Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Big Love Tuesdays: Season 2, episode 14, "The Writing on the Wall"

Near the end of Big Love’s latest episode, “The Writing on the Wall,” Bill Henrickson’s second wife, Nikki, (Chloë Sevigny) delivers a long monologue to first wife, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), about how she doesn’t trust love as a foundation for a marriage, perhaps, especially, a plural one. This comes after Barb tells her that she still wasn’t sure if she believed in the principle the family bases its life on (the show tosses off American quasi-religious terms like “the principle” and “testimony” without really bothering to explain them). Nikki, raised on the polygamous Juniper Creek compound, is largely flummoxed by the world she found herself a part of when she left the compound to marry Bill (Bill Paxton) and move to the suburbs. If the season premiere, “Damage Control,” focused on all that Barb left behind when she allowed Bill to take a second wife, “Writing on the Wall” turned its gaze on Nikki, a character who could be a bit too unbelievably manipulative and shrill in the first season. While the main plotlines all focus on Bill (who finds himself thrust into compound politics again and trying to fend off a vandal marking up billboards for his Home Plus stores), writers and creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer use the hoary old device of a husband forgetting he and his wife’s anniversary to illuminate the least-developed Henrickson.

In the first season, Nikki was a bit of an enigma. Sevigny portrayed the character well, but it sometimes seemed like she was a cardboard cutout villain, driving the Henricksons into debt or needlessly antagonizing Barb or unnecessarily involving her family at the compound with her suburban family. The audience never got a sense of Nikki as anything other than a character who seemed resentful of Barb’s status of first wife. But in this episode, just as the last episode gave us a sense of what Barb gave up to enter this relationship, we get a sense of what Nikki gave up. Nikki, in many ways, comes from the opposite direction of Barb. While Barb has had a taste of something like independence, the sheer freedom of not living on the compound often seems terrifying to Nikki. She overspends and, in this episode, she seems put off by the simple act of going to the bank to put money in an account for Barb. She even swindles a little bit of extra cash from Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin) when trying to make the deposit for Barb. Nikki has one advantage over the other two wives, though: She believes wholeheartedly in the principle, and she’s going to do her best to see that no one else in the family gives up on it.
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