The spirit of Christmas did not stop at the Henrickson’s house(s) this season. Instead, a cloud of doom hangs over the family. In this episode alone, viewers are treated to dementia, maternal drunkenness, statutory rape, abortion, and murder. Bill appears unable to lead his flock, which may well be dissolved by series’ end. It’s all a little much, but we’ve come to expect excess from Big Love.
Christmas at Alby’s house is off the hook. When his kid is scratched by a dog, he blames Laura. “Your mind is unfocused, and your heart is full of distraction,” he admonishes. “Well, I’m bloody well trying,” she says, aghast as the words leave her mouth. Alby threatens to “reassign her children” and she wimpers, pleading for his love. Instead, Alby orders another wife to poison the family’s dogs.
Margene unloads crates of a horrible concoction called Goji Blast. Bill comes to help her and seems to actually take an interest in her happiness and well-being. He promises “the best Christmas ever,” asks for her driver’s license, and does her in the garage.
Barb’s making delicious plum pudding for Christmas. Lois happily recounts a family recipe for suet pudding, which sounds wretched (beef fat and sour milk!). Ben walks into the kitchen and speaks a line. He’s going cold on his plans for the Navy, but who can think about their future when Lois is rocking out to Diane Renay’s “Navy Blue”?
Sarah’s friend Heather comes by with a loaf of gingerbread and Ben is smitten. He asks her to go ice skating.
Cara Lynn’s math teacher gives her a Barbara McClintock biography and explains to his pupil that her sketchy gene pool will not determine her future. Cara Lynn fakes stomach cramps to get out of math tutoring early so she can meet with Gary “Okey Dokey Dominokey” Embry for a hot date.
During dinner, Ben and Bill do a patronizing “salute to women” that only reinforces their superior roles as priesthood holders. Ben, opposite Bill at the head of the table, is enraptured in his righteousness. Run away, Heather! Barb suggests to the family that women were born with free will and the mind to interpret the gospel on their own. Bill’s face falls.
At family skating night, Nicki accuses Barb of causing trouble with all that feminist nonsense. Bill takes a different tack, complimenting Barb on her comments but fearing the need for them to “constantly one-up each other.” He shuts her up by doing a lap around the rink with the wives during “Couples Skate.” The rest of the skaters clear the ice, their distaste for polygamy trumping their love of Abba.
“You seem more confident or something,” Ben intones to Heather, who has dated a couple of guys at BYU. She questions Ben about his future, but he brushes her concern aside with a well-timed slip on the ice.
Alby comes after Adaleen when he finds that she is still pregnant. “You are impure, unworthy, and unholy.” He banishes her from the compound, but gets a shock of his own when he learns that Laura has left him.
Bill takes Lois to a doctor, who diagnoses dementia. Bill doesn’t tell her, despite Barb’s protests. They have a moment together, where Barb admits her need to be needed, and Bill promises some changes at church that should please her.
In the living room, Nicki gives Adaleen the kind of stellar pep talk only a manipulative daughter can provide: “Where’s the woman who can work any situation to her advantage?” Margene asks Nicki to make her a fake I.D. so she doesn’t have to pay overdue parking tickets. This is a terrible idea that will likely result in something horrible, like Bill losing his Senate seat. Nicki puts the kibosh on this plan, but more because she likes telling Margene no than anything else.
Cara Lynn is suspicious about her father’s silence and hits up Ben for details. He doesn’t know, but promises to cover for her while she looks for her father. This is another terrible idea that will likely result in something horrible.
At church, Bill welcomes several new members and gives Barb the big surprise she was waiting for: He asks Ben to bless the sacrament. Her face crumbles and then stiffens with disappointment. Ben glows, a cult leader in training. (Go back to college, Heather!)
Laura arrives at the Henricksons’ in the middle of the night with her children. Nicki doubts her intentions but Bill takes them to a shelter. He looks in on Laura, who pulls off her fake eyelashes in exhausted defeat. A once-loathed character turns tragic in a ten-second shot.
Kind, corny Gary Embry gives Cara Lynn a necklace for Christmas. Newly rebellious, she delights to learn that Gary doesn’t have a driver’s license yet. She pecks him on the lips and says, “I mean, we’re all going to perdition anyway, so what the heck.” Wait till she sees Thelma and Louise. They find the ashes of JJ’s clinic and Cara Lynn grows more suspicious.
The wives find Bill’s big Christmas present: Handguns! (Nicki already has one.) “I’m sorry you hate my gift idea. But they’re paid for and that’s what you’re getting,” says a rejected Bill.
Lois is declining fast. She takes the kids “to see Santa” but winds up screaming nonsense into a drive-through speaker. Bill asks the cops to keep the incident quiet, and Lois realizes that she is unwell.
The Henricksons (and Heather) march into the capitol and sing carols to Bill’s one potential ally in the Senate whose wife is ailing. He sits through the “First Noel” stone-faced, but doesn’t throw them out. At dinner, Lois recites poetry and Margene drops an awesome bombshell: She was being dicey about the license because she was only 16 when she married Bill! (This explains so many, many things about Margene.) Bill and Barb abandon the tearful Margene. Nicki ditches her, too, but not before saying, “Congratulations, Margene. You’ve just ruined Christmas.”
Cara Lynn confronts Adaleen about the torched clinic. “He did it to hide the evidence,” Adalene says in a toneless voice. She explains that JJ was experimenting with babies and conception and the “monster” he put inside her. “My father is dead, isn’t he,” says Cara Lynn. Adaleen nods her assent, and Christmas is ruined for one more Henrickson.
The Henricksons’ volunteer outing to the shelter is tense and taut. Barb seeks sympathy from Nicki, but is rebuffed. Margene apologizes to Bill and though he says it isn’t her fault, he turns his back on her. Cara Lynn confronts Nicki about JJ, who tries to deny it. In turn, Cara Lynn denies her love.
In desperation, Bill turns to Heavenly Father. “Spare my family these unending punishments,” he pleads. No sooner are the words out of his mouth than Margene summons him with the news that Alby has Laura, and what was a riveting episode takes a turn too far. Laura doesn’t want to go with Alby, and when he tries to take them by force Bill punches him in the nose. “You’re a sinful, shame-faced coward who lives a secret life,” Bill tells Alby. “You take your own self-loathing out on innocent women and children. You disgust me.” Alby is speechless that someone knows his secret, and we wonder whether Bill is disgusted more by Alby’s sexuality or his deception.
The Henricksons return home to find Barb shit-faced and eating plum pudding out of an unlabeled can. “We’re not holy,” Barb tells the sister wives and Bill. “We’re all unholy.” Bill attempts to allay fears by reminding everyone that it’s still Christmas, which is, as anyone who’s ever suffered through a truly miserable family holiday knows, a lie. The sister-wives aren’t buying it either.
A beaten Adaleen returns to the compound, and Alby. “I wasn’t pure,” she admits. “I am now.” Alby congratulates his mother on her abortion. “I will never leave you,” Adaleen promises. “I’ll take good care of you.”
The joyless Henricksons end the episode in a living nativity scene while cars line up to gawk, capping what is officially the worst Christmas ever.
• Adaleen pushes Alby into a war against Bill.
• Cara Lynn and Gary Embry run away to perdition.
• Barb switches to pinot from merlot.
• Ben proposes to Heather.
• Margene leaves Bill to protect him from accusations of statutory rape.
• Get stoked: Rhonda’s back!