"I'm a special girl...The prophet loved me. He chose me."
Oh, Rhonda. I never thought I'd say this, but after tonight's dense, breakneck-paced, alternately depressing and illuminating episode, how could you not feel a little for Granny, or at least better understand her. Rhonda may be conniving and manipulative and the closest thing there is to a living, breathing Mormon fundamentalist Bratz doll (or maybe a Betsy Wetsy? What is it with the compound dwellers and their strange urination habits?), but she's also an abused 16-year-old who is utterly alone, and whose self-worth is fully wrapped up in her attractiveness to older men.
In the beginning of the episode, when she was badmouthing the Henricksons and making Frankie brush her hair behind the gauzy curtains, her petulance was both grating and funny in equal measure. Of course he refused to go with her to the new family Bill picked out for her. Why would anyone want to go anywhere with Rhonda? Then when she was sitting at the bus stop with Bill, and made a desperate, last minute plea to stay in Sandy ("If you wanted me, I could be yours. You could ask me to marry you, and I'd say yes right here, and you could give me a canopy bed.") it was both funny (because of Bill's uncomfortable reaction) and very sad (because of the whole offering yourself up to a man twice your age to avoid being alone thing). But by the time Frankie had driven past her in the limo on the way to prom, and she had chosen to go to back to Roman and take his hand, it was just profoundly sad. It appears that Rhonda has chosen to go back to the one person who made her feel wanted and special and above every other girl in those awful wife catalogues: her abuser. Hopefully, Rhonda has some kind of revenge scheme up her long, homemade puffy sleeve—although by the looks of things, her ire now seems to be directed only at Sarah, Frankie, and the Henricksons in general.
Tonight's episode went a long way to illuminate the choices, or lack thereof, for everyone on Big Love. When Margie's alcoholic, negligent mother turned up on her doorstep, now nothing but a box of ashes in a plastic bag wielded by her former boss, and Margie looked to Barb first in order to see how she should react, it became apparent why Margene would choose to make a life not just with a man, but with two other women who love her. If your fondest memory of your life with your mom was a long uncomfortable night spent watching Lawrence Of Arabia while she guzzled gin and wallowed in her troubles with men ("She got really morose and told me she had never been cherished by a man"), then it's easy to see why a family with two built-in sisters would be appealing.
Likewise, Barb's problems with her unforgiving mom and her petty, uber-Republican sister only serve to make her cling to the family and sisters she chose (or that Bill chose for her)—She even thanks Bill for giving her wives that are "truer sisters" to her. And in a strange twist, her sister's mean, spiteful behavior also drives Barb to appreciate Ana, if only because Ana comes to Barb and apologizes after she's done something wrong, like sleep with another man, or hang up on her (which, tellingly, seemed to bother Barb more than the "cheating"). That act of contrition went a long way with Barb, and Barb's approval ("I like her. I like that I like her.") was the push that Bill needed to go back to Ana.
We still haven't been given much of a glimpse into Ana's motivations for wanting to join the Henricksons, but Nicki's motivations have become a lot clearer. It seems that for the compound wives the only way out of their grim circumstances is death: either their own, or their husband's. We learned that Maggie, Bill and Joey's sister, was married when very young and apparently saw suicide as her only way out. Lois tellingly tried the oven bag on herself before giving Frank his last meal of KFC and putting it on him. Wanda tried to kill herself in the Henrickson's pool, because she thought (seemingly rightfully so) that it was the only way to get her husband to say he still loved her over his new wife. Kathy was married at 14 and only found freedom when her husband died, not through "obedience" as Roman counselled. But Nicki was the exception to this death escape clause rule. Wanda says that Nicki's marriage at 15 to an older man named JJ was only different from Kathy's because Roman unsealed it. Perhaps this is a big reason why Nicki still feels some loyalty to her father: while he may have forced her into a marriage with a man she found repulsive, he also allowed her to leave it, and (eventually) the compound when Bill came along.
In this way, Nicki and Rhonda are very similar. They're both special girls: Rhonda because Roman chose to marry her; Nicki because Roman chose to let her out of her marriage. But as Nicki sees while thumbing through the Joy books in the DA's office, there's nothing really special or different about her. She's just another one of her father's victims, just another collection of photos meant to sell her to prospective husbands. And, for the time being at least, like Rhonda she's returned to her abuser.
--How can I forget Sarah, the girl who put the prom in the "Prom Queen" episode? She goes to the prom in the hope of indulging in a little teenage normalcy, and ends up taking her prom photo with her brother, watching her best friend make out with her uncle, and confessing that she's pregnant. Never has "Forever Young" seemed so totally depressing.
--"Am I a good man, Barb?" Jesus, Bill. Where should I start?
--As Nicki grows closer to the cute DA, it seems like it's only a matter of time before she has to contemplate testifying against her father, right?
--"Ted has a softer touch than me. But he is my lord and master." So, Mormonism isn't even an indoor picnic if you drop the "Fundamentalist" part. On a related note: Have you ever seen so many women in red suits in one room in your life?
--How funny was the scene when Barb & Bill caught Ana? Just when you think you can get away with one last fling, your boyfriend and one of his wives show up with a cooler full of jello parfaits and make you feel guilty about the kids missing you.
--Speaking of Ana, I really hope her character is fleshed out more soon. Her declarations of love for Bill ring hollow, and she seems far too savvy and worldly to sign up for the plyg lifestyle. I know that she likes Margie and that she apparently likes Barb, but she can't be that hard up for friends.
--"I'm so darn blankety blank mad at her!"--Barb
"Shut the f-ing H up!"--Ben, who is definitely his mother's son. The interesting part is that the kid did shut up, instead of making fun of a teenager who's afraid to curse. Ah, Utah.