R.I.P., Bill Henrickson

MikeInWeHo is a longtime friend of BCC. He returns to bring us the latest from Gomorrah Hollywood.

The HBO series Big Love come to a shocking end last Sunday evening after five seasons of polygamy, Utah culture, ridiculous drama, and plenty of ersatz Mormonism to boot. Bloggernacle-types snapped to attention when the series premiered in 2006, but by and large Mormons ignored the whole spectacle. Controversy peaked in Season 3, when the “Outer Darkness” episode recreated some of the most sacred moments of the temple ceremony.

It was all downhill from there. To retain an overwhelmingly non-LDS audience, the producers had to ratchet up the drama with each successive season. While it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely when the series jumped the shark, I began to roll my eyes around the time polygamist leader Roman Grant was murdered and kept in the compound freezer for several episodes.

For those with an appreciation of the absurd, the series remained entertaining. As a fan of actress Mary Kay Place, I especially enjoyed her long-suffering character Adaleen Grant. This unfortunate woman is left impregnated at 60 due to a eugenics scheme that emerged on the polygamist compound.

Yes, it really got that stupid. Melrose Place had nothing on these people. As the series came to a close , there were many story lines to resolve. The final episode raced through them all, culminating in the unexpected shooting of Bill Henrickson by a disgruntled neighbor in front of the family home. The last 15 minutes were gripping. As the patriarch lies dying in the street, his three wives gather round.

In the last season one of the myriad subplots involved whether or not women should hold the priesthood. Here too, all is resolved in the end. As Bill lays dying, he reaches out to Barb and beseeches “I need a blessing. I need a blessing, from you. Please.” As the three wives lay hands on him, Barbara proceeds “By the power of the Melchizedek priesthood, I give you this blessing of comfort. Your family has faith in you and loves you. We will always be together. Your family will be with you….” Fade to black, and wipe away a tear.

The story jumps ahead eleven months and all is well with the Henrickson family. The three wives are stronger than ever. Barb says “We’re strong. We’ve been forged. We endure.” It appears they now all attend the same church and Barb has emerged as the priesthood leader of the family. As the three wives tearfully embrace, we see that the out-of-focus, disembodied Bill Henrickson sits at the head of the table watching approvingly.

Big Loves ends with a powerful testimony of the importance family above all. As we’ve discussed here before, in this series “family” means something quite different than what the Church currently validates. Whether this is good or bad depends entirely on one’s perspective.


  1. I cannot believe you would watch something so trashy. Whether or not it had a focus on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just watching the ads any sane person could see it was a farcical debarcle.

  2. I agree with Wifish! Furthermore, I cannot believe anyone would comment on articles about something so trashy! Oh, wait…

  3. I thought it was trashy, too. I watched the last three seasons anyway. They hooked me with the Temple episode. Anyway, the ending made perfect sense if you consider both the Rulon Allred slaying and random murders for no good reason (crazy neighbor).

  4. The series was only good when it focused on the family, which is why the last episode was better than most of the previous two seasons. It showed the family surviving without the patriarch even though it had seemed they all relied on him to define themselves.

    I didn’t think it was any more trashy than the dramas you would see anywhere else like Grey’s Anatomy or Brothers and Sisters.

  5. Very funny Cynthia :) Three seasons Sherri, what a waste of time. And no, none of it makes sense because that’s what it is… non-sense!

  6. farcical debarcles ftw.

  7. You go, Wifish! Tell that Sherri Time-Waster!

  8. Thanks Scott:)

  9. Ahem, back to the original post. I vowed to stop watching after the temple episode, and I did stick to my personal boycott. I really missed the characters, who seemed realer than real to me, but it sounds like maybe I spared myself having to watch them devolve into really strange shark jumping. I appreciate these updates about how it all turned out in the end. Thanks, Mike.

  10. StillConfused says:

    I never watched it because I have a hard enough time keeping all of the characters straight in a monogamous family. Throw in a few extra wives and that is just too much for me to try to remember.

  11. I loved this show- but didn’t see after season 3. I liked the sympathetic way the polygamous Hendrickson’s were portrayed, and the Mormonism was fairly handled fairly often.

  12. As John Bytheway once said…. Satan will offer nine truths if he can get in one lie (not a direct quote)

  13. disembodied? having just watched harry potter it makes it sound like just his head was there…though I’m assuming it’s his spirit.

    Why could she just heal him without the priesthood? or not as he’s disembodied, so …

    I love all jumping shark references

  14. If I understand Wifish correctly, and I think I do, he is planning on commenting nine times.

  15. No… 5 will do. Ciao

  16. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 13
    She doesn’t really try to heal him. She gives him a priesthood blessing of comfort as he lay dying in all their arms. We then see him 11 months later as a personage of spirit, watching over the family. That’s the final scene.

  17. ahh…I’ve never seen the show. thanks for the clarification

  18. To be honest, wifish, those are pretty good odds.

  19. Mark Brown says:

    Wifish (12),

    I testify that John Bytheway is true.

    I’ve watched the show off and on and couldn’t ever claim to be a fan, but I’m a bit surprised by the responses from Cynthia and Tracy. I always felt that the writers didn’t really “get” Mormonism, either the LDS kind or the fundamentalist variety. It always seemed like they were using stock characters.

  20. MikeInWeHo says:

    Me too, Mark. Lots of caricatures, albeit some amusing ones. Always wondered if they had any Mormon (or former Mormon) consultants helping the writers. I should have volunteered for that job myself. If I had any input, Barb would have wound up a permablogger at FMH.

  21. 20 We invited her. She turned us down- said there was too much drama- whatever THAT means…

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    The last ten minutes were outstanding. Great way to wrap up the series, I thought. I didn’t see it coming at all.

  23. We watched every episode if the whole series, and quite enjoyed it, although I agree the last seasons got a bit nutty and the first seasons were probably better.

    I appreciated the ending, especially Margene’s budding independance and the strength of the women’s relationships and older children feeling able to come back home after Bill passed.
    Through most of the series it seemed like he was the center of everything, like his wild ambitions drove everything they did. But with his passing, they were all better off – better for having had him in their lives but even better now that he was gone.

  24. I thought, for a mainstream show, they did a better job than is usually portrayed. The Hendricksons were very sympathetic- at least the first few season, and their sincerity was apparent. Sure, some of the characters were characatures- but overall, I think it wasn’t bad.

  25. For those that stopped watching in season three, you didn’t miss much. It really went a little crazy and over-the-top in some episodes. The series was best when it focused on the family, and the past couple of seasons drifted away from that. This final season did a little better in coming back to the family unit though, I thought it was much better then the past two years.

    Mike, I agree with you that it jumped the shark a while back, but did you find this season any better, or am I imagining things?

  26. And even though the Mormon characters were mostly caricatures, I could find people in my ward like almost every one of them.

  27. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 25
    To me it felt kind of chaotic the last season, like they were throwing in everything but the Mormon kitchen sink: WoW issues, women-and-the-priesthood, multi-level marketing schemes; even the Community of Christ (albeit called the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) made an appearance. So no, I wouldn’t say the last season was better. Definitely time to wrap it up.

  28. “When the shark bites…”

  29. Mike, I think Dustin Lance Black is a writer for Big Love, isn’t he?

  30. Mike, I stayed up until 3 a.m. last night finishing up the last season. Thank goodness! No spoiler alerts from you apparently! :)

    It was much better in the first seasons, but I did enjoy the way it ended. Barb was always the most fascinating character, and Jeanne Tripplehorn is a phenomenal actress. I love the way they ended it with her. I also like that they ended with Heather joining the family. She was always one of my favorite characters, and the one you could actually point to and say that the writers were at least trying to paint mainstream mormons fairly.

  31. Aaron Brown says:

    I thought it was understood that until I’ve finished the last season, NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO POST SPOILERS!!! THANKS A LOT, MIKE!!!

  32. #21 – Niblet worthy, cwc.

  33. Barb-as-prophet made me very happy indeed. Loved this show, soap opera-ishness aside.

  34. Loved the series (while simultaneously rolling my eyes at some of crazier moments) and shed more than a tear or two at the image of the wives laying hands on their dying husband. Really a beautiful ending to a fun and thought-provoking show.

  35. I didn’t think The writing of Barb’s character had anything to do with portraying mainstream Mormons fairly: she wasn’t a mainstream Mormon!

    I thoroughly enjoyed the show. One of my former visiting teachers married a polygamist, and I’ve never heard from her again. This series gave me the chance to fantasize about what her life might be like.

  36. Nick Literski says:

    I’m going to miss the show, even with its flaws (like the crucifix on the Henricksons’ wall in the first season!). The final season really did seem chaotic, with every episode throwing some “insurmountable” problem on top of the family’s already heavy plate. It seemed almost inevitable that the season would end with Bill being murdered, with the only question being who would do the deed. That said, I was amazed that Bill fell victim to his neighbor, a “regular joe” who was pushed over the brink by his own failure to meet LDS ideals for family life and patriarchy.

    I thought it was sad to see Bill cut down, just when he seemed to have received his “birthright” mantle to prophetic leadership. Just after the church meeting though, he sat smiling by the pool, writing what looked like many pages on a yellow legal pad. In that scene, I wondered if he was actually writing a revelation to grant women the priesthood in his church, following his visionary experience? That wasn’t answered, but it would have opened the way for Barb’s ascendancy.

    Finally, I appreciated the character of Alby Grant in the final season. Despite all that he was, we had a chance to see what he could have been, if he’d been allowed to be himself—as well as the tragic results that follow all too often when LDS men are not allowed to be themselves.

  37. Funny how it’s the people who DON’T watch who are sure it is trash. I guess the church leaders did respond to Big Love, so it’s probably good to not watch it. Oh wait, they haven’t watched it either?

    Should we leave the bad, stereotypical mormon caricatures up to the mormon filmmakers? Because Big Love is definitely better than just about anything made by an LDS artist, with the exception of maybe Richard Dutcher.

  38. (37) Michael wrote: “Should we leave the bad, stereotypical mormon caricatures up to the mormon filmmakers? Because Big Love is definitely better than just about anything made by an LDS artist, with the exception of maybe Richard Dutcher.”

    Absolutely agree with that. They really weren’t that over the top. And they showed a wide variety of Mormons: Heather, Barb’s Mom, Pam… these are people we’d find in our own wards.

  39. There were some inappropriate scenes in this show, no doubt, but those who haven’t watched it missed out on the opportunity to see how polygamy *could* be lived in a GOOD way. People like Warren Jeffs have destroyed the image of polygamy – this show, in many ways, actually sought to restory the image of polygamy as something good.

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