded. Will Albie still be in control, even after his injured and probable law enforcement scrutiny, or will there be a new leader?

I wonder if the writers will ever intend on Bill returning to the compound, perhaps with his new religion, to take over and also modernize the compound in an attempt to legitimize their lifestyle and faith.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I wonder if the writers will ever intend on Bill returning to the compound, perhaps with his new religion, to take over and also modernize the compound in an attempt to legitimize their lifestyle and faith.

I imagine this is exactly where it's going. Bill tries to take over the compound to prevent Alby from ruining more lives, and in the process winds up just as corrupt as the Grants.

floretbroccoli said...

I have taken The Letter as a pretty standard McGuffin. But. What was the deal about Roman not being mentioned in it, and Hollis wanting Roman to bow down to him on the basis of the letter? Any idea?

Loretta said...

Ms. Shea -- exellent observation on the children thing. I can really see that the reason Barb would be accepting of Nicki again would be because Nicki is bringing another (although older) child into the family.

We have seen from the beginning that the reason Barb went along with the principle, at least initially, was to build her family. Bringing a new daughter into the fold could go a very long way to getting back into Barb's good graces.

Unknown said...

I think Barb's motivation to let Nikki back into the family is based on the fact that Barb feels like she's about to lose her daughter to Scott. Then she finds out about how Nikki left her daughter behind to escape, and realized how hard that was, which put her relationship with Sarah into perspective.

Oaktown Girl said...

Alan - by the way, your transition to the "jump" for this one would have also worked for "Desperate Housewives" this week. In fact, so much so, that for a second I was confused about which thread I was on until I quickly remembered you don't do DH. (I'm not much of a DH fan, it was just something to veg to after Kings and while I waited to get access to the TV that has HBO so I could catch the late showings of Big Love and Breaking Bad).

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one old enough to see that tray of dixie cups and think, :::Jonestown:::?
His own religion,indeed..
Waiting for the shot of Barb peeking into a room to see Bill getting his ring kissed as the door ominously closes..

Kensington said...

I must be the only one who saw anything benign in Bill's founding of a church for his family. The way I saw it, he just wanted to provide some protection for Barb (and pre-emptively for any of the others) so that she could feel that she was no longer "cast out" and no one else would have to go through the same kind of pain she did when she was excommunicated.

As for Bill becoming Roman, I don't see why that would have to be a bad thing. Surely Bill would never allow such things as Joy Books or pedophilia even if he were to ultimately wrest control of Juniper Creek. But then, I don't see Bill as a bad man the way that others seem to. I don't think this show would work if the big love weren't genuine.

Oaktown Girl said...

Good grief - I see in my last comment I wrote Breaking Bad instead of Eastbound and Down. Of course Breaking Bad's not on HBO. My brain got confused with all the "B" sounds.

I don't see Bill as a bad man the way that others seem to.
Kensington - I don't think many viewers see Bill as bad, but on a very slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

Bill certainly isn't a bad man, but he is definitely flawed. He is a product of the environment he was raised in, but looking at some of the other people who have come from Juniper Creek he has certainly turned out better than many of them. Bill loves all of his wives and he loves his family, and as one-sided and unfair as polygamy might be, everyone in this relationship is an adult who has freely chosen the lifestyle.

Aside from the inherent sexism that lays beneath the surface of his religious beliefs, Bill's greatest flaw is, to me anyways, his inability to let things go. He constantly involves himself in situations that put him and his family in danger. He doesn't NEED to involve himself in the politics of Juniper Creek, he didn't NEED to swipe Weiber Gaming from Roman, and he certainly didn't need to involve himself in this hullabaloo about the Mormon letter this season. Hiring thugs associated with the Greenes to steal that authentication document may have been a new low for Bill. These unnecessary risks, however, are taken under the belief that he is serving some higher moral purpose.

So yeah, basically I agree that it is wrong to characterize him as a bad guy. He's essentially a good man who was just unfortunate enough to be raised in a cult.

Anonymous said...

The compound is a necessary counterpoint to the family's modern life. Without it, the show would have too much of an air of normality, the show would come off as simply a plea for tolerance for polygamy-- hey look, they're just one big family with problems similar to ours. In reality, most polygamy is of the compound variety-- ie, non-consensual.

Anonymous said...

My favourite part of the episode is seeing Nicki and Albie talk about killing their parents, and giggling through it. It was perverse and yet very sweet to see these two siblings bond.

And yeah, I'm not sure that I buy Barbara doing a 180 on Nicki. She was so adamant about dumping this sister wife prior to the talk.

Will Amanda Segfried (sp?) be appearing in season 4?

And, I do agree with Roman staying dead. If he turns out to be alive, maybe he really is sent from God. :D

Joan said...

Roman's death intrigues me -- he looks so peaceful lying there. There's no sign of a struggle. Will it be ruled death by natural causes, as unlikely as that would be on the compound?

It has been terrible to watch how Kathy's death has twisted Joey. Now that he has become a murderer (if we're to believe that Roman is actually dead), what will happen to Joey?

The sacrament scene is so ambiguous -- did Nikki take Cara Lynn away from the compound for an evening, or forever?

Last, I love how Margene's character has grown, and her scene on HSN was charming and believable. Go Marg!

Dennis said...

It is hard to believe that Goodwin was the big guy's GF in Ed.

Regarding Bill's intentions in forming his own flock and whether it will lead him back to the compound, the guy always starts with the best of intentions but what will ultimately win out: his dedication to heavenly father or his wild capitalism?

The guy would run a mile to make a buck.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

I have to agree with Christy who said of Bill, “He’s already so prideful and sexist and horribly destructive in his decisions.” When he has the hots for Ana, he rationalizes it into a religious experience, and he’s so very sanctimonious—he knows what’s best for everyone. So paternalistic and smug. I enjoy seeing him squirm from time to time as he realizes that things aren’t always under his control, and I especially enjoyed the family picture taking on the road trip where for a brief instant he sees everyone looking so pre-occupied and unhappy. But then he goes right back to the old ways. And as much as sometimes I dislike Nicki, she had a point when she said that they forgave Ana, so why can’t they forgive her? It’s true. And seeing her flirting with Ray at the office and actually looking happy for once, I wonder how much of her going into the marriage was just to get away from the compound—although she certainly has conflicting feelings there—as opposed to how much she actually loved Bill.

Also must agree with Joan who said, “I love how Margene’s character has grown.” Me too. And I love how she’s standing up to Bill and the other wives and becoming more assertive. I wouldn’t have predicted that at the beginning of the series, but it doesn’t seem forced.

BTW, I also hope HDS stays dead, but he sure does liven things up.

I would have to say that the high point from this season for me was also the road trip episode—just watching the various combinations of family as they drove and watching everyone having to interact with everyone else: no escaping the family in that one!