Whew. That was an exhausting opener. Sometimes Big Love stretches just a little too far to live up to the "Big" part of its title. How many times do you think they had to send an intern out for more index cards while storyboarding that episode? (Probably at least one time before they realized you don't have to buy index cards individually. There are 300-card packs now.)
But first things first: In its fourth season, everyone's favorite polygamist melodrama has a new title sequence: Bill Henrickson and his three dreamy wives perpetually falling in what can only be described as outer darkness. Gone are the quirky little ice skating rink, the veils of heaven, the family dinner at a table atop the globe, the Beach Boys soundtrack. Now the husband and wife and wife and wife don't find each other in the end. They're floating, thoroughly unmoored through the pretty darkness. What does it all mean? Are the Henricksons lost—well, more lost than usual? Are they destined to separate? With the death of Roman Grant, will this season mercifully narrow its focus to the immediate Henrickson clan?
With the first scene of this season's premiere episode, it seemed that the answer to that last question was a resounding, "Not likely." Sure, the Henricksons were at their church—a church that Bill memorably started himself in the last scene of Season 3, after he took Roman's advice and wrested the keys of power from God, and gathered the family round the pool for a Wonder Bread communion. But now the Church of Henrickson, Embry & Sons isn't just Dixie cups and Wonder Bread in the backyard. It has a storefront. Don and his remaining wife are members. Apparently, Bill has taken his small idea to make a church for his family and done the only thing he knows how to do with any idea—expand it.
Expansion, obviously, is an ongoing theme in Big Love. Bill, the guy with three wives, the guy whose home supply store is called Home Plus, always wants more, more, more of everything. In Season One, Bill wanted to open a second Home Plus location. In Season Two, Bill wanted to acquire Weber Gaming, even though the second Home Plus was still brand new. In Season Three, Bill wanted a casino, ahem, excuse me a "Blackfoot Magic Casino And Family Fun Center," and a fourth wife, Ana. It's no coincidence that the one thing that made Bill smile in this episode was the moment when Barb had the casino security officer unlatch the suitcase to reveal stacks and stacks of green, green cash. Bill is greedy to the core, although somehow he manages to convince himself that it's a virtue.
Of course more is not always better--all you have to do is look at tonight's overextended episode of Big Love to know that's true. Sure, a fair amount of character catch-up is to be expected in a series that has been off the air for a year, but at times this episode felt like a sprint from plot-point to plot-point: The Henricksons have their own storefront church now; Sarah doesn't want to get married in it; Shit, I mean, FUDGE, FBI raid on the compound AND Adaleen dropped a cross-stitch; Alby's cruising, I mean, birdwatching again; The casino is set to open soon, something about sleeves on cocktail waitresses; What? The FBI is at Nicki's house, and they know she's Bill's "spirit wife"?; Roman is missing! Lara better pack up the snowglobes!; The pseudo-QVC lady is worried that Margene is spread too thin (uh, just Margene, lady? Have you been watching this show?); Lois is raising clitorises in an apartment for a profit; Nicki's daughter Cara-Lynn is a genius; Nicki beams with pride; Oh but now Barb isn't getting along with the Blackfoot people; Ray The DA still has a job? Hmm, apparently after falling for the daughter of the polygamist cult leader he was trying to prosecute, almost botching a kidnapping, then losing said polygamist cult leader, yes, Ray The DA still has a job; Holy shit, Ben has a Christian rock band? He's more and more like Greg Brady every episode; Bill won't sleep with Nicki, who is lurking around the Henrickson compound in a silk robe; JJ wants Cara-Lynn back, and what's more she might want to go back; Now it's the Frank and Lois version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith in a convertible; Oops, looks like the federally-appointed trustee for Juniper Creek is Alby's rumble in the rambles; Roman's corpse is in the freezer, now it's in a van with Alby, now it's on the site of the casino in a lawn chair, now it's in a van with Nicki and Bill; OMG, it's the Casino opening!; check out all this cold hard cash, Bill; aaaand credits. Anyone else exhausted?
For me, the most effective part of tonight's episode was the Henrickson church service—not just because it was one of the few scenes that held for more than 60 seconds, but because Barb, Nicki, and Margene, the emotional centers of the show, were at the center of it. When Bill asked his small congregation if there was anything that they'd like to pray for, it was a revealing, character-deepening moment: Margie, always the chipper cheerleader/businesswoman prayed for the casino to succeed; Barb, ever the nurturer, prayed for the church to bring the family together; and Nicki, being Nicki, prayed for herself, that she would be forgiven. This episode could have used a few more moments like that one.
Still, there's a lot of developments look forward to from the lengthy litany above—Sarah's decision to leave her family behind; Nicki's relationship with the daughter she left behind, and how it impacts the family she chose to stay with; The prospect of Alby having to finally deal with his sexuality; Whether or not Ben's band will get a record contract (just kidding...they obviously will!)—here's hoping that the show will slow down long enough to give the audience a chance to enjoy them.
--How did everyone like HBO's bombastic preview megamix? "This could be the year!!" They really are the best at premature self-congratulations.
--"I was wrong to try and hasten your demise." Lois n' Frank definitely need their own sitcom spinoff. Frank & Lois: Worthless Clits, maybe? Pureein' The Gruel With Lois N' Frank?
--"Mormons don't like salmon. We like crab legs." You learn so much watching this show.
--Alby's "birdwatching" outfit was nothing short of delightful. I love how he thinks he's fitting in by dressing up like white Urkel minus the suspenders.
--"There he was, dead, next to his guitar. He was probably in the middle of singing his beloved canciones mexicanos." What happens to Adaleen now that Roman is dead? Who will she scheme for now?
--"Shall we, darling?" Ooh, a celebratory Coors from the secret fridge to celebrate the prophet's death? Why not?