The first season of Big Love delivered some big performances. Eighty year old Harry Dean Stanton made the perfect prophet-cum-cult-leader while sixteen year old Daveigh Chase was hard to fault as the disciple soon to be nth wife of same.
But ultimately, the series fell below par for HBO. And the problem was a lack of believability created by lapses into poor writing.
Focussing on a polygynous (rather than polygamous; I’ve been doing my homework) household making its way in the wider world, makes Big Love an ambitious project. However, the ambition is left unfulfilled as we’re left to worry about the Henricksons feud with Prophet Roman Grant, without being given enough background to understand the cultural nuances. You need to read something like Wikipedia on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to really understand.
There are moments when it all comes together in a wonderfully human way and it can be both atmospheric and compelling. Yet the idea that the neighbours don’t know Bill’s a polygamist is rather silly. If the three houses across from you were owned by the same man who clearly spent time with the women housed in each, you’d know.
The final episode’s where it really falls apart. Bill has a telephone conversation where the guy says: ‘I saw a documentary last night’. Through this clumsy mechanism, we learn that Bill is a surplus boy: so that’s why he’s so mad at Roman! Almost as bad is the undoing of Daveigh Chase’s Rhonda. Her cousin chats with a friend about how naïve and cut off from the outside world she is. She promptly has a rebellious episode.