Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Big Love - Season 4 - Midway Review

Awhile back I promised to write a recap/review of the current season of Big Love. I couldn't quite nail down my feelings about this new season after the first couple of episodes. Big Love is a nebulous kind of show, a sort of Shepperd's Pie of a dozen different kinds of TV shows with some heavy doses of inspiration from HBO shows of the past. This new season, especially, has gone off in some weird tangents and trying to decipher what the creators and writers actually have in mind in terms of theme has taken a better part of half a season.

HBO seasons are typically 10 episodes, this past Sunday's episode of Big Love was episode 6 and a turning point for a couple major storylines and so I feel like it's a good time to stop and reflect on this tumultuous ride.

The main storyline of this season involves Bill's run for State Senate; a crazy self-destructive plot that will probably end very badly for Bill and his family. Obviously, the character doesn't think that. Like in his ridiculous schemes from seasons past, Bill is nothing but self-assured. He believes he's on God's path and how could God steer him wrong? The last few seasons, as Bill makes insane decisions to meddle and interfere with the goings on at Juniper Creek, to wage war on the violent and unpredictable Greenes, and to open a Mormon-friendly casino, the audience is asked to stand by him and believe just like he does. This season, that belief is tested to the limits. The idea that Bill would run and then win a State Senate seat only to publicly out himself as a polygamist is SUPER crazy. Last I checked, polygamy was illegal and though Bill plans to fight and change the law, that's a long process that could not be done within a single episode.

As such, the main thrust of this season, with all this political back-and-froth and a random trip to Washington D.C, feels ultimately pointless because I'm pretty sure that Bill will lose the race and then what? He's exposed himself, lost his best friend, shattered his family, and wasted thousands of dollars, for what?

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the writers will surprise me. They have so far. I did not expect this storyline to last this long, but with Bill winning the nomination and with a strong backing from a Utah Senator, it seems like he may actually win. The scene in the latest episode, "Under One Roof," when Bill takes his three wives to a home he plans to buy for them, a massive house on a hill reminiscent of Roman's Big House, was powerful and showed me more about why Bill wanted to go on this mission, instead of his preaching about equality.

But, of course, the political storyline is just a small part of the huge tapestry of this season. Big Love has always cast a wide net, but this year, that net is the size of a stadium. We've got Nikki's daughter, complications with her creepy ex-husband, JJ, who I suspect will attempt to murder Bill by season's end. Nikki's mom, Adeline's, marriage to JJ and all the craziness that inspires.

We've got Margene and her new business, which seems to be doing very well, and is causing Margene to rethink her situation within the family.

We've got Barb filling in for Bill at the Blackfoot Casino, dealing with the Native population there, hitting girls with her car, and giving speeches to bored employees about the shared history of the Mormon and Native people.

We've got Sarah and Scott, getting married to Passion Pit's "Moth Wings" and secretly adopting an Indian baby.

And then there's Ben. His storylines have never been that interesting to me, mainly because they felt forced. His sexual longings early in the series seemed to be a little premature and then his questioning of the faith shortly thereafter ultimately unnecessary because he fell in line quickly to follow in his father's footsteps as the seasons have gone on. Except he always had a "thing" with Margene. This was something I did enjoy because it developed slowly and believably and hit just the right amount of teenage angst and genuine friendship. When Ben showed up to Margene's live show, it was a sweet gesture and Margene's grateful kiss, misinterpreted, began a series of events that have led to Ben being banished by his father, falling in with Bill's mischievous mother, and now kidnapped in Mexico by the Greenes. One word: Awesome!

And then there's Alby. Oh, Alby. Why do you always set yourself to fall? This character, the closeted son of the Prophet, was always a strong point for the series. He's played with deadpan sincerity by the actor, Matt Rose. His gay tendencies are a classic Shakespearean flaw that was manipulated very well by his mother and father and yet somehow he prevailed. His new wife, Lara, was a perfect conniving match for the greedy Alby and they successfully ruled Juniper Creek while Roman was in jail. After Roman's murder at the end of last season, a Trust was established to take over the finances of Juniper Creek (this was all done between seasons and with very little explanation in this new season, hence a lot of early confusion). The problem? The trustee, a gay Mormon who wants to rid himself of his impulses, is caught in a love affair with Alby that ends very badly.

I felt like this storyline, while strong, was a little unbelievable and took up way too much time in the first half of the season. I have read that the creators of the show, a gay couple themselves, wanted to show the Mormon perspective about homosexuality and specifically Mormon gays who tried to convert themselves to heterosexuality. I felt like that was touched on a little bit, but it was more Alby and the trustee in a lover's tryst for many episodes and only when they were exposed by Bill did the shit really hit the fan. It should be interesting to see what Albie's next move is, but that storyline really did take up a lot more time than it should have in an already busy season.

And now Ana's back! And pregnant! With Bill's baby!

I bet a lot of fans sighed with exhaustion when Ana showed up on screen. "Another storyline?!" shouted the public. As for me, I'm actually glad she's back because I felt like her storyline was never properly resolved from last season. Sure, it ended and Bill was bitter and angry afterwards, but I actually enjoyed a lot of storylines revolving around the brief Fourth Wife and am very very excited to see what happens next.

So, where do I stand on Season Four? Well, I'm definitely enjoying it. I feel like it lacks a little punch seen in previous seasons, specifically in regards to weird and random situations they find themselves in (case in point: when Sarah and her friends found the Lost Boys House last season. How weird was that?!) There's a definite serious tone this season that doesn't allow for a little comedic relief, which is a shame. But now that the Greenes are back and Bill's campaign is in full swing, there should be some extremely dramatic stuff in the near future.

I said up top that Big Love seems to be inspired by HBO series long finished. Specifically I'm thinking of Six Feet Under, one of the best TV shows ever created. Big Love, to me, is the spiritual sequel both in tone and the way it shows the darker side of America. I don't doubt that Big Love lost some viewers this season, people unable or unwilling to follow everything that has happened. It's the kind of show that demands a lot from the viewer, but the reward is, well, big.

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