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HBO 'Big Love' Finale Review: Don't Click Here Unless You Want to Discuss Details
March 21, 2011  | By David Bianculli

HBO's Big Love ended Sunday night, with an expanded episode that is repeated Monday at 10 ET on HBO2. If you've already seen it, read on past the jump. If not, and don't want the details revealed and discussed, stop right here, and come back to this column once you've done your homework.

But once again, for the record, the newsman in me resents having to wait for the slowpokes. If a show's finale means that much to you, watch it live...

HBO's most famous dramatic series, The Sopranos, ended, inventively and infamously, with the opposite of closure -- by just cutting to black and stopping in mid-scene. Six Feet Under, by contrast, took its death-and-afterlife themes seriously by providing a final postscript that traveled years and decades into the future, showing us the fates, and deaths, of every major character.

Big Love, which ended its five-year run Sunday, went out more like the latter than the former. After an unexpected climax, the final episode propelled its plot 11 months into the future, to give viewers a peek of life after death -- specifically, the death of its central protagonist.

And here, after this one final warning, come the specifics...

Series creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer wrote the finale, and their obvious aim was to defy expectations. To wit:


-- After setting up one deadly adversary after another to confront Bill Paxton's Bill Henrickson, the finale had him shot and killed -- but by a randomly reintroduced and suddenly unhinged neighbor. Bill was shot outside his home, and his three wives ran out to hover over him angelically, and even instill a blessing, as he died.

-- After spending the entire season pulling Bill and his three wives apart, the finale had them banding together. And, after Bill's death, not only carrying on without their polygamist patriarch, but reuniting the extended family, carrying on Bill's church (with his eldest widow, Jeanne Tripplehorn's Barb, now in the pulpit), and returning the next generation to the family fold.


-- The postscript, with its "11 months later" identifier, made room for the return of Bill's daughter, Sarah (played by Amanda Seyfried, now of the movie Red Riding Hood) and her husband (Aaron Paul, now of AMC's Breaking Bad), back to have their baby boy named after his grandfather. Bill's son also has found happiness, winning the heart of the young woman who had been wary of his family history, and Bill's three wives, on their own, were supporting one another lovingly.

There was only one blot on the otherwise happy ending. As Bill's youngest wife, Jinnifer Goodwin's Margene, tells her sister wives, "It breaks my heart that he wasn't here to see this day." The communal widows embrace by the family dinner table, and the camera pans around them. Out of focus in the background, sitting at his usual place at the head of the table, is Bill, at least in spirit form -- witness to it all, as are we.

Here's a freeze-frame of that image:


It might have been a bit too pat, but certainly, it was an ending that affirmed belief in both faith and family, which not many suspected as the agenda of Big Love when it premiered.

And finally, one last point.

Inarguably, Bill's death gave new resonance to the lyrics of "God Only Knows," the show's Brian Wilson-penned theme song. Heard for one final time, it seemed to be coming from a much more ethereal perspective.

So what do YOU think about the way Big Love ended? Emotional conclusion, satisfying wrap-up, or clunky cop-out?



Helen A said:

I wanted him to take control of Juniper Creek and lead them into the modern age. It was good to see Ben finally end up with the right girl.

Comment posted on March 21, 2011 7:16 PM

R. Orr said:

Ever since Bill gave handguns to his wives in the Christmas episode...I knew someone was going to be killed in the end. I just didn't know who. I couldn't imagine any of the wives being killed...but I think it would have been more dramatic in the end if it had been one of the wives. I just didn't feel anything for Bill's death. It seemed random and anti-climatic for me.

I did appreciate this season on Big Love, though, and the focus on the relationships between the wives and Bill. I kinda will miss the wives. I enjoyed the women's characters a lot.

Thanks Dave!

[And thank YOU! Nice reaction. -- DB]

Comment posted on March 22, 2011 9:24 AM

Nancy said:

I find this so complicated.

I think it was a pretty "Hollywood" ending and after following the series all the way through, I am disappointed.

I felt the "martyring" of Bill was a nod to all the other murdered visionaries, but I am not sure he was of their caliber. The true protagonists of this series were the wives, and the fact that they go on to a good future is no surprise. Women have always had to be flexible, both in body and in mind.

I was curious about what would happen after Bill died but felt it was too pat. I also feel that there was no way to go but to have him die though it would have been very interesting to have him in prison, the wives trying to make ends meet financially, the whole family coping with how it feels to stand up for what you believe in a society that does not tolerate dissent well.

Also found it hard to believe that Bill would have wanted Barb's blessing as he lay dying when he so strongly opposed her having that right previously. I don't know that we change so drastically in such a moment or we cling to what we know that brought us comfort in the past. That he connect mostly with Barb seemed right.

[Terrific point about the blessing. Good for you! -- DB]

Comment posted on March 22, 2011 10:46 AM

Chris Hutton said:

I am so tired of directors using Francis Ford Coppola's usage of oranges to foreshadow death. Geez, they even had Bill Paxton do an imitation of Brando with the orange peel!

[Not a -peeling to you, huh? -- DB]

Comment posted on March 23, 2011 12:36 PM

Mark N said:

Dear David
My wife and I caught the last 6 episodes yesterday, on demand. This is not how I would prefer to watch but extenuating circumstances prevailed. My overall feelings were of satisfaction and a sense of release. We talked about the character arcs and how it was wonderful how little changed in Nikki....EVERYTHING was ALWAYS about her...as per her speech to her daughter that broke the Parent/Child walls down for them. But truly there was a lot of sudden changes in the last episode. Bruce Dern's Frank certainly got mellow really fast, as of course did Grace Zabriski's performance(Emmy worthy to me) as Lois is given her an entirely different turn with the VD revelation. I thought Mary Kay Place's Adaleen was ill-used and left hanging and I must say that Alby was no Roman. Finally I too must agree that Bill's request for the blessing felt wrong. Was it a simple scripted ploy with rebinding Barb and Bill in its drifting spirit soft focus or was there more there that I am missing And finally I did feel the release and sense of future in the 11 month's later sequence. I thought that the show paid off. Overall, another winner for HBO along the lines of OZ, The Wire and my personal favorite Deadwood. As always, thanks David for this forum.

[And thanks for using it, Mark. By the way -- I'm STILL upset we never GOT a finale for Deadwood. Sigh. -- DB]

Comment posted on March 23, 2011 12:45 PM

Greg Kibitz said:

I hated that they decided to end it. As much as I loath Faith, Relgion, Ignorance and Backwardness (esp. the extra crazies like Mormons), I still loved this series. I liked that they showed the crazies in all their craziness. I liked that week after week they got exactly what they had coming to them due to their ill informed philosopy of pure fantasy, a sh-tstorm brought on by their own ignant and backward ways. And yet they were still so normal, as in no more or less nuts than everyone else. It's a world filled with nut cases and many of them find their way into higher office (and that is the real world, not just fiction). Go figure!

Anyway, let's just say it was an infinitely better ending than Lost's. At least this series was upfront about it deeply religious faith based undertones, rather than just shoving them down our throats in the final episode! (The real Lost ending so should have been about real time machines, quantum mechanics & space-time paradoxes rather than the cop out that was but a conflicted and confused doctor's dying final imaginings. Trans. - Utter BS).

I wish the Big Love guys had left the ending more open ended (but not as much as the Sopranos - that was a bit TOO open ended). I really would have liked to at least have some hope for some future version of this series where they just pick up where they left off, maybe even expanding it beyond Utah and the South West and on to a more National scene. IMO, the really good stuff, with State legislation and trials and maybe Jail still pending, and more crazies in Mexico and elswhere could be mined for years and years to come with no loss of impact.

Just look how much the Producers of The Wire did with their so seemingly limited subject matter and just imagine Civil Rights battles on US Capitol Hill, in the Supreme Court and even tying it all to modern Presidential Politics (esp. with an actual magic underwear wearing Mormon currently so high on the right wing's list of possible maybes, or is that crazies).

Comment posted on March 24, 2011 4:08 AM

ash said:

The request for a final blessing gave me pause. But reflecting back on all that happened in this finale episode, it did seem fitting and believable.
I think if Bill's son were there, he would have asked for his blessing. And because he was devout, he would really want that blessing at the end, and turning to Barb gave recognition on his part that he realized that the had made the decision to return to his church in foregoing the baptism to support him and his church. Actually, in that light, it seemed most in character. He always strived to be open-minded.

Comment posted on March 24, 2011 1:07 PM

Jim Frank said:

The dance of the previous seasons disintegrates into the separation of hands grasping air. The center cannot hold.
It is appropriate that Bill is killed by a minor character for messing around with his lawn. Bill is a selfish, egotistical, self-centered, condescending, power-freak, and this killing by a very minor character shows how far Bill over-reaches. With his death there is a chance that balance may be restored and people can reclaim their own lives.
The only discordant note is the appearance of his ghost at the table eleven months later. An ambivalent ending?

Comment posted on March 24, 2011 1:44 PM

Carol A said:

I didn't find Bill's request for Barb's blessing all that jarring. While he might not have capitulated otherwise, he knew he was dying and had only moments left, and maybe a flawed or "unauthorized" blessing was better than none.

I would have liked to see how Kara Lynn was doing out in the future. Also would have liked to get an inkling about what happened to everyone from the compound, would a new crazy leader rise to the top? or would they start to take tentative steps out into the 21st Century?

Comment posted on March 25, 2011 7:30 AM

Seth said:

The ending rang hollow for me.

The show was always cynical about religion and patriarchy, especially in the last 3 seasons. And this whole season made it clear that Bill was the type of person who would go to his grave refusing to give any ground to Barb.

Based on interviews with the creators, it sounds like they were unaware of just how selfish they made Bill, and tried to rehabilitate the character.

Comment posted on March 25, 2011 10:50 AM
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