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Big Love: Dear Penthouse Forum...

Dustin Lance Black did not write this episode, but he has created many of them, and last night he gave the cutest Oscar acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay, so: Cheers to him. We hope he had a chance to exchange a long, meaningful look with Zac Efron after the ceremony. Now, onto the National Lampoon's Vacation installment of Big Love, where the entire family road trips to important LDS sites, and a very Russ-like Ben hornily announces his boner for Margene.

The echoes don't end there: In Vacation, the Griswolds bring their deceased grandmother along on the roof of the car; in “Come, Ye Saints,” Margene's mother, Ginger, is brought along in her urn, and Nicki's children, clearly descended from evil, smear the ashes all over their little faces. Even the Henricksons' inexplicably archaic red station wagon resembles the clunker driven by the Griswolds. The traveling sideshow conceit, crude as it is, finally sets a few rarely connected characters in each other's paths. Ben, of course, longs to touch Margene's hair, but into this long-simmering bit of intrigue comes ... what's her name? ... T, the red-haired daughter of Bill and Barb, who finds Ben's love note, and who also, we must add, seems to be the latest Henrickson female of child-bearing age. What will come of that?

Older sis Sarah loses her baby, which prompts some tenderness in Nicki, her latent nemesis, owing to her severe Mormon sister-wife status. There's also some hullabaloo over Barb's discovery of Nicki's birth-control pills (by the way, we believe Nicki when she says that she's been having cramps for the past four years; do you hear the things she says to Margene?), which Barb believes belong to Sarah, even though what they really hint at is the potential bareback sex with the icky lawyer, who calls Nicki again. Dude, at some point you'll have to tell her about the VD that you've obviously picked up. But the balls go several shades bluer when, Bill having accidentally washed his pills down the drain, Margene (in strumpety swim gear) struts in on him and Nicki (in a sheer gown) and mouth-humps Bill to help him get it up — then leaves before we've even finished typing “We never thought we'd be writing to Penthouse ... ” Margene, far too clever for her character: “Am I being a pill?”

So what does Bill do? He totes around a silvery phallus, the “time capsule” that's to be buried along with his youth, virility, and purpose. But first, one of those children that he has apparently fathered wants his cowboy back. Son, Bill intones, don't you know that this paragon of manhood was never alive in the first place? Reaching over his shoulder for an arrow, Bill finds his sack deflated. (Projectile dysfunction.) Ana's gone, maybe for good. Every man Bill encounters challenges him, and he more or less responds with a “Good day to you, sir.” For a minute there, it looked like Ben might get road head from the one wife who still turns Bill on. And for chrissakes, Nicki put him in a cardigan (like the lawyer's) to get hot. That angel at the end, the only thing rising around here? We're not sure Dustin would have gone with such an obvious metaphor.

Photo: Courtesy of HBO