Major Spoilers Ahead
Welcome to Wife Watch!, the only blog post that ranks the most powerful wives on this week's episode of Big Love.
After the overpacked clown car that was last week's installment, "Under One Roof" is a relief. There's still a whole lot of shakin' goin' on, but it's easier to tell whose hips are whose.
Before I get started, I should say that the new title sequence is growing on me. Since every character's life is falling to hell, it's appropriate that the credits show us people hurtling through space alone. No one is touching anyone else, and there's no ground to stand on. In this context, the phrase "big love" seems not like a definition of what unites Bill and his wives, but a cruel reminder of what's missing between them.
And again, that suits this season. No matter how much Jerky Bill insists that he's buying a giant house so that his entire polygamous family can live in the same place, he is still not acting like he's got other people on his mind. Take his arrogance as he sits in the restaurant where Pregnant Ana is working, scolding his wives for showing up and doing the same type of meddling that he is doing. They all want Ana to come home with them so they can help raise her baby, yet as usual, Bill wants to do it hiswayhiswaywahwahwah.
Oh! Oh! And then later, when Bill gets called out? When Barb correctly calls him on his hypocrisy regarding the campaign, the suddenly-not-so-Mormon casino, and his tendency to sleep with his intended wives before wedlock? He chastises her for not supporting him in his human weakness. He tries to make her feel bad for holding him accountable. ARRRGH! Jerk! Face!
But at least watching Bill act like such an insufferable tool gives me greater reason to root for my ladies. Every time they question or outfox him, I get to cheer for the downfall of the Downpressor Man. And I enjoy that.
But we'll get back to that in a minute. Meanwhile, back at Juniper Creek, or should I say The Cheap Roadside Motel, the series unleashes one of the best sequences in its history. As Nicki, rebelliously dressed like an early Madonna video, storms through the motel looking for Cara Lynn, we see a disquieting parade of the couples that Alby is sealing. Every she opens the door to a motel room, Nicki uncovers another twisted tableau -- women crying, men and women kneeling, Wanda babbling something insane while her parents invite Nicki to return to the family she left when she abandoned J.J. It's like the stations of an unholy cross.
The final station arrives later, when Adaleen lays herself down for J.J. It's a scene made all the more awful by its air of quiet surrender. Seeing a woman transform from a man's mother-in-law into his wife is a stark reminder that she is a simply a piece of property to be moved around, and her mute submission makes that even harder to take.
So of course, when Nicki roars into the room where Cara Lynn is about to be married against her will to some old man... when she threatens to kill J.J. after he lies and pretends that isn't what's happening... when she tears her child out of the jaws of that terrible fate, it's vindicating. Exciting.
That act gets Nicki awfully close to this week's First Wife crown. She even earns bonus points for her self-actualizing outburst against Margene and for her surprisingly low-key acceptance that Alby is gay.
Speaking of Alby... my God. There's an entire essay to be written about what happens to Alby and Dale in this episode, about how Dale commits suicide because falling in love makes him realize that he cannot please his church. As though love is a crime. And poor Alby, feeling himself blossom alongside this man who sees the good in him, only to find that man hanging from the ceiling.
And how awful for Lara, too, to realize that her husband is cheating on her because he can't love her the way he loves Dale. If there were clear-cut good guys and bad guys here, the hurt would be less messy (and less honest.)
Whew. Less dramatic, obviously, is Margene's storyline this week, but she still gets the feistiness medal for refusing to give up on her voice. Between the public speaking classes and the admission that she only went along with Bill's political plan because she never thought it would work, she's continuing her strong run through this season.
I guess Lois is doing okay, too, as she snatches Ben's affection away from Bill. It's sad-sweet to see how much she wants his time and attention, and she really does seem to be piecing a new family together, even if I don't trust Frank for a minute and I expect Jodean to turn at any second.
Mostly, though, I don't care about this birds-in-Mexico storyline, and I seriously don't care about the return of the Greens. In a series full of characters, the Greens are mere caricatures, all grotesque violence and ludicrous clothes, and their arrival makes this subplot even more tiresome.
I'll just ignore them and focus on Barb. She puts Bill in his place, side-steps him to hire Marilyn, and blows the lid off the fact that Ana's engaged to another man. This may all blow up in her face -- especially the Marilyn thing -- but for now, she's making herself heard. She's First Wife.