On election night, new state senator Bill Henrickson shook Utah to its core by announcing he was a polygamist. Now, instead of being embraced for their honesty, the Henrickson family is engulfed by hostility from neighbors, Home Plus employees, casino partners, students at their kids’ schools and even fellow polygamists hoping to keep their personal lives private. Meanwhile, at Juniper Creek, Alby Grant returns from a self-imposed desert exile with revenge on his mind. Can the Henricksons survive this flood of ill-will?
There are doses of both good and bad news accompanying this release of the 10 episodes comprising the fifth season of the HBO series Big Love
. The bad news is that the fifth season is also the last hurrah for a show that's rarely been anything less than entertaining. But the good news is that cocreators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer and their cast and crew are bowing out with one of their strongest outings; at the very least, this season is consistently better than the somewhat haphazard one that preceded it. It's also the least amusing and most serious, as family patriarch Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), his three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn as Barb, Chloë Sevigny as Nicki, and Ginnifer Goodwin as Margene), their kids, and even their friends and business associates face their sternest trials yet. Much of that is self-inflicted by the idealistic and stubborn Bill, who, having previously won a seat in the Utah state senate, has decided not only to reveal that his is a family of polygamists (or, as they put it, observers of "the principle of plural marriage") but also to fight a very uphill battle for public acceptance of them and their kind. The consequences are many: since Bill neglected to reveal that little lifestyle tidbit before, many of those who voted for him, including employees at his Home Plus store, feel betrayed; he may be impeached as soon as he takes office; his kids are bullied; the mainstream Mormon church (a.k.a. the LDS, or Latter Day Saints) actively shuns the Henricksons; and archenemy Alby Grant (Matt Ross), Nicki's brother and heir apparent to the late, evil prophet Roman Grant, has revenge on his agenda. Meanwhile, Marge loses her gig pitching products on TV, Barb considers joining a reform sect that opposes polygamy, and Nicki, never a very appealing character in the first place ("spiteful, jealous, and mean" is her own description), becomes nastier than ever. Add to that the specter of jail time for a crime Bill didn't even know he committed, and you're looking at a tower of tribulation that's too tall not to fall.
As always, there is a lot going on here, and while each episode can theoretically stand on its own, newcomers to the series may have a tough time keeping up, at least at first. But it's worth the effort. Big Love is beautifully written, acted (others in the outstanding cast include veterans Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place, Grace Zabriskie, and Ellen Burstyn), and realized. It will be missed. --Sam Graham