Big Love Report

So I’m watching the end of the Jets v. Steelers game last night, and it’s about 8:50 p.m., when I realize I’ve missed the second episode in Big Love’s new and final season. But then it dawns on me that HBO repeats the new episodes immediately at 9:00 p.m., so I was able to watch it. (The first episode last week was mainly about all the blowback the family experienced after Bill publicly admitted to being a polygamist.) There were four aspects to this episode that I found particularly interesting, which I wanted to highlight here. (Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode yet and is still planning on it.) Also, please note that my characterization is based on my hazy memory, I don’t have a transcript to consult or anything like that.

1. Sunstone. Barb (Bill’s 1st wife) tells her mother that she has joined Sunstone. She needs a community to feel a part of and where she can be accepted, and where she can explore religious questions she has. She is going to participate on a Sunstone panel on the impact excommunication has on the family. (As an aside, I actually went to a Sunstone session on excommunication once, but it was a paper by Lavina, not a panel.) She wants her mother to do it with her.

It turns out that her mother is a faithful but liberal Mormon. She was a founding member of Sunstone and has been involved for 35 years. She had protested the Birch Society and was active in Mormons for ERA. She is very reluctant to do the panel, but she does.

Later in the show, they show a scene from the actual panel. It does sort of look like a Sunstone session, except the audience is sitting around round tables as though there had been a luncheon provided. Barb’s Mom gets flustered with her and walks out of the session. Her microphone is still attached to her blouse, and even after she’s out in the hallway everyone can hear her complaining.

Near the end of the episode we learn that she had invited Betty Ford to come and speak in favor of the ERA. But the Church authorities were bearing down hard and bringing to bear incredible pressure. She ultimately gave in, and when Betty flew into the SLC airport she simply never picked her up, so the speech didn’t happen. She’s very embarrassed that she gave in on this.

2. Women and the Priesthood. Barb has become convinced from her study of the scriptures that women have the priesthood, too. She tentatively offers to give Margene (wife no. 3) a blessing, and since Margene is sort of clueless she goes along with it. Barb pulls the olive oil out of a cupboard, and is in the process of giving a blessing by the laying on of hands by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood when Nicki (wife no. 2) walks in. She of course is totally scandalized and freaks out, and Barb ceases the blessing. Nicki tells Bill, who at first doesn’t believe it, saying Barb knows she doesn’t have the authority. He later asks Barb, and she acknowledges it and says she believes strongly that women should have the priesthood.

A teaser for next week seems to suggest that Bill is going to let Barb bless the sacrament; we shall see.

3. Multiple Mortal Probations. Robert Patrick of T2 fame plays an Apostolic United Brethren polygamist. Bill goes to talk to him, and he starts talking about multiple mortal probations, saying that he himself was Joseph Smith and a whole list of other famous men. I never thought I’d see an explicit reference to MMPs on a TV show!

4. Fundamentalist Groups. Bill as a newly elected state senator is trying to set up a program called Safety Net. The idea is to make sure all the polygamist groups are acting responsibly regarding things like education of young girls and early marriage ages, and to provide state and nonprofit services for those girls, lost boys and others who need them. There’s a big conference room, and representatives of the various groups introduce themselves. They all seem to stand for real polygamist groups, with the names changed somewhat. A woman representing Tapestry against Polygamy is there under protest.

Alby Grant, the sort of Warren Jeffs figure of Juniper Creek (= FLDS), objects to the presence of Millennial Park (= Centennial Park). They start rehashing their differences. Alby claims they have a charter school for girls, and his sister Nicki goes ballistic and says it’s a lie, that girls are treated as chattel and as baby making machines. This offends the other polygamists in the room, who were skittish about this meeting to begin with, and the meeting breaks up in acrimony.

At the end of the episode, the state legislature is going to consider legislation that would make polygamy an impeachable offense so that they can boot Bill from the Senate. The other polygamists are mad at Bill, thinking that he may have been well intentioned in trying to make polygamy acceptable to the public, but that polygamy will always have to be in the shadow and he has just made matters worse with the public light he has shone on them.


  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for this, Kevin. Since this is the final season of Big Love, it will be interesting to see how they wrap up all of these story lines. They seem to be throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.

  2. I’m hoping this season is an improvement over the last, maybe the “outing” will force them to focus more on the family dynamic instead of the storylines that took them away from each other (like the casino). So far I’m enjoying it more.

    The priesthood thing is a little annoying because it came out of nowhere, couldn’t they have dropped hints throughout the last few seasons that she was investigating this or something?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Jeremy, about the lack of foundation for the priesthood story arc.

    The thing about Barb experimenting with wine might be a little off, since my understanding is that fundamentalists don’t practice the strict interpretation of the WoW that mainstream Mormons do, which derives from Heber Grant and whom fundamentalists of course do not accept. FLDS at least drink beer and wine per Escape. (I blogged on this once.)

  4. I really wish I had HBO. I only have the first season on DVD, so I’m really clueless as to what’s been happening on the show. Thanks for posting!

  5. Barb grew up in the LDS church and was only recently excommunicated for being a polygamist. Ostensibly she has always kept the Word of Wisdom.

  6. I wondered that as well Kevin. I’ve only known one polygamist in real life that I know of, but they weren’t opposed to drinking wine with dinner occasionally. Everything in moderation was what he told me.

  7. Ah, that makes more sense, I don’t know why I didn’t remember that Janessa.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Janessa. But Bill and Nicki sure seem upset about it, and they grew up at Juniper Creek.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    BTW, I can relate to Barb’s challenge getting into the wine. I actually tried a sip once on my mission, and bleeech. It’s obviously an acquired tasted. I think I assumed it would taste like Welch’s or something.

  10. Mary Ellen says:

    The references to Sunstone were quite a surprise last night in an episode chock full of goodies.

    Second wife Nicki also questions Barb about joining Sunstone, saying it’s a “hotbed of malcontents, free thinkers, and doubters.” Sunstone is also referred to as a think tank. I may start using that. :)

    The Symposium scene was a hoot. Wish they’d put actual Sunstone people in the audience rather than random extras. It would have kicked it up a notch with Lavina, the Toscanos, or Maxine sitting front and center.

  11. Stan Shepp says:

    I found Barb’s priesthood blessing interesting in that she said ‘by the authority of “Meljisedeck” priesthood’ I wouldn’t expect them to have changed the name of the priesthood, such as they did with the Apostolic United Brotherhood (rather than Brethren) The UEB rather than the UEP, Millennial Park rather than Centennial Park.

    Also, I am pretty sure that the AUB does not teach nor promote MMP’s. Most of the mainstream Fundamentalist groups (stemming from the 1886 revelation and calling by John Taylor) do not teach this. The other, fringe of the fringe groups do. I have never heard of anything like Owen Allred saying he was the reincarnated Joseph Smith.

    The groups having their foundation from the 1886 revelation are not nearly as strict on the WoW as the LDS church is. Our progenitors were out of the church by the time Heber J. Grant brought it up for a vote. We are generally not real big fans of Heber J. Grant.

    Stan Shepp
    Centennial Park, AZ

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Stan, about the AUB and MMPs. I think they just kind of tossed the MMPs in there indiscriminately.

    For my prior blog post about the WoW among the FLDS, see here:

  13. I think she just mispronounced Melchisedek by saying the Melch part like “belch.” no worse than many Mormons saying “Patriotical Blessing.”

  14. Janessa,
    That’s because the only true and living Patriarchal Blessings are also Patriotic Blessings.

  15. Are Multiple Mortal Probations the same as reincarnation?

  16. #15 – Minus coming back as cows, bugs or other animals

  17. At some point I heard how Big Love could be watched online but I can’t find the information now. Can anyone help me out?

  18. Did they really use the term multiple mortal probations? I wonder if they’re getting material from the Bloggernacle, like this very website. Anyone?

  19. Jenne,
    If you download music or games or ebooks, you can find Big Love in the same places. But if you were hoping for an official way to watch online, you’re out of luck as far as I know

  20. Best line of the night. As the terminator is talking about his mulitple mortal probations, he says something like “I was joseph smith, isaiah, benjamin franklin, and william wallace….from braveheart.”


    Kevin, can you write a post about r-rated movie watching among polygamous groups?

  21. the weird thing to me about barb mis-pronouncing melchizedek is that bill says it correctly later in the show…maybe it was supposed to highlight her trepidation in doing such an “apostate” thing, like she was nervous and just messed up maybe?

    i also liked the cross-connection between barb and her mother over agony at the idea of “submitting” to their husbands. barb’s mother’s always blaming barb’s practice of polygamy on her submission to her husband, and yet later in the show is basically commanded by her husband to cease contact with barb. mix that with her misgivings about the era and you have a classically conflicted mormon feminist!! love it.

    i also really appreciated the sunstone symposium scene. i wished it didn’t erupt so suddenly because i thought the contrast in mother and daughter’s experiences with the excommunication was a very loaded/meaningful disparity in point of view. i’m gay, and if i ever get officially ex’ed, i’m pretty sure my mother would see it that way– that it was my choice, or my choices led up to it, so i have no right to feel like a victim, or whatever.

    srsly, sometimes i wonder how anyone not mormon or very educated about mormonism ever gets anything that’s going on in this show! :D i personally find it exhausting, if not just because of all the religious rhetoric being thrown around, which is just a more blunt interpretation of my own family’s dynamic…

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, the precise words “multiple mortal probations” were used in the show!

  23. Loved last night’s episode! Most of my thoughts have already been covered here except one: many fundamentalists still hold that women are able to give blessings as was practiced in the early church. I was hoping that they’d cover that in this episode (the history of women giving blessings) but maybe that’s coming. I was actually surprised by Nikki’s reaction because of how fundamentalists view women and blessings but fundamentalists vary, I suppose. Also this makes for a better storyline.

  24. People really should go to Sunstone to hear great lectures on social justice. Just saying.

  25. I think they should do a series on Barb’s mother. Much more interesting to me than polygamy.

  26. Real Sunstone symposia sessions do erupt sometimes. A couple of summers ago I attended a very interesting presentation at the SLC Sunstone meeting by a public defender from Atlanta (forgot his name) regarding his interactions with fundamentalist polygamist groups, and his view that in many cases they were being unfairly treated by the law and in the media. A couple of people in the session took the open mic during Q&A time and berated him ad nauseum for being too sympathetic to these groups “who don’t deserve any rights or any sympathy” was the way I think it was phrased. Several in the audience eventually got tired of it, and started hooting for the guy to sit down and shut up and let the presenter take more questions. It got pretty testy!

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    The teaser that dangled the idea Bill was going to have Barb bless the sacrament turns out to have been a fake out; he asked Ben to do it (using of course the same prayer we’re familiar with).

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 26 that would be Ken Driggs. His stuff is good.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    This was a Christmas episode, and for the outro music they’ve got the MTC signing Angels We Have Heard on High.

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    Bill got hurt and is hallucinating. He walks into a hotel ballroom, and there he visits with Emma Smith (dressed in contemporary, not historic, clothing and style). Emma tells him in effect Joseph didn’t practice polygamy; she seems to still be trying to convince herself.

    Now Bill is trying to be seated in the senate, and says that all good Mormons believe polygamy will come back, and he’s just here a little early. He succeeds in getting sworn in.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    So I’m watching the new episode, and Barb is really going big time with her belief that she holds the priesthood. She told Bill, and he was upset, saying Joseph Smith didn’t set it up that way, it requires the laying on of hands. So this women and priesthood issue is flaring up.

    Barb went to a bar event for the interns on the Hill, and they were asking UoU trivia. She knew all the answers since she had gone there in her youth

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Three LDS Public Affairs people have invited Bill to their office in the COB. They’re asking him to stop using the word “Mormon.” He of course is offended. It turns out they pulled the strings allowing the agreement letting him serve, with an implicit threat to pull the plug.

    They’ve spent a 100 years separating their brand from you polygamists.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Bill refused to take the deal offered by the Church.

    Bill just brought Barb back to the bench by the temple where he first proposed to her.

    (I’m only mentioning the stuff that relates to the mainstream church.) The episode ends.

    Next week’s teaser, Barb refuses to take the sacrament.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m watching the second to last episode right now. Barb is investigating the Reform Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because they allow women to have the priesthood. Bill is very upset because they explicitly reject polygamy. Since the show has used variant names for real organizations, I’m guessing that this is the Community of Christ.

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    The series finale has just started. Barb is counseling with a female priesthood holder of the church she wants to join, which I believe to be a stand-in for the CoC.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    Barb just told Bill she’s going to be baptized into the Reformed Church (= CoC) this Sunday (which on the show is going to be Easter). Bill is not happy!

    Bill is at risk for going to prison. Barb says that while he’s gone, she’ll need support. But the Reformed Church rejects polygamy, and so he sees it as a rejection of him. He built his church for her when she was excommunicated, and it kills him now that she can’t find a home in it.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    The last day of the State session Bill introduced an amendment to his Juniper Creek bill to propose the legalization of polygamy. There was a firestorm in the chamber, and Bill was talking about how for 50 years the Mormon Church defended the principle, how its women were progressive and received the vote before most of the country. There are now articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, and a big debate in the state.

    Bill just drove up to his church, and there are hundreds of polygamists waiting there. When he walks up they all applaud him.

    Barb is about to be baptized by a woman in a font with oxen around it like a temple batismal font. The woman utters the same prayer we use, but before she can dip her Barb decides she can’t go through with it. She is sorry and runs out in her wet, white dress.

    Now Bill is leading a service filled with polygamists. He explains that in his church no one holds the keys, they’re just waiting for a true prophet, and until then they’ll just do the best they can.

    As Bill is talking he looks out over the audience and sees those who had gone before and sacrificed for the principle, including his own mother as a young woman.

  38. Kevin Barney says:


    Bill had resodded his neighbor’s lawn (since it had been destroyed by the press, and Bill had promised to do it). His neighbor was under all sorts of stress, took it as Bill dissing him for not being a capable husband and breadwinner (he’s been unemployed for a long time now), and shot him in the street.

    The wives come running out, and as Bill lay their dying, he asked Barb to give him a blessing, which she does by the MP, blessing him with comfort and similar words typical in such a blessing. But it becomes clear a little later that he died.

    11 months later, and Amanda Seyfried is back; she just had the first grandchild, named for her dad. Ben is obviously dating the Tina Magarino character; it’s unclear but they might have just gotten married. Barb gave Amanda’s baby his name in a blessing at church; presumably the one Bill started.

    Marge is about to leave for her second mission trip to Central America. Before she leaves they all embrace, and you can see Bill’s spirit watching and smiling. The camera pans out to the original opening credits song that begins “I may not always love you…”


  39. Kevin Barney says:

    The final scene was quite touching. I liked the way they wrapped up the series. At they have a nice after the finale featurette.

  40. I heard that Big Love’s creators will be on NPR’s Fresh Air tomorrow to talk about the show. Might be interesting.

  41. #28, yes it was Ken Driggs presenting at that Sunstone Symposium, and it was something else. He handled the heckling really well. Michael Quinn got up and said something fairly profound to the effect that the only possible reason that FLDS were being rounded up was continued public outrage over polygamy.

  42. Loved the finale, sad the show is now over. Big Love is the best pop representation of Mormon eternal families I have ever seen. Dare I say that I “felt the Spirit” during the final scene? :)

    Barb is the real hero of the show. I am very glad that she found her calling. The symbolism of Bill as Joseph Smith and Barb as his rightful successor (with Emma’s approval) was great.

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