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The Deep End: A Confession
Small Love: Giving Marriage a Bad Name
in celebration of my uterus

Big, Big Love

  • 2/26/10 at 4:55 PM

I began this season of Big Love in a state of jaded distrust — and last Sunday, many viewers seemed to join me. The majority of recaps I read (though not our sane and sanguine Nick Catucci) seemed put off by the show's growing grotesquerie, what with all the arms being cut off, embryos potentially implanted by Betty Draper's brother, kidnappings (and really great parties!) cut short in Mexico, conspiracies Skyped from Scotland, and so on.

Which is weird, because I'm seriously starting to dig the series again.

Not that my doubts have dissolved. For one thing, on Sunday, the show did exactly what I suspected it might after the first few episodes: raise doubts about Bill, then redeem him as Mormon Superdaddy. In one hour, Bill pulled an Entebbe-level rescue of his son, played Gallant to his brother's Goofus, carried his repulsive father to safety, and got back in town to continue his run as top Republican and chief entrepreneur of Utah. He was like Jack Bauer in magic undergarments, quite a switch after weeks of kicking his son out and sighing condescendingly at all his wives.

But, man, this show is watchable. A lot of folks online have complained that there's not enough focus on the trio of Barb, Margene, and Nikki, but that doesn't bother me, since so many minor characters are simple awesome, from J.J. to JoDean to Wanda to the dual sexual temptations of Ana's hunky Serbian beau and the Native-American widower that Barb's been shvitzing around with.

Because for all the show's complexity, its Twin Peaks level of weirdness at times, the core of Big Love has always been its exploration of what you might call hyper-femininity, the toxic side effect of enforced submissive sweetness. Any patriarchy like Juniper Creek — or Billville, for that matter — bakes weird survival skills into its ladies, turning them into schemers, backstabbers, seducers, poisoners, and other assorted behind-the-scenes puppeteers, dancing backward like Ginger Rogers in heels. With an ax.

And while Nikki's rescue of Cara Lynn last episode made me cry, this week's bizarro Adalene pregnancy freaked me out almost as badly as Wanda. (What on earth did J.J. promise her? My theory: He tried earlier hormonal experiments on his wife that gave her cancer.)

Pregnancy on this show is the most amazing thing: It's a curse, it's a competitive bauble, it's these women's only purpose and also a bear trap, keeping them stuck to home because of decisions they made when they were too young to know better. Not every plot is plausible (I don't get how Ana managed to be pregnant during her brief marriage to Bill without letting on to anyone — and I'd almost forgotten that Sarah kidnapped a meth addict's baby until I began writing this parenthetical sentence), but when the show is working, these details don't matter.

Because hey, I've been thinking about the show nonstop all week, which is its own definition of greatness.