‘Big Love’: Paper Always Covers Rock

Photo: Courtesy of HBO

"Sports games shouldn't be played by girls. It interferes with the menses. It says so in the bible."

Okay, people: Here are your orders. Stop watching Entourage. Start watching Big Love. Listen to us (and to Adam Sternbergh, a.k.a. the young Andy Rooney). Please, the prophet begs you.

This second stellar episode of Big Love in a row featured plenty of plot turns (including mustached cops sneering "apostate!"). But for all the legal byplay, Big Love has always been at heart a festival of feminine subversion, like Mean Girls in sack dresses. These nervy manipulations are the show's true engine, fueling its theme: that women forced to scrap for influence will develop perverse superpowers, from meekness jujitsu to the laser-focused deployment of secrets. No wonder Barb — the "boss" sister-wife raised in the modern world — is so helpless, for all her working-mom directness. In this all-female world, paper always covers rock.

All of which made this episode the equivalent of a series of precision explosions, as each of the most insidiously feminine characters, products of Roman's rural compound, faced off, one by one. First, runaway child bride Rhonda (who will forever be Samara to us) spars with Niki, a showdown that climaxes with a chilling polygamist variation on sleeping with the fishes: "They'll teach you to keep sweet and it won't be pretty."

Then Bill's mom drops mayonnaise on the floor in an attempt to manipulate meek poisoner Wanda into — well, we guess she was trying to goad her into shooting the D.A., but either way, the shot of Wanda slipping a gun into a baby car seat made the whole thing worth it. (It's the oldest dramatic rule in the book: You can't tuck a gun in a baby's car seat in the first act without it going off somewhere in the second act.) And finally, everyone showed up at the homeless shelter for a virtual verbal shoot-out featuring Adeline, Barb, Niki, Margene, and Samara herself.

Meanwhile, no-boundaries Margene bonds with her stepson's slutty girlfriend, bad-touch uncle Alby strokes poor Sarah's hair, and Adaleen manages to simultaneously disown her daughter and perform the single kind act she's ever taken on her behalf: stamping that damning audiotape out like a forest fire.

Strangely touching climax: Samara skittering away to the accompaniment of Elton John, $24 in food stamps burning up the pocket of her stolen Hard Rock Café jacket. —Emily Nussbaum