A little business: If you notice a steep drop in quality from the Big Love recaps you’re used to getting every week from Amelie Gillette, that’s because she’s on vacation. For that, I apologize in advance and hope you’ll make up for any lapses and deficiencies in the comments section below. And now that I’m back from taking the 10 showers needed to wash this extra-creepy/devastating episode off my skin, let’s proceed…
First off, let me establish a baseline here: I’m more or less right with Amelie on last week’s polarizing episode, which struck me as ridiculously frantic and overstuffed, even by Big Love standards. Bill’s moving “lost boy” speech nearly brought me back, though, because it was a reminder that for all his selfishness and hypocrisy, he really did come from a terrible place and made something of himself, even if that something is fundamentally compromised. (Though an astute commenter points out that such a speech is unlikely to sway GOP primary voters in Utah.) Still, I feel like the episode typified a more general problem with Season Four: There are way, way, way too many balls in the air, and trying to address them all in such a mad rush gave each individual subplot short-shrift. In general, whenever Big Love settles down and really digs into the issues of family at its core, that’s when it really excels.
“Under One Roof” didn’t exactly cut the calories—in fact, it added yet another major headache for Bill and the wives—but it did give the right scenes the weight they deserved, and packed a serious emotional wallop in the end. There are so many things to discuss that it’s hard to know where to begin, but perhaps the best place to start is with the return of Ana, Bill’s 48-hour wife and, er, former mistress. Ana bumps into Bill and Barb while waitressing at a nice restaurant, and the unmistakable evidence of her time with Bill throws everyone for a loop. Since the child was conceived within the family—or so Barb is led to believe, anyway—they all naturally believe they have a stake in that child’s upbringing once it’s born. Ana, whose deep skepticism of their plural marriage has only increased with her distance from it, wants nothing to do with it.
Once again, we’ve privy to Bill’s profound selfishness and the way he uses “The Principle” to satisfy his needs above those of his increasingly restless and independent wives. It’s one thing for Bill to have slept with Ana before their marriage—a revelation that infuriates Barb, but doesn’t necessarily surprise her—but he then brokers an agreement with Ana on visitation and child support apart from his wives. In one hilarious scene, they all run into each other at the restaurant, each pleading their case to Ana, who’s ultimately willing to deal with Bill alone (after all, he has money and he’s the father) but reluctant for her baby to have four mommies. (I also love how freaked-out Ana seems to be about the other women, who are all infinitely more decent and loving than Bill, but can’t abide their intensity.)
The other major development is the unraveling of Alby and Dale’s secret affair, which was a punch in the gut. Knowing Alby’s dark side and Dale’s role in the auditing of Juniper Creek, I had long assumed Alby was manipulating this poor closeted man in addition to scratching a forbidden itch. So I was gobsmacked to learn that the Juniper Creek auditing was something of a red herring—it really was about love for both men, and all the more tragic because of it. Two scenes really stood out for me: 1. Dale desperately seeking counsel from the church of fighting his “addiction,” which he’s done in earnest for 30 years and to no avail. I think at that point he’s seeking absolution—Heavenly Father has made him this way and he can’t fight it—and he gets more doctrine in return. That metaphor about the “degree of difficulty” in Olympic diving competitions is as hollow as they come. 2. Dale meeting Bill in the car. Bill knows about Dale’s secret, and yes, there’s more than a little self-interest in him trying to set Dale on the right track. But there’s also a measure of tolerance from Bill, too: After all, they’re both leading dangerous double lives, defying the strictures of society.
(Sidenote: Why does Dale hang him in the secret apartment he shares with Alby? It makes sense in terms of privacy—and he spares his wife and children—but he had to know that Alby would be the first to find him there.)
For the last two seasons, the drift between Bill and the wives has been an ongoing theme, with Nicki’s dalliance in Season Three, and now Barb and Margene throwing themselves into business ventures. Margie’s independent streak is creating the biggest threat of late, as she tries to persuade Bill to keep their family in the closet so she can continue to sell jewelry and speak confidently to other female entrepreneurs. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Bill or the other wives, who wonder (with legitimacy) whether she’s committed at all to the family concept or if she’s out for herself. Barb, for her part, feels burned by Bill’s refusal to keep her in the loop on casino business, specifically the decision to bring Sissy Spacek’s Marilyn into the fold. (To be honest, Bill has a point about Marilyn: She’s a viper, and it’s not assured that she’ll be their viper for long.) The revelation about Ana’s baby empowers Barb to get a little more distance from Bill and sign Marilyn without his consent—an act of rebellion that seems minimal in relation to Bill’s betrayal, but a significant one nonetheless.
The rest of “Under One Roof” was the usual clusterfuck of plotlines, albeit more focused than the majority of episodes this season. I’ll get to most of those in the bullet points below, but in general, I thought this was maybe the strongest hour of the season. And once again, Bill finds a way to keep his bedraggled family unit together in the end, by showing them a vision of a life they all want—or at least wanted—to share. A family, under one roof, outed and living without shame. For Dale and Alby, such a dream proved impossible to sustain.
• Oh dear God, the skin-crawling creepiness of La Esperanza and the hideous mass “sealings” going on within. The sight of Nicki showing up in skanky clothes for her mother’s betrothal to her ex-husband was side-splittingly hilarious—Chloe Sevigny was on fire in general this episode—but darker images linger. The sheer horror of Nicki’s underage daughter being offered up as a seventh wife to a middle-aged cretin in a seedy motel room was one thing; Adaleen and J.J. stripping down to their Mormon skivvies on their wedding night was another. Both images will take some time to scrub from my brain.
• Personally, I’m in give-a-shit territory whenever the show circles back to Frank, Lois, and their misadventures. Some of the material in Mexico was mildly amusing—watching them eat shrimp cocktail in the open air was pretty unsavory—but in the end, it opened up yet another can of worms with the return of a nefarious, rival polygamist family. It’s more than the show needs at this point.
• A very nice, quiet scene with Bill and Nicki makes you realize that they, more than any other pair in the house, have the most in common. When Nicki says, “I think I’m damaged,” she speaks for both of them.
• Love the touch of having root-beer floats at the casino, which is perfect. Not so perfect is Bill’s dumb idea to start promoting the casino in a state hostile to it, though I’m intrigued by the clash between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity.
• Marilyn to Bill: “Why are you being such a douchebag?” Finally, someone says the question on everyone’s lips.
• Sweet words from Alby to his sister about Dale: “He’s good. He touches my heart. He’s my destiny, Nikki.” Scary to think how Alby’s curdled anguish will manifest itself after this.
• Bill: “I’m an imperfect person. I know that.” It’s aggravating, and yet so common, when people are so quick to call themselves “imperfect” as a way of absolving themselves of past sins—and sins they’ll be imperfect enough to allow themselves to commit in the future.