Weekend at Roman’s – A Recap of Big Love, Season 4, Episode 1 “Free at Last”

            Greetings “Big Lovers!”  It’s that time again.  After the obligatory year-long hiatus that has become trademark for HBO Series, our favorite polygamist family are back to grace our television screens with their Heavenly Father-loving presence.  So, without further adieu, gather up all your wives, broil up some crab legs, and let’s get on with the show, shall we?

            Big Love’s premiere episode began with a brand new opener and corresponding theme song.  The show’s producers have decided to ditch The Beach Boys’, sappily sweet and jubilantly jolly, “God Only Knows,” for the sad emo sounds of Animal Kingdom’s “Bright Lights.”  Really?  An ultra hip indie rock song as an opener for a television show about uptight polygamists in Utah?  Call me a fuddy duddy, but I am just not that comfortable with my Henricksons having cooler taste in music than I do.

            In addition to the new song, the old opening sequence has also been unceremoniously dumped.  No longer will we be treated to images of the Henrickson family holding hands as they enjoy ice skating through a sea of white, or chowing down on a bountiful outdoor meal under a sun-filled sky.  Instead, each of the four main characters are now shown amidst a sea of black, falling.  Not just falling, but falling “dramatically.” It was almost as if the entire cast of Big Love had taken an acting class together, in which they were given directions such as “fall sad,”  “fall happy,” “fall contemplative,” “fall constipated,” and we are watching their responses.

                  Remember back when The Sopranos was still on the air, and before each season began, the producers would release a promo poster featuring the entire cast?  (Man, do I miss that show!)  Remember how television pundits across the nation would use up pages and pages of magazine space analyzing the poster and its implications for the upcoming season?  Well, I could only guess that the producers of Big Love were going for the same effect here.  But for me, the new somber-toned opener was a tad esoteric, more than a bit depressing, and just plain over-ambitious.

            Overall, the series’ excessive ambition was a problem that plagued the entire episode, which seemed to be heading a million directions at once, making it difficult for the viewer to become particularly invested in any one story.  Nevertheless, there were some intriguing stories presented here, which definitely deserve their due.  Here are some of the new plotlines that jump started Season 4:

Plot 1: Weekend at Roman’s

            Although this will undoubtedly make me sound morbid as heck, this was by far my favorite plotline of the night.  When we last saw The Prophet of Juniper Creek (played with “dirty old man” goodness by Harry Dean Stanton), he had just been smothered under the weight of a pillow held by Bill’s brother, Joey and was, presumably, dead.

            Now, Roman is missing.  And yet, for a dead guy, he seems surprisingly adept at investing.  Apparently the aforementioned corpse has recently come into large sums of money – said money having been purportedly deposited into a new bank account opened in Roman’s name by his daughter and Bill’s scheming adulterer of a second wife, Nikki Grant (Chloe Sevigny).  As a result, the FBI are literally invading upon the lives of our characters in search of the errant Roman, raiding the compound and harassing Nikki, who, of course, denies all accusations against her. 

            When a hysterical Adaleen Grant (Mary Kay Place) calls Nikki about a power outage on the compound, her daughter reluctantly purchases a generator and heads to her estranged mother’s doorstep.  Nikki drops off the generator and turns to leave when her mother implores her to remain for a BLT sandwich. (This seemed to be an odd lunch choice for a bunch of religious extremists, so my Spidey Sense was immediately tingling by this point.)  Nevertheless, when Adaleen requested that Nikki go down to the cellar to “bring home the bacon,” Nikki obediently complied.

            I instantly expected Momma Grant to lock Nikki in the cellar, but she surprised me and didn’t.  What happened next was far more interesting.  When Nikki reaches the end of the dark creepy compound basement and moves the slabs of meat out of the way, she finds herself face-to-face with a Roman Grantsicle.  Yep, it appears Roman Grant has been reduced from the living leader of the Juniper Creek LDS community to a very realistic Madame Tussaud wax figure of Harry Dead Stanton, complete with icicles hanging from its nose.  And if that’s not dead, I don’t know what is.

            When Nikki informs her brother Alby (Matt Ross) about their father’s death and subsequent baconey burial, he can barely restrain his unadulterated glee at the news.  “No, you be sad!  It’s very, very sad,” Nikki scolds self-righteously.

            And yet, Nikki is not gone for two seconds before Alby and his Lady MacBeth-esque wife, Laura (Anne Dudek) begin their “Daddy is Dead Celebration Party!”  Laura, ever the rebel, goes as far as to remove two cans of Coors Light from their otherwise empty fridge!  (Apparently, when stocking up on the LDS-verboten alcohol, the Grants neglected to purchase any real food.  Perhaps Abaleen should send over some of her famous BLT sandwiches?)

                 Empty fridge aside, it is Laura who triumphantly utters the very words that make up the episode’s title, “Free at Last.”  Alby, whose fur-free baby face does mustache-twirling villany like no other, is slightly more restrained than his wife.  Instead of jumping for joy, Nikki’s bad seed brother calmly sits back in his chair, clasps his hands together and says tonelessly, “My destiny is filled.  God will surely punish those who block my path to Glory.”

            Later that evening, Alby and Laura are seen driving together in a car that bears some very precious cargo.  “Did you see that?  He just gave me a mean look, because I’m going to be the prophet now,” explains Alby childishly, as he stares intently at our favorite frozen LDS leader in the backseat.

            Our well-traveled human ice sculpture pops up again later, somewhat thawed out, on the grounds where the Henrickson’s new casino is set to open in just a few days.  There he sits, soaking up some sun, while lying a comfy beach chair, in what must be a send up to that classic 80’s dead-guy flick “Weekend at Bernie’s.”  And pardon me for saying that, just like the titular Bernie Lomax, Roman Grant seems to be having way more fun dead than he ever did alive.

            Fortunately, as always, Bill (played by the still sexy Bill Paxton) is there to save the day.  With Nikki in toe, he carts the Roaming Roman away in his car, presumably toward a proper burial.  En route, he and Nikki, who we learn have not screwed since he found out she was cheating on him with the DA investigating her father last season, share a moment.  Bill provides comfort, delicately taking his second wife’s hand, when the heretofore stoic Nikki finally breaks down and cries over the death of her not-so-paternal daddy.

Plot 2: Mother and Child

            On the homefront, the Henrickson clan is adjusting to yet another new addition to their already insanely large family: namely, Nikki’s 14-year old daughter, Cara Lynn.  Fearing that her former husband J.J. will enter her daughter into the Joy Book, making her eligible for marriage at the compound, Nikki takes Cara Lynn into her home, and hides her from authorities.  Cara Lynn, who desires the opportunity to attend public school, agrees.  We learn from Nikki, that Cara Lynn has done exceedingly well on her placement exams, and will start public school a grade ahead of other girls her age.  (Gee, the Juniper Creek educational system must be awesome.  When can I enroll?)

            When J.J. storms into the Henrickson’s backyard and demands the return of his daughter, Bill, ever the peacekeeper, brokers a compromise.  He proposes Cara Lynn be returned to J.J on weekends, provided that she be allowed to attend school and stay with the Henricksons during the week.  J.J. reluctantly agrees, and actually seems like a pretty good dad in his initial interaction with his daughter.  He denies designs on placing Cara Lynn in the Joy Book, and even offers to re-enroll her in school at the compound, if that is what she wants.  Cara Lynn promises J.J. that she has every intention of returning to him once the school year ends.  She even agrees to go with him to Kansas when he moves there the following summer.

Plot 3: Itchy and Scratchy Henrickson

            In my least favorite plot point of the night, Ma and Pa Henrickson (played by, Grace Zabriski and Bruce Dern, respectively) continued their three season trend of finding new and increasingly less inventive ways to try and kill one another.  Frank, for his part, hired goons with nooses to accost Lois when he picked her up in his car.  Lois, in return, put a gun to Frank’s head.  Later, after a tedious tussle in Lois’s new home, the couple came to a temporary truce, agreeing to become business partners in Lois’s new hare-brained (or should I say “bird-brained”) profit-making scheme, which involves buying parrots for $30 and selling them for $700.  Here’s hoping that these two play nice for at least a few more episodes.

Plot 4: I Want Crab Legs!

            In the season opener, we find that the often-underestimated Margene (played by the adorable Ginnifer Goodwin) has become overwhelmed with juggling her new jewelry making career and the public relations aspects associated with opening the Blackfoot Magic Casino.  As we learned last year, Margene exhibited quite a bit of natural talent when it came to schmoozing the Blackfoot people.  I love that the once-juvenile and needy Margene is finally coming into her own as a capable and intelligent woman this season. 

              Margene encourages Barb (Jean Tripplehorn) to take over her responsibilities regarding the Casino, claiming that doing so will help the First Wife regain the confidence she lost after being excommunicated from her church.  And yet, Barb, typically the universal caretaker, and quintessential Super Mom, finds herself to be lacking in the social skills and personable warmth necessary to handle the Henrickson’s newest business partners.  She butts heads with them in many ways, most notably regarding the food choice for the casino’s opening night.  Barb demands that they serve crab legs, apparently a main stay on every Mormon family dinner table, while the Blackfoot tribe prefers salmon. 

                 When Bill is way-layed on the casino’s opening night, and the Casino’s would-be headliner Kenny Rogers can’t make it there in time to perform, Margene encourages Barb to make the opening night speech.  Barb initially looks incredibly nervous and awkward, standing in front of the gaming crowd.  However, she ultimately does an admirable job welcoming her new customers to the casino.  She ends her short speech, by introducing her son Ben’s band to the crowd, as it performs a slightly pitchy karaoke-esque cover of Rogers’ once chart-topping The Gambler.

                 Judging by the impressive amount of green stashed in the metal box exhibited to the family at the end of the night by the security staff, Barb’s awkward introduction did little to diminish the new casino’s giant profit margin.  All in all, the casino’s opening night appeared to be a successful one.

Plot 1 (Reprise): Dead Guys Don’t Always Wear Black

             Unfortunately, when it comes to the Henricksons, if something appears too good to be true, it probably is.  Despite, the Casino’s opening night success, angry Blackfoot Tribe representatives confront Bill at the end of the evening.  Holding Roman’s iconic white hat aloft like the talisman of evil it clearly is, the tribe representatives demand answers.  It appears that “Dead Roman” is having some trouble keeping himself buried.

                I have to say, this part rang just a bit untrue for me.  Are we really supposed to believe that the Blackfoots would instantly identify that hat as belonging to Roman Grant.  Sure, he was wearing it in his Wanted Poster, but doesn’t everyone in Utah own at least one white cowboy hat?  Come on now . . .  

              That aside, the re-emergence of the white hat was an intriguing end to an uneven episode.  Here’s hoping it symbolizes the promise of better episodes to come.

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