So much wells up: Bill’s mother nearly kills his father (after testing a plastic bag’s durability over her own head); Margene, bent on housekeeping, confronts feelings brought up by her own mother’s death (more grim humor: the running joke about mother tumbling down the stairs into a laundry room); Pill-head Nicki recalls her father marrying her off as a teen (she’s a sort of science-text centerfold in something known as the “Joy Book” — shades of Joy Division, and not the band); Rhonda runs back to Roman (after failing to persuade Bill that she would be fit to bless him with many children); Sarah ponders motherhood (after the prom, no less); and Anna ponders commitment, and as a result, has intercourse with a man in a black leather jacket (“You’re tense” — that’s what he said). Pernicious domesticity! And as the family falls through one trap door after the other, Barb desperately wants to know why her sister got their dad’s grandfather clock. Sorry, number one: You’re on your own time now.
Mercifully, Nicki opens the dam, bursting into tears. If she was a convenient bit of connective tissue before, linking the family to Roman and Juniper Creek, she’s the true center of the show now: the middle wife, with all the issues that it entails, but also a true victim of L.D.S., a grown-up Rhonda who’d rather not live life as a baby machine. Beautiful as she is, Chloë Sevigny plays Nicki so self-contained that she hardly seems a part of Bill’s bedroom buffet. The show loves sex scenes, but her’s are the only ones that are properly fraught. Wet with tears, exposed in her business-casual camouflage, she’s so vulnerable that that the lawyer D-bag who discovers her with the “Joy Book” absolutely melts, the way we can never quite believe the women do for Bill. She’s finally the center of the show — and she is, rightfully, coming apart.