“The Beautiful Girls”
September 19th, 2010
Based on its title and a number of the discussions which emerged within the episode, “The Beautiful Girls” feels like a particular gesture towards the women who are often central to the series. And yet, because the episode was so fractured, it doesn’t present itself as a sustained glimpse into any of the female characters central to this story. While Joan, Peggy, Faye, and Sally all face down challenges put before them, all of them end up back where they began: trapped in a loveless marriage, apolitical in a political world, face-to-face with tough choices, and a sad little girl living a life she no longer wants to live.
Regardless of the episode’s argument regarding each character’s struggles, the fact remains that the female characters are the heart of this series, and “The Beautiful Girls” comes together as a sustained statement on their centrality if not a substantial step forward in their individual storylines.
“Free at Last”
January 10th, 2010
Big Love is a show that’s all about high stakes, although it’s a show where its idea of high stakes tends to oscillate. As I wrote about on Sunday, my relationship with the show is very new, and somewhat mixed: I appreciate many parts of the show, but I have my concerns with how it balances its various story elements. When the stakes are high because of nuanced character interactions and slowly-building plot elements, the show is television drama at its finest; when the show defines its stakes in terms of Juniper Creek’s particular brand of insanity, or with any sense of comic zaniness, the show feels false in a way that does it no favours.
Unfortunately, the season is starting on a sour note, as “Free at Last” is a sad irony of an episode: no one is actually free, and the sheer volume of contrivances necessary to achieve that lack of freedom has weighted the show down considerably. There is some potential in these stories, but the episode glosses over so many issues in the early going that any sense of momentum or coherency coming out of Season Three has been damaged coming out of the gate, even if the show might eventually be able to turn this chaos into something substantial in the season to come.