Review: Big Love - Free at Last (season premiere)
by Danny Gallagher, posted Jan 11th 2010 1:25AM
(S04E01) "Tonight we share a new beginning." - Bill to his wives after seeing the profits from the new casino
I always figured a show like Big Love would be complicated. It just makes sense. Sometimes having to follow one married couple on screen can wear even the most focused man into a coma, but I had no idea until I sat down and watched my first episode. Mutant onions have less layers.
That's both good and bad. It's fun to watch a show that forces you to sit down and watch it rather than just have it in the background and that's something you'd expect from a pay cable show. You want it to suck you in and force you to plant your pasty butt in the chair in order to keep up with every tense and twisting moment.
It can also move too fast, especially when it has to catch up with lost time. It can easily leave you running to catch up before it slowly disappears down the dusty highway. The only upside is if you find yourself not paying attention, you'll find what you're chasing even if you trip over it in the cloudy barren mist.
The season opener starts well paced enough as it reintroduces us to all the principal players and their stations in life. But just as you're settling in for a nice comfortable episode of multi-family bliss, it switches gear with the strength of a fully charged Tesla Roadster as the FBI swoops in on Roman Grant's former home and investigators grill his wife on his whereabouts. All of this goes down in the first five minutes. I haven't even had a chance to get down in a good "vegging out" position in my favorite chair. Things are about to get good.
The FBI is even moving on the Henrickson household (or one of them) as they grill Roman's daughter Nicolette on some suspicious transactions done in her name. Now 10 minutes in, we've moved from not-so-typical family drama to a manhunt to financial espionage. My head was a swirl of interest and confusion. I swear if the show introduced vampires in the next few scenes, I would not have been surprised.
Of course, moments such as these is where Bill Paxton, the head of the multilayered Henrickson collective, really shines. As the agent grills him and his extra wife, he throws around the usual "polygamy" allegations with nothing to back it. Rather than go off the handle, Bill plays it just over the level of cool. He's firm and angry, but he's also quite grounded and righteous without completely blowing his stack. Only such a deeply religious and level-headed character could keep his emotions in check without completely hiding them, and Paxton has learned how to control those levels to their perfect settings. He goes to 11 by keeping his emotions at a solid 9.
Meanwhile Alby is up to his old tricks picking up strange men for brief erotic entanglements, and it served as a great setup to his second close encounter who works side by side with Bill. The way he freezes and runs away like a scared kid who knows he can't keep it together made for a very uncomfortable and funny moment. It almost felt like an The Office meets Queer as Folk moment.
But the funniest surprise, hands down, is Roman's sudden appearance in his wife's walk-in freezer. It made for a brilliant move and set up a perfect plot for Alby to pull on his arch-rival Bill just as they are opening their new casino. Of course, it didn't stray into Fawlty Towers comedy territory, but it did have a subtle hint of humor since Roman, a man who only seemed good for causing trouble, is still being a pain in the neck to everyone, even after his soul has left the Earth.
It also served as a nice way to bring Nicolette and Bill one step closer to togetherness and some much needed closure for Bill. whose final silent moments with Roman's body screamed of sentiment, reverence and maybe even a little forgiveness more than actual words ever could.
- Bruce Dern continues to remind me just how devious and cold he can be with his latest scene as Lois' abusive, on-again off-again husband. If time and space could allow Frank Harlow and vet-head Mark from The 'Burbs get in a fight, I would pay for front row seats.
- Mary Kay Place also gave an equally powerful performance as the crazed wife/widow of Roman Grant. The "bacon" line screamed of raw, tense and pure insanity.