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Series / Big Love

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Big Love is an HBO drama. The series lasted from March, 2006 to March, 2011, with a total of 53 episodes in five seasons.

Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) is, by all appearances, a traditional family man. He met his wife Barbara (née Dutton) Henrickson (Jeanne Tripplehorn) in college and has had three children by her: Ben (Douglas Smith), Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) and Tancy. Though Barb had a close brush with uterine cancer, the two remain Happily Married. Bill has started his own business, "Home Plus," a small chain of home-improvement stores, and has made enough to buy the two houses on either side of his own, which he now rents out to single mothers as a charity project. Oh, and, yes, he and his wife are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; but in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, that's not really a big deal...

...except for how Bill is actually a member of a fundamentalist Mormon splinter group that practices polygamy. The two neighbors, Nicolette Grant (Chloƫ Sevigny) and Margene Heffman (Ginnifer Goodwin), are also his wives, and their sons and daughters are his. Nicky Grant is the daughter of Roman Grant, who took over the Juniper Creek polygamist compound where Bill grew up, after Bill's grandfather, the former leader, passed away under mysterious circumstances. She joined the family to help look after them all during Barb's illness and convalescence. When she herself began to have children of her own, Margie was brought in as a babysitter. Both women joined the plural marriage of their own free will, though Barb's mother, a traditional Mormon, disowned her for the decision.

The series centers around the lives of these characters, as well as ancillary ones from Juniper Creek; Bill's brother Joey and Joey's wife, Wanda; Bill's mother and father, and his father's other wives. And, of course, there's the typical soap opera drama resulting from a deconstructed Marry Them All, in which a man can cheat on two of his wives by sleeping with the third one when it's not her turn on the schedule. (And yes, that happens. By the first half of the first season.)

This series provides examples of:

  • Ashes to Crashes: Nicki's sons eat Margie's mother's ashes! And then Margie leaves the urn on the back of the car...
    Margie: My Mom's gone. She just... blew away...
  • Babies Ever After: The final scenes of the finale are of the christening of Sarah's son.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Bill is shot and killed. The next scene, although ten months later, is of his grandson's christening. (Which would mean that he was indeed born soon after Bill's death).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bill is dead. But his first grandchild has been named after him, Barb has taken her role as head of the household, Margene is becoming more independent and self-sufficient, and after years of bickering, the three wives have forged a sincere, profound connection. Also Bill has a revelation and anoints Barb in the Priesthood of their new church, being the first of a new line of female priests.
  • Bumbling Dad: Bill is more than a little naively ignorant of his two oldest children and what his wives really feel about each other, as well as completely oblivious to Nicki's spending habits—despite the fact that her house is chock-full of beautiful things and she's often seen giving others pricey gifts—all on a relatively small allowance?
  • The Bus Came Back: Rhonda, Roman Grant's child bride, returns in season 5 after a long absence.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Bill's brother Joey and his wife Wanda are not seen or even mentioned in Season 5 after being important characters for the first four seasons.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The only show on HBO that averts this. As Mormons, the characters are fastidious about abstaining from profanity. Heck, they don't even use "Crap".
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Nikki is torn between her loyalty to her father and her love for Bill and their family.
  • Creepy Child: Rhonda Vollmer is a non-supernatural variant: behind her artless demeanor and expressionless blue eyes lurks the brain of a baby sociopath and master-manipulator-in-training (not to mention a disturbing fondness for rhinestones). She's got something of an excuse, having been raised in an abusive cult and married off at the age of fourteen to a man in his seventies, but it doesn't do much to make her less terrifying. (Amusingly, she's played by Daveigh Chase, who portrayed the ultimate Creepy Child in the American version of The Ring.)
  • Cure Your Gays: Sarah meets an "ex-gay" guy and his wife when looking for potential adoptive parents. She's disturbed by the whole situation.
  • Dead Guy Junior: In the series finale, it shows Sarah's son who's named after Bill.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Alby, implied to be in the closet from the first season, though in a handful of scenes seems to have no problem lusting after his co-conspirator wife. His despicable actions and general misogyny however, appear to have nothing to do with his sexuality.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: After all his troubles with the Utah legislature, the LDS Church, and various compound loonies, Bill is taken out by a minor character we've hardly ever seen him interact with. Justified in that the dissolution of Carl and Pam's marriage was a subplot of Season 5 and Carl blamed Bill and Margene.
  • Distant Finale: The final scene of the season finale takes place almost a year after Bill's death, with the family having christened Sarah and Scott's baby son.
  • Downer Ending: After a season of Bill fighting political opponents and taking down the compound, he's suddenly and unexpectedly murdered by an unhinged neighbor he had no real animosity with.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex. Justified with most of the adult characters, since they are polygamists. Where this is murky is with the teenagers. Nikki, normally the most fundamentalist of the wives, does not seem exceptionally surprised or outraged when Sarah relates the I'm a Man; I Can't Help It anecdote noted below to her.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change:
    • Margie goes blonde after her (blonde) mother dies. She also cuts her hair in a pixie cut after Bill's death (the actress's Real Life hairstyle), possibly symbolizing her newfound independence.
    • Nikki displayed her rebellion against her family by cutting off her waist-length braid.
  • False Rape Accusation: Among the many vile things Rhonda does is insinuate that Bill made advances to her while she was staying at the Hendrickson house and she later threatens to say something similar about Heather.
  • Gay Cruising: Albie, an Armored Closet Gay, seeks out anonymous sex with other men as an outlet for his urges. It gets him in trouble more than once, and the only time he's ever happy in the series is when he finds a steady relationship with another closeted man (which both still try to keep secret).
  • Gaydar: Rhonda picks up that Heather has a thing for Sarah. Heather appears to shut herself firmly in the closet after this but Rhonda alludes to it again in Season 5.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Sarah apparently never considers this regarding her pregnancy (and in Utah, she'd need parental consent anyway), opting to place the child for adoption and then deciding to raise it herself.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: Very much used, highly surprising for a HBO series, although justified considering the main characters are an offshoot of the conservative Mormons. It is also a common Mormon mannerism to, e.g., abbreviate "H**l" to "H".
    • Margene will occasionally drop a real curse word, but only when she's really steamed, and it's justified by her not having grown up in the Mormon religion.
  • Happily Married: Bill and Barb were apparently this before the other two came into the picture, and despite subsequent problems, it's consistently obvious that she's the one he loves most of all. He has moments of this with Nikki and Margene as well.
  • Heel Realization: Nikki at nearly the end of season 5 realizes her actions are just as evil as those on the compound.
  • Hypocrite: Nikki. Well established from the second episode, when she's clearly jealous of Bill and Margene's loud sex, but claims to be upset because it's happening on Barb's day. She goes to confront Bill about it—and ends up bedding him herself! So it's wrong for Bill to go off schedule for Margene, but not for her?
  • Idiot Ball: Firmly grasped by Bill over the last two seasons. Everyone told him that his plan to enter politics in Season 4 would lead to disaster. And enormous strife and pressure was introduced into the marriage in Season 5 due to Bill's decision to divorce Barb and officially marry Nicki in order to adopt Cara Lynn—when Cara Lynn is a teenager who would be of age in a couple of years anyway.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: At one point Sarah discovers a flirtatious message from an ex-girlfriend on her boyfriend Scott's phone. She jokingly says it sounds like they hooked up, which he confirms. When she gets upset, he uses this as an excuse (Sarah and Scott are not sexually active at this point). Deconstructed in that Sarah was devastated by the incident, and Scott was made out to be a complete douche for it. Their entire relationship was never treated as healthy - it was treated as Sarah running away from home in a socially acceptable fashion just to get away from the walking traumatizer that was Bill Henrickson.
  • It's Always Spring: Not until the final season did it ever seem to be cold—in Utah, of all places.
  • Last Episode Theme Reprise: Natalie Maines' cover of "God Only Knows" plays over the final Fade to Black.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Bill struggles with bouts of impotency at various points throughout the show, most often during the first season, due to the incredible emotional and physical stress that he's frequently under.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Early ads seemed to give the impression that Nicki and Barb scheming against each other would be the major source of conflict in the series. While they were at odds often, both of them always wanted what was best for the entire family.
  • Open Secret: By the third season the following people know that Bill and his wives are polygamists: Don Embry, the UEB, Hollis Green and his followers, the police/FBI, Barb's family, Margene's Mother, a tribe of Native Americans, the Weaver Gaming Company, and two of their neighbors.
  • Parental Abandonment: Teenage boys are frequently thrown off the compound for developing sexual interest in the teenage girls intended for old men. Nicki had a good reason for abandoning her daughter: in order to get out of her first marriage.
  • Put on a Bus: Teeny, Bill and Barb's younger daughter, was Put on a Bus every time the actress currently playing her grew too tall. Even in the last episode's coda — set nearly a year after the episode's primary events, so she could legitimately have been shown as having grown into a teenager — she merited only a vague acknowledgment that she was in the bathroom playing with makeup.
  • Red Herring: Lois tells the story of her daughter's death, and it seems that it will be a plot point. Apart from being an explanation for Lois's Important Haircut (she is the only woman on the compound with short hair) it isn't.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: From "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys to "Home" by Engineers.
  • Shown Their Work: The creators Mark and Will spent three years researching polygamy to make a fair assessment, accentuated by hiring writers like Dustin Lance Black who actually grew up in Mormon households.
  • The Unfavorite:
    • Nikki, in spades. Her dialogue and backstory makes it's obvious that she grew up as this, being female on the male-dominated compound. Then, we learn Bill took her in not because he'd fallen in love with her, but both to secure a loan from her father, and because Barb's illness left her unable to have more children, meaning that she's this in her own marriage—she finally calls Bill out on this in the final season. A good deal of her behavior can be attributed to this.
    • Margene has moments of this too, as she clearly often feels left out of Barb and Nikki's close relationship, though it often seems as if she's Bill's "favorite" wife (though Barb is still his first wife).
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Pretty much everything related to the Juniper Creek compound on the show is based on real people and events. Juniper Creek is based on the real life FLDS community in Arizona called Short Creek (now known as Colorado City), and the raid on the show was based on the real life raid of Short Creek in the '50s. The UEB is the real life FLDS' "United Effort Plan", which was also taken over by the state. The Grants are the Jeffs, with Alby specifically supposed to be FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs who also took over his group when his father died. Even the satellite compounds in Kansas and Mexico exist in real life.
  • Who Will Take The Kids?: Huge issue if anything bad happens in a polygamous relationship. The second and third marriages are not legal. Without any agreement, Bill's rights, and the rights of the kids to be with their siblings, are very limited.
  • Yandere:
    • Rhonda, the child bride of the cult leader. She trades shamelessly on her status as an abuse victim, right up to the point when she flips completely and flaunts her status as bride of the Prophet. She's willing to blackmail and manipulate, but she takes pains to appear as a sweet innocent to anyone she's not specifically attacking.