Big Love: The Complete First Season

The latest offering from HBO’s increasingly unconventional programming roster, Big Love takes place in Utah and stars Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson, a polygamist with three wives. Upon its premiere, HBO faced an onslaught of criticism from the Church of Latter Day Saints, who went so far as to post a statement about their disdain on their website. Perhaps in response, the network has been sure to portray a clear distinction between Mormons and polygamists. In choosing to live in a suburb of Salt Lake City and not on the Juniper Tree compound where he was raised, Bill is isolated among non-polygamous Mormons who form the majority of the society around him. Thus the entire family is alienated and forced to live in secrecy, as the revelation of their lifestyle would threaten to sink Bill’s home improvement chain (aptly called "Home Plus”) with rumours of depravity. The women have no friends and the children cannot reveal anything about their home life to their schoolmates. Barb is the first wife, which in a polygamous practice garners her much clout and the security of legal entitlement but also earns her the name "Boss Lady” by second wife Nicky. Creepily played by Chloë Sevigny, Nicky is anxious to assert her own authority over the rambunctious household yet is trapped by numerous secrets that range from a debt creating shopping addiction to lying about her use of birth control. She is also the daughter of Roman Grant, the spiritual head of the Juniper Tree compound and a long-time foe of the Henrickson family. Full of subtle signifiers and deathly glances, Sevigny’s performance is the one that most causes us to ask who amongst us is as furtively tangled up beneath a seemingly controlled surface? The third wife is young Margene, a character who generates much sympathy as the audience watches her question the choices she made while always earnestly acting out of her love for her husband. All three women constantly clamour for sexual and emotional attention, and each cope with jealousy to varying degrees of success. Alienated not only from society but within the marriage, it is interesting to watch their contrasting reactions, as their questions often echo those of the viewers. A concurrent story on the show is the messy business relationship between Bill and Roman, who initially invested in Bill’s business and now wants to exact a profit out of Bill’s plan to build additional stores. The program’s writers succeed in achieving sympathy for their characters even as they struggle to explain who they are and why we should care about them. In touching on some key issues of freedom and privacy in an increasingly polarised American society, Big Love makes a pretty good case against demonisation. (HBO / Warner)