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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Big Love All Seasons Review

Since the jig is up regarding who has been marathoning Big Love for the past couple of weeks, this blogger will write this post in the first person. This post is the culmination of that marathon. I have obviously not mentioned all characters and subplots on this show, because it's such a tangled web of drama that it would take forever. Enjoy.

Season One
The first season introduced an atypical family, consisting of husband Bill and three very different wives, Barb, Nicki, and Margene. Together, they have seven biological children. Barb is the oldest, a lifelong Mormon with doubts about polygamy. Nicki is the manipulative, secretive, stodgy fundamentalist of the group. Margene is young, and both Barb and Nicki look down on her. We do too, in the first season, because her character is sweet, but one-sided and immature at this time. They are keeping their polygamous lifestyle a secret, trying to get along and raise the family, and trying to succeed in business to stay afloat and prosperous. Bill has a long-running feud with Nicki’s father, the “prophet” of a polygamous compound, Roman Grant. Bill grew up on the compound but was tossed out during his teen years. Roman thinks he is entitled to a share of Bill’s profits (a tithe). Also living on the compound is Bill’s younger brother, Joey, and Joey’s crazy wife, Wanda. Bill and Joey conspire to gain a seat on Roman’s church’s board of directors, so they can have some say. Hyjinks occur, with Wanda poisoning Roman’s son and Barb getting outted as a polygamist at an important community event.

This season was a little hard to get into, because polygamy is gross. Also, Margene was annoying and the show wasted the Nicki character by having her spend most of her time struggling with secret credit card debt. The consequences of that storyline were minimal and not worth all the attention spent on it. Nicki was my favorite character from the start though, and she remains my favorite character. She is arguably the least wanted of the wives by Bill (supposedly traded to him for a loan, according to Roman’s son). She is the most damaged and coldest of the wives. But you can also see that she has a heart. She’s the most interesting, and her character could go anywhere at any time. The actress is amazing in her role and deserved the Golden Globe. This show could just go into a spin-off called “Nicki” and I would be perfectly happy.

What was strong about the season? Bill and Barb’s daughter, Sarah, played by Amana Seyfried. She came across as intelligent and relatable and was an anchor the show needed at the time. Also, after coming across people who are similar to Roman (toned-down versions of course), I’ve seen the effect of religious rhetoric, influence, and intimidation used to wrangle others, so I identified with Bill early on where others might not. The way that Roman saw Bill as a threat from a young age is particularly interesting. While many people think Bill is arrogant, lustful, and gross (and he totally is), I liked his strength and struggle to just break free from Roman and the dysfunctional, abusive compound. It was interesting to see Bill’s potential to either become a self-righteous jerk with control issues contrasted with his potential to become a protector of weaker people and a dynamic force against the status quo of fundamentalism. The character has continued to walk that line between the two fates.

The show won me over in episode 10, the baptism episode. The first nine episodes presented the family as dodgy and unworkable but then spun it around to show us the other side in episode ten. By the baptism episode, the show had all the family members sticking up for each other and they sneakily crept into my heart. And that’s where it got interesting (when it started to show both sides of the argument). It contrasted the idea of freedom for consenting adults to do whatever they want with the abuses polygamy can wreak. There is love in the family, yes, but the show also asserts (more in later seasons) that it’s just an excuse for sleeping around while still getting to think of yourself as holy. The show is surprisingly fair to nearly everyone.
Season one grade: B

Season two
It was by this season that the show’s main message really started to sink in. It’s brilliant, really. Everyone is wondering and asking, “Does the show support or condemn polygamy?” Sorry to disagree with Nicki actress Chloe Sevigny, who thinks the show supports it, but I think the show is even on both sides. The message the show sneaks by is one of general tolerance. It takes something that just about everyone disapproves of and makes you look at every side of it, and then it shows other people in the community ridiculing these people who, while not perfect, are doing their best. When these people are shunned and persecuted, you feel really bad for them. You think, “Gosh, I don’t approve of their choices, but why can’t people just leave this poor family alone and be nice?” It’s effective. Most obviously, this experience for the viewer could translate into more tolerance for homosexuals, but really, it could translate into anything. The show gives you compassion for people you disagree with.

This season is more of the same stuff: Family drama, a rivalry with the Grants at Juniper Creek, Joey and crazy Wanda, etc. Except it is better than season one. It moves along more quickly and by now you care. It’s the strongest season. Bill starts dating a potential fourth wife, Ana, who Margene also befriends and likes. That falls through. Margene becomes a better character. She is the most supportive wife, I think. She’s very positive, genuine, and friendly, and I think she loves being a part of the family more than the other two wives. Nicki ‘s character got a little comedy to her (and it worked).
Season Grade: A

Season three
The first two seasons were not about Mormonism, but by season three, the show started taking some Mormon rituals, ripping them out of context, and exposing them on television. It was confusing to non-Mormons like me. Some of the Mormons, as people, are portrayed in a positive light, but others are portrayed as judgmental. But while this season wasn’t the best, it was the most addictive to me. It was the high point of me shunning my schoolwork and other shows to binge on Big Love. Roman Grant was going through a trial for his involvement with marrying off underage girls.

Nicki was undercover at the DA’s office, helping her father at the instruction of her mother. Of course, Bill tried to help get Roman convicted. Nicki’s season-long undermining insured Roman’s freedom, but then she changed her mind and pushed him down a flight of stairs. He was fine. Never having been in love, another shock for Nicki was falling for the DA, who fell for her too. There was so much growth and realization here for this most bad ass of the three wives. It’s a shame the show didn’t see it through. She even got to meet her long lost daughter, Cara Lynn, from a previous, underage marriage. Nicki was determined to have Cara Lynn get an education, and so she took her daughter back home with her. Too bad Cara Lynn is completely dragging down the show right now.

Bill went back to pursuing Ana, and this fell through again. He slept with her outside of marriage (gasp!), lending further support to the theory that polygamy is for men who don’t have the chops to commit to one woman for life. Also losing that ability was Joey. He opened himself up to the possibility of having another wife, but just before they were to be “sealed,” she was killed because of Roman Grant and another compound leader named Green. Green is sort of a gangster compound leader on this show. After Roman’s release, Joey killed him for killing his fiancé, changing the Joey character forever. Bill opened a Mormon-friendly casino. Barb was excommunicated from the Mormon church, and her face as they told her she was cut off was heartbreaking. Oldest daughter Sarah got married (after a pregnancy and miscarriage), and Nicki’s face watching Sarah marry the man she loved was one of the best moments in the show (Nicki was still carrying a torch for the DA).
Season Grade: A-

Season four
The show dropped the ball in this season. Nicki majorly regressed. The DA she liked found out she was Roman’s lying daughter, got angry, and disappeared. I really wanted to see Nicki end up leaving Bill for true love. Call me a soap-loving sap, but that would have been great for her character after all she learned in season three about her father, the corruption of the beliefs she grew up with, and her own feelings.

This season focused mostly on Bill’s ambition to run for state Senator and then out the family as polygamists. This was extremely brave, but horribly naïve. He thought that if the country could see his loving family, it would fall in love with them, and then they wouldn’t have to live in the shadows anymore. Bill won the election (with no help from Sissy Spacek’s nasty character), but his family was not accepted as he might have hoped. The political storyline was ok, but it wasn’t anywhere near the addictive storylines of seasons two and three. Nicki found out she was infertile and cut her hair. There was a really sad plotline with Roman’s gay son and his gay Mormon lover. Dumbest storyline? Bill’s teen son falling for Margene. Second dumbest storyline? Bill going to Mexico with a vengeful Joey to get his teen son back from the Greens who had kidnapped him. This season mixed the dumb with the disappointing. It wasn’t that it was bad TV; it was just so much worse than season 1-3. I think the show focused too much on Bill when he is neither the most interesting nor the most sympethetic character.
Season Grade: C

Season five
I have a question: Where have Joey and Wanda been this season? Technically, Joey never left Mexico and Wanda is on the compound, but I don’t like that. They were major characters for most of the show and I liked them way better than Cara Lynn. Cara Lynn is having an affair with a teacher, and you know how both bloggers feel about THAT storyline. The only silver lining is that we will get to see Nicki’s reaction when she finds out. Ha. Seriously, Nicki needs to be seen to be believed. She is in my top five female TV characters of all time.

This is the season that has the wives fighting the most. It seems like the bulk of each hour is spent on bickering and power struggles between the three, and I am sick of it. I am also really sick of Ana. I’m glad she is taking her pregnant self out of the country. I only liked her in season two. Nicki became legally married to Bill so that the family could legally adopt Cara Lynn. Nicki has fallen in love with Bill. As soon as Nicki started loving Bill, she stopped being as interesting to me. She got meaner and less sympathetic then too. She also looked better with long hair. The entire last two seasons would be redeemed if Nicki left Bill. That’s all I’m saying.

So far, this season has stayed away from the telenovela stuff Chloe Sevigny complained about last season, but it has just left us with the dull political career. Bill and Barb are trying to pass bills and make connections in Washington, and I sort of miss the family drama. Rhonda Volmer is back, and she’s not as fun the second time around. Also, it’s a little cheap that they replaced the actress who played Teeny/Tancy with a more attractive girl. This show sure knows how to dish out intriguing stuff and then rip it away from me.
Season Grade So Far: B-

Bottom line: Watch seasons 1-3. They are very good. The jury is still out on the final season.


  1. Excellent summation. I liked 1-2 better than 3, but totally agree with your assessment of 4 (as Simon Cowell would say, it was just painful). The final season has definitely been a mixed bag, and the political stuff has left me out in the cold.

    One thing you can say about HBO is that they are not afraid to take risks. Watch them do a show on Opus Dei (Catholic secret society) next...:)

  2. That would be awesome. Any secret society is interesting to me.

  3. This was a succinct and coherent summation of each season of Big Love. Well done! I, too, love Nicki, and I think Chloe Sevigney has been brilliant portraying her. I'm really curious how they'll end things. I miss Joey and Wanda, I can't believe the Greens will not attempt some kind of revenge, and I wonder if Barb is going to make that divorce a reality. The show is big and messy and riveting and maddening, and I hate to see it end. Enjoyed your comments, love your blog.

  4. Thanks! I would rather see Nicki divorce Bill, but I think at least one of them should, and it does look like it's going to be Barb, if any of them. It IS a shame the show is ending.