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TV Open Thread: Sister Wives – “Gambling on the Future”

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In this, the final episode of the season (except for a special episode that will show in two weeks), Kody gathers the Brown family’s younger children and tells them- till now, the adults have kept the situation a secret from all except for the oldest children- that they will be moving to Nevada in three days.

One of the boys, in shock, blurts, “You’re out of your mind!”
The children burst into tears. “I get it,” Kody says sympathetically. “Our life has been magical here. But the magic here is us.”

Then he tells them that they have to keep the situation secret and cannot even say goodbye to their friends. It is unclear if the children understand that it is possible that their father may go to jail at any time. Still, many of the children are frantic. While some seem to understand quickly; others tear at their hair and weep.

“I understand, son, and I ‘m sorry, and I know it’s not fair,” Kody says to one of his boys. The child who is the most profoundly distraught iis Kody and Meri’s one daughter, Mariah, interestingly,the only “legitimate” child among them, and possibly the only child over whom Kody has any clear legal right.

She pours with tears as she implores her father to let her stay in Utah. She had a bad time in public school and is profoundly involved with her church and its school, and she wants to stay.

“I want you to remember a very important mantra,” Kody says.” Where we go one, we go all. When you are eighteen and graduated, you can make your own choices…”

Mariah says, “You’ve told me that I’m going no matter what. I consider this very hard. Because I really want to finish out the school year.”

Kody insists that none of the children can stay or go off on their own until they are 18. “I have to take care of you. It’s my job that I was given by God.”

First he says, “I understand your need for a social and spiritual sovereignty.” Mariah and the others can make their own decisions when they are 18 and have graduated, but he wants Mariah to stay with the family until she is married. This begins to sound like all the worst things one has heard of polygamous Mormonism.

“I understand the importance of your spiritual-social network,” Kody says. “But I have take care of you in my realm, and…to keep you in my home until you’re married.”

Again, the choppy cutting of TLC is a bit frustrating. It’s hard to tell whether Kody’s bottom line is that Mariah must be 18 and graduated to leave his house, or married.

The Brown family really has nowhere to go in Las Vegas; they were unable to buy homes there. “It feels as though we’re jumping without a parachute,” says Robyn; she has just recently moved to the home she lives in, her fourth move in two years. The adults weep and the children fight, snarling like animals at one another. Kody says, “We’re stressed out, but we can not turn on each other. We have to be loving and be a safe place for each other.” There are some moments of humor: “I kind of want to stay, I kind of want to go,” says one of the boys. “It’s iffy.”

Then a sheriff begins driving by the house, and the family cringes in fear. “That right there is why we’re moving. That right there.”

Finally, Kody gets a call: the real estate agent in Nevada has found a house big enough for all of them, which they can rent for a month. “That gives us time to find homes for everybody and find schools for the kids.”Then it occurs to him to ask Robyn if it is all right with her to live with the other wives. She’s nervous, as she hasn’t shared a kitchen with them yet, but she tremblingly says “Yeah…”

Meri says, “Mariah is involved in church… and it is extremely hard for her to go. Because in Las Vegas we don’t have a church to go to.”  Meri seems to be trying to help Mariah get her father’s permission (which is clearly the bottom line for all of them; however outer-world-friendly the family appears, it is still a very clearly defined patriarchy). But, “You heard your father’s answer. It’s not going to happen.” Finally Mariah accepts that they are leaving.

Janelle, fearful of the law (which has maintained a presence on the family’s street), wants to leave ahead of the others, not wait till Tuesday, when the rental house is available, but Kody insists that they must wait.

The press finds out that the Browns are leaving, and some reporters come to the door, saying that they plan to file a story on the family’s departure in 24 hours. This steps up the whole pace of the flight. The family decides to leave most of their belongings for the time being, leaving the large house in the hands of family, and while they concentrate on getting Robyn out of her rented house. “This is not the America I learned about when I was in school,” Robyn says with tears in her eyes, discovering the roses from her wedding bouquet.

There is a frenzy of fear now, and after a police car screams by, Kody gathers the family for prayer, to try to create a sense of unity and reliance on God. It seems to help. “We’re in a situation where we are leaving almost under duress. We’re going to drive till we can’t stand it any more. I want to bring the family together and get that peace” that comes of asking God for help, he says.

Finally they leave, but as Kody says, “We don’t get five miles before there’s trouble. I think, ‘Maybe I’m not supposed to go.’” A tire has come off a rim. It’s Martin Luther King Day and a lot of places are closed (to my surprise; it’s not always honored in some parts of the country). They struggle with the car till it finally gets fixed and are driving down a long strip with giant billboards. And then Christine’s car, within one mile, gets a flat tire. Kody gets furious. I think of the Mormons who crossed the mountains and the desert: the Browns are encountering a strange modern-day parallel.

They struggle with spares and temporary spares, broken lug nuts, and problems of all kinds. They had only gone 20 miles. “I was wondering if I was meant to go.” It is the women who finally figure out that they can stay at a motel at the next exit, where there’s a tire place!

Finally, the Browns are able to put some distance between themselves and their hometown, about 200 miles. But then Kody gets another flat tire, and suddenly a cop pulls up behind one of the cars. Amazingly, he turns out to be simply concerned that the many children not get out on the highway. “He was a good guy,” Kody says.

Sixty miles from the Nevada border, Christine gets upset, and for they haven’t made it to Nevada by the time Kody had told them they’d be there. The kids are tired and hungry. Christine, who has been against the move, wants to stop and feed the children, but Kody refuses to allow them to stop till they get to Nevada– which they finally do.

“Vegas is a sound place for religious freedom,” Kody says. “Vegas is my Plymouth Rock.”
Seeing the Nevada state border sign, Meri expresses that she feels “peace.” They make it to their rental house and sign papers, but Janelle’s oldest daughter apparently sums up the feelings of the children when she soon says, “I want to go home.” The teenagers do not feel the peace and freedom that pervade the emotions of the adults; they are bitter and they are angry. We are promised that we will learn more about this in two weeks, when we see the Sister Wives Special.

Thus, the quasi-Biblical story of the Brown family’s flight from Utah to Nevada, a place one would hardly think that a Mormon family would feel at home. But it offers them freedom from fear of being arrested and divided. I could empathize–as a person who grew up in a completely non-traditional lifestyle as well– both the adults’ sense of joy and deliverance, and the anger and sorrow of the children at being torn from the one home they have ever known.

I wish the family well, and thank all of you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with Blogcritics. Please continue letting us know what you think; it’s your turn to write in with your ideas now. I love “chatting” with all of you, and thank you again.

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About Ladybelle Fiske

  • Kelli

    They can’t be a Mormon family, so you should quit using that phrase. Mormons would excommunicate them for this practice, because it’s against the law and abandoned by the church in the early part of the 1900s. Personally, I think there are enough reasons to prosecute the kind of Polygs that marry off young children (child rape, etc.) that polygamy itself should not be against the law, or if it remains so, should not be prosecuted. I mean what’s the diff? If David Graham goes and has a kid with Tammy Marshmallow without marriage – he never gets prosecuted. So if they make up their own ‘special’ ceremony that’s not recognized by the state, I guess they’re not actually legally married, and thus not in violation of the law. I don’t want my kids living in that lifestyle, nor in a lifestyle with a parent living with a series of girlfriends, one after the other. Neither one. Sorry. One mom, one dad, married legally, together forever. Good luck on that end result, eh?

    But since there are no actual violations of civil rights, nor abuse nor neglect, I think Utah should prosecute all those deadbeat dads who just make babies and leave, and make more babies and leave.. before they make room for Polygs like the Browns who clearly aren’t marrying off their young daughters to elderly men.

  • Kelli

    The editing of the season finale left much to be desired in my opinion. Either the parents did indeed whip the children up to a frenzy and scared the pecans out of them, or they didn’t show them reassuring the children that everybody was NOT out to get them. Even if they think they are, they should have reassured the kids and given them more security.

  • Jai

    They can and are a Mormon family. What they are not is an LDS family. Those we traditionally think of as Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. However the term “Mormon” applies to all of the people that believe that the Book of Mormon is truly another testament of Jesus Christ. It is true that members of the LDS faith get touchy when anyone other than themselves are referred to as Mormons, but they would do well to remember the distinction. Most polygamist families (including the Browns) usually use the modifier “fundamentalist” to avoid conclusion.

    Now, the polygamist lifestyle is not one that I myself would be comfortable with, but what others do is not my business. As long as a polygamist family is not in the child bride trade or other forms of human trafficking and they pay their taxes appropriately and honestly, I have no problem. I know quite a few polyamorous families that do not consider themselves married and I see no difference.

    As for Kody’s legal rights to his children, if they can be proven biologically his offspring, he has as much right in a court of law as any father. It doesn’t seem to me that he would ever need to use that as this family shows no signs of breaking up. If the Brown’s have chosen to live in a patriarchy, that is their choice. Granted, the kids do not have that choice, but no child really does. Children, for good or ill, must live in the world their parents have created for them unless the parents are causing them harm and only then are there avenues.

  • http://quarryhillcreativecenter.blogspot.com Ladybelle Fiske

    Thank you all for your comments. I need to learn more about the LDS or “Mormon” faith, I think. It seems to me that Kody and his “wives” think of themselves as “Mormons”– just Fundamentalist Mormons (though Kody tries very hard to see non-hard-line Fundamentalist in that he uses “New Age” buzzwords and “normal” language– and says that his children are free to choose their own path in life. Are they?)
    I think perhaps they are “Old-Style” Mormon, but not LDS Mormon, as Jai points out. I suppose it is true that he has some right over his children in some way. If the mother objects, however, he is going to have a hard time proving it. But I see no such stuff happening with the Browns, so you are right, I suppose.

  • http://quarryhillcreativecenter.blogspot.com Ladybelle Fiske

    I find it all rather confusing. Personally, what interests me is the “unconventional” family arrangement– one with which I’m very familiar. Mormonism itself, I fear, is of less interest to me, though I do admire their way of sticking together and helping one another. I am a Quaker and respect every human being… I am not, though, writing about this because of the LDS or Mormon faith, but because of the unusual family arrangement and the interesting relationships between the wives and children particularly– so please, forgive me if I don’t understand all the ins and outs of the Mormon point of view. If someone can suggest a book I could read to understand all this more fully, I’d be grateful.

  • http://quarryhillcreativecenter.blogspot.com Ladybelle Fiske

    PS.I agree with Kelli about this:

  • http://quarryhillcreativecenter.blogspot.com Ladybelle Fiske

    I agree — KIDS FIRST always…

  • http://quarryhillcreativecenter.blogspot.com Ladybelle Fiske

    That’s what I can agree about…

  • http://quarryhillcreativecenter.blogspot.com Ladybelle Fiske

    Again, thanks for all your comments. I’ll be posting again on the “Sister Wives Special” in 2 weeks (from Sunday last). I hope that you’ll all join me here at Blogcritics, TV Open Thread, on Sunday night or Monday morning, so we can discuss the new event (s). I wonder if there will be something about Robyn’s pregnancy.
    Incidentally, no one I’ve spoken to who is involved with the show (one or two people) have heard NOTHING about any cancellation. I assume the show will be back in the fall.

  • sue

    …Kody as the head of the family SHOULD have faith that God is bigger than any problem he has…and that to move to “sin city” says it all. From what i see and hear, there is jealously that the “sisters” deal with constantly (who wants to share their husband),I do believe the sisters do care for each other, but their faces say it all when Kody does something with another wife. Kody runs around from family to family tossing his hair. Their diet is so bad they have all gained weight….due to the fact it cost alot of $$$ to feed 20 people 3x’s a day! I see a family living in chaos due to KODY.

  • sue

    …i am sorry for coming across so strongly…they have every right to live as they want…it is their choice.

  • http://quarryhillcreativecenter.blogspot.com Ladybelle Fiske

    I appreciate everyone’s comments. There is truth in each point of view, I feel. Kody does impress me as being somewhat heavy on the authority thing and also not entirely conscious of his wives’ feelings. Many people are overweight, but perhaps their diet (like almost everyone’s) would benefit from a dietitican’s or nutritionist’s assistance. (More vegetables and fruits– I’m a vegetarian!)
    Yet, there seems to be an essential affection among the whole family, and in many cultures, what they do would not be considered peculiar at all. We are all conditioned in one way or another by our backgrounds.
    They need less stress, it seems, that’s for sure. I feel compassion for them and hope that the kids will have a chance to do EXACTLY as they prefer when they grow up. One thing is, with a TV show focused on their lives, it is possible that there will be more incentive to allow this freedom, just in case Kody were inclined to try to marry off his daughters, etc.
    He loves his wives and children, I think, and may have got himself (and them) into a situation he didn’t foresee. That his form of love is not one that many of us would like or want doesn’t mean he doesn’t love them.
    I do worry about the health of some of them, and the blaringly obvious sense that Robyn is the youngest and prettiest and so they feel pain that he likes her so much. He perhaps doesn’t realize how difficult this is for women… aging and having a younger woman come along.
    But then at least in this setting they all stay together, not break up the family as in the nuclear family.
    So, chacun a son gout? (To each their own?)
    Thanks so much for all your thoughts again.