Monday, March 21, 2011
big love final episode
There's a lot to say about the HBO 5 -season award-winning series, “Big Love” about a family of Polygamists in Utah. I'll keep it short for this purpose today. (Don't believe me!) This show was interesting enough for Tom Hanks to sign on as one of the executive producers.
My ex-wife is on another continent, and never quite figured out what love, devotion and loyalty, endurance and commitment were all about, but I hear she's improving in leaps and bounds.
My ex-girlfriend is closer but still far away. The house here is full of reminders of our failures, and things we won't compromise. So she can't even step foot in here without becoming nervous. She hates this show, and last time she was here we had an argument about it, which is part of the reason I am writing this. (Plus I cried my eyes out, like thousands of other fans, at the end of the series.)
But I hear she's improving in leaps and bounds. She is without Cable because of the low quality of her hosts' facilities.(At least she can get online at least once a day).
My real family, my Mom and Dad and extended relatives are also far away and I never see them. They don't have HBO or Starz or anything, by choice.
Either way, it left me here alone. Alone with Enterprise and Spartacus... and Big Love.
I spent a lot of time alone at home this winter. I watched mostly movies this series, and Star Trek Enterprise, a spin-off from the original Star Trek series that I grew up with, first run.
Noticing that I was jumping in in the middle of both of these shows, I ordered the box sets of the earlier seasons and watched them. And then caught up in real time.
Although it was all fiction, I started to get involved emotionally with all of the characters' trials and tribulations. I feel silly about like I'm some sort of old housewife watching soap operas and talking to the TV, and even getting involved in discussion blogs and such. Everyone is praying that there will be some kind of reunion or extension or spin-off, like with The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, Terminator (The Chronicles of Sarah Conner), All In The Family (The Jefferson), etc, yeah, you get the idea.
One of the characters (Wife #3) had a blog where people interact with her, both written and video, as if she were a real person blogging and making comments on her life with a laptop and a web-cam.“She” just put out her final blog entry, supposedly. It's amazing how many thousands of people showed support and gave advice to this fictional character over the Internet. Even though she was a polygamist.
What does this mean?
Well it means that the issue of polygamy in America isn't as black and white as some people might think. It means that people took the characters' struggles and points of view to heart. Enough to interact at length with a fictional creation.
It seems that in the show, and in reality - just as in any religion - there were different kinds of congregants. There were the congregants on the “compounds”, which have, as a claim to fame, all the bad stuff - statutory rape, kidnapping, and oppression of women, etc., and have earned the reputation of being a cult.
Then, as in any other religion, there emerged a reform movement. In the series, this reform movement wasn't formed as a solid sect on it's own, but more as a developing sect, searching itself for a leader or “prophet”, and deciding what it's new traditions and rules and guidelines would be, in an informal way.
To make things more complicated, there are the regular LDS (Christian Church of Latter Day Saints AKA Mormons Church) which had endured the prohibition of polygamy by US and State law, and were disassociating themselves with any Mormons who still had more than 1 wife.
The Mormons who had more than 1 wife still considered themselves Mormons and resented being called non-Mormons and a cult by the regular “mainstream” LDS congregants.
Also, the mainstream Mormons had a HUGE amount of pull in the state legislature, and in the whole city.
Sometime during the series, our hero, Bill, the main character, who had 3 wives, ended up being a Senator.
Through watching Bill's struggles in the State Government and Washington DC, we begin to find out a little of the history of just how polygamy became illegal in Utah, and the families of polygamists instantly found themselves set apart, branded as criminals, set apart and ostracized. Again, it wasn't a black and white situation, and there was more to it than meets the eye. Whatever one might think of the practice of Polygamy in America, someone got the crappy end of the stick, and all the justifications were not in possession of, let's say, 100% integrity? That should be no surprise. The U.S. government is never short on interfering with citizens' lives – especially the ones that bitch and moan about “too much government”... - but that's another story.
Some of the characters had their roots in both worlds – the “compounds” (old-style polygamists on these separated neighborhood/settlements) and also the more modern , reformed polygamists who lived in town and interacted with regular society on an everyday basis. (And then there was the sub-plot of a “reform on the reform” on the part of the 1st wife, which, in the end, became a heart-wrenching cathartic epiphany and an omen for the future...but I'm getting ahead of myself.) Anyway...their houses were on a street that had all different types of people on it. During the course of the series, Bill's family “came out of the closet” and declared themselves the true followers of the original Mormon prophet (actually it was Joeseph Smith, in real life, and in the story). They said, among other things, that family, or in their case larger families, were the keys to the Celestial Kingdom, as well as the usual positive behavior generally (optimally) associated with followers of Jesus Christ.
It is also notable that one of Bill's wives was the daughter of the Patriarch leader of the “compounds”, who declared himself “The Prophet” because of a bloodline.
Bill did not declare himself “The Prophet” of his generation, but there were hints at one point in the series that he might be a candidate. However, he made a point of declaring that the so-called prophet of the compounds was a fake, a false prophet and a criminal. There was an ongoing full-blown feud.
He set about securing recognition for the polygamists who set themselves apart (“reformed”) from the compound’s (old-style) polygamist families and whom interacted with Utah's mainstream society, ran big businesses, worked at fast-food places, went to school there, shopped at the supermarkets,etc.
He argued his case and endured the corruption that kept all of his efforts from often seeing the light of day, until the last episode where he manged to bring the issue out into the light and present a bill for discussion and, it would seem, an eventual vote. (That's the simple version of a long and complicated journey he made as a fresh government official, a little fish in a pond of bigger , meaner fishes, struggling to facilitate change and reform, and improve lives, and positively adjust the doling out of justice, fairness and compassion).
His opponents (The usual suspects) went as far as to throw him in jail and destroy his business and harass his children in order to keep him down. You see, as an audience member we start to see how the opponents of polygamy begin to behave like the criminals that they made the anti-polygamy laws to control in the first place. They threw thew baby out with the bath water, so to speak, by breaking every Christian standard they had in order to squash Bill and his family, keep the “compound” polygamists “in their place” (In poverty and obscurity, and unable to attain social services or decent education and protection under law, etc.) even though they were US citizens and were entitled to equal protection and freedom under the Constitution. Someone’s (Constitutional rights are not forfeited just because someone breaks a law, especially when they have not even been convicted.)
The law against polygamy was made to keep certain power hungry and fanatical individuals from committing crimes like kidnapping, statutory rape, etc. What that did was leave regular polygamists, who wanted to marry each other, out in the cold and branded as criminals and fanatics, even though they never committed any of those crimes themselves. They suffered as individuals because of a negative stereotype. Their rights to practice their religion as they saw fit was removed and they constantly found themselves unprotected by the law, and by the Constitution which guarantees them freedom of religion and the freedom to pursue life , liberty and happiness.
It's certainly an issue that is not black and white. Many questions and issues were handled in the series, or come to mind as a result of the personal, religious, social and political dramas contained therein......
Does the government have a right to tell you who to marry?
Does the church have a right to throw you out of the congregation when you are keeping an older version of the congregation’s statutes?
Does the State legislature have a right to shut you up and shut you down if you are an elected official because they don't like your brand of religion?
What is loyalty?
What is integrity?
How important is family?
How important is loyalty?
When does a person give up?
How does it effect the children?
Does everyone have the right, really, to go to any church or temple they wish? Even the kids?
In the Church of Mormon, does a woman have the right to give a blessing?
In the Church of Mormon, does a woman have the right to become a priest?
In a polygamist sect, if the marriage is u recognized by the state, how does a woman secure a divorce and the rights that go along with it?
Is it right for a person to be forced to remain at any location? What if they are 12, 16, 18, 21 and want to try something different, like new school or a new job?
What is the tax exempt status for Churches, and how far does it go? What qualifies for a legitimate Church?
Can someone be excommunicated for homosexuality? (The “false” prophet's son, who later became leader, was a closet homosexual in the series.)
Can a polygamist man have an “affair” with one of his own wives?!!
Are polygamists oppressed by the US government and by the Utah (and other) state government(s) and by the local citizens? And if so, is it wrong/illegal/unconstitutional?
If homosexuals' rights are being examined and reformed, why not polygamists? Aren't they entitled to behave as they wish, in private or public, between two (or more) consenting adults? Aren't they entitled to religions freedom under the US Constitution? And if the supreme court decides they are not entitled, then what is the proper punishment? Can people be dragged away and caged, their lives, records and reputations ruined, like they have been in recent American history as they were for interracial marriage/relationships or heterosexual marriage/relationships? Can police raid their weddings, like Nazi stormtroopers or Hamas/Al- Qaeda Sharia enforcers did/do, with a controversial at best US law as their mandate?
What's next? Internment camps?
Can one man keep multiple women happy, supported and satisfied, along with all their children?
How many children should they have?
And what about a wife having multiple husbands? What's wrong with that? It's only fair, right?
(And the biggest of all the 800 pound gorillas in the room) …..
Is it strange that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Sarah and the rest, (even Moses, the humblest of all men in history, and many Kings, like Solomon the Wise, who had 1000 wives) were all involved in polygamy as a way of life, and even had mistresses and concubines – yet the people who evoke these figures (most Christians and most Jews, etc) as role models have made that same culture illegal and tossed adherents out of the Church, and in some cases into jail?
In conclusion, I was sad because..... and if you do not want the spoiler for the series finale', please stop reading here.
In conclusion I was sad (Shpritzing like a fountain!) because Bill, our hero was murdered in the final scenes of the series. He had put fresh sod on someone's lawn as a Good Deed, and that man shot him twice in the chest, declaring “I am not a failure.”
As with all great men, Bill learned the hard way that you can't please all of the people all of the time. No matter what you do, no matter how honorably intentioned it was, someone will see it negatively. Or be jealous. Or misinterpret it. Only at the end Bill realized that. I cried and had a very sad night, all for these fictional characters. Why? I was crying for all the people who stand up for what they believe in and get killed for it. Or jailed. Or beaten. Or both. And crying for the loved one's they leave behind. Bill and his family, and Christians and orthodox Jews in general, have a lot to learn about tolerance, especially for homosexuals, and they are not perfect because of that failure. They are, of course , victims of their own doctrine. While they cry out for fair treatment and understanding, they shun homosexuals, and the like. Bill was likable and we rooted for him, but the writers of Big Love never portrayed him as perfect.
He went through life learning from his mistakes, and struggling through the manifestations of others' mistakes, just like any other US citizen, a mother's son, a husband, a father, a businessman, a Church congregant, a passionate lover of love - and lover of life and enjoyment. A hard worker who started from the streets (literally) and worked himself up from absolutely nothing to a proud Patriarch and large family business owner - to live the American Dream, but was stopped daily along the way by tyrants and fools, stopped by small people with narrow minds.
The bullets that killed Bill Hendrickson – and left his family without a leader, left his children without a father, and his wives without a husband, were not real because the story is just that, a story. But with Bill's last breath he requests and accepts his wife's blessing, where before he had tried to hold her back from reforming the reform traditions even more by becoming a Priestess.
Just before that, he had asked his 2nd wife to be more accepting of his 3rd wife's plan to go on rescue missions to South America because that is what she felt in her heat she needed to do – that was her calling.
And his first wife confronted his 2nd wife and said she knew how mean and hypocritical she was (twice) and forced her to accept a warm hug, like that of a mother to a child. The strong bond of “sister -wives” for all to see. Love, love for family trumped ALL. (Not that I didn't like her character, I did, very much, but she did admit she was a bitch)
But how many real men have been killed before their time because they had a good idea for reform and recognized it before anyone else? M.L. King, Christ, Rabbi Akivah, Ghandi, Harvey Milk, John Lennon, JFK, Sadat, Joan of Arc, Indira Ghandi, and the Bahai's Perpetua... (and (almost) Olya Roohizadegan , but she escaped. But that's another story.)
I think the writers wanted Bill to represent them. In fact, they said pretty much as much in the writers' commentary. In the end, Bills family and close friends came around. That was part of the message. Maybe it took his death/martyrdom, or maybe they would have came around eventually on their own. We don't know. His daughter cam back into the fold and was married. The last scene takes place just before the surviving characters, reunited, are going to the Christening of the late Bill Hendrickson's grandchild, who would have been born under a “different flag” in another city, had it not been for the final episode.
One wife stops in mid-baptism at a competing even more reformed church, and rushes to hear Bills' Easter blessing, a hint of his upcoming martyring. Bill tells his best fiend and his son his conclusion. “Family is everything”. In saying that he implied that loyalty was also everything. At that moment, in his backyard, I almost expected to see the congregants file in one by one and declare Bill The Prophet. But they don't. His best friend had shared in his vision. He said he “felt” something, and plus they had had a record turnout at Church. But Bill had the (coolest!) vision at that time where the congregants of the previous generations showed up. He could actually see them in their 1800's style outfits right in front of his eyes, along with an archetypical woman, that he dreamed of in previous episodes. Was it his mother? Or his grandmother? It was all of those. It was the continuity of The Family. At that point he finally stopped worrying, because he knew everything was going to be all right.
And as his three wives gathered at his daughter's child's Christening, you could see Bill sitting at the table in the background. Watching over his (celestial) family.
Barbara, his 1st wife, says:
We are strong. We have been forged. We endure.