Saturday, January 15, 2011
'Big Love' final season off to a solid, if depressing, start
The good news is that, judging by the first few episodes, the series isn't shying away from the consequences of last season's bizarro finale, in which Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) won a senate election and promptly revealed he was a polygamist. In fact, in more good news, the show is so occupied with processing that development, it's dropped a bunch of the ridiculous subplots that cluttered much of last season (the Indian casino; Margene's jewelry line, etc.). The result so far is a much cleaner, more focused show.
The bad new is, it's also colossally depressing, as we watch the Henrickson family we've grown to sympathize with (if not always love) face every form of persecution imaginable. The new season begins with the family on a camping trip, out in the wilderness by themselves. It's supposed to be a temporary escape from the firestorm their revelation has caused, but it's really a harbinger of things to come.
When the Henricksons return home, they are no less isolated than they were out in the woods. The wives get knowing glares wherever they go. The kids are harassed at school. And Bill finds unwelcoming climates in both his new job as senator and his old one running a home improvement store.
At home, all the stress has the family coming apart at the seams and turning on one another.
Yes, it's compelling storytelling, but it can be pretty hard to watch. Throughout the course of the season premiere, tender-hearted third wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) is constantly bursting into tears, and you'll want to join her.
The show has never shied away from darkness, particularly when dealing with goings on at the hardcore polygamist compound Juniper Creek. But the show typically cuts the angst with some humor. The first new episode was so relentlessly downbeat, I set some sort of land-speed record for wincing. The show lightens up a little bit in subsequent episode, in exploring the always rich territory that is the fraught relationship between first wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and second wife Nikki (Chloe Sevigny) but remains fairly glum.
Still, this season so far seems like a vast improvement over last season. It's not as scattered and, though it does veer into melodrama at times, there's nothing quite as over the top as last season's "Nikki is kidnapped by her Frankenstein ex-husband" storyline. "Big Love" seems to be gathering itself up for a trip into the sunset.
And, if that trip is a melancholy one, it is an earned and honest end for this complicated show.