Welcome toÂ Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this weekâ€™s episode ofÂ Big Love.
It’s an honest-to-god compliment when I say that “Til Death Do Us Part,” this week’s installment, makes me sick. For fifty-six minutes, the tension builds with elegant precision, like a murderer gliding through fresh snow around a beautiful house, gracefully blocking the doors before he sneaks through a window. And then in the final scene, when chaos breaks in, it tiptoes. Only a few people realize what’s happening, and all the rest keep laughing. Watching those few souls poisoned with knowledge is so agonizing it makes my stomach twist around.
Just to be wild, let’s start with that closing scene, which charts Nicki and Bill’s wedding reception . It starts withÂ Barb. Director David Petrarca uses steadi-cam shots, so that without many edits, we can follow her journey through her house, counting napkins, stacking appetizers, and ordering kids off the sofa.
It’s Barb, of course, that officiates the wedding, since the internet has made her a member of the Universal Life Church. (That’s a slap in the face to Bill’s new church, with rings on three fingers.) During the ceremony, Jeanne Tripplehorn communicates just how important that job is to her, just how much it makes her feel connected to her family, and so when the camera glides smoothly behind her around the reception, it reflects her new sense of peace.
And then the camera glides upstairs, just as Barb sees Bill and Margie and Nicki getting re-sealed in a bedroom. The poison of knowledge. Soft.
Barb refused to take part in the re-sealing, since as she said, it would require both negating the sealing in her former church, which still matters to her, and believing in Bill’s new church,where she doesn’t feel welcome. So when Barb sees it happening, she’s watching her family move on without her. Down on their knees, they are literally forming a circle, and she is on the outside.
And oh, the cruel camera. Barb gets ejected from her family, but the camera keeps gliding along. It ends up on the other side of the sealing circle, so that we can see into the hallway and watch Barb, unnoticed, creep into another room. Just as the sealers look up, she disappears. She’s quiet, the scene is quiet, and the ramifications are loud.
How fitting, too, that a few moments later, when the cops come to the door, they whisk Barb away for questioning about Bill’s statutory rape of Margene. How will she react to the questions, since her family just shunned her for needing time to make up her mind?
And speaking of the cops: Heather. I loved the moment when she got the phone call at the reception, because she knew what was coming to the Henrickson house before we did. In a marvelously written arc, we spend the episode watching Heather just before and after she does things: We see her about to tell her Bishop that she knows Margene got married at sixteen.We see her after she decides to date Ben again. We see her hang up her phone at the party and go running for him. We know that something has happened, and it’s so tense and amazing, and then… boom. The cops. (Do you think Heather will rat on Ben for fooling around with Rhonda? She’s gonna find out, right?)
Oh! And in the midst of all that, Margene pieces together that Cara Lynn is sleeping with Math Teacher Greg. Margene, you see, can spot a sixteen year-old who has fallen for another man, and we see her add it up in silence. She’s just watching them whisper to each other, but she knows. I don’t imagine she’ll have time to act on this information until after the statutory rape thing blows over, but then… look out.
So that’s the final scene. Before that, we get Alby, who now owns the building that houses the flagship HomePlus store. Crazed with power and revenge, he insists that all cell phones and televisions on the compound be destroyed, which Bill and Nicki discover as they drive to confront him about the HomePlus deal. Alby withstands Bill’s insistence that the UEB overturn his purchase of the HomePlus plot. Later, he even raises Bill’s rent by twenty-five percent. When Bill threatens to retaliate by outing Alby to his followers, Alby just hangs up the phone and lets Verlan comfort him with an erotic kiss on the neck. And then, lest things get to nice, he wrenches Verlan’s arm around, stuffs money in his front pocket, and tells him to strip and stand in “his corner.”Â We get a long, tense scene of Verlan slowly removing his shirt as Alby watches, and it’s obvious who’s in charge and who is being dehumanized.
What does it all mean? What are Alby’s motivations? Is he seeking revenge on Bill for convincing Lura to leave, or is he just playing with his new power? Is he convinced of his own godhead or merely drunk with authority? Does he hate his sexuality so much that he’s willing to debase other people, or does he just prefer kinky stuff with Verlan? Has he created an insane new worldview that lets him justify all his evil actions, or is he just a nutter? Â I think the answer to al these questions is “yes,” but I’ll admit… I don’t know where this story is going.
I don’t know where Lois andÂ Frank are going either. Frank breaks his hip, and Lois tries to mercy kill him, just days after she begged him to kill her. Someone’s got to die soon, right? I can’t imagine either of these people going gently to a nursing home, and I don’t see how they can outrun their bad situation. (Kudos to Grace Zabriskie, by the way, for the startling hospital scene where she bellows that Barb is the reason she and Frank are alone, since Barb scattered the sister wives with news about Frank’s VD.)
And then there’s Margene, who is so obviously being snowed by Goji man that I can’t even talk about it. Yes, she’s waking up to her faith and her confidence, but other than standing up for Pam at that awkward sales meeting, she doesn’t do much this week. She catches Cara Lynn and Greg, she participates in the re-sealing, she makes a few arguments, but those are all passive moment. She confronts Goji man about his business dealings after Bill plants doubt in her head, but then she allows herself to be convinced by Goji man’s smooth-talking answers. (And p.s. — How many multimillionaire businessmen have this much time for a low-level saleswoman?)
I mean, it is possible thatÂ Goji man’s a good guy… but I’m dubious.
I’m not dubious, however, that Nicki is good and married to Bill. That action radically shifts the balance of power in the family. It makes it easier for Barb to live and easier for Nicki to claim dominion. I’ll be very interested to see how Nicki handles this new power, especially in the wake of the inevitable catastrophe the last three episodes of the series will bring. They keep showing us guns, you know? One of them is bound to go off. But whatever happens next, Nicki’s marriage is a strong step. She is this week’s First Wife.