Big Love 5.10 When Men and Mountains Meet, Series Finale

I don’t think we need to do a line by line analysis, this was a pretty emotional and visceral episode. But first off, never underestimate the fans, right? We all totally called the Carl scene. (Then again, they laid the foreboding on pretty thick.) I will just say that my husband didn’t see it coming, but then, he’s not the most… observant of people, bless him. 

I got pretty choked up during the Lois and Frank moment. What an amazing character Lois Herickson was. Tough as nails, suspicious and mistrustful of everyone but herself, a master manipulator, and a once-beautiful woman beaten into the hard, bitter woman she became (both literally and figuratively) by the life of polygamy she led. I don’t know yet how I feel about her coming “home” to Frank, and I would have liked to have seen that Frank also injected himself. Pancho and Cisco should have rode away together. He’s not much good without a woman to care for him. And that in itself is an awesome twist to the patriarchal order of polygamy – it’s the “my way or the highway” woman in Frank’s life that he settles with for the last haul. And she got to choose her exit, although I find it troublesome that it was by the hand of her husband.

Barb’s journey was pretty interesting last night, as well. How many of you called bullshit to Bill’s “I built this church for you,” line? Did you, Bill? For your wife. Mm hmm. I really thought she’d leave the family, they certainly laid enough crumbs for that to have seemed reasonable. But her story was far more interesting the way it played out.

And guys, when she stepped into that water of the baptismal font I could feel that warm water. I remember the nervousness and excitement, I remember the plexiglass surround to keep the water from sloshing out onto the carpet, and the individual behind us with a computer monitor with the names of people I was being baptized for by proxy. See, the baptismal font you saw last night are the ones in the LDS temples, with the 12 oxen, the ones used for baptisms of the dead. The oxen represent the 12 Tribes of Israel, of which Mormons believe they are one of the missing tribes (Native American Indians are also believed to be another of the missing tribes.) Also, standard baptisms are done in the church houses, where there is a large baptismal font that resembles as whirlpool spa, it’s not the elaborate tub we saw. But then, it was an RLDS church, which I’m not familiar beyond the basics.

Augh, that sensation of holding on to the priest’s arm as they raise their hand to the square and you kind of float a bit? Then it’s a complete dunking, because it’s old school. Sorry, sensory memories flooded back big time. I always catch myself mouthing along with the prayers said, too, and then find myself frustrated when they omit lines – I assume it’s done out of respect for the religion and its members.

I completely buy Barb not going through with it, by the way. That is such a huge, personal moment, and would truly signify her leaving her family (it would undo the sealing to Bill by their religious standards.) And if she left her family, what then? She’s been defined by her family for more than 10 years, she changed everything about her life to embrace this concept of multiple wives and eternal families. Looking out at the congregation, seeing all of the families sitting together, smiling, joyful… Yeah, I believe she’d leave.

Which brings me to the visages of polygamy’s past that Bill saw during his mini-sermon. Really? Ugh, this is such a Mormon concept, it filters through every story from the beginning – its proof that what the person is doing is righteous. Mormons are hugely invested in their ancestors, etc. visiting them at religious events. You have the ancient Nephi warriors standing guard at the dedication of the Logan temple to protect the pioneers from… Oh, who knows. The Ute Indians, or something. You can’t throw a stick and not hit a story of a Mormon seeing their g-grandpa smiling down on them as they chose to go to the Y after hard prayer. The church is a revelatory church where you can have a direct answer from God, so that ties in nicely.

But Emma? REALLY writers? Emma Smith, looking like a beautiful Lois (I’m not the only one that saw that, am I?) smiling and approving of his wife joining him after leaving the church that she and her son founded. Emma Smith who was known to fly into a rage at the women Joseph had polygamous relations with? I get that they’re trying to tie in the whole matriarchal theme into the story, but it’s bull. I mean, we can dress it up and say it’s about women, their choices, the whole “we’re free to choose,” but that’s like saying to someone at an In-n-Out Burger joint that they’re free to choose. Well, you can choose a burger, a cheeseburger, or a double cheeseburger. There’s no shrimp quesadilla or turkey club.

While I felt satisfied from a storytelling point of view – they did seem to touch on some of the major issues (except where was Rhonda? Banished? Waiting for Ben to show Heather the black and white film student video of horses dying and the old lady rocking? Er, you all get she played Samara in The Ring, yes?) I felt that the ultimate concept that it’s the women pulling together that makes it a good situation is seriously flawed and somewhat harmful. That is a rarity in that world.

And that brings me to Margene, and again I have to say that I don’t believe that she’d bail on her kids for months at a time, leaving Barb and Nikki (most likely just Nikki – I got the impression that Barb would be working full time to support everyone) to raise her babies? She always seemed like a devoted mother. And to work in the galley? Not the sick bay, not with education or something? That seemed tacked on to me. I might just be super nitpicky, I’ll own it.

I do like that she found herself, though. She grew up, realized there’s more to her than just being the third wife, and that was pretty great for the character. Her youth was robbed by the life she chose, the avenues of freedom closed off in exchange for dirty diapers and tater tot casserole for 30. Her saying that she fears she might be too old to be something hit me hard. I can identify with that, but I can also see that it’s not always the case. To be a teen model, yes, it’s too late. To be a force for good in the world? No time like the present, sugar booger. But you really should wait until you can either take your kids with you, or they’re old enough to go it alone, that’s just me.

Things of awesome:

  • the Godfather homage with Bill and his orange slice. I expected him to have a heart attack, but then, there weren’t any tomato plants. This would make Barb the Michael Corleone of the family, which should be our clue that they’re going to be alright, and possibly even better than ever.
  • Frank telling Lois that at Bill’s birth she called him the “light of her life.” How fitting that his light was snuffed not too long after hers. (Going along with the show’s mythos of eternal life, obv.)
  • The beautiful camera work as Bill lay dying, his three wives angelic and shining over him, Barb’s voice coming in and out, and most especially for his asking of a blessing.
  • Bill asking for a sign for a new prophet, and that’s when Barb walks in (I may have to rewatch that scene, but that was a lovely touch for the women)
  • Ben registering a star for Heather, omg, I laughed so hard I started coughing. I may or may not have had LDS suitors that did that very thing back when I was a’courting. So funny to me.
  • The relationship with the three women. To me it’s the most important relationship on the show, because if that doesn’t work, nothing works. I was sincerely moved at Barb holding Nikki, realizing that while she’s broken, there is something deep inside of her that’s compelling.
  • Barb’s car named “honeybee” – bees all serve the queen, and always know their way home.  That’s a nice touch for our Queen Bee of the Henrickson’s clan
  • “I don’t have one ounce of the milk of human kindness in me!” I know. “No, I mean it!” Pause. I know! Hahaha.

Things that left me cold:

  • No resolution on Alby – what an important character to the overall show he is, and nothing? Pah.
  • The ending feeling too “wrapped up with a bow” of joy, sure there were tears, but they were just “I’m going out of town” tears.
  • Ben and Heather are married? Engaged? Huh?
  • Again, Emma Smith! No no no.
  • Cara Lynn? Greg Ivey? Wherefore art thou?
  • Bill dying with everything left unresolved, and the sweeping under the rug feeling I got with the “11 Months Later” where they’re all just trucking on. I mean, that’s just what happens with a series ending, I understand that, but ultimately I feel like they dressed polygamy up to be something that in reality it isn’t.

As unsatisfied as I am in that list of items, overall this show was a pretty powerful force for me. Having grown up devout Mormon, being a descendant of polygamists, having polygamists in my extended family (which is huge, so you know, law of averages) and ultimately being the black sheep that left the church a few years back (and taking my children with me) this show makes me ache in a way.

I think one of the strongest lessons in this show is the strength of family, which is truly what the Mormon (both mainstream and fundamentalist) church is about. Everything is done to make your family strong, to insure that in the next life you are still family. Every sacrifice, every heartache, all exist to remind you that no matter what, your family is there for you in the end.

The community of love and support the Henricksons (and most LDS families) exist in is a pretty special thing, and one of the few elements I miss about attending church. That and the hymns. Hey, I’m a choir master’s daughter, it’s always about the music for me.

Was the show a fantastical version of the ideal church that could embrace its past and present? A hope for more open-mindedness and fairness to its female members? Without question. Do I think its possible for this to happen to either branch of Mormonism? Not on your life. But it made for great tv.

 

OK, guys, let’s talk about things. What worked for you? What didn’t? What questions do you wish were answered? And how terrible is Ginnifer’s pixie cut? She looks like a relative of Karl Pilkington with that bowling-ball do.  I’m rushing this out to the internet so we can dissect stuff, but I’m sure to have missed things, so feel free to chime in.

 

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  • txvoodoo

    OMG yes, the Godfather homage. I kinda flaied at the.

    When Nikki said “good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” I could hear you in my head saying “there’s another one of those pithy sayings!”

    And the honeybee, now that you’ve made me aware of the Deseret connection – that the honeybee is industrious AND independent – like Barb, yes? And that scene, with the wives riding – that summed up EVERYTHING for me. And what ACTING! No words at that point, it’s all about their faces. I felt like jumping up and applauding (while my heart kinda exploded)

    Alby’s in jail, right? No way he couldn’t be after that. Cara Lynn was in that final scene – she came in after Margene. And yeah, I felt Ben & Heather were either engaged or married. Heather could be the making of Ben.

    “…the sweeping under the rug feeling I got with the “11 Months Later” where they’re all just trucking on.” But that’s what happens after death anyway. It’s very rare that things are resolved, we just do what we can after it.

    I’ll be the voice of dissent on Ginnifer’s hair. I LOVE IT. She’s just so damned radiant all the time. Yes, I’m a Ginnifer fangirl :D

  • txvoodoo

    ok totally posting this so I can remember to click “notify me of followup comments!”

    • Laura Stone

      The car ride was so sweet, even Nikki let herself smile for a minute after catching Barb’s look in the rear-view mirror.

      And yes, you’re right that life carries on after death, but I would have liked to have known if Barb was officiating at the church Bill “built for her,” how many of those 480 polygamist from Easter were still attending, who on earth was watching Marge’s kids (and I would have liked to have seen that it affected Marge to leave her kids for months at a time!)

      We did get the throw-away moment in the beginning that Alby and Adaleen were in jail, but I just would have liked to have had more. I’m greedy, what can I say? ;)

  • txvoodoo

    I’m gonna speculate that yes, Barb is officiating – wasn’t that the point of her having done the naming (or baptism?) of Sarah’s baby? I dunno about the 480 – some, I imagine, would still be there? I’m guessing Nikki is watching the kids.

    I’m greedy too – but an ending always does that, doesn’t it? I WANT MORE – which means the show was good. If it didn’t leave me wanting more (and not in an angry way, like “SHOW, YOU FUCKED UP”), it wasn’t a great hsow.

  • Valerie

    I was convinced something bad would happen while the three wives were driving down the highway. For one thing, their hair was in their eyes, in the sun, which makes no sense. To me, anyway. I couldn’t pay attention to them because I was searching the highway looking for the Mack Truck that I was sure would be hitting them head-on any minute.

    And then the end? Well, we should have known that the creators would consider Bill a martyr. He certainly saw himself as one.

    But everything bad that happened to that family? He was the catalyst for it. The only exception was Barb agreeing to participate in MOY, which led to the family’s first public exposure, and even then I give her a pass because her daughter Teeny nominated her.

    “That Teeny doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.” Tee hee. Which is why we don’t get to see her. Well, that, and the actress looks older than Cara Lynn.

    HATE Margene’s pixie cut! She looks like an elf!

    Okay….WHERE did all the polygamists in prairie garb come from? I realize there are lot of plyggie families in SLC who live mainstream lives, but I guess we’re led to believe that some other FLDS prophet decided to support Bill by bringing their compound to him?

    I still think that the Cara Lynn storyline was truncated. Her anger toward Nicki (she doesn’t call her “Mama”) was real. They were seriously estranged. I’m not sure 11 months is enough to heal that. But I’m quibbling.

    Another nit: Heather and Ben are married (both had wedding rings) 11 months after the whole “I can be with both of you” moment? What changed Heather’s mind? And what about the Navy? What did they decide to be?

    Also would like to know what became of Don, of Rhonda, Joey, Wanda and all the other people who were affected by Bill’s well-intentioned but clumsy do-gooding.

    Oh well. The wives were always the core of the show, so I guess it’s appropriate for it to end with them, functional and strong.

    And agree with everyone who wanted to know what happened to Alby…and Adaleen, who was one of my favorite characters.

    • Laura Stone

      I’m lol’ing so hard at your doom thoughts on the highway – I wondered if they were going to Thelma and Louise it myself!

      There are actually a lot of tiny splinter groups all over the Wasatch mountains. The FLDS is centered in the southern most part of the state, but up in SLC you have the Kingstons, there are the Barlows, there are loads of wee communities in many of the small towns all around SLC. I could see them all coming together like a convention, but not to follow a new prophet. They just wanted to mingle with familiar folks, is my way of getting it.

      ADALEEN! I could seriously watch a spin-off show with her and Nikki, like a weird, twisted, and angrier version of The Odd Couple. The episode where they would have to sneak in to the temple to get back a strongly worded letter would be hilarious. ;)

      I just handwave the Ben/Heather thing. That’s left field for sure.

  • Where was Teenie? What’s the deal with her?

    As for the Godfather homage. As soon as I saw that, I knew Bill was a goner. Oranges always presaged death or murder attempts in the Godfather. Vito picking up oranges before getting shot. Vito and his grandson. Fredo eating an orange when Michael tells him he’s no longer welcome at the compound. Sonny holding an orange before he’s killed. Don Ciccio eating an orange before young Vito stabs him.

    Never accept an orange from someone named Coppola or Puzo.

    I also thought “Deseret” when Barb called her car “honeybee.” Barb made a major purchase on her own. She was being industrious.

    I really enjoyed how the Barb thread played out. Bill asking for a blessing was perfect, but where the hell was the Wesson oil? Surely Bill had a Mormon-approved emergency vial hanging around his neck.

    • Laura Stone

      Can I just say how happy I am that there’s someone else that knew to look for the golden bullet vial on Bill’s key chain for the anointing oil? I guess it would have wasted precious time, but I like being nitpicky.

      And pfft, Wesson Oil has too much Wessonality. Olive Oil (EXTRA virgin) is all that should be acceptable to one of God’s Warriors.

      And you and I think alike on the church being led by a woman. It’s all a fantasy of how the writers wish the life could turn out, imo. In real life? Not a chance.

      And ha, I was at Coppola’s restaurant on Tuesday and felt an urge to knock over a tray of oranges. Rule: take the cannoli, run from the orange.

      • Oh and yeah, the moment i saw the baptismal font, I told my wife that’s what they have in the temple, not in a church, but the oxen are golden. Yes, I did it for the dead as well. I thought I was going to hell because I lied about masturbating during the pre-baptismal interview (I was 14 I think–no doubt all the other boys lied too).

        • Laura Stone

          I loved going to the temple. The locks on the lockers, the snack machines… God’s House was pretty boss.

          (You mean you weren’t a good boy and tied your hand to the bed post? Shame, shame.)

          • lol. For those who don’t get the bed post reference, a Mormon apostle once suggested it as a way to avoid masturbating. He also suggested:

            It is sometimes helpful to have a physical object to use in overcoming this problem. A Book of Mormon, firmly held in hand, even in bed at night has proven helpful in extreme cases.

            …if you are tempted to masturbate, think of having to bathe in a tub of worms, and eat several of them as you do the act.

            When the temptation to masturbate is strong, yell “STOP” to those thoughts as loudly as you can in your mind and then recite a pre-chosen Scripture or sing an inspirational hymn.

            More here.

  • I’ll add that although I like the idea of Barb taking over the church, it’d never happen. No polygamist would attend a church headed by a woman. Misogyny is a central part of the doctrine.

  • Justhuman

    I have many thoughts, but let’s start with a question.

    Baptism on Easter? I know Baptism is a *HUGE* deal , but having been raised by other Catholic, I was surprised that there were other church things happening on Easter. The Catholics have all sorts of minor celebrations, like Saint’s days. but if a Saint’s day happens to land on Easter, the celebration is either moved or canceled. Also, there are no marriages, funerals, or the other five sacraments. Or perhaps because baptism is all about renewal and rebirth, Easter is an auspicious day for it?

    I liked the way that Barb’s story played out. Jeanne really sold every minute of that story. The blessing scene was perfectly done by all involved. Barb’s car purchase was also perfect, exercising her choices and personal power in a somewhat selfish way, that is so the antithesis of Barb and the image of the Good Mormon Wife.

    Nicki has been fantastic for most of the run of the season and really was brilliant in the last four or five episodes. Her breakdown with Barb was perfectly done and both actresses really shined. I feel shortchanged by the epilogue not letting us know her choices. We can infer that she’s still running the shelter and raising Margene’s kids, but Nicki is so complex that there really is no assuming.

    Margene. I like that she grew up. I also don’t mind that she went on her mission and the others supported her. I find it *UNFATHOMABLE* that she’s goint on a second one so close to the first.

    Ben, Sarah, Heather, Rhonda – eh? I kind of lost interest in all of them when they lost the opportunity to explore Heather as a lesbian. I still believe that they were going there when the actress that plays Heather became successful in the movies and moved on.

    Lois and Frank have been absolutely heartbreaking and heartwarming through these last episodes. They did not disappoint.

    The Emma Smith thing I didn’t get. I tried spinning it around about how Bill is Joseph Smith in this story and how Emma never left Joseph even when he was doing everything she didn’t approve of. Perhaps she was meant to approve of the “no prophet here” message, but that still doesn’t explain her condoning the polygamy.

    I did love Bill’s actions in the Senate both back stage and on the committee floor with his nothing to lose attitude. While I loathe the way that polygamy exists today and don’t think that the patriarchal attitude would change if it were to become legal and out into the open, I do appreciate that Bill called them on the hypocrisy and ostrich in the sand attitudes.

    I’ve been waiting for Carl to snap and when he ran into Bill on the street, I knew what was going to happen. I had to kick myself, because I’ve been wondering this whole season how they were going to end this and the answer has been obvious that it needed to end in violence. I supposed I was just dazzled how how much further the various plot lines could spin out of control in a way that would be jumping the shark for another show, but not this one.

    The first book I read about Mormons was “Under the Banner of Heaven” and it’s subtitle sums up the book – “A Story of a Violent Faith.” Not only did Bill need to be martyred to complete the Joseph Smith story, it underlines what we’ve seen through the entire show, so many pillars built on violence. Everyone connected with the compound has a literal history of receiving violence and often to giving it. The way the Church and the public came after Bill et all to punish them wasn’t just shunning.

    The way the mainstream LDS are so tightly wound that when the pressure becomes too much, they have to snap — Carl, Bills Mom and to lesser extent Carl’s wife. Barb’s sister was frequently the metaphorical punishing hand.

    While the wrap up happened much too fast, I did like that we got the sense that there was peace finally in the household now that Bill was gone. I’m not sure that was the message they were trying to send.

    • Laura Stone

      Oh, there wouldn’t be a baptism on easter. Typically baptisms are on Saturday and then confirmation (laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost) would happen at Sunday service. But not on Easter service, that’s just more “gotta jam things in” by the writers.

      I read an interview with the writers (who are a gay couple) who said they were baffled that we, the viewers thought Heather was a lesbian. “That’s just Rhonda being mean in the way she knows how.” Uh… excuse me?

      I, too, get the impression that it’s far easier to deal with the family and make it work without Bill there, but yeah, I think they were going for “look at this wonderful family he forged!” Um, the family the wives built, you mean, right? :)

      • Justhuman

        Okay, I’m laughing because I had completely forgotten that Rhonda had accused Heather of being a lesbian. I got that impression in the first or second episode (or sometime in the first season) when Heather was cradling Sara when she was drunk. Heather had this look on her face caught between pure love and the disappointment that she was feeling because she was going to be cast into the outer darkness for her feelings for another woman.

        But then again, I may be inclined to see things like that ;-)

        That does bring up another disappointment for me. Yes, we saw Albie’s struggles with his sexuality, which was brilliantly done. But so many plotlines were mirrored with the compound showing us the darker side and the Hendrickson’s showing us an alternative that had it’s own set of problems. By the end of the first season, I was sure that we would eventually see Ben, Sara or Heather come out, especially because the producers were a gay couple.

  • Valerie

    Well, I have another question, about Lois and Frank, and theology: Would Frank lose his place in the Celestial Kingdom because he helped Lois commit suicide? What is the LDS (both Fundamental and Mainstream) take on assisted suicide?

    Also, I think the finale should have been two hours. That would give a chance to wrap up Alby and Adaleen, not to mention Frank and the aftermath of Lois’ death. Because Lois and her son died on the same day, surely that’s an opportunity to involve everyone – compound and family. Not to mention Pam, who was an engaging character who paid a heavy price by being Margene’s friend. I’m not saying Carl is blameless – far from it. But with the whole surrogacy storyline, plus the job loss/Goji/husband a murderer…..poor girl got a raw deal.

    • Laura Stone

      The church frowns on suicide, but it’s not automatic damnation – they leave that decision up to God. Which is good because Utah leads the nation in suicides. =/

      I TOTALLY AGREE that it should have been two hours! It did feel truncated, so many quick cuts. No Alby? What a diss to Matt Ross. I would have also liked to have a quick update on Carl/Pam as well.

  • Valerie

    Thanks so much! If I were a Big Love writer in a two-hour finale, I’d have Carl be judged not guilty for reason of insanity, and then have Nicki stalk him. Hijinks ensue! But maybe that’s just me. :-)

  • denelian

    i repeat that i never watch TV, but have read your recaps because i find all of it fascinating – if nothing else, i’ve learned SO MUCH about LDS and FLDS from you [that’s worth something far more strenuious than reading your delightful snark :) ]

    but – at some point, some where, i got the impression [you? or someone] thought part of the *point* of the show was to show that while polygamy is almost always bad when combined with patrarchy, polygamy *alone* isn’t necessarily bad/evil.
    i’m not sure it WAS you, but you’re the only person who’s blogging about Big Love i’ve followed – maybe it was a commenter?

    anyway, given that as a [at least partial] premise, it sounds like THAT was sort of wrapped up – Barb “taking over” being “head of family”, and the 3 women working things out to care for ALL of their family – and their family isn’t *destroyed* by the death of one parent, like so many marriages ARE [because there’s only 2 parents to begin with… erm, i was raised on Robert Heinlein, and don’t have a problem with ANY sort of CONSENSUAL marriage that isn’t patriarchial, or possibly matriarichal if matriarchy became as poisonious as patriarchy has been…]

    i really like that ending – the FAMILY continuing, learning to thrive.

    thank you – muchly! – for all the recaps and snark and info!