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Big Love Recap: Mommie Dearest

Bill Henrickson began as Big Love's anchor, but writers long ago ceded the show to his wives. Last night it was Nicki's turn to be complicated, and she exchanged the self-righteous prig act for one of a woman ashamed and traumatized.

At the compound, Nicki tries to rescue a woman named Iliana who does not want to be rescued. "Look at me now," Nicki encourages her. "I'm legally married and I have nice things and I have my own house." Nicki sells compound women on material goods instead of notions of safety or dignity, because that's how she thinks of her own life. When Iliana later wants to return to the compound, Nicki refuses. "She doesn't know what she wants," she explains. "I am an advocate for the rights of women who can't stand up for themselves. My work on that compound … is my life. Giving forsaken souls a second chance." Even when Nicki wants to help people, she bullies and belittles them.

Nicki seems repulsed by her daughter Cara Lynn, who seeks the company of the older men who were forced upon her mother. It's Margene who catches them and turns on the wrath when Greg dares to compare his situation with Margene and Bill's. "Don't you ever compare what you did with me and my marriage," Margene exclaims. "You are hiding out with an innocent 15-year-old girl." Not so innocent, but the gist is right.

Cara Lynn proves just as manipulative as her mother. She seeks help from Ben, who agrees to intervene only because his parents have too many other things to worry about. "This is just so incredibly … effed up," Ben tells her. But he does help her, telling Nicki that Cara Lynn needs a shrink. Nicki ends the conversation by saying she doesn't believe in therapy. "People have to solve their own problems," she says. "She needs help," Ben counters. "If you're too blind to see that, maybe you don't deserve to be her mother." Well done, Ben. Hit that tender nerve! Nicki, who left Cara Lynn to escape JJ, must often consider that herself.

When Cara Lynn and Margene reveal the secret to Nicki, she goes on emotional lockdown. Instead of seeing Mr. Ivey as a predator and exploiter, she notes that Cara Lynn has "shamed herself." At his house, Nicki threatens to prosecute unless he leaves town. Cara Lynn dares Nicki to report him, knowing that Bill's prosecution needs no more fuel. "She's bluffing," Cara Lynn tells her math teacher. Nicki takes Cara Lynn and heads for the door, but Greg grabs Nicki and they get into a tussle. At first Nicki beats on Greg, but then resists. "Please, don't do this to me," she says through clenched teeth to her daughter. "Please." Instead of a daughter, Nicki sees Cara Lynn as a threat to her way of life. Ben was right — Nicki doesn't deserve to be her mother, but only because she's so mentally and emotionally damaged that she can't be anyone's mother.

But she can fight to save the Henricksons and agrees to talk some sense into Alby. Out at Juniper Creek, Verlan reveals that Alby wants him to murder Bill. Alby binds and gags Nicki, dresses her in a compound frock, and locks her in a closet. He takes her out to the desert and makes Nicki kneel before an open grave with a gun to her head. She reminds him that they are family, and Alby cannot bring himself to shoot her. Instead, he shoots Verlan. "This is who we are," Alby tells Nicki, fingering her dress collar. "This is who we'll always be."

Photo: Harper Smith/HBO