“I’ve gone and torn my family apart and I’m truly sorry.”
I have a confession to make; I first started watching Big Love for what I thought would be the salacious subject matter. Polygamy seemed tawdry and unnatural. I wanted to see how HBO handled it. Soon after watching I was touched by the depth of love and commitment this family had for each other. The underbelly of polygamy, religious compounds teaming in underage wives, forced submission, murderous vendettas and false prophets, certainly held a certain freak show quality to it, but what Bill Henderson (Bill Paxton) was attempting somehow seemed somehow precious and sacred.
As the seasons went by, the Hendersons faced more dangerous and dramatic obstacles to their way of life. The writers upped the ante each season until the Season Four narrative simply became too busy and stretched the level of credibility until it became cartoonish. It ended with Bill being elected to the state senate and he and family coming out of the closet and declaring publicly their secret life of polygamy.
Season Five, the final season, narrows down the focus on the family as well as cutting the total episodes from 13 to 10. Bill suffers the fallout for his coming out as a polygamist. Both the Mormon Church and the Utah government set their sights on him. Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) feels a calling to priesthood, putting her directly at odds with Bill’s offshoot church. Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) rebounds from her failed business ventures and begins regretting the limited boundaries the family is putting on her. Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) struggles integrating her teenage daughter Cara Lynn (Cassi Thomson) into life outside the compound. Juniper Creek leader Alby (Matt Ross) sets out on a deadly path of vengeance against Bill.
The season rolls by at a fast clip, building to a suspenseful and ultimately cathartic series finale. As always, the acting is superb. The writing feels fresh and rejuvenated by the resolution of the series. I know opinions on the finale are mixed, but I found it rewarding and sadly logical. Unfortunately this series peaked in the second season and reached its low point in season four. Somehow the writers reined in the wild subplots and steered the final season back up to its early glory.
Not that this final season doesn’t have its faults. Margene and Nicki seem a bit wasted for most of the season. Bill’s political audacity would never have been tolerated in real life. Alby chews the scenery so much as a villain he loses any real dimension to his character. Barb, who normally serves as the glue holding together the family, makes some choices which feel glib and somewhat selfish. Ultimately, the writers wisely never judge the Hendersons, leaving that to the viewers. Is Bill a controlling religious nut nursing his own cult, or is he truly a righteous man facing unjust persecution? You will have to decide that for yourself. Would I want to share in a polygamous marriage, good God no, too limited and complicated for my tastes, but could I support a family’s right to experimenting in it? Maybe if their intentions seemed half as pure as Bill’s.
The DVD release of the final 10 episodes is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Taking place during winter in Utah, the color palette is darker than previous seasons. Black levels are stable and skin tones natural. A solid DVD transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround is immersive when it needs to be. Balance between SFX/Soundtrack and dialog is fine. Music scoring continues to be inspired and fully utilizes the LFE.
- Inside the Episode feature gives a three to five minute breakdown of each episode, providing brief commentary from creators Olsen and Scheffer on plot twists and character development.
- The End of Days (25:52) is a series of interviews with Olsen, Scheffer and cast discussing each character’s development arc over the series and expressing their own views on polygamy.
I will miss Big Love, but I feel they ended it when they needed to. Season Four clearly showed they were running low on ideas and, if allowed to continue much longer, the series would have inevitably jumped the shark. The final season neatly wraps everything up, but in so doing tends to feel a little bit more like an extended epilog than a full season. If you loved Big Love you will love the thoughtful and poignant final season.
“Sometimes we have to walk from the past, and sometimes we have to embrace it. Heaven help us know the difference.”