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Big Love: "Empire"

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Big Love

"Empire"

Season 3, Episode 2

If I had to sum up tonight's episode in one sentence I'd probably go with the haunting interrogative that has been at the knotty, sinewy core of this series since Season One: "Why are you massaging that bird's anus with a Q-tip?"

Oh, Lois. If Big Love were a network series, Lois would definitely be the star of her own spin-off sitcom by now. Maybe That's Just Lois!  or Circle Of Sister-Wives. Last week she hinted at starting her own exotic bird farm/get-rich-quick scheme. This week, she bound and gagged her husband/priesthood holder. What schemes will Lois get up to next week?!?

But even if Lois is a neverending fount of comic relief, which she most definitely is, in many ways she cuts a very tragic figure. She is a woman who had been beaten down by both her abusive husband and by the polygamist system in place at Juniper Creek, until Frank drove her sons (Bill & Joey) off the compound, and she presumably snapped. She cut her hair short, and, lacking any real resources or financial means to extricate herself from her situation, she started resisting any way she could, including trying anything to make money. Last season, she opened a laundromat with her brother, as part of the most literal-minded money laundering scheme ever, only to have Frank steal her nest egg—more accurately, her cans of peas—out from under her. This season, she seems to have finally at long last reached the end of her tether—begging for Frank to kill her one moment, and ready to take her revenge on him the next—but who can blame her?

In fact, it was Frank and Lois who showed the true effect of Roman's "innocent" polygamist couples counseling ("I counseled obedience and helped wives find harmony with their husbands."). When Frank shouted, "You will be in harmony with me!" as he strangled Lois, it was Roman's submission doctrine in practice. Trying to kill one of your non-submissive old wives after introducing her to your new, miserable, though fully compliant, zombie wife: that's the compound that Roman and polygamy built. No wonder everyone is constantly looking forward to the afterlife. (Although being stuck on your own planet, excuse me, your own celestial kingdom, with the family that was assigned to you by a creepy scarecrow prophet for all eternity seems even worse.)

But even off the compound polygamy isn't the indoor picnic (could these family dates get any worse?) that it seems to be. This episode illustrated in no uncertain terms that the constant pursuit of the new (new wives, new babies, new sources of income) in polygamy often comes at the expense of the old. Bill's aggressive and utterly awkward pursuit of Ana, getting to know her and her views on The Weather Channel and such, only showcases how little he knows about the wives he already has. Barb has been hiding a cancer scare from him. Despite just giving birth to a baby, Margene clearly has no real interest in being a mother—something that Bill is so oblivious to, Margene has to twist his ear, hard, in order to stop him from getting her pregnant again. And then there's Nicki, who has been hiding her birth control pills from Bill and Barb and Margene for years.

Nikki's secret birth control pills are Roman's submission doctrine in practice as well: Nikki knows she has to submit in order to be a good wife--she even tells the doctor that she has no choice. But even though she's been decieving her family for years, again, who can blame her? Nicki's decision isn't "selfish" by any means. It's wise—especially considering the current state of the Henrickson brood. Nicki and Margene's gaggle of kids rarely even merit use of their names. (When Margene is late getting back to the houses, Nicki complains that she's been stuck with "boys and babies.") Teeny is charging neighbors to look at Playpen (love that title), and apparently being shipped off to some kind of "athletic camp." Barb had to remind Bill twice about Ben's flag-raising ceremony. And Sarah, poor Sarah, has tried so hard to escape her family, only to end up with no money for an out-of-state school, and pregnant. Yet Bill, Barb, and Margene are only focused on Nicki's apparent inability to concieve again, and growing their already unwieldy family.

At the end of the episode, when Bill makes his absurd, optimistic phone call to Lois, after standing with his gaggle of interchangeable young sons at Ben's flag-raising, he tells her, "I'm at a public event with all my boys. Things are getting better, ma." But what about his girls? His wives? As we've come to see on Big Love, it's the girls and the women who you should be watching. 

Grade: A-

Stray Observations:

--"Our real power as women is to bear our husbands large and robust broods," says Adaleen from the trailer/bunker where she's spearheading a conspiracy to get her husband out of jail, and writing her memoirs.

--Don and his first wife are "sadly monogamous" after Vernie & JoJo ran off together. Does anyone else remember the scene many many episodes ago where they were playing footsie under the table during a dinner party? As with Alby's cruising, it's so good to see these seeds that were planted seasons ago finally sprouting plot-wise.

--That model of the "mormon friendly casino" cost $18,000? By the way, isn't a "mormon-friendly casino" about as oxymoronic as a "Scientologist-friendly psychiatry office"?

--Heather about the lost boys home, aka the Butt Hut: "You guys just live here? On your own? With no supervision?" But, honestly, supervision-wise it's not that different from most polygamist families on the show.

--"You're evil. You're Satan's tool." If anyone's going to tell you you're satan's tool, it really should be a polygamist compound refugee in homemade clothes at a house known as the Butt Hut.

--"Oh my God! You have a crush on Granny's boyfriend!" Please, Sarah, don't have a crush on your half-uncle Frankie.

--The weird impromptu indoor picnic at Ana's house at the end of this episode felt a lot like a season finale—except for Barb's unsure look off to the side at the end. Now that she's cancer free, why group date (Besides for the laughs, obviously. That scene at the drive in was so awkward it was hilarious.)

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