Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Only Love
by Alex Carnevale
creators Mark V. Olsen & Will Scheffer
So quickly does this third season of Big Love bounce from dilemma to dilemma, conflict to conflict, that it is easy to miss a small scene that typifies the best show on television.
Cleaning up after dinner Bill Hendrickson, husband to three going on four, drops a plate. It shatters on the ground. “Watch your hands,” his wife Barb tells him. They’ve just heard honest testimony from Kathy Hendrickson, Bill’s sister-in-law, of what she endured under the iron rule of the prophet Roman Grant. She was compelled to marry at 14 and fuck her husband. And so was Bill’s second wife, Roman’s daughter Nicki Hendrickson (Chloe Sevigny).
“It’s evil,” Bill says, and you know he’s never admitted it before. He left Juniper Creek as a young runaway, but he never left the idea of the Principle. And indeed there’s nothing wrong with polygamy in theory, only in practice.
We must all allow each other to live as each individual chooses. This is the difference between Bill and his wives and Juniper Creek, and also the difference between Bill and the rest of the world. This summer the government spend untold millions to prosecute a way of life, not the law.
There is much behavior we are permitted to disapprove of. But saying polygamy is the same as a rape is doing no justice to rape. Blurring the lines of morality is an affront to morality, and this is what Big Love runs up against so masterly.
When Bill’s first wife took sick, he took on Nicki against her wishes as a second. Nicki nursed Barb, and they became a family. Then Bill fell in love with Margene, the babysitter, and the family expanded again. The most truly good of his wives, Margene is the moral core, with the sexual soft insides of the peach.
Now Bill has fallen in love again, a courtship he called off when he found Serbian immigrant Ana taking up with another man. He and Barb were shocked, but Ana came to Barb to explain. She accepted Ana’s apology, and urged her husband to continue taking up with this other woman. “I like her,” Barb told Bill outside her mother’s house. “And I like that I like her.”
Ana is a polarizing figure for the show. On one hand, she represents everything that is wrong and corrupting about the Principle, reminding the audience that Bill is never truly satisfied. He should be happy by now, the secular audience cries.
This isn’t the way Bill sees it. The larger his family grows, the larger his prize in the Kingdom of Heaven. And it makes sense to grow the family for his wives. Sure, they’re on the receiving end of one less night of sex, but they get one more woman to look after the kids. And surely Ana is a deserving kind of woman.
The children are the victims, if you are looking for one. Bill barely makes it to Ben’s profound moment as flag-bearer, and the rest of the children recede into the background of a life too complicated and torn asunder for any innocence to survive in its wake.
Most every character on Big Love is a Mormon, but this is a show intended for atheists. We may acknowledge that there is likely no evidence of an intelligent creator, but we all know something made the universe, whether we decide to worship it or not. I have no belief in God, though I have often wondered whether that lack of belief was for good or ill. For me it is no matter, but I do know that I have no desire to live in a society where the idea of God has been abandoned to cranks and liars.
We want to be surrounded by believers, true believers, for it is easier to trust the motives of those with faith. We love living in a country of these people. Liberal pussies who watch HBO need these folks. They are good insurance if there is a God, and they are not so mindful of birth control, ensuring they’ll reproduce like rabbits so we don’t all die off. (Gay couple and show creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, below, are particularly fond of this joke.)
Big Love reminds us that we are not Gods any more than God is. It is not within our power to judge the good and evil that lies in others. When we do so we pretend we are better, sitting behind a judge’s stand, as the secular court did this week, starts to look just like a throne. This is the way of disaster. We must never judge others
Bill’s children are kind creatures, much better equipped than their forefathers to run up against the cruelness of modernity. They are wide-eyed, and some even wish to be free of Utah. Sarah is now pregnant because her family preached abstinence instead of birth control. A boon this will be once in heaven, but here on Earth it is a terrifying crutch. She tells her brother Benji on prom night, as they both watch their childhood vanish.
The rest march on in relative anonymity. The lives of adults are not meant for children in this world, and perhaps that’s as it should be too. In the sickness of Juniper Creek events touch all equally, but Bill’s children may yet be spared some of that, for as long as it can be done.
“I need you to protect me as I once watched over you,” The Prophet Roman Grant tells his daughter Nicolette, through a glass partition. Last night, she had trouble deciding whether or not to follow his instructions. Before long the children are digging through the sins of the father quite literally, and it’s a hard thing to watch. What else is there? The young are the only hope for the West, and what a miserable chance they have.
“Gallery Piece (Jon Brion remix)” – Of Montreal (mp3)
“Gallery Piece (instrumental)” – Of Montreal (mp3)
“First Time High (Of Chicago acoustic remix)” – Of Montreal (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
The Annotated/Condensed Society Of The Spectacle
Part One: You Know Nothing Of My Work
Part Two: Chew Bubblegum And Kick Ass