Really, HBO? A new episode of Big Love on Superbowl Sunday? Not that I would normally care, but it's the first Superbowl Sunday that has ever included The Saints, which means I'm obligated to watch or risk being exiled by my family. There is only one conclusion to be drawn from this programming decision: HBO hates New Orleans, New Orleanians, Louisiana, The Saints, and rousing stories of triumph. Which is weird considering HBO has Treme. And True Blood. Cut Louisiana (and Louisiana-born Big Love re-cappers) a break.
But I digress. This week's episode didn't venture into Juniper Creek, Sarah's marriage and sundry subplots, JJ's machinations and at-home biopsy services, or Dale & Alby's grape jelly exchanges. Instead it was centered on the Henricksons' rangy immediate family—a narrowing of focus that is usually welcome in a rangy show like Big Love. Except this episode zeroed in mainly on Bill and his beyond moronic run for state senate, so there was a lot left to be desired.
In case you missed it last week (and the week before that, and the week before that, etc.), most of tonight's episode seemed to exist for the sole purpose of confirming to the audience that, yes, Bill is selfish, megalomaniac asshole. Bill's litany of sins this episode was very, very long. First, he was ignoring Margene—after having the nerve to place all the blame for what happened with Ben on her shoulders and telling her to "read scripture, and reflect on what she's done." Next he strings along Nicki when she tells him that getting stuck with all of his dirty work "hurts her feelings." Then he adamantly refuses to take any responsibility for the Ben/Margene situation or to apologize to Ben for throwing him out—even after Ben showed up at his father's convention to dispassionately vow, "Consider Bill Henrickson. He's a good man." After that he yells at Barb to "get a hold of her emotions"—this after he concealed the truth from her about exiling Ben. Then it's on to the casino where Bill expects Barb, Margene, and Nicki—excuse me, Daphne—to play nice with everyone in front of the congressman, while Bill goes off and threatens his mother by the slot machines. Next, he throws Frank out of the casino—which is actually is the most reasonable thing Bill does in the entire episode. And then Bill caps it all off by setting up a phony "meeting" between Tommy and Marilyn.
Did I miss anything? Probably. It's hard to keep track of Bill's manifest awfulness. Of course, all of Bill's numerous acts of assholery in this episode were meant to lead up to Bill's moments of redemption: When Bill pays for the dead lost boy's funeral, and then the next day when he sees his own teenage mugshot plastered all over the halls of the convention. Bill realizes, "Hey. I am being a complete, immovable jerk about this whole sending-my-son-away-then-refusing-to-admit-I-did-anything-wrong thing." And so he has Sarah and Barb go fetch Ben for him, and he pseudo-apologizes to Margene, telling her "I expect a lot from you. And I should be held to the same standards." Then he goes into the debate and gives a stirring speech about all the tricks he turned as a young lost boy ("I did things for cash that haunt me to this day."), and he wins the Republican nomination for state senate. Margene seems to forgive him. So does Barb, although she's still raw from Ben's leaving. Nicki stands by the man who would have her use multiple aliases in a single day to advance his own interests. All hail Bill, the lost-boy-turned-political-candidate.
Except Ben, rather understandably, doesn't forgive Bill. When Barb pleaded with her son to "Rally around the man your father has become," it must have been hard for Ben not to answer, "Oh, you mean the guy who exiled me, refused to accept any blame for it, and is selfishly pursuing an idiotic run for office at the expense of his entire family?" Lois also doesn't forgive Bill, and who can blame her? She has to watch her son willingly turn into Frank.
And, I would imagine, most of the audience doesn't forgive Bill either. If it takes a kid dying, several family members yelling at him that he's wrong, and a high school full of posters literally confronting him with his past for Bill to realize that he's hurting his son in the same way his father hurt him, then Bill is either hopelessly dense, or his ego is so inflated there's no room for morals in his body. The fact that the episode ends with Marilyn calling Bill out on his manipulation of her meeting with Tommy at the casino points to the latter.
—Is it wrong to root for a guest star to take down the protagonist of the show you're watching? Cause I really want Sissy Spacek to ruin Bill.
—Poor Barb. That last shot of her crying on the floor of her makeshift sweat lodge was just heartbreaking. We need a Barb-focused episode, not a Bill-focused one. And speaking of sweat lodges…
—"I have a sweat lodge." Best pick-up line since: "I brought you some grape jelly." Tommy and Barb's emotional/sweat connection is a great new plot development.
—Cindy and Ted support Bill running for state senate? Really? Obviously, he wouldn't tell them about his incredible plan to out his family as suburban polygamists once he's elected, but they don't have any reservations about his motivations? They don't think his running for office is the stupidest thing ever? After everything that happened last season, they like Bill now?
—This episode was rife with declarations of: "Not now, [insert name]!"
—"How come I'm always called upon to do the morally ambiguous things?" "To each according to their gifts." Aww. With sweet talk like that is it any wonder how Bill gets all the ladies?
—"Congressman, would you care for a nacho?"