Bill Henrickson barely managed to get sworn in to the Utah State Senate last night on Big Love, but it was the women in his life who steered the episode. Last week’s revelation that Margene was 16 when she married Bill may stay out of public view, but this bit of youthful dirty laundry threatens the family’s core convictions.
The sister-wives begin the episode by questioning who knew what, and when. “She came into this marriage under false pretenses,” Nicki complains to Bill. Bill defends Margene, but he too is wary and can no longer even meet her gaze when they make love. His disgust apparently hasn’t diminished what Nicki refers to as Bill’s “animal urges”; Bill is a long way off from the oversexed, Viagra-popping polygamist next door of Season 1.
No one’s buying the “Bill didn’t know” theory, especially Don Embry. “You were determined to have her,” he reminds a disingenuous Bill. “You were obsessed with her, and it wasn’t for her intellect.” Don, once Bill’s punching bag, is now a surrogate for audience outrage. He’s lost faith in Bill, and it is only his own family obligations that keep him tied to the toxic Henricksons.
For her part, Margene can’t help but repeatedly remind her spouses how young she is. During a pained family dinner, an enthusiastic Margene burbles about mixing faith with business. “Business alone isn’t enough. Business and furtherance of the spirit is the point. I think I was just too young to understand that before,” Margene preaches as Nicki glares and Bill nearly chokes on his water. When the conversation turns to adopting Cara Lynn, Margene again unsheathes the blade of youth: “I know what it’s like to be 15 and miserable and desperate and without a father. I would have done anything to get adopted by anyone.” Yeah, we bet you would, think her sister-wives.
Yes, Bill is a horndog. But more than anything else, the sister-wives resent how Margene’s voluntary commitment to the family was a choice they themselves did not have. Barb took to Margene only because a life with just her, Bill, and Nicki was untenable. Nicki sought refuge with Barb and Bill because it was a step away from the confines of the compound while still safely in the subservient world of polygamy — the only one she knew.
Women bear the burdens of the principle, and none were spared in last night’s episode. Adaleen spies for Alby, as though doing evil at the behest of a priestholder is the only life she knows how to live. Lois’s dementia is rooted in herpes, a result of Frank’s philandering. Her animated bug-eyes go flat and she wanders out into the cold, hollowed and wan. “It’s all been such a waste,” she mutters. “I’m filthy.”
The day before he takes the oath, Margene confronts Bill in the parking lot of the Capitol. She’s wearing a hoodie and a Goji juice T-shirt, and Bill turns from her in disgust and tells her to put a coat on. “You look like a teeny-bopper,” Bill blusters. “You’ve got to forgive yourself,” Margene counters, suggesting that Bill did know that his bride was underage. Devastated by his rejection, Margene (accidentally) backs into Bill. We cheer.
Asleep in the hospital, Bill has a patented HBO symbolic dream. It begins on the compound. He enters a rusty old trailer only to find himself wandering the halls of an old-timey hotel. He follows the music (Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World”) and opens the door to the hotel’s “Embassy Room.” Emma Smith, the wife of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, approaches Bill. Smith denies that her husband had underage wives. (The real Emma Smith denied polygamy entirely.) As she turns to walk away, Bill asks, “Emma, how many more miles?” To righteousness? To eternal life? To On the Mormon Trail? Until polygamy is accepted? “You be careful now,” she responds. He turns to find Lois, who is wearing the same polka-dotted dress and red hairstyle as Emma. “Mom, that was Emma Smith,” says Bill. Lois, glowing, responds: “Isn’t this the loveliest time?”
Of course, it is not the loveliest time. Bill gives a stirring speech about faith and principle to the legislature, but taking the oath of office does little to quell a growing danger. The episode closes on a shot of Bill waiting for an elevator. The camera moves toward him as though hiding in the stairwell, ready to attack. Bill senses someone near him, but sees nothing. He will soon enough.
Rhonda kills Alby after he sleeps with Verlan.
Bill is assassinated.
Heather and Ben move to Portland.
Lois murders Frank, this time for serious.