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'Big Love': big bang

Outstanding Drama Series nominee:

Outstanding Drama Series nominee: "Big Love" on HBO Photo Credit: HBO via AP, 2007

And so, after five seasons, "Big Love" ends, and ends in a way I imagine not everyone will embrace. (What -- after all -- do "Big Love" and Desperate Housewives" have in common? Homicidal neighbors!)

Carl --  the straight-laced Mormon who doesn't embrace polygamy because his church does not -- becomes the bearer of death, the deux ex machina that dealt Bill Hendrickson his fate and one-way ticket to eternity.

After all these seasons of so much intra-family conflict and convolution, that someone from the outside should tie it up seems almost slightly ironic. Why did the creators Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen decide to wrap this way? I can't imagine they wanted to martyr Bill, but that they did. I can imagine that after all these years, they wanted to (again ironically) end on a positive note: Bill's marriages and sister wives remained a cohesive unit after his death. So in death he triumphed, because that was core to his struggle all along -- keeping his nontraditional family intact. 

But such an emphatic fatal ending? David Chase refused to kill Tony at the end of "The Sopranos," denying fans closure, and instead serving them ambiguity. As such, "The Sopranos" never had that convenient, tidy little ending that some people wanted -- myself included. In retrospect, Chase was absolutely right, or at least his instincts were right for the series and for Tony Soprano and ultimately for fans, too.

A death like Hendrickson's evaporates ambiguity like a fire water: The message at the end wasn't so much an affirmation of polygamy as an affirmation of his life; if the family unit he had assembled and fought for could remain cohesive, then his life was a success. In the finale, Olsen/Scheffer also managed, if barely, to explore the  moral implications of "sister wives," but the series never really was about Mormonism or polygamy as much as it was about one guy's struggle with his faith and with himself and (umm) his wives; it was a family drama writ large and complicated; it was a soap that became (last season) submerged under a wave of soap, only to emerge this season -- yes -- cleaner and with a sense of purpose.

But the end to me was a cop-out -- that old device of wrapping a TV series to wring one last dollop of pity, compassion and love out of the fans. It was, in other words, highly sentimental, and sentimentality has a way of demolishing something. For example, there is no way to know whether his public adoration, limited as it was, would last; there is no way to know whether what he really believed would withstand that long test of time or whether the more prevailing popular sense (as voiced by Tina Majorino's character, Heather Tuttle) -- that it's just another way for some guy to sleep with more women -- would. 

And Barb's conversion and then not-conversion? Again, I wasn't left with a fuller sense of her journey; she changed her mind in the baptismal pool, but why -- even after Bill's death -- would she not change her mind once again? Was her bond with her sister wives that strong? Her family? Or with Bill? That story continues -- even though, of course, it does not. 

In the end, I would have sided with ambiguity. David Chase was right: Sometimes we don't need to know everything.

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