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31 March 2011
If you have Big Love on your DVR and have not yet watched the series finale, or if you are curious and plan to rent it from Netflix, DO NOT READ THIS ENTRY. It will be a spoiler from start to finish.
I was curious when I saw that there was going to be a HBO series about polygamists. I don't know how I feel about polygamy. After five seasons of the show, I still don't. But I loved the series.
Bill Paxton as Bill Hendrickson was very likeable and I fell in love with two of his wives, Jeanne Triplehorne as Barb and Ginnifer Goodwin as Margene. I've actually never liked ChloŽ Sevigny in anything, which probably means she's a wonderful actress because she never plays sympathetic roles, and her role as Nicolette always had an edge to it, often more than not.
In the first season, we see the Hendricksons as your average family. It's just that they live in three houses which are all connected by a big back yard (not visible to the neighbors). Bill goes to work, the wives sometimes are in their own home, sometimes together planning the activities and menus for the week, discussing the problems of the children and making the schedule for in whose bed Bill would be sleeping on any given day.
Bill had grown up on a polygamist compound but left it for a more normal life. He married Barb, who never imagined she would enter into a plural marriage. Nicki was the second wife and is already in place (as is Margene the third wife) at the start of the series, so we don't see what went into convincing Barb to enter a plural marriage.
Bill runs the local very successful Home Depot type store in town with his partner, Don, also a secret polygamist.
During the first season we see the "good polygamists" and the "bad polygamists." While Bill's wives seem to be full partners in their marriage, the women still on "the compound" are under the thumb of the evil Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), a self-proclamed prophet. The women dress in old fashioned garb, are often seen to be beaten and we see the dark side of polygamy. Roman's a real bad ass, who is finally killed by his son, Alby (Nicki's brother) in Season 4.
Alby is worse than Roman and what's more is a closeted homosexual. There is a constant war between Bill and "the compound," which he can't completely give up because his parents still live there.
As the series progressed, things began to shift. Margene finds that she's a wonderful salesperson and gets involved in several schemes, which seem to work against the family. Nicki is torn between her devotion to the compound and her father, Roman and her marriage to Bill. She often is the odd woman out, maintaining a semblance of the old compound ways in modified compound dress and hair style.
Bill decides to run for state senate. He is determined to make "the principle" (polygamy) legal in the state and figured that if he can get elected, he can make that happen because the electorate will see the truth behind the what he perceives to be the normalcy of his family. He runs as a man married to Barb and keeps his plural marriage a secret until the election is over.
He does get elected but things don't quite go the way he expects. His appearance with all three of his wives, and with their children at the end of Season 4, at his victory party sends his supporters into a tizzy.
I knew that Season 5 was going to be the last and I wondered how they could possibly end the series. I had seen Ginnifer Goodwin interviewed and she was so tickled about the ending, said it was something nobody would ever expect and that it was just perfect.
What could happen? They obviously couldn't end with the legalization of polygamy, since that hasn't happened. And for the Hendrickson family to leave the neighborhood would be just running away and would solve nothing (though leaving open the possibility of another series).
Well, the writers were brilliant. First, we began to see more of the compound mentality in Bill. Barb feels the calling to be a priest in their religion, but Bill puts down his foot because only men can be priests, Bill starts his own church when he is ousted by the existing one. His congegation is very, very small. Barb starts attending a church where she can exercise her calling to the priesthood.
Bill nearly loses his business and then Margene confesses that she had been 15 when she married Bill, which makes him guilty of statutory rape, even though he didn't know it. He is also in danger of losing his senate seat and he is shunned by everyone.
Then he takes a stand and brings a bill legalizing plural marriage to the floor of the senate, causing all sorts of havoc, but he becomes the hero of the plural marriage community. His church is suddenly filled with people, who treat him with the reverence that they would treat a prophet.
Barb, in the meantime, misses his big momennt in his new church because she's being baptized in her other church, but at the last minute can't go through with it and returns to Bill's church and her sister wives.
As the series winds to an end, there is a noise outside and Bill goes out to see what's going on. A mentally deranged neighbor has a beef with Bill, pulls out a gun and shoots him. As Bill lies on the ground, dying, he asks for Barb's blessing, essentially giving his approval to her priesthood.
The final scene takes place 6 months later. The family is still together. The wives work together more closely than ever, Barb has taken up Bill's post as the head of the church and the whole issue of their plural marriage is now a non-issue, since Bill is dead. Their children are starting their own families, and most have rejected the notion of plural marriage.
This may be long and rambling in the telling, but I was so incredibly impressed at how the writers took this story from the beginning to the end, created just the right kinds of friction and problems to bring about a really logical/workable/believable conclusion. And, as Bill had taken a tractor to the compound buildings before his death, the compound is gone too.
Really, really a great show.
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