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The Browns hold a "Friendship Party" for their monogamist friends, while Meri's tested for the cancer that killed her sister.

TV Review: Sister Wives – “Polygamist Party”

Last Sunday, due to a two-day electrical blackout at my house in the wild mountains of Vermont, I was not able to see Sister Wives or to write about it for TV Open Thread.But, as we are about to go on a brief hiatus (TLC will be covering the Royal Wedding next week and has plans for a look at the Chandra Levy case in early May) I wanted to be sure to write something for the fans of Sister Wives about this past Sunday’s episode.

I will be posting in TV Open Thread again May 8 after TLC’s next new episode of Sister Wives, when I hope you will all join me then to “rant and rave” about this unusual and controversial show. I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of you a little bit, and hope you’ll return to Blogcritics many times to let us know your thoughts!

I finally did get to see this week’s show (many thanks to TLC). The story focused on two aspects of the Brown family’s life together. Meri, who lost her sister, Teresa, to colon cancer at the age of only 31, finally decides to consult a gastroenterologist about her heightened chances of having colon cancer too. At the same time, the Browns plan a “friendship” party for their monogamist friends and acquaintances,  so that they can thank them for remaining friends even after learning that the Browns are polygamists.

Kody says, “There’s a verse in the Bible, where Jesus says ‘put your faith on a candlestick; don’t hide your light under a bushel…’”  The verse to which he refers is Matthew 5:14-16. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
This seems to be one of the Bible’s most important verses for Kody. It justifies the family’s coming out as polygamists. I have not previously noted any of the family members (on camera, at least) quoting the Bible in support of the family’s actions.

Even as Meri goes through the terror of possibly having colon cancer, or the precursor of colon cancer in pre-cancerous polyps, the family proceeds with it plans for  its “friendship appreciation dinner.” Each family member invites some of their friends, who seem very open-minded, jolly and warm people. Of course, those who would not have stood by them, if any, are not mentioned.

As I often do, I wish that the show would be a bit more clear and detailed; that more facts were revealed, and that the pace was less disjointed and choppy. However, I can certainly say that the more one sees of the family, the more one comes to like them.

Many people have posted on TV Open Thread and in other online forums devoted to this show to say they wish they had “sister wives” of their own. There is a deep longing in the culture, I feel, to have and be loved by a greater and more extended family. Still, Robyn points out that she does sometimes envy the others, and that it is difficult, as a polygamous wife,  to avoid jealousy.
“I can get jealous, for sure. I know he’s sometimes been talking to one of the others… We love each other, but I know he loves the others too. I have to be careful that doesn’t bother me too much.” I wonder if she is jealous of the attention Meri’s possible illness requires?

The episode cuts between Meri’s trips to the hospital, with Kody accompanying her, and the preparations for the party, then the party itself. (A rather odd juxtaposition in some ways, but life is like that.)

The doctor recommends doing a colonoscopy in which he can see any polyps or cancerous spots with a camera, and remove them on the spot. Indeed, the cameras go right inside the operating room, where Meri is anesthetized. Kody is allowed in to watch as they remove two polyps, which must be biopsied to ensure they are not cancerous.

Meri has courage. Despite her concern for her health, and her fears of dying as her sister did, she rises to the occasion for the party. Her sister, a second wife, left four children, for whom her own sister wife devotedly cares “as though they were her own,” Meri says.

The wives discuss what they’d do if one of them were to die. Robyn: “I would take another wife’s children. There is an unspoken rule. If something were to happen, I’d take the kids and raise them as though they were my own.” She points out, a bit sorrowfully, that her own situation is different, because her three kids have a biological father who would probably want them. Christine says, firmly, “I’d fight for your kids! Are you kidding? I admired her determination– as did a fan who wrote to me at “TV Open Thread” to remark on this.

The family also talks about the dangers of revealing oneself as a polygamist, as they usually do. Meri says that before she went public she kept people at a distance.Christine, who knows whereof she speaks, says, “My dad’s dad was put in jail for being a polygamist… so we had to be so quiet.”
Kody also speaks up: “You have to test people. You have to find out if people are ok with it. And we lived this way for twenty years. “

Janelle says, “If they know, they don’t see YOU. They don’t know you.”

Listening to their stories in this segment of the show, I got a real sense of the fear and need to hide the family felt before they opened their lives up to the world. They may have other problems now, but at least, they are able to be honest about who they are, and what they believe. As Kody says, “People don’t like what they don’t understand.”

The women say that polygamy can be fun. It’s a “girl party,” they say– that they have fun wherever they go. Janelle, however, says she doesn’t go to the grocery store or wherever with the sister wives, if she can help it: “They’re embarrassing!”

The women are frustrated with Meri for not having looked into her risk of having colon cancer. “Even with her siblings having it, and all of that, she still didn’t look into it…” Four of Meri’s siblings have had polyps and that’s “a pretty high number.” Though polyps don’t always turn into cancer, there is a greater risk of cancer if they are present. We have all had the experience of wanting not to know something terrible can happen to us. I thought that Meri has the appearance of someone who has been under a lot of pressure for a long time, and is now beginning to be able to deal with the realities of her life.

The party is a pleasant, convivial affair, with friends from work and friends from the past, who joke around about the polygamist lifestyle only recently revealed to them. “So I asked Kody– how many wives do you really have?” Some say they didn’t believe it, that they thought it was a joke. “Then Meri began to get teary-eyed, and I realized, it wasn’t a joke,” says one friend. They seem to have very loyal friends, and there is also a sense that an acceptance of different ways of life is becoming a part of the culture. Many seem to feel the government should not persecute the Browns. “Leave them ALONE!” is one sentiment often expressed regarding the family.

When Meri and Kody return to the hospital to learn what the biopsy revealed, the doctor says, “I have very good news for you. The polyp that was removed had no cancer in it. It could have been the kind that would be cancerous, but we got it out, and we got it out completely.”

Their relief shows thoroughly. Kody, normally rather clownish, seems deeply sobered by what has just happened, and how easily he might lose his first wife. Meri says, “This makes me realize how fragile life can be.”

Kody: “I should appreciate all of our time together.”
Meri:” I do!”

About Ladybelle Fiske

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