3.25.2011

FYM REWIND: REMEMBERING HBO'S BIG LOVE


Editors Note: This week FYM is proud to welcome a new contributor- Jenny Nickell. She's an early 30's feminist, punk-Mom, who named her first-born after all of the members of Nirvana (that's right, the boy has a three name... name). Jenny is an incredibly talented writer/artist from Norman Oklahoma- and has been a devout fan of Big Love since its inception several years ago. So FYM asked her to share her thoughts with us about the major ending to an unforgettable series. Cheers!


As an avid fan of HBO's hit series about a polygamist family in Salt Lake City, UT, I was very sad to see Big Love's journey come to an end. We have seen Bill Hendrickson (Bill  Paxton) -his wives Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny), Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) and their quiver of children struggle through a lot in the past five seasons. I have always had a strange fascination with the concept of polygamy and fundamentalist religious beliefs and its effect on humanity (an interest that started way before the series in 2006), so when I first heard about the show, I had my doubts. After only two episodes of the first season, I was hooked and I anxiously waited the long gap between seasons, even cancelling and re-ordering HBO, just for the purpose of Big Love. Every Sunday night at 8:00pm was quiet time in my house so Mom could watch her "stories"

The end of season four left us with Bill winning the election for Senator. During his winning acceptance speech, he announced to the State of Utah that he was indeed a polygamist with three wives. Season five showed us all the consequences of Bill standing up for, defending and living the "principle" of plural marriage. Much of what the characters have gone through is very reminiscent of real life events that have happened in Utah, Arizona and Texas. I knew in the beginning of season five that someone was going to be killed. It was a given. How else do you really end a series? I had a hunch it would be Bill, but just who was going to off him? Alby (the self proclaimed prophet of the fundamentalist compound known as "Juniper Creek")? One of his wives maybe finally cracking under pressure? Or his own father Frank who we have gradually seen go crazier and crazier throughout the series? It was a mystery that kept you guessing with the end of each episode. 


The Mormon religion sets such high expectations for its "Saints" (The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints): Dedication of its members to work hard, be successful, have lots of children to raise in the church and to tithe. Bill's final send off in the last episode was executed perfectly. Neighbor Carl was quietly and meticulously foreshadowed as the person you least expect. Carl and his wife Pam considered themselves perfect and devout Saints, but that slowly started to fade when they couldn't have children, Carl loses his job and in turn loses his ability to tithe (something church members hold in very high regard). He looks at his neighbor across the street who is successful, with a large family who blatantly mocks church doctrine. All it took was one gesture of Bill re-sodding his lawn to send him over the edge. Carl took it as a suggestion that he couldn't take care of his wife and home. All the while the Hendrickson's saga is playing out before us, little is heard from the character that is plotting the demise of Bill and the audience doesn't even see it coming.


Much discussion has been made via message boards about how everyone hated the ending. I personally thought it was perfect. Bill now goes down in history as a martyr to the principle of plural marriage. We are left picturing Alby rotting away in jail. And the bittersweet end to Frank and Lois left me in tears. The flash forward 11 months shows us how everyone is doing without Bill. In my opinion Bill's death liberated his wives by making Barb a priesthood holder in his church and allowing Margene to set off on the goodwill missions she desperately wanted to do. The farewell rendition of "God Only Knows" (which the Beach Boys version was the theme song for the first three seasons) sung by the Dixie Chicks, was the perfect send off.  As sad I was to see the series end, we are all aware no series can last forever (with exception of The Simpson's), Big Love managed to make it 5 seasons without ever really "jumping the shark" and I was left with a full sense of completion with no major questions left unanswered.

Note: I consider myself an agnostic humanist, with just an avid interest in cults, religious movements and religious history. The Mormons have always fascinated me and one of the best books I have ever read that tells the history of the Mormons and polygamy is "Under the Banner of Heaven" by John Krakauer. It is the true story of murder carried out in the name of religion and gives a historical account how Mormons, polygamy and the state of Utah came to be. It is so accurate that even the Mormon church found very little to critique or oppose (the same church that has been known to spend millions of dollars on historical documents that could make the church look bad, something that is addressed in the book and loosely portrayed in season two of Big Love).

Words: Jenny Nickell Graphic: J. Thomas Codling

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