Arts & Culture

Jews Watching Big Love: The Last Place You Look

It’s the end of the line for our favorite show about Mormons. Read More

By / March 21, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

While people may have their rightful complaints about Big Love’s final season as a whole, last night’s finale was executed almost perfectly, joining the ranks of such great series finales as Six Feet Under and the The Wire.  For any writer finishing a body of work there’s moment where one must decide whether or not to go big.  Clearly, Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen decided to go big, and while it may have had some negative effects on the season as a whole, last night was the payoff that made it all worthwhile.  Most of all, Big Love as a completed work, proved to be a show a fully realized, with actual objectives, a show with a some genuine wisdom for those of us who’ve invested our time into it, to take away with us.

Big Love has always illustrated the emotional power of individual moments. Week after week through the lifespan of this show we’ve been presented scenes that, through on point acting, camera work, music and writing, cuts to our emotional core. This finale did that one final time expert precision.

Last night it seemed, as it had for almost this entirety of this final season, things were falling apart for the Henricksons, the center could not hold.  Barb was set to leave the family, gearing up to be re-baptized in her new church.  Symbolically, Bill and Don sat and watched their Home Plus commercial, the same one they watched on the very first episode of Big Love, only now in mourning, having learned that they‘re the business.  Everyone, it seemed, it drifting toward the darkness.

But this all changed midway through the episode when Bill, forced his governing peers to discuss polygamy in a public forum.   He says:

“For 50 years the Utah territory, a polygamist territory was progressive, idealistic.  Our polygamist women demanded and received the right to vote decades before the rest of this nation and it was this chamber that stripped them of their voices when they voted to make polygamy illegal, casting them into the shadows and turning their backs on them.”

Suddenly everything starts to fall into place, everything this show had been pointing towards from day 1.  Bill’s dream, his divine vision, was of not Joseph Smith, but of Joseph Smith’s wife.  The flailing residents of Juniper Creek find their way to Bill’s church and in a sense, Bill becomes the new prophet of Juniper Creek, only on his own terms.  Barb, bails on her baptism and returns to her husband’s church, the one that he built for her.  Chaotically, things begin to shift and in instant, it seems like everything is going to be all right for our characters.

“I’d like to dip this moment in amber and preserve it forever,” Bill says.  He also comments, “Spring is in the air, you can smell it.”  One last time we’re reminded how these squeaky clean squares, in their refusal to use dirty words or to give in to negativity, can be so fucking eloquent and charming.

Then, like an earthquake, things start to shake again.

Lois and Frank commit suicide together.  They lay in bed and reminisce as they drift off. Bill is then shot by Carl, the seemingly harmless next-door neighbor, the last person you’d expect to kill Bill.  Dying, he asks for a blessing from Barb.

“The only thing that matters are our marriages, our families.  Faith comes from that love, not the other way around.”  This was Bill’s last revelation before his murder.  Next thing we know, it’s eleven months later.

Everyone is gathered in the big house for the christening of Sarah’s first child.  Aaron Paul returns to reprise his role along with Amanda Seyfried. Teeny is supposedly upstairs in the bathroom and there’s still no sign of Joey or Wanda.  However, the three wives, even without Bill are still together, three wives bound to each other without a husband picking up where they left off.  Margene who jumped into the marriage at sixteen, never had a chance to experience her twenties and so now she gears up for some humanitarian backpacking trip, her hair cut short, looking like granola kind of grad student.  Nikki transitions into a role much like Barb’s.  She’s become something like the first wife after a lifetime of being second or third.  Barb is giving blessings and leading church.  The church that Bill built for Barb, is led by Barb.  Barb is something like the prophet of Juniper Creek.  In tragedy, the family finds hope and in this show about uptight, conservative Mormons, we find progression.    In fact, the family archetype that the Henricksons become would probably be considered progressive in San Francisco and from the ashes of one of the most oppressive churches in Utah, comes a church led by a woman.

I was correct, Big Love was a show about women but as importantly, it was a show about finding things where you’d least expect them.  As the credits rolled and the alt country cover of “God Only Knows” played, Bill’s final words knocked around in my head.  If the shows creators succeeded, the progressive, us liberal NPR types who’ve followed the show will take away that we can learn a lot from people who we might assume have nothing to teach us.  God only knows what the world would look like, if everybody took this to heart.

Amen.