Big Love, Big Opportunities
Big Love, Episode 1
By Rob Wilson
Monday, March 13, 2006
Rob is a member of this online community. This is his first submission to us. He can be reached via email, or through our forums.

This will be an ongoing review for the entire 12 weeks of the HBO drama Big Love. Previous editions of this review can be found in the Monthly Columns archives.

This is not a review of the new HBO series Big Love with Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and finally Ginnifer Goodwin as a modern day Polygamist and his wives.

At least not in the traditional sense. As I watched the premier episode, I was more curious how the writers would show how a non monogamous relationship may work then in the actual storyline. Big Love has the possibility of becoming a story about dysfunction and sex, but as I sat and watched I also found several subtle things that we in the polyamourous world can point to and say “This is very true.” Such as the support network created by an extended family.

It is my hope to be able to go through each and every episode of the series and start a discussion about how the family interacts, how we can encourage constructive conversations about polyamory and how to correct the errors the show may have and reinforce in peoples minds.

A brief introduction to the show is required. Bill Henrickson is a successful business owner living in modern day suburban Salt Lake City, Utah. To the outside world he has a lovely wife who is also a teacher and three children. The oldest is a sixteen-year-old girl, a sports loving son who is fifteen, and a daughter who is eight.

At night however he goes home to one of three houses he maintains. A large privacy fence keeps out prying eyes and all three houses share one large backyard. In each house lives one of Bill Henrickson’s wives and the various children they have born for him..

So let us begin with the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the series so far. First the good news. The show started off with all the family gathered together about the table sharing dinner. Notice the important word - family. Not a separate dinner with each wife, not a harsh word between the wives; a general sense of well being and community was instead implied.

Also, of interest was the sharing of resources between the family members. All three wives are shown at the table dividing up the income, working out a fair and reasonable way to “share” the attentions of their mutual husband and discussing various things. Later on in the show, the first and second wives (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn as Barb and Chloe Sevigny as Nicky) go with Bill back to the rural community where he was raised, leaving the youngest of the wives, Margene, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, to watch the five youngest children.

It quickly becomes obvious that Margene was way over her head while watching the kids, one for example pees on the kitchen floor, but who comes to comfort her? Not Bill, but the other two wives who cradle her and express mutual support and love for each other.

At the end of the episode, as Bill opens the second of his home repair super stores he gazes lovingly at the faces of all three wives while they in turn look back at him with a mixture of pride and love.

Not that everything is a bed of roses in the Henrickson household(s). His first wife, Barbara generally rules the nest and may be seen as Bill’s primary partner. This creates some conflict with Nicky, who seems to suffer some jealousy issues. Even going so far as to whine “But Barb got to redecorate her house!” and shooting dirty looks at her.

It is that petty jealousy that I’m curious about. How will the writers show the conflict between these two? Will it fester or will the writers show the two women sitting down and discussing their differences in an open and honest manner? It’s a drama of course, so expect a catfight eventually. In that conflict though lies the seeds for our community to talk about the concept of “fair fighting,” meaningful discussions and how jealousy can be used as a form of personal growth.

I do believe that the show places to heave an emphasis on sex. Not only is Bill sleeping on a rotation with all three women but he is expected to have sex with one of them on any given night. This leads to an addiction to Viagra.

One of the wives coos that she misses him, it's been a whole three days since she has had sex. Then again this is HBO, so I guess it's just a matter of time before two or more of the ladies end up in bed with or without Bill. Although sex in any relationship is important, it is not the primary reason one enters into a polyamourous relationship (I would hope).

What is really ugly in the series for me so far is that the Bill and family seem to want to take the moral high ground, they are seen praying in several scenes for example. Yet when they visit the rural community where Bill was raised, referred to as "The Compound”, your immediately hit over the head with the introduction of child brides and a sense that women are a second class citizen or generally abused. Exactly how Bill feels about this and his upbringing will have to be explored in future shows.

Overall the first episode of Big Love has the potential to create discussion and can certainly be used by the poly community to show that our lifestyle has several advantages over the traditional monogamous lifestyle. We just need to make sure that we stress the strong points of the series and not get swept up in the drama.

The next episode of Big Love will be Sunday, March 19 at 10 PM EST. Check your local listings if you missed the premiere episode.

Rob Wilson, March 13, 2006

folks have read this article.