Big Love: Not for Prophet

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As Bill pondered a run for the Utah state senate on Sunday’s Big Love, he posed the question, “Just put the polygamy thing aside for a second. What are my chances?”

Oh right, that thing. Polygamy. The answer was “Zero, no way,” but Bill remained undaunted as the eternal and the temporal banged heads in a dense episode heavy with the clash between spiritual commitment and worldly ambitions. After a hearing focused on Juniper Creek during which a state representative issued a Utah fatwa against polygamists (“Bulldoze the compound, prosecute all polygamists!”), Bill—fearing persecution and the destruction of the principle—decided to take action. Believing he had “received a revelation from heavenly father to serve,” Bill declared, “Someone has to defend the principle. Someone has to fight back.”

Talk about family values. Bill wouldn’t be the first politician with three wives, but unlike Newt Gingrich, he would be the first to be married to all of them at once. Any run for office would endanger the family’s longstanding strategy to maintain a low profile and live out their faith in secret. It also threatened the family’s growing business empire—everything from the casino to Margene’s thriving home-shopping operation, which she revealed could gross $134,000 in a year.

The wives, for their own individual assortment of reasons, were shocked by Bill’s announcement. Most notably, Nicki believed that the wires had been crossed and the revelation wasn’t about political office but instead a sign of Bill’s real destiny to replace Roman as the next prophet of Juniper Creek. To which an exasperated Barb responded, “Good gravy, Nicki!” That’s some strong language for her.

But Nicki wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. With Roman dead, Bill’s brother Joey returned to the compound from Mexico, positively brimming with his own prophetic conviction. “There’s work to be done. … It’s all about to unfold,” he told his wife. Later, when he surprised Bill at the new church, Joey echoed Nicki’s conclusion about Bill’s destiny, giving Bill their prophet grandfather’s laws and doctrine and told Bill that the calling was now his. “You’re building a church. Why, when there’s already one waiting for you?”

After last week’s slapstick capers with Roman’s body, this episode got right to one of Big Love's big issues. Bill’s faith has seemed alternately sincere and a grand rationalization for his narcissism and selfishness: three wives good, four wives better. He has often appeared more intent on enriching himself and solidifying his status on Earth rather than serving his professed higher calling and remaining focused on the non-material and eternal. This was a particularly critical distinction as daughter Sarah was pressured to marry within the faith so that she and Scott would be “sealed” for eternity. As Nicki put it, “If she goes along with one of those other churches, when those disgusting words wash over her—‘Til death do us part’—it will be the loneliest, most horrible moment in her life.”

Faced with his destiny, Bill blinked, or at least squinted, and saw what he wanted to see. With the files from the investigation safely in hand, he saw a path to political office by keeping his polygamy a secret while he served. You can easily understand why he would want to avoid acting as the savior of Juniper Creek—what with all those braids, long dresses, buttoned top-buttons, and hymns. But if you are genuinely a principled man of the principle, do you leave the souls of 10,000 true believers in the hands of the likes of Alby, whose longing to be prophet is rapidly being eclipsed by his longing for another man and other quite literal matters of the flesh?

Then there was an emerging rival, Nicki’s ex-husband J.J., played with a coiled rattlesnake-like menace by the estimable Zeljko Ivanek. Never has a line like, “I’m afraid I have a sensitivity to certain cruciform vegetables,” sounded so ominous. And J.J. had clearly put together the events surrounding Roman’s death—despite a facetious, hissing disavowal after laying it all out for his sister, Joey’s wife: “I just don’t know what all this means.”

What all this means for Big Love is that the parameters and battle lines for this season have been established. As I watched Roman’s coffin descend into a black void, it was easy to believe that he’s not the only one on Big Love headed to a dark place.

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