TV Recap

Outed but Not Down

On the second-season premiere of ''Big Love,'' the family struggles to stay together after being exposed as polygamists

SEPARATE WIVES Barb tried to get away
Image credit: Lacey Terrell
SEPARATE WIVES Barb tried to get away

The ''Big Love'' premiere: Suffering from exposure

It's been so long since we visited the warm, cozy living rooms of the Henrickson households, and God only knows how much we've missed them. I, for one, was just about ready to pull my hair up into a French braid. Big Love withdrawal had me aching to know: What are Barb, Nicki, and Margene doing now that the family has been (insert doomsday sound)...exposed? How were the kids — Ben, Sarah, Teenie, Wayne, and those other two (or is it three?) whose names I keep forgetting — handling it? And, of course, who was responsible? There's so much to follow on Big Love that I could not wait to dive in.

So how appropriate that the opening scene of season 2 should show Barb, still tormented by the embarrassment of being disqualified at the Beehive Mother of the Year ceremony, diving into the backyard pool, à la The Graduate. There's some serious psychological trauma going on here. and things already look like they'll get worse before they get better for the Henrickson clan.

America's favorite polygamists (did I just write that?) are, first and foremost, a family, so when one wife is having issues, they all are. This creates the perfect opportunity for good old Nicki to step in, step up, and save the day. Which is what makes her such a fascinating character: Is she the sacrificial lamb or the one who brings the lamb to slaughter? From her back-and-forth bickering with Margene over who's going shopping, who's taking the kids to school, who's making dinner, and whose turn it is to satisfy Bill later that night (okay, that last one didn't happen on this particular show), it looks like she's trying all angles, as usual. In this episode, we saw Nicki ready to assume the position of first wife should Barb bail. You have to wonder if that's what she planned all along. But Nicki's not entirely manipulative; she really does play the role of second wife by the book — as long as it keeps things interesting and going her way. Gotta love her for that.

Which brings us to sweet Margene. Where does she fit into this equation? The girl had to ''break up'' with Pam the neighbor to protect the Henricksons' secret. Is she still as devoted? The last season hinted at an inappropriate — or, at the very least, awkward — relationship between Margie and Ben. What's up with that?

So many unanswered questions....Where do we begin?

Well, since the Henrickson universe revolves around the family patriarch, Bill is as good a place as any. Facing a PR nightmare, Bill, who, truth be told, can be a little sloppy when it comes to hiding his big secret (e.g., the speeches he used to give telling of his polygamist upbringing), has a mission: to discover who outed his family. At the same time, he needs to rein in his wife, or the link to eternal life in the celestial kingdom will be broken. [Thanks for the copy-editing help, readers!] That's a big burden to bear. But in this episode we learned that pre-plurality, Bill ''took advantage'' of Barb's love and pushed her into living the principle. With that came years of pent-up resentment. ''Maybe this whole thing has been a mistake,'' said Barb. It's a distinctly different vibe from that of the lovey-dovey, ''affair''-having couple of last season.

But would Barb actually leave? Can she? She may have taken shelter at the Embrys, but when she called home insisting that she has ''some self-respect'' and that Bill can't tell her what to do, Nicki's response summed up the situation succinctly: ''Yes, he can.''

Similarly, Barb's daughter Sarah is questioning the lifestyle more than ever before, taking her story (anonymously) to a neutral church and voicing it with surprising maturity, and even a sense of humor (like this line, which nearly made me spit up my drink: ''I'm going home to my 100 brothers and sisters; tonight's the night we get our food-stamp allowance''). She's another interesting character who hasn't yet had her moment, but after seeing Sarah attract the adorable Scott, clad in Utah's version of the indie-rock look, here's hoping for many more scenes of that budding — and sure to be monogamous — relationship.

Of course, it wouldn't be an episode of Big Love without a little taste of life in the compound, where the proverbial s--- is about to hit the fan. Alby is alive after being poisoned by Joey Henrickson's wife, Wanda, who's not exactly playing with a full deck. Now Joey is threatening to bring in the state to investigate an attempted murder where the prime suspects might turn out to be his own wife and mother, and Roman is suggesting Wanda may need to be ''reassigned'' to a more ''righteous'' man, like Alby or Joey's foul father, Frank. How did things get so out of hand?

Bill Henrickson, that's how. His tangled web of revenge disguised as business is the crux of this show. And it's debatable whether he or Roman is the one who is choosing the right. After all, the two profess the same religious principles: Roman defended polygamy to Joey's strictly LDS lawyer (''Religion can't change on a whim,'' he said in a way only the Prophet can); then Bill sat in a prayer circle with his teenage son, Ben, and reaffirmed the oath to ''believe in the covenant of plural marriage.''

And speaking of polygamy, is there a connection between Juniper Creek and the Warren Jeffs-like polygamist fugitive (whom Roman described as one of those ''stupid greedy perverts [who are] gonna ruin it for the rest of us'') they keep showing on the news?

Of course, all this freaky, culty stuff is exactly what we Big Love fanatics love, so let's get to the essence of the drama about to unfold: Who's the culprit who ratted out Barb to the First Lady's office? Was it Wendy from Home Plus, who's threatening litigation should she get fired? (Though certainly the Hummer must have scared the crap out of her.) Was it the Grant men, Roman and Alby, looking to get back at Bill? [To those of you on the message board who are assuming it was Roman: We never actually heard what he said in that phone call.] Was it Pam and Carl, the neighbors, who may have been inadvertently tipped off by Margene? (Though the conversation at the dinner in their backyard tiki hut seemed to eliminate them.) Was it Barb's bitchy sister, who doesn't approve of her lifestyle?

The forum is open for any and all theories. Let's hear 'em!

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Originally posted Jun 12, 2007