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Tube talk: Goodbye 'Big Love'

March 21, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode

“Big Love” started as an apparent one-trick pony (pardon the pun), a sex joke about a polygamist who needed Viagra to keep up with his three wives. Against all odds, it evolved into the best drama on television, a poignant meditation on faith and family.

In the process, it produced two truly great television characters -- Mormon prophet come con man Roman Grant (played with delicious decadence by Harry Dean Stanton) and his prim, self-involved daughter, Nicolette (the underappreciated Chloe Sevigny), forever straddling the line between fundamentalism and the modern world with often disastrous results – and one new star in Amanda Seyfried, who eventually left the show to make movies but returned Sunday to tie up loose ends.

But a very bad thing happened to “Big Love” after Stanton’s character was killed off. The once crisp writing devolved into melodrama. The startlingly unique and personal stories became soap opera-ish and clichéd. When Sevigny finally went public with her frustration about the show’s direction last year, it was if everyone involved, viewers included, breathed a sigh and said, “Whew, I thought it was just me.”

HBO and the show’s producers and writers vowed to return “Big Love” to its prior glory in its fifth and final season. But someone very wise said that once you feel nostalgia for something, it’s already gone. And such was the case with “Big Love.” The soaring heights of Season 3 were never to be reached again and the final season has proven to be a hit and miss (mostly miss) proposition, which kept hopes for Sunday’s series finale, “When Men and Mountains Meet,” fairly muted. Given those moderate expectations, the episode delivered what was expected, some awkward almost silly moments and several instances approaching grace.

Two scenes especially rang true:

> The three wives going on a joyride in Barb’s uncharacteristic new convertible brilliantly foreshadowed the series’ final scene and became a meditation on their own abilities (or lack thereof) to find joy in life.

> Barb’s comforting of Nicki (who finally allowed someone to hug her) was also momentous, as Nicki listed her sins and shortcomings as a person and Barb replied without even a hint of irony, “I know.”

Which brings us to the series ending:

> On one hand, we feel cheated that Bill Hendrickson was killed by a minor character who literally wandered out of one of the show’s most-minor subplots (economic desperation) in the final five minutes of five seasons’ worth of TV to help set up an ending. (We think George Roy Hill handled such an ending much better in his interpretation of “The World According to Garp.”)

> On the other hand, Bill’s unexpected death got us to a final scene that was just about perfect.

In that marvelous final five minutes of “Big Love” we met three women who had to lose their husband to find themselves, Barb in faith, Nicki in motherhood, Margene in service to others. We learned that Bill Hendrickson had done about the best thing you can hope for in this world: He’d built a family strong enough to grow and thrive without him. The only thing missing for us was what someone should have said just before the credits rolled: Amen.

 
 
 

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