Don't Tell Your Dad
by JESSICA HOPPER
The new opening credits of HBO’s Mormon polygamist zonk out, Big Love, signaled a new tack with a terrible visual metaphor: the shows adult leads falling perilously into the dark infinite, unable to grasp hands. Swathed in a mess of blowing semi-formal wear they emoted hard at the viewer scrunching their brows. The previous three seasons opened with Beach Boys and pairs skating, the three wives switching off with their shared husband.
Gone are those days and the connection! The center will not hold! Said the metaphor. The credits, unfortunately didn’t give us any warning season four is quickly gaining momentum, with each episode, headed straight for overplotted hot mess, filled with yelling characters that don’t even relish hating, you just regular hate.
The dramatic tension of the show’s previous seasons revolved mostly around keeping their dozen-deep polygamist love hive in the burbs secret from the judging eyes straight world and/or fending off the persecuting creepiness of the gnarly compound sect Nicki and Bill both came from. Now that Nicki’s murderous prophet daddy done got killed, they’re bumping the tension up by making every character on the show, save for Margene’s newborn and Bills mom’s parrots have explosive secret problems that blow up at the rate of five a show.
These are kept from easy resolution or redress by Bill insisting “Not now!” anytime someone tries to speak to him, or misunderstand his motives, or demand an explanation of his out of control prophetic-maniacal bullshit. That person, invariably furrows their brow and stomps away, and/or moves out. Once the reveal comes out, there is the part where Bill squinches his face and says “Why didn’t you tell me?”, sometimes in a mad way, though sometimes in a empathetic good TV dad way. Once that happens, everyone starts yelling at each other to get over it.
The characters' problems are infinitely spinning out into quick resolutions, with most every twist hinging on “don’t tell Dad!”—very Brady Bunch of them. Don’t tell dad about the Native American meth head's baby you are harboring, or your weird feelings since yr unplanned preggo miscarriage or your secret non-Mormon wedding! Don’t tell your dad that his third wife has glanced upon your boner, Ben, though you only liked it when she wasn’t flirting back! Oh wait, too late, your religious zealot little sister, (that impossible to look at brace-faced pubescent ginger—a 2.0 new season replacement who is a ringer for Darla from Finding Nemo), Teeny, spilled the beans for ya!
This season’s had more use of “reveals” than a month of the Pitchfork news page: Barb has been secretly wishing to be regular Mormon, she ran over a meth head on the res, that she hates her job and her dramatic Mormon homelife is still on the burner.
Nicki revealed a secret teen daughter who was re-revealed to her by her creepy rapey-vibe fingernail-less first husband, JJ, she told Margene she might not love Bill, let it be know she still has sexy feelings for her old boss, that maybe she doesn’t believe in her faith, that she doesn’t believe her dad was the prophet, that third wife Margene is making $9,000 secret dollars a month on a then still-secret home shopping network. She may still secretly be on the pill and pretending to “try” to get preggo and that she too, loathes her dramatic Mormon homelife is in slow reveal. She also sometimes hides her secret teen daughter in birdseed box in the yard, but that not a real secret.
Margene has revealed she meant to kiss her husband’s teen son, that she has feelings for him, that she lied about and let him lie about it (she cries in a plush mascot animal suit and runs off at this disclosure), that she has been making megabucks hawking bracelets on TV and not sharing them, the vastness of her sexual needs, and she also lies in a fake reveal to the viewers of her program about being a single mom. She did not disclose that she has seen Ben naked and also glanced at his boner when he was reaching the hot cocoa for her (needless TMI for any parent, surely).
Ben pretended to be in Idaho when he was hiding from his dad, and then told everyone his dad threw him out, even though all Bill suggested was that it was best he leave for a while, a while not being stipulated, and could have been a night or 45 minutes. During the course of the aftermath of that, Ben stomped angrily out of many rooms, including into a bathroom and out of an auditorium. Everyone yells WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME YOU SECRETLY CAST BEN OUT OF THE HOUSE?!, but not in unison. They take turns.
Bill, mainly, has only one and a half -–well, maybe two--secrets, aside from being a polygamist (as well as a now fake regular Mormon), and that’s that about 36 years ago, in his lost boy days, he beat a clerk for some Walkmans—which he revealed in a political debate and then walked off stage. His confession also sort of implied that did a bit of hustling in the park back in his day, which should be enough to keep him from being elected to Senate, but apparently, this batch of Republican voting Mormons were moved by his tenderoni display of humanity.
And still, no one is doing any boning except for the teen daughter who went from being awesome and college bound to having a throbbing desire to get married and procreate at 19. She is now moving to Idaho, which seems like a fitting punishment.
Half a season down, half to go! Will the show reclaim its watchability OR will it continue to descend into a show where no one is getting laid, everyone is yelling and you hate everyone, including the children that don’t have any lines?
Jessica Hopper is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago and the author of The Girls' Guide To Rocking. She last wrote for This Recording about Lars Von Trier's Antichrist.
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