Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Big themes in Big Love

Sally and I follow Big Love on HBO.

It's about halfway through its fourth season and into a plotline I find perplexing, even if I find the show generally very enjoyable.

Bill Hendricksen (Bill Paxton) is running for state senate, and has decided when he wins he'll announce he's a polygamist. He'll out his family, his three wives, Barb, Margene and Nikki, and their children. The women wonder how this will affect them, and if it were real life, they'd be right to worry.

Sally and I are native Utahns, who live in the city that serves as the setting for Big Love, Sandy, Utah. We live amongst the faithful and understand our LDS neighbors. What makes Big Love seem over-the-top in its portrayal of Bill and his family to us is that if they were my neighbors we would have known the first time we looked at them that they are polygamists. Any Utahn could. But the show makes the point that they are living in secret, and up to now they lived with the understanding that if their lifestyle was known they'd be ostracized.

The grapevine in Utah runs right through Mormon churches. Most Latter-day Saints know when a prominent Mormon is in trouble before the general population does. One example is of a well-known local car dealer who left his wife for another woman and was excommunicated. That went through the community like wildfire and his business fell off. There was finally some news coverage of it because of the buzz in the community. He closed his business and moved out of state. If the fictional Bill was a real guy, a successful businessman coming from polygamous roots as he does, and living in close proximity to other women, sharing a common back yard and swimming pool, then it would be well-known the family was living in polygamy and because of Bill's business prominence the word would be all through the churches in Utah. Trust me on this.

Bill is also partner in a casino and that would be a real big problem for a real-life Bill. Mormons were once forbidden to work at casinos, even though they have a large population of LDS in Las Vegas. Now the church has relaxed the rule to say they can work in casinos, but they can't gamble. Gambling is popular amongst Utahns, but they go out of state to do it. It's the reason we'll never have a lottery in this state.

The creators of Big Love are two former Mormons who are partners in real life. One of the subplots from this year's series has been the homosexuality of the prophet, Alby Grant, of the Juniper Creek group of polygamists. There is a real-life struggle between gays and the Mormons, especially over Mormon support for Proposition 8 in California, which overturned the gay marriage law. The church was shocked at the backlash, and probably isn't pleased by the theme running through Big Love. The man Alby is involved with is a Latter-day Saint who has struggled with his homosexuality. At the end of the most current episode Alby walks into their love nest to find his lover hanging, a suicide. It's a delicate subject within the church.

During the run of Big Love the Mormon church has wisely decided to keep a hands-off approach, even when an episode last season showed some sacred temple rites. If they had come out with loud condemnation they would have automatically gotten thousands of non-Mormon Utahns signed up to HBO to see what's the big hooraw about Big Love.

The title sequence of this year's season has changed from the first three, where it showed Bill and his three wives skating on ice, a crack appearing, showing the schism in their family.

In this season's title Bill and his wives are floating through a black void, outer darkness, and Bill is reaching for all of them to keep them together.

We love the new theme song, "Home" by the Engineers. It's hard to beat out Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," the theme for the first three seasons, but the producers have managed to create a real mood with the newer theme song.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I watch Big Love too but Sydney is still showing the series with "God Only Knows" as the theme. New theme looks great too