It ended with the wives. Of course, it had to. After five seasons, HBO’s Big Love finished with a startling, powerful climax, and with a family held together by deep love, no matter what judgments society makes about them. I do not know what most viewers’ reaction is to the death of patriarch Bill (Bill Paxton) yet, but I thought that, combined with the group hug and remix of the original theme song, is the perfect ending to a wonderful series. And the episode title, “Where Men and Mountains Meet”? Epic!
Bill has to die. That’s the only way the series could have satisfactorily wrapped up his story. I did not care for the story arc of Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) being underage when she married Bill, and thus, am disappointed that Bill’s name is so blemished by the incident. Having had plenty of time to accept the bad twist, though, Bill is in a corner where, if he had lived, he would surely have tarnished his name, likely served jail time, and lost his senate seat. But killing Bill off right after his triumphant stand for polygamy in the senate and his huge turnout at his Easter Sunday services, he is a martyr and a hero, rather than a man who would spend many years trying to rebuild himself, if he ever could.
In retrospect, Bill’s death is much less of a surprise, when considering the points mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The weight of what was about to happen hit me moments before shots rang out on the lane. But there was no way I can think of to predict the method of Bill’s murder ahead of time. While the seeds for such were laid, they were done so subtlety, it wasn’t even on the radar as a possibility. For Bill to die senselessly at the hands of his neighbor, Carl (Carlos Jacott), upset over things that had nothing to do with Bill, is a shocker. I would have assumed Alby (Matt Ross) would do it, or at least a fanatic upset over Bill’s political actions.
But Alby’s plot wraps up early, arrested as Bill held a gun to him in the courthouse at the end of the previous episode. Bill has already won the Juniper Creek battle.
And what of Bill’s vision of Emma Smith (Rebecca Wisocky)? This is a turning point for him. While debatable what exactly changes in Bill during that sequence, it is apparent Bill is undergoing some type of revelation. I like to think that he is realizing the power one woman had in the founding of the church, and through that, accepting Barb’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) holding of the priesthood, which he affirms as he dies. It is hard for Bill to change his beliefs, but he has done so a number of time, most notable embracing ‘the principle’ after living in a monogamous marriage. Accepting that women are not separate but equal, but instead, true equals, is his last transformation he needs to undergo.
Barb’s embrace of the priesthood is a major conflict point in this final season. Had the show continued on, I am fairly confident this season would have ended will Bill and Barb separating over their disagreement. Instead, as an ending is imminent, Barb rejects her new religion to return to her family. I don’t believe she is rejecting her convictions or ideas, nor do I think that she intends to end the fight with Bill. But her family is more important than her self, and so she returns to the fold. I think Bill would have eventually welcomed her as a priest holder into his church, and in the end he did. She becomes, seemingly, the leader in his stead. She was always the true driving force in the marriage anyway, and in the end, that is revealed to all.
The story of the show is of the family. More importantly, it is of the wives. As the three ride down the highway in Barb’s new car, even Nicolette (Chloë Sevigny) allows a smile to tug at her lips, however fleetingly. These three very different women have come together over the same man and the same values. The show ends with the three hugging and Bill’s ghost watching on with pride and love. Even without Bill, they stay together. Their marriage isn’t just about him. The car ride shows that, before the tragic ending, and reminds us of the powerful feelings shared between them.
Nicolette gets the ending she deserves. With Barb, she finally accepts her own feelings. Her insisting she doesn’t like touching, but allowing Barb to pull her into a hug, is the perfect in-character demonstration of this. Nicolette also gets to make up with daughter, Cara Lynn (Cassi Thomson). While the audience knows Nicolette’s hurtful words to Cara Lynn are really directed back upon herself, Cara Lynn doesn’t, until Nicolette basically shows her. Two years of plot pay off in that moment as daughter finally understands mother, and having accepted herself, Nicolette can accept Cara Lynn.
Margene, I feel, is the weak link. So she leaves her little kids with Barb and Nicolette so she can go help poor people? I understand that Margene is young as Bill dies, and she still has much to accomplish with her life. But I just don’t see her abandoning her children this way. Even if she took them with her, which doesn’t seem to be the case, she wouldn’t actually get much charity work done, so it would be a waste of time. Her ending is the most self-serving, and thus, the most dissatisfying.
Not far away, another moving death, this one much easier to see coming, is playing out. Frank (Bruce Dern) sweetly holds wife Lois (Grace Zabriskie) in his arms as she slips into death courtesy some drugs Frank apparently injected her with. It is a shame it took such a tragic story as Lois’s dementia to bring the warring pair back together. For most of the series they fought bitterly, both attempting to murder the other. Yet, in these final moments we see the real love between them that has existed for decades, and how their relationship must have been when it was new. It is a tear-jerking scene, and leaves Frank slightly better as a human being. Lois herself has already been redeemed, as she struggles with a disease wrongfully inflicted upon her.
For those who question if Frank also has injected himself, so that he could die with her, as I first wondered, the series creators have insisted that no, Frank is not dead. He lives on. I really hope he isn’t caught and arrested. He deserves jail time, but not for Lois. He actually treats her right in the end, and thus should gain a reprieve.
Finally, Ben (Douglas Smith) ends up with Heather (Tina Majorino). As soon as Heather makes her first appearance after Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) left the cast at the end of the fourth season, it is obvious that Ben and Heather are going to be together. There is simply no other reason to bring her back. At first, the pairing is awkward. Then it isn’t, because Heather has always been drawn to the family, so it makes sense she would marry to stay involved with them. Ben has only flirted with polygamy for the same reason any teen boy would – more women to sleep with. He can give it up for a woman he truly cares about, and he is protective of Heather, so love is not far behind.
Apparently, a deleted scene would have shown a final conversation between the two of them and Rhonda (Daveigh Chase), but in keeping with the simplicity of only who we need to see, it was cut. Good decision.
Going into this episode, I wanted to see all the supporting characters return in some form. Instead, I am very glad that didn’t happen. Don (Joel McKinnon Miller) is around, and we get a glimpse of how Sarah and Scott (Aaron Paul) turn out, and that is plenty. Getting to its core is far more fitting than serving all of the debris that revolves around the family. I am also grateful that Tansy is only mentioned, after not being seen all season. Let’s be honest; he recast was a mistake, though writing her out did feel awkward. As such, if the original actress could not be got, it’s better not to see her at all.
One last musing: I understand the final shot is of the wives living on together, and it is very appropriate. I had thought, and still think seeing the family reunited in heaven would have also been nice. I don’t think my idea is better than what aired, but it would have made a good ending credits sequence, no? Ah, well.
Thank you, Big Love for a big, loving story that was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.