Monday, March 21, 2011

"Big Love" series finale recap: "When Men and Mountains Meet"

My recap of the series finale of HBO's "Big Love" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Am I an idiot for not seeing that coming? Because, minutes after Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) was shot to death by a disgruntled neighbor, I realized that OF COURSE Bill had to die. What better end for a character who, over the past six seasons, had constructed an ornate house of cards through his denial and selfishness? Had Bill gone to prison, he probably still wouldn't have seen the error of his ways. After all, didn't his effort to legalize polygamy make him a god in his world? Even if he did the full 20 years and exited prison an old man, I think he still would have stubbornly clung to his misguided ways. He might have even become the new prophet -- sort of the second coming of Roman Grant.
I know there are those who think having Bill get killed -- particularly by a minor character like Carl -- was a cop-out, but I think it really was the most appropriate end for that character. As he's dying, Bill is finally forced to realize that everything he's built is meaningless -- his business, his political career, his ministry. It's only in death that he realizes that his family -- the family he's been destroying with his greed and pride -- is the one thing he can count on. So he lets Barb, the wife whose religious ambitions he so emphatically squashed, give him a blessing. It's a huge concession for him, but he knows it's the right choice. Then, he slips away, forced to finally confront whether he's worthy of entry into the heavenly kingdom.
It was a strong, fitting ending. wasn't the ending. OK, I guess I understand why the show's creators wouldn't want to end on the bleak of image of Bill dying. But surely they could have come up with something better than that hokey coda at the end -- particularly since it was so dishonest. We see the women 11 months after Bill's death, all fulfilled in some way. Barb is running Bill's church. Margene is taking those medical cruises she had put on hold in the wake of Bill's impending imprisonment. And Nikki is, weirdly, some sort of nurturing superwoman. Hmm. Despite her epiphany with Barb and her desire to be a good mom to Cara Lynn, I don't totally buy that Nikki would be happy in a life that didn't fit the model of the polygamist lifestyle she grew up in, but whatever.
That wasn't my biggest problem with the ending. My biggest problem was Barb's assertion that Bill "made all this possible." Um, yeah -- by dying. Barb of all people should know that Bill never would have allowed this sort of feminist Utopia to grow under his supervision. These women are so clearly better off without Bill, yet no one acknowledges that. All they do is mourn his absence as a hokey ghost version of Bill hovers at the breakfast table. Oof. Schlock city.
But I've enjoyed enough of this season, and enough of the series in general, to overlook that final scene. Yes, I know there are those who say that coda goes to the heart of what was wrong with "Big Love" -- that it always shied away from admitting that Bill was a big, honking jerk who didn't deserve everything he had. Yet, I have to admit that, overall, the episode satisfied me. Bill, in the end, did pay for his sins. His wives, in the end, were free of him. And the show had an ending that actually resolved some things.
What did you think?


Bill Scurry said...

I'm not sure I saw the judgment coming from up on high by Olsen and Scheffer condemning Bill for his avarice -- they seemed to be condoning it throughout, but I'm poor at reading subtext. Bill never seemed to learn from the ever-growing catastrophe, and that only reinforced the idea that he was indeed righteous and others misguided. To get American-Beautied in your driveway is too out of left field; I'd almost rather have seen Bill become that prophet, or rot in jail.

Another issue I had was how the show runners treated Lois and Frank this season. Bruce Dern and Grace Zabriskie were written into failing health and stock supporting roles once the writer's room ran out of ideas about how to use these crafty veteran actors. The pair sold me on how they had retrograde this last season, but dementia is such a cop-out when you have excellent talents like theirs in service of your show. (See: Dominic Chianese, "Sopranos")

IScreen said...

I guess there wasn't an overt reproach to Bill in that finale, but the wives are clearly better off without him, which could be read as at least partially condemning his lifestyle.
And Bill does accept Barb's religious ambitions in his last moments, which can be read as some sort of growth.
It seems to me like the show really couldn't make up its mind about whether or not it agreed with Bill's lifestyle. At some times, it showed that Bill's ambition was destroying everyone around him.
Don is a total wreck by the end. His two daughters have moved away (and only come back when their less rigid mom is in charge of the church). Barb and Margene feel emotionally and intellectually stunted by the constraints of their marriage to Bill.
And Nikki has serious emotional problems that aren't helped by Bill's condescending acceptance.
The devastating impact of Bill's choices do seem to indicate that the show disagrees with this life ... yet Bill so often escapes serious judgment. That's why that final sequence bugged me. The wives talk about how they miss Bill, yet everything good in their news lives wouldn't have happened if he were there.
I just wish the show would have come done more firmly on one side or another. And, if it did want to be firmly on the side of polygamy, the show should have made Bill a more charismatic character.

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einnoczg said...

"It seems to me like the show really couldn't make up its mind about whether or not it agreed with Bill's lifestyle."

see, and it was never going to. i bet HBO did not want to have it one way or another.

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