Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Big Love Tuesdays: Season Two, Episode 22, "The Happiest Girl"

At the end of "The Happiest Girl," the tenth episode of Big Love’s second season, Rhonda Volmer (Daveigh Chase) sings the titular song, leading into a montage that is slightly too obvious; throughout the hour, every woman on the show has had her happiness undermined except for the ever-oblivious Rhonda. But Chase's sad performance and the song's untapped irony manages to put the sequence over, completing an episode that is a welcome return to form. The most famous version of "The Happiest Girl" (performed by Donna Fargo) takes on a sheen of irony to modern audiences simply because it is so earnest and unironic: she’s in love with her husband and no one’s going to take that from her, dammit. In this day and age, that sort of thing automatically seems suspicious, and Big Love mines these moments of suggestion as persistently as it can without overplaying them. It makes sense that Rhonda would want to sing this song on local TV (and that the show's hyper-focused producer would use her to get at bigger targets -- namely, Amanda Seyfried’s Sarah). It also makes sense that Rhonda's rather uncharismatic manner would come off as flat and mournful. It's nice to see a musical montage done well in a medium that so often does them poorly.

But this one also works as an expression of one of the show’s central themes. Big Love is obsessed (sometimes too obsessed) with the notion that our public faces conflict with the faces we wear in in private. Even some of the non-polygamist characters are forced to live in secret, whether by choice or as a defense mechanism (for instance, Rhonda forcing Tina Majorino's Heather into a tight spot by threatening to expose Heather's love for Sarah).
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