The final season of Big Love may actually succeed in dislodging Bill Henrickson’s (Bill Paxton) head from whatever obscure corner of his small intestine it has been occypying until now. In the wake of his election to the Utah State Senate and the public revelation that he’s a practicing polygamist, Bill’s delusions of grandeur are beginning to tremble under the weight of the bloated empire he has amassed around himself, and it’s slowly dawning on him that he has no political allies. His campaign volunteers and his Home Plus employees, feeling betrayed, are defecting, while his store manager and fellow polygamist Don Embry is learning to defy Bill’s unilateral decision-making.
The biggest storm, however, is brewing at home. “[In our world] there’s a fundamental way a family works. The husband leads…” Henrickson asserts solemnly one evening at dinner. After a brief but notable pause, he continues: “…in consultation with his wives, and then they follow. In harmony.” Fewer and fewer of the show’s women would be able to agree wholeheartedly with such a pronouncement. Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) has been ejected from her post at the casino, and with her relatively empty nest, she’s careening further and further away from Bill and his convictions, in search of some revitalized sense of self. Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), too, has lost both her business and her marriage of convenience to Goran, both thanks to Bill. For once, it’s Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) who isn’t struggling violently with the twists her life is taking in Bill’s hands. Even the women at Juniper Creek are openly challenging patriarchal authority: A post-menopausal Adaleen Grant (Mary Kay Place) considers keeping her hormonally sustained pregnancy against Alby’s (Matt Ross) express wishes, while Alby’s former co-conspirator, Laura (Anne Dudek), finds reason to question her unwavering loyalty to him.
Hyperbolic sex and gender politics were, of course, never far from Big Love’s narrative horizon, but the show’s political stakes have been raised now that Bill is a senator. As a result, what began as a quasi-voyeuristic family drama about polygamists trying to find a place for themselves as suburban, middle-class American citizens has transformed into an allegory of the growing place of libertarianism in mainstream politics.
Last season’s triumphant finale offered a cautionary tale: By playing up a duplicitous emphasis on “family values” and spouting a folksy, moralistic vision of a small-town America, an opportunistic religious fanatic on the fringes of his own faith succeeded in chiseling a place for himself in the senate. This season, however, seems to portend a tragic outcome for our beloved fundamentalists. Juniper Creek seems like it’s on the brink of an insurrection. At the very least, Bill’s multiple houses of cards are going to tumble.