Big Love 5.09 Exorcism

Two things off the bat before I dive headlong into this: one, Mormons don’t believe in exorcisms in the traditional “The power of Christ compels you!” Catholic standard, but Priesthood holders can cast of demons from people, and two, Chloe Sevigny was out-freaking-standing in this episode. 

The exorcism thing, because it relates to an episode way back in Season 1. Remember when the elders came (er, missionaries for non-Mos) and Nicki sent them off quoting scripture to them and the missionaries took off their shoes and “shook the dirt” from them? That’s old school LDS. Essentially it’s a curse that priesthood holders can perform. Fun for them, right? And the casting out of demons is just as tame as kicking off mud from your Timberlands. You feeling like evil is directing you? Possessed. Let’s have a wee prayer, some consecrated oil on your head, and you’re all betters. [kisses boo boo] It’s very tame compared to pea soup head spinning and crucifix masturbation. (Mormons don’t give two whits about the crucifix either.)

So it’s an interesting title choice is what I’m saying. The little “god is love, I am god, I love you, calm the hell down!” speech Bill gives Nicki is our exorcism. No “help me!” written from the inside of her body onto her skin, in other words.

Back to the whiplash-fast episode, though. It’s bitter sweet seeing Marge pack up her Goji juice. Nicki has a tiny moment of being sweet to her, which reminds us why they’ve not sent her packing years ago. This is a first hint that we’re going to have some amazing Nicki scenes.

I want to also remind everyone that the three wives represent the three world views on this religion. Nicki is the original flavor of Joseph Smith slightly corrupted with a swirl of FLDS, Barb is the vanilla flavor of the modern Mormon church, always trying to fit in, be perfect, represent perfection, and then Marge is the dulche de leche outside (and favorable) view of the Mormons. Sure they’re wacky, but hey, they’re good people! I like that the show has never deviated in that. (And Marge is obsessed with the good works, aka charity, isn’t she? That’s the apple that’s always thrown to the church – they rule the school with their charity work. And I’ve read some reports that say it’s actually less than 2% of the church’s income used for charity, which breaks my heart, because it’s always been the excuse I’ve made for my former religion as well.)

And more proof that the writers are familiar with current events, they have Bill and the cops looking for Alby, who has fled, much like Jeffs did. I thought they’d follow that real life story more, but they did go their own way, which is nice. I laughed at Alby fleeing in a Mercedes, because they’re all about poverty and supplication for the lord, which, if you’re the prophet, means you should do it with heated seats and German engineering. (Jeffs fled in a candy-apple red – a verboten color on the compound – Escalade.)

Raise your hand if you didn’t cackle at Nicki telling Marge to give back “that horrible baby” to Rhonda? That baby was interrupting her, I thank you! And how creepy is Rhonda? I had all but forgotten her connection to poor departed Verlan and wondered briefly why she was even in their house. Watery-eyed Ben standing vigil over her, trying to be good and helpful and sinking deeper into the worn path before him was pretty heartbreaking, though.

I am still baffled at the stupidity of Greg Ivey thinking he can get permission to marry a child, smart as she may be. It’s just… good hell, it’s creepy. And poor Nicki overcompensating for her own neglected self and doing a 180 on her daughter. Which leads me to the school Nicki wants to put her in.

In the 90s I was at college in Utah when my beloved grandma had a stroke, so I skipped a semester to move in and be her caregiver. (Side note, she lived in Lehi, which is the town the Sister Wives show is based, and I would bet my eye teeth they live behind her farm, I’m not even joking. It’s a super small town.) She wanted me to have “my independence,” meaning a job, and I circled the want ads. Jobs are slim in that area (19 colleges in a 100 mile radius) and the one job most advertised for was a camp counselor to the various “wilderness camps.” You know the ones: where you send bad kids for tough love.

I thought, hey, I love camping, I love helping people, this would be great! We’d hike, sit around a camp fire, learn some life lessons and make banana boats. Fun times! I went in for a job interview and after a few minutes got the hell out of there. Not too long after (maybe a week or two?) huge stories broke about kids dying out in these camps, where they basically were being tortured. No food, no water, forced to hike long distances in the blazing sun, getting beaten and abused, so on and so on. Horrifying. This was not one facility out there. Loads of them existed, and still exist. I can’t even read about them, they upset me so much.

And when you hear the creepy kid singing to the discordant melody you know shit is getting real, yo. As soon as I saw that school with the Mormon-themes painted on the underside of the archway, I knew what was what. Also, what a perfect metaphor for Nicki, Cara Lynn, and the rest of them: dead eyed (or watery in Ben’s case) following along behind the leader because what else is there to do? Badness, darkness, pain lies outside that perfectly formed line.

Oh, break my heart more, would you?

Back at the house, the wives face the very real possibility that Bill is going away and for decades at that. Barb is scheming to take over some of the man’s responsibilities (oil changes, lol.) More awesome Nicki moments, “Our situation ought not to be taken as an opportunity to serve our personal agendas.”

Oooh, eagle-eyed reader Melanie called that the church we last saw Barb visiting was an RLDS building, and she was spot on. Here’s the thing: Mormons don’t pay attention to RLDS. Like, not at all. They are so far from the radar that they don’t even register (it’s deep-seated anger at Emma Smith taking her toys and going home, you see, all stemming from Brigham Young taking over the church when Joseph was murdered and not letting Emma’s oldest boy take the reins.) The last I knew of that outfit their numbers were dwindling and they were stuck in the mid-west, which is fitting, seeing as it’s where Joe was shot and killed.

Anyhoo, Emma hated polygamy. Hated it. I mean, you would, right? Being the first in a movement and having it thrust upon you with the threat of death and destruction if you didn’t go along with it? Hem hem. So naturally the RLDS church is against it. And they’re pro women getting some props. Which is why Barb is attracted to it (but I kinda call bullshit on that from a Mormon-person standard, but whatever. A tiny quibble this is.)

So that is why it’s such a huge issue for Bill – it goes against everything the Mormon church became, and make no mistake, the church came into its real power under Brigham Young’s leadership out in Utah.

I do feel like the writers stumble here and there, trying to prove to the audience they know their stuff. Evidence: Pam coming over, breaking down and telling Marge about her separation from Carl and how the church is now threatening to take away their temple recommends because of non-payment of tithing. First off, not paying your tithing voluntarily (when you can afford to pay it) is a reason you would be denied a renewal of your recommend. Being poor and not able to afford anything is not why they would take it away. Not at all. For all the bitching I do about the church, they definitely know how to take care of their own.

First thing that would happen would be a meeting with Carl and the Ward (the parish) Financial/Job Specialist who would work to create a livable budget or Carl and Pam, then work on lining up job interviews for him, and providing any foods they may not be able to afford through the Bishop’s Storehouse. If there will bills that were past due, the church would either set up payment plans or pay them outright, if they weren’t substantial. (I know of this intimately from a crisis in my own life a while back.) They wouldn’t punish you for falling victim to the recession, in other words.

But whatevs, right? Teeny thing (but now you might win a trivial pursuit question, I don’t know.)

How glorious was the sight of a front-end loader crashing through the UEB offices? Uprooting the “Juniper Creek” sign? Oh, but it’s just a shell, because here’s Rhonda, the physical embodiment of everything wrong with polygamy (teen brides, manipulation, power grabs, etc.), who feels so very strongly that she should continue to use Ben as she sees fit. It’s so preposterous, her telling Ben to marry her so she can be taken care of. And her casual blackmail is so deliciously rotten. Marry me, or I’ll tell your lesbian Mormon girlfriend we made the beast with two backs. [Insincere smile] What a twisted character Rhonda is. I would have loved it if they did a little nod for us viewers by having a scene where she climbs out of a well, all herky-jerky.

The wives and Bill gather to tie up some ends before he gets hauled off to the state house in Draper, and am I just imagining it, or does Barb look a bit taller in her seat? A bit more in control of herself? Oh, that is until she realizes that even when Bill is in jail, he’ll still be their Priesthood Head and Prophet of their church. (Just like Warren Jeffs, still running the FLDS from his prison cell today.) Nicki immediately pounces on this, totally unsatisfied with her position as Number 2 wife, and reminds everyone that if ever there was a Henrickson that knows how to sacrifice, it’s Nicolete Grant Henrickson. And shame on you, Barb, for not realizing that we’re going to have to ration. I bet you don’t even know how to power up a generator or make tater-tot casserole for 50.

Don’t you wonder why no one just gives her more of a verbal slap-down when she so obviously is jockeying for position?

Oh, one thing they forced in to “prove” they know about the Mormon church is when they mentioned the “change from within” in regards to Barb maybe getting the RLDS church to like and support polygamy (which is like getting Catholics to rethink their stance on having nuns or communion, it’s not going to happen) by comparing that to the LDS church letting black men have the priesthood in ’78.

Such a black eye for the LDS, and people still get it wrong, even the members. The LDS church, under direction of Brigham Young, declared that black people were black because of the Curse of Cain. The Curse of Cain is the idea that back in the war in heaven (think Milton’s Paradise Lost) black people (not black in heaven, because everyone in heaven in white and delightsome) they were lazy in fighting for what was right.

Breath-taking, right?! Oh, and this doctrine still exists in the church to this day. The church still believes this. So. Black men, not good angels, no ability to have the priesthood, which means no ability to have their families sealed for time and all eternity, no ability to get to the penthouse suite of heaven. And the rule was a “even a drop of Negro blood” in your family tree meant you were black. Oh, they’re not racist at all! Anyhoodle, the church had spread to South America (Brazil in particular) and in Africa, and as the Civil Rights movement took root, it failed to do so in the church. So they let a group of black men form an outfit called The Genesis Group that basically served to placate to black members.

The real reason the church changed their stance was after building a very expensive temple in Brazil, over 75% of the members in the region couldn’t use it because of the “drop of Negro blood” problem. Guess when the temple was set to open? October 1978. Genesis Group was formed way back in 1971. Black men were given the keys to the priesthood in September 1978. 2 + 2 = White Man Made A Boo Boo.

I do love the reminders of how the polygamist family trees don’t really branch, but more ramble and grow back in on themselves. Selma shows up, she’s helping Alby hide out, and is offering her nephew refuge at Ciudad Green in Mexico. And Alby uses some sort of gypsy magic on his mother to convince her to kill Bill for her, bloody bridal gown and Hattori Hanzo sword optional. Adaleen is such an interesting character – she’s maybe the most self-serving individual, which is saying something, but ultimately she really and truly believes in the Principle and every crazy law they break to keep it going.

Cara Lynn really came into her own this episode, it was gratifying to see her stretch as an actress, even though it was under frightening situations. That stern administrator shows up with her toughs, and Cara Lynn’s face just falls. She is just so alone, poor kid. Stuck with a burgeoning nut job for a mother, dad burned up with his creepy bald second wife at the hand of Cara Lynn’s shifty grandmother (who was carrying Nicki’s egg, fertilized by JJ, her father.) Throw in Marlena possessed by the devil and one of John’s penetrating stares and you have the wackiest soap opera ever.

I truly sighed in relief when everyone ganged up on Nicki for trying to send Cara Lynn off without anyone noticing. This is when you see one of the few benefits of having multiple moms. They all stood around poor Cara Lynn, Barb throwing out a reminder that she divorced Bill so Nicki’s daughter could be an official part of the family. Bill finalizes the deal with a reminder that he’s her official father, so the adoption was a good thing in the end.

“Congratulations, Lesbo, you won.” Oh, Rhonda is just awful. I keep waiting for her jaw to unhinge and for her to leap on top of Heather and just devour her, raspy insect wings breaking open her flannel shirt in the back, talons springing out of her hands, as she flaps off to the top of a dead tree to eat her prey. Just me? I did think that Ben’s, “We can all marry, see how great it is for my family?” speech to Heather as Rhonda stands back, picking at her nails, was more than ridiculous, because oh, Ben! Come on, buddy, you’re an idiot. Pro tip: ladies typically don’t like sharing their men, especially not with an insectoid demon from Planet ScrewYou, pretty and soft though her brown hair may appear.

Things of awesomeness: Frank pulling copper pipe from the prophet’s house and Lois’ brief moment of clarity that it’s getting worse for her. The foundation is barely holding things upright at this point. Things of horrible, heart wrenching awfulness: Nicki’s utterly hateful diatribe at her daughter, waking her up to drip poison all over her youthful exuberance. Cara Lynn was able to break away from her mother’s designs, something Nicki never could do. All of the hate, disgust, want, and self-loathing Nicki holds for herself was thrown in poor, sleepy Cara Lynn’s face, who just fell apart, innocent “why me?” tears coursing down her face. Poor baby! How much did you hate Nicki in that moment? I bet not as much as she hated herself.

“Once a victim always a victim. Stop talking about ‘love.’” I flashed back to her brief romance with the state attorney, and just wish that these people would be able to stop making do with the cards life has dealt them and just have the courage to walk the hell away from the table.

Barb and Bill, down in Juniper Creek to look for his mother, slip in to the gas station. True story, back in college my roommate and I drove into Colorado City (the real life basis for Juniper Creek) and were followed by jacked-up pickup trucks, meant to intimidate us so we’d leave. We pretended to be lost and went to the gas station to get a cold drink, and I marveled at all of the beer. (Because Mormons famously don’t drink. It’s not the same for FLDS, Joseph Smith had a beer barn, after all.)

But you know what wasn’t in the gas station? Coffee. So it was a nice touch there in the show that it was a hot chocolate dispenser. How wonderful to have a casual Marcellus Wallace crossing the street with donuts moment with Alby and bottled water in the canned good aisle. I cannot believe that Adaleen didn’t pull the trigger on Barb, but instead bit her. Wow, such an animalistic act! Which is actually perfect. I don’t think she really wanted to kill either Bill or Barb, but she had to put on the act. Alby really would kill Adaleen, I think. He escapes, of course.

I do have to laugh at Marge’s newfound religion which means she’s going to have the kids sing for the family (of course) but I do wish they’d have fun Family Home Evening moments like the “toilet paper game” and other good-time fun activities, ha ha. And I laughed at Nicki’s hating the song, of course she did, it’s not a hymn! “Blowing in the Wind?” There’s nothing about Jesus or Joseph in it. Her turning away from the performance (and it’s her sons singing, she really is a terrible mother) allows her to catch Cara Lynn burning all of her textbooks in the BBQ, just completely beaten down.

Nicki falls apart and is laid bare before the others. “They didn’t put the same in her, not JJ, not the others, I did. I did!” As awful as it is to watch, she needs to feel this and freaking overcome something to be able to move past it, my word, what a broken person Nicki is. We see why they love Bill – why they could have ever loved him – when he grabs her by the shoulders to snap her out of it, shakes her gently and implores, “My love is Heavenly Father’s love. Our faith is our strength. Barb’s love is Heavenly Father’s love. We love you.” Very touching moment in an episode of almost non-stop beat downs. I don’t know if the casting out of her demons took, though.

Of course we end with the sweet old man at the registrar’s desk, the one person at the senate house that was kind to Bill from the start, getting killed by an enraged Alby. I thought Marge was going to get it, because she would be an emotional loss to the show (and a representation of the outside world turning away from them completely) but was far more affected by Nicki’s muttering under her breath, “Please. Do it,” when Bill contemplates shooting Alby in the head. Instead it’s a shoulder shot, and Alby is going to get out of jail, don’t you feel it? While Bill will go to (and stay in) jail?


Well, we’ll find out Sunday. If I hear one note of Journey towards the end or even suspect a cut to black, I am going to be pissed. We need some resolution on this family, some ends need to be tied up, and lord love you if it’s messy, that would be all the better.


Editors note: thanks for the patience on this recap, I had a surprise trip with the husband to celebrate our 10th anniversary.  Aww.