Big Love

Season 5 Episode 10

When Men and Mountains Meet

Aired Sunday 9:00 PM Mar 20, 2011 on HBO

Episode Fan Reviews (4)

Write A Review
out of 10
57 votes
  • Though I didn't think season five was BAD, by any means, the changing of the opening credits sequence is kind of the new ultimate example of a shark jump, huh?

    We live in an age where there are few good reasons to be religious, honestly. Science has answered nearly all of the practical questions religion used to answer for people, and people have built community structures that fulfill most of the functions the church used to fill in the lives of those who needed a connection not just to the great beyond but to each other. It's easy to find arguments that humankind is evolving past religion, is moving to a point where it will no longer be necessary, and while I highly doubt we'll ever come to a point where people just abruptly give up on religion wholesale, it does feel like the church plays less and less central a role in the lives of many Americans. But if there's one thing religion is still good for, it's continuity, a sense that there is a foundation, a history, a connection, a tradition that you are a part of and that you will become a part of. The people who worship at a church are frail and fallible; the church itself is nearly eternal, stretching off into the past and then on into the future. We stand on the ground laid out by those who came before us, and in the church, that feeling is sacrosanct, a part of the religious experience. If you go to a Catholic church, the mass is not celebrated in exactly the same was as it was 1500 years ago, but it's evolved remarkably little since then, compared to what other institutions still exist from that time. It's easy to scoff when the church says it has a gateway to eternity, especially if you're a non-believer, but in a way, the very act of taking part in worship is something eternal and mysterious.

    At its best in its first three seasons, Big Love understood that for all of the things Bill did that should have driven his wives from him, the community of worshippers he had built up around himself was what kept them coming back. In those first three years, Big Love understood both the pitfalls and the allure of a fundamentalist creed, where the self was sacrificed in favor of the larger body, but you always knew you had a place in that body. Think, for instance, of the baptism of Margene way back in season one or the scene in "Come, Ye Saints" where the characters try to make a home for Margene's mom in the afterlife, a home she will come to share with them, via a post-death ritual. If I had to pinpoint something specific that's been lost in the final two seasons, something specific that made them feel emptier than the first three, it would be the loss of that wonder, that awe, that sense of belonging. Used to be when a character like Barb or Margene contemplated leaving the family, you could understand how much that loss would mark them, would leave them aching. In the last two seasons, it just seemed like they were idiots not to go.

    The series finale of Big Love abruptly re-engages with these questions in a way that's occasionally satisfying, often erratic, and ultimately moving, even if it doesn't suggest the show ever figured out a way to wrestle with many of the thorny ethical dilemmas it set up for itself in a real way. Don't get me wrong: The sight of Bill bleeding out on a suburban street, his three wives hovered over him, Barb giving him the blessing he needs to move on into the eternal, to become a part of that great continuity, makes for an intensely moving moment-even if you don't particularly care for Bill!-simply because of the strength of the actors involved and so on and so forth. But it's also kind of a copout, a weird way to turn Bill into a combination of Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, and Harvey Milk, all without ever really dealing with the enigma that sat at the show's center for so long. Bill has a moment of clarity here-when he sees the generations of Mormons preceding him in his vision and realizes that, yes, Barb should have the priesthood-but it's not exactly the man coming to terms with everything he was, both good and bad.

    He genuinely did seem to want to clean up the state of polygamy and reform places like Juniper Creek. He did really love his wives-all three of them-and he wasn't a bad father, not really, particularly to his two teenagers, whom he tried to steer with a little grace and understanding. On the other hand, he was also a selfish, petty man, casually destroying people around him without seeming to realize he was doing it and changing what he believed to suit whatever his will was at the time. If the plural marriage he built worked, it was less because of his work and more because his three wives made it work, pulling together to perform the tough tasks of a family figuring out how it's going to make the wheels that keep things going hum right along.

    "When Men And Mountains Meet" is a mostly satisfactory ending to a flawed season of a flawed series. What holds it back, really, is the fact that the bad stuff is so, so bad, without a real sense of how it will play on TV. For the first 45 minutes of the episode, I genuinely thought the writers were going to pull off a nicely muted conclusion to the series, an episode where the family didn't splinter apart, not really, but did show how it would perhaps eventually do so, with Margie pursuing her volunteer work and Barb following her own pursuits and pulling away from the family-especially if Bill was in prison. For a show that has been so, so over-the-top so often, I was surprised at how quiet it was, how understated. I was even fine with that scene where Bill introduces an amendment to legalize polygamy because it was so clearly a task he could never accomplish, even with his remarkable history of pulling things off that should clearly fail. It was a Frank Capra moment, sure, but one where the hero was doomed to failure, and that made it work, somehow.

    But from there, the episode took a hard left turn into awfulville, with a quick succession of scenes. First of all, Bill discovered that his speech on the state Senate floor had led to such a sensation among the many closet polygamists that they all drove many miles to attend his church on Easter Sunday. It was another moment of Bill Henrickson, righteous man, and that's the portrayal of the character-devoid of nuance or intrigue-that most drives me nuts. There might have been a way to make this work, sure, but then THAT was followed up by the scene where Barb is about to be baptized in her new church and abruptly realizes-IN THE BAPTISMAL TUB-that she can't do this, that she needs to be at her husband's church. Again, I can see a way to make Barb coming back to the fold work, but combined with everything else, it felt like far, far too much, like the show was suddenly validating Bill for everything he stood for, rather than viewing him with any shades of grey whatsoever.

    And don't get me wrong. I was not enjoying the bulk of this sequence, with its Bill glorification and everything pointing toward a sheer, happy ending, but as I watched that weird scene where Bill spoke to his congregation and then saw the generations that preceded him, the people who created this creed he's standing up for so firmly, some of this started to come together for me all the same. Here is everything Bill has chased all series long. Here is his vision. Here is his calling. Here is his moment when the Principle is not just something he lives but something that rises up and takes hold of him. And it's ultimately about something as mundane as giving women the priesthood. He sees Emma Smith again, and he knows a path forward.

    And then we cut BACK to his ACTUAL followers, not to the glorious tradition and the past but to the world as it is, to the place we actually live in. Big Love has always posited this conflict between reality and the world the faithful wish they lived in, between Paradise and Utah, and it's never been more explicit than it is here. Bill may dream himself to be a prophet, a man who can lead the people forward to the promised land, but he's still just a man, and he's still got to, y'know, LEAD, when the people he's leading are a dull and dingy lot, not possessed of the power and fortitude his forebears had. And he's still a prophet who can't see that his neighbor is clearly troubled, who goes outside and gets shot without apparently realizing it's coming at all, a man who has a revelation and promptly dies for it. And from here, the episode moves into its genuinely moving denouement, which saves the episode from its prior excess.

    One of the major themes of Big Love has been the quest for clarity, for a single moment when the world makes sense and everything falls into place. Bill has that moment, briefly, but it can't last. It leads to him giving his wife what she wants most, allowing his church to go forward as a weird hybrid of traditionalism and progressivism, but it also leads to his death. In true religious parable fashion, having understanding can lead only to death because to have understanding is the province of God, not man. We can grasp the surface of things, but we cannot grasp that which lies beneath it. We cannot grasp the eternal cords that bind us together to the past and those yet to come. Bill's death is a copout, yes, in that it doesn't make him examine himself or make the show examine him, but it also keeps perfectly with the show's religious storytelling.

    But moments of clarity abound here. You've got Ben, trying to be a good man and naming a star after Heather. You've got the wives riding in Barb's new car, realizing that this might really be it for all of them. You've got Nicki admitting that she doesn't have an ounce of kindness in her and Barb being OK with that because she loves her. You've got a family of polygamists living in a manner that doesn't seem to include any polygamists after the father dies. You've got Don-somewhat abruptly-realizing Home Plus is going under. You've got Carl realizing the source of his troubles. Clarity doesn't have to exist between man and God, solely. It can also exist between each of us, in those moments when we realize what it is we really want and what we're willing to ask for.

    It's fitting, then, that where the show leaves us is with Barb and Sarah, the two characters who've struggled the most with what Bill did and how they responded to what he did. Barb and Sarah spent the whole of the series fighting to leave the only life they knew, only to find themselves sucked back in by the fact that the only life they knew had that sense of history, of continuity and purpose. Sarah ultimately escaped, though she'll attend her mother's church from time to time. Barb got dragged back in, but she was ultimately able to find her purpose within the family, even if it took her husband's death to really get to that point. For all of the mawkishness of the final scene, for all of the babies that look like Bill and the ghosts of Bill sitting just off to the side and the slow-motion Margie hugs, it's in this moment that the series ultimately suggests that pain is worth it, that all of Bill's striving and awfulness and self-centeredness may have led to something good in the end, anyway, simply because he was surrounded by people better than himself. And when he goes, they live on, arguably a better, stronger unit than they were with him.

    Because for all of the ways that we can point to the church as a connection to the past, to the history of the human race, we've got another connection that's with us all of the time. A family is a connection, too, a link between who we are now and who we will become. You contain thousands of years of ancestors within you, leading back to the very dawn of the human race and beyond. And there will be others with bits and pieces of your DNA in the future, even if you don't have children of your own. What Bill sees as he stands at that pulpit isn't just the history of his church; it's the family he hopes will exist eternally. And even if it doesn't, he lives on, through his children, through his wives, through his friends. He lives on, as does Barb, as does Margie, as does Nicki, as does Don, as does Sarah, as do you. We work, we strive, we hope, we love. And from there, we echo.
  • Big Love comes to an end for good. (There WILL be spoilers here, so be careful!)

    It's been awhile since I've watched the finale, so I don't have the scenes fresh in my mind, and as a result, this review won't be nearly as long as it may have been directly after I finished, but I'll edit it later.. for now, I'll say this: the finale was a great ending to a great series, even if there were moments throughout the last couple of seasons that made some of us question whether to continue watching.

    I thought the show did an okay job of tying things up.. there was just way too much hanging in the air to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion, but the things that this season brought up were solved, and overall, we saw more proof that these characters are some of the best and most fleshed out characters on television. I may not have been a huge fan of Bill Henrickson by the end of the show (even in the middle of it) but boy, the final ten minutes of the show were as great as anything I've ever seen.

    I'll go into more detail later, after I've seen the episode again and have more time to think about it, but the episode succeeded by focusing on certain small moments that allowed closure to be brought: any moments involving Cara Lynn this season were superb, and while the last two episodes did a better job of tying up her plot, I love the way it was still addressed here, with Bill talking to Cara Lynn about everything in her room.. we also got an incredible scene where the three wives drove in Barb's new car and considered escaping together for good. Another amazing scene was where Bill's church receives countless droves of Mormon followers who listen to him deliver a sermon, and in the middle, he sees a vision of all of his ancestors and Joseph Smith's wife and suddenly realizes that everything he has been working for is validated.. he finally feels good about everything.

    The final moments of the show were hit or miss for me.. Bill dying was fine with me, mostly because he's always been this martyr type character who seemed like he would want to die in the name of his religion.. however, being shot by Carl, the random neighbor next door? He's seriously blaming Bill for his troubles? It was sort of lame, but it allowed us to get two of the show's most powerful moments: Bill dying on the ground and asking Barb to give a blessing, which brings Barb's need to be a priesthood holder full circle and in the waning moments of the show, we see the three wives hugging and a faint outline of Bill's ghost watching out back.. all soundtracked with "God Only Knows." If that's not a great final scene for a show, I don't know what is.

    "Big Love" was amazing in the way it allowed plot and character to exist side by side, sometimes working with each other, even when the plot went out of control. But all in all, I'd consider it one of the better television shows on right now. Great job to the writers and cast, and even though I wish it was still on, I'm perfectly happy with the way it left off.
  • Series finale.

    Many of us were wondering how Big Love would end, would it shine a positive or negative light on polygamy? Would we get a happy ending? And I really think this finale satisfied most fans. You don't know if it really is a happy or sad ending, after all, the sister wives continue to be together, even after their husband had died.

    Bill dying was definitely unexpected, it was just a great payoff to the ongoing buildup we have seen this season (or series) with the next door neighbor. We got a lot of closure with all the story lines this season.

    Of course, we never actually see Bill's continuation in senate, but him dying really ended that. Bill's mom dying was very sad too see but still a very appropriate ending. I kind of wish Sarah & Scott played a bigger part, but they fit very well in the flash forward, and I'm really glad they did that.

    All in all, it wasn't the best series finale I have seen but Big Love came to a point where it had to be neutral on most themes that we saw throughout the series so all the fans could be satisfied. It was the best they could do, and for that I commend them on the finale and for the past 5 seasons of great writing. I'm going to really miss this show.
  • 510

    The last episode of Big Love. Television lost yet another great drama and this one is going to be hard to replace as I doubt there is going to be a new Mormon Fundamentalist family on TV anytime soon.

    The finale shocked us all, but it proved one point that the series has been hitting home since the first episode: family can make it through anything. While all of the episodes before this led us to believe that it was Bill that kept the family in tact it turns out he needed everyone else just as much as they needed him.

    This was an okay finale, but I thought it was overshadowed by last week's episode. We did not get any real resolution to his plea for the legality of plural marriage either. I knew it would be too unrealistic for this show to have that bill passed, but I don't know, after the odd decision to have him go to the Senate, we really never saw anything come out of it. I enjoyed the episode, but I was a little letdown by how everything played out I suppose. Still I have to thank HBO for five great seasons of this show. A rare series that left television at the right time, in its prime.