Monday, August 27, 2007

Big Love Mondays: Season Two, Episode 24, "Oh, Pioneers!"

Big Love’s second season finale tries to do so many things at once that it periodically flies off the rails, only to find itself righted again by a single powerful scene or moment. The episode is perhaps the best evidence yet that the show can always rely on its phenomenal cast to grab hold of it and wrench it down to earth when it seems likely to go floating off into the stratosphere. The episode isn’t an awful one, by any means, but it commits one of the cardinal sins of the season finale: It turns into the “And then this happened! And this happened! And this happened!” like a child breathlessly recounting a series of events instead of an actual dramatic recreation of those events. A lot of season finales, trying to tie up everything that happened in the season preceding, fall into this trap, and it’s hard to skate past all of those plot points and make them feel like they have some resonance to them (the Battlestar Galactica season three finale, of all things, is just about the best recent example of how to make the overstuffed finale work).

Normally, I complain that Big Love spends too much time with the Juniper Creek gang (though I know many of you disagree -- thanks for the e-mails!) to the detriment of the more interesting, more believable Henricksons, working their way through life on their mini-compound in Sandy, Utah. This week, though the best scenes and moments are all Henrickson-centric, the Juniper Creek storyline is actually more compelling for once, as it illustrates perfectly how the compound’s tendrils wrap into the life of Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his wives. What’s more, the Juniper Creek storyline (featuring Alby (Matt Ross) trying to seize power while Roman (Harry Dean Stanton) worked to recover in time to reclaim his power) feels focused and assured, even as the Henrickson stories are jumping back and forth from plot point to plot point. In rough order, we retouch on Bill’s flirtation with taking a waitress (Branka Katic) as a fourth wife, Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) entertains an offer of being a surrogate for a neighbor, Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) struggles with her boyfriend AND her brother, Barb’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) doubts about her polygamist life, and a host of other minor moments and storylines (from Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) suspecting Bill of having her father shot to the whole Weber Gaming situation). That’s a lot of story to service in one episode, and it meant that the show got to do very little in regards to its favorite themes of compromise, honesty, and choosing between the self and a greater creed. To actually do the episode justice would be to write a basic plot summary, as that’s what "Oh, Pioneers!" feels like at moments.
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