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Big Love: “The Noose Tightens”

This week on Big Love, the only gun was the one Alby pointed at Nicki and subsequently used to shoot the plot device named Verden, and everyone thinks Margie is in a cult.  “The Noose Tightens” is everything that’s great about Big Love, and another example of how fantastic this show can be when it tells a story in its inside voice.

Let’s start, as we do, with the men, and move on from there.  Bill is facing a twenty-year prison sentence for statutory rape, plus the charges resulting from the new anti-polygamy laws the Senate and the LDS have worked to create just for this purpose.  Does it give anyone else pause that these two bodies, funded in one way or another by the good people of Utah, have devoted all their energies and resources for a substantial chunk of time to bringing down one guy? They’ve certainly been efficient, working with the same precision and blood lust as Alby to take everything from him.  Not just to punish him for his (many) wrongs, but to make him an example, to make him suffer.

Don is tempted to sell out his share of Home Plus to Alby, who has offered him twice the value.  He wants Bill to sell out, too, but Don is done no matter what.  Bill threatens to out Alby by finding an old family fling who’ll tell the UEB exactly what he and cousin Alby used to do together.  Alby, not being one to fuck around, decides it’s time for Operation Kill Bill to go into full gear.

Bill offers to resign and take the full weight of the punishment the state is threatening if they leave Barb alone, which may be the most unselfish thing he’s ever done.  I don’t know what it says about me, but I felt sympathy for him in this episode for the first time in a few seasons.   I appreciate that this show keeps me on my toes, but it’s a complicated relationship.

Caralynn – The jig is up, DullSkeeve is out of the bag and two out of three Henrickson wives agree, this dude is trouble.  The third Henrickson wife would be in agreement as well, if she weren’t being compared to one of Elizabeth Smart’s kidnappers by the state of Utah, but more on that later.   Caralynn wants to marry her teacher, now that they’re all busted, and the audience has a collective crisis as we realize how truly disturbing Bill and Margene’s relationship was, even as it was packaged to us as sweet, charming and just a little gosh-darn non-traditional.  In “The Noose Tightens,” Caralynn is as manipulative and single-minded as Rhonda or Nicki ever were in her quest to get the hell out of dodge on whatever train happens to swing close enough for her to catch.

Heather – Heather, often the only character on this show that turns to her faith to better herself and not to get what she thinks she wants, is collateral damage.  Shocked and ashamed that her private conversation with her Bishop has been the tipping point for everything that’s rained down upon the Henricksons, she does what I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do on this show – she sincerely apologizes.

Barb – Not satisfied with destroying Bill, the state is building a case against Barb for “procurement” in the statutory rape charge against Bill.   While I imagine it’s all to get Bill to take on his own punishment without a fight, Barb is crushed. On a lighter note, I love that Barb is seemingly listening to the Pat Boone channel on Pandora.  In the midst of all the drama, when Heather tells Barb about how everything unfolded, Barb is decorating a perfect layer cake.  Because she’s Barb.  After the news, she throws that perfect cake at the window.  Because New Barb throwing a perfect cake at the reflection of Old Barb in the window is some pretty great imagery.

Margene – Margene plays girl detective in this episode, quickly sussing up how Caralynn and DullSkeeve’s affair is happening and how good of a liar Caralynn is.  Margene inserts herself and doesn’t budge until the couple reveals what’s going on.  Ginnifer Goodwin is hitting it out of the park in these final episodes, and the moment she steps up and starts being the mother Caralynn has needed we finally see the steel core that’s kept Margie going underneath the confused, good intentioned, sweet exterior we normally see.  Along with the moments of clarity offered by seeing herself in Caralynn, Margene is also involved in two separate conversations about being in a cult.  Grant Show tells her that her family is a cult, Bill tells her Grant Show’s Mormon Ponzi Juice is a cult.   Margie, who may be smarter than anyone else on this show, becomes the math whiz she claims she isn’t and adds two and two all over the place.

Nicki – Nicki is taking her role as underground railroad conductor for former plural wives very seriously.  There are some truly funny moments with Illiana, her newest rescue, who doesn’t really want to leave but is wisely a little frightened of Nicki.   Nicki is also really horrible in the early parts of this episode.  Some folks play hard to get, some folks play hard to love.  We feel a bit for her again when Nicki finally believes that DullSkeeve is sleeping with her daughter, and the full effect of what’s going on hits her, we see her break just a little bit more. Later, though, we’re again reminded of exactly how she became who she is.  Late in the episode, while Nicki is trying to re-capture/rescue Illiana, she’s snatched by Alby and his reluctant sidekick, Verden.   Verden spills the beans that Alby wants Verden to kill Bill, Nicki confronts Alby and goes right for his sexuality, Alby snaps and locks her in the closet after dressing her in one of those horrible cotton compound dresses.  Later, with a hood over Nicki’s head, he has Verden drag her out to a grave he dug in the dessert.  When the hood comes off, Verden balks and panics when he sees it’s Nicki.  Nicki begs for her life, reminding Alby of everything they shared growing up together.  Alby, confused, shoots Verden and leaves him in the grave, letting Nicki go.

In the final scene, Bill is sitting at the kitchen table telling Barb and Margie that he’s likely going to get twenty years when Nicki enters.  She’s dirty, in shock and still in the horrible pink dress.  Her three spouses turn to her and the scene goes black.

Only two more episodes remain, and you can almost see the Jenga blocks vibrating as the last piece holding up the Henrickson tower is removed.  Join me here next week as we build up to the finale.   Is there any interest in live-blogging the last episode?  I’m up for it if some of my fellow fans will be around to keep me company.

 

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

18 replies on “Big Love: “The Noose Tightens””

I love these recaps!! This was such a great episode and I’m so excited to see how they actually wrap up this series in two episodes.

Moments I loved:
Ilyanna hiding behind the tree when Nicki comes to pick her up. I don’t know the name of the actress who plays Ilyanna, but she has the most hilarious and heartbreaking expressions around Nicki.

Margie standing up to Barb with her speech about the ponzi juice. The ponzi juice scheme may be misguided, but I love that Margie is showing some real nerve this season, and not only to Professor Dullskeeve.

Mr. Ponzi juice and Bill having words at the statehouse; Bill gets so angry that Mr. Ponzi juice had the nerve to tell Margie her family is being unsupportive. God forbid anyone put an idea in Margie’s head about her family being wrong- classic Bill control issues. It also shows how manipulative Bill really is, even when he thinks he is being righteous.

Nicki hitting Professor Dullskeeve.

Margie caught between two cults: the juice and her family. The sheer irony of Barb listing out definitions of a cult, not realizing it describes her own family and Margie’s reaction: “I need to be with my babies.” Heartbreaking.

Such a great episode.

Bill MUST have been aware on some very basic level that Margene was underage.She worked for him and there would have been no reason for her to falsify her birth certificate to work at HomePlus or whatever his store was. It would have been completely natural for him to check her personnel file when he realized he was interested in her and saw how young she was, but he didn’t because on some level he knew. It would be incredibly satisfying to see him admit this.

I know! This has been mentioned before, but when Bill told Don that Margie was underage when he married her, Don flipped out and described Bill as being obsessed with Margie when they first got started. Something about how he wouldn’t be deterred from having her. Ugh, Bill.

I couldn’t help but wonder throughout the entire episode if the same person who styled Silvio’s hair on the Sopranos also did Alby’s…

“the audience has a collective crisis as we realize how truly disturbing Bill and Margene’s relationship was”

Yes! I agree that they did an excellent job of driving home the point about statutory rape with Carlaynn. Is bright as she is I don’t think she fully grasps the seriousness of the situation.

“whore master” I cracked up a little when Alby called Bill this.

I think Cara Lynn’s intelligence is actually working against her, in a way. . .I think it’s actually very common for bright, articulate teenage girls to be manipulated in those situations. I actually find Greg Ivey’s behavior even more loathsome than Bill’s–not only is he her teacher, not only does he know she’s underage, he knows at least the outlines of the extremely traumatic and dysfunctional background she’s come from, and how she’s essentially been “groomed” for an older man the way Margene never was.

Do you think it might be working against her because she recognizes she is bright therefore this must also be a good decision? While I find Greg’s behavior only slightly more loathsome than Bill I question whether Bill really didn’t know Marge was so young…Maybe he suspected and decided to turn the other way.

Yeah, I think part of it is that she conflates her intellectual prowess and ability to manipulate/deceive people with wisdom–some of her comments on how “sheltered” the Henricksons are indicate that, I think. She may also conflate the intellectual connection she has with Greg as being more emotional/spiritual than she would if she’d had a broader array of teachers/mentors who had less suspect motives. (I don’t think we know who specifically tutored her on the compound, I don’t think, but that was still a place that was primarily invested in her value as part of a celestial wife and mother, not a scholar.)

Some of those things I think are pretty common in intellectually gifted girls even from mainstream backgrounds–their interests are out of sync with their same-age peers, so they’re especially prone to connecting with older men. (The vast majority of straight women I know seem to have at least one anecdote of a crush on a teacher/band director/college professor type person during adolescence, and part of the appeal was being taken seriously.) Which is fine, even positive when those older men take the moral responsibility to enforce boundaries when necessary. So, like, on Big Love, I’m hearing fans say Cara Lynn was the “pursuer,” she went to his house–but any decent man wouldn’t have taken her up on the offer.

I can’t help but think “pride goeth before a fall” is the theme here. The moment Bill decided to become the big man at the capital, it was all over. The wives knew, they begged him not to do it, and now he’s destroyed them all. It’s such a train wreck – I can’t look away.

I think there’s also a theme of not being able to escape your past–specifically, Juniper Creek is rising to haunt them, as we’re shown over and over again how fundamentally warped people are from that life, even when they “escape” and now with Margene’s age, it’s made literal in a very concrete sense: one of the major justifications for why they were different is no longer true. History repeats itself. I feel that’s definitely part of why Rhonda is back, and the Lois/Frank story (from a narrative perspective.) Barb’s spiritual journey, too–not only is she being forced to confront exactly what she thought/rationalized when this all started; she’s implicitly confronting not only the Principle but the faith of her childhood. You can’t just change costumes and setting and break free. I’ve seen a lot of speculation that it will end with Bill installed at Juniper Creek, and thematically that makes sense to me, although I’m not sure how it can narratively be pulled off in the remaining time frame. And I think we very much need to see what choice Ben makes as part of the ongoing cycle.

It does make me wish, though, that we would get some closure on Wanda and Joey (and Sarah). When they first announced it was the last season, I thought “yeah, they’ve kind of run the course” but they’ve introduced so much in the last few episodes I don’t see how they can resolve it all.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Chloe Sevigny were rockstars in this episode.

what other plot points are left to be tied up/off…

– Rhonda & Ben: will Heather find out? Will Rhonda try to blackmail Ben somehow? (maybe and big fat YES are my guesses)

– Caralynn and “Greg”: will she elope with him or what…

I believe on the show he is stated to be 37 (as is the actor). . .there is, in my mind, a BAFFLING amount of rationalizing that he “looks young” and that Cara Lynn is “very mature” (which I don’t necessarily agree with, anyway.) It’s forced me to quit TWOP all over again, the number of people saying that she’s the one in control.

My understanding, too, is that a 37-year-old single Mormon man would be an extreme outlier. (Not LDS, but following some ex-LDS discussion of the show.)

/rant

I think this is what people in the show think about him too – he’s got so many nieces and nephews, his mom made an off-hand remark, I thought, or he said she did.

Someone last week made a good point about the scene in the theatre when Ivey’s mom gave a pointed look. They speculated that he’s had inappropriate relations with students before. I find it very difficult to believe the man made it to almost-40 and hasn’t had sex. I know he’s Mormon, but that’s still kind of a long time.

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