Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The writers ofBig Love
have created appropriately sympathetic characters, all living out these very questions. This season, far superior to the last, is particularly attentive to the compromises inherent in marriage and polygamy. Barb, the "first wife", played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, is the Doubting Thomas of the bunch, struggling to make sense of her commitment and where she will, and can, draw the line in this triple marriage.
Really testing Barb's resolve is her teenage son Ben, who has just announced he wants to have more than one wife. He's now dating twins from Juniper Creek, the polygamous compound (are they the same twins from The Shining ? -- I swear, when Bennie opened the door to find the grinning, buttoned-up duo, I flashed to blood pouring from elevators a la Kubrick). It was a compelling moment, a few episodes ago, when Barb admitted she doesn't want the polygamous life for her only son.
But while Barb may be questioning, she stays, and not just because she loves Bill. It's not a simple "stand by my man" kind of decision. It seems to me, part of why Barb stays is her investment in this greater family. Throughout both seasons, there have been times when I thought, wow, I guess there are some benefits to polygamy. Certainly managing a large household is easier with three women. But mostly, those surprising moments of polygamous empathy come when you see Barb, Nicki and Margene share a commitment to each other. They confide in one another. They have large family dinners. They celebrate each other's anniversaries, albeit with the same husband, but at lease you have a better shot of someone remembering the date. I guess what I'm saying is, they have a community that they've built and I think the writers of Big Love have been careful to present its relative benefits.
There are many reasons to tune into Big Love , not the least of which is the show's quirky ensemble of actors - from Harry Dean Stanton as Roman, the old compound patriarch, to Chloe Sevigny as the troubled and wicked Nicky, to Grace Zabriskie as Bill's sharp, bitter, and not a little loopy mother.
I've also come to appreciate the show's humor. As one of my friends (Aaron!) recently pointed out, the show often verges on camp. Example: in a recent episode Bill was considering a fourth wife, a sweet, Serbian waitress from the local diner (it's hard to deny the calling, especially when it comes with homemade apple pie). Margene, young, naive and lonely, struck up a secret friendship with the waitress. Bill angrily chastised her saying, "Margene! You're my wife, you can't be seeing the woman I'm dating!" Priceless.
While dramatic television may be down on modern marriage, Big Love offers a different, extreme view from the margins. It's a strange and wonderful view, full of contradictions and celebrations, mixing soap opera and ethnography. It's as much fun as cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahniks , just more Salt Lake than New York.