Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Big Love

Suzy and I have been renting DVDs of the HBO television series Big Love. We're now into Season 3. The series stars Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson, a polygamist married to three women. Henrickson is a "reformed" former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and runs a home improvement warehouse business near Salt Lake City. His three wives are (l to r) Nicki, Margene, and Barb. The family is portrayed as inactive Mormons, disaffected with (and rejected by) both the ultra-weird FLDS sect as well as the local mainstream LDS church.

The acting is generally quite good. There is constant drama within the Henrickson household, as well as between the Henricksons and various members of the FLDS cult who live in nearby Juniper Creek. And the neighborhood Mormons are constantly trying to woo the Henricksons back into the LDS fold. In the episode Suzy and I just watched, Bill and his wives are "dating" a potential fourth wife named Ana. We'll see where that leads.

It all makes for a fascinating albeit disturbing expose of both Mormon beliefs and those of its radical FLDS off-shoot.

Coincidentally, I was reading Escape by Carolyn Jessop when we got interested in Big Love. Escape is Jessop's true account of her years in the FLDS and as wife of polygamist Merril Jessop, now the sect's de facto leader. As the title of her book indicates, Carolyn Jessop escaped the tight grip of the cult and her abusive husband a few years ago and started a new life with her eight children.

In Big Love, the Henricksons do not look like their troubled, legalistic counterparts in Juniper Creek. They come off as decent, hard-working, moral people who love their country and love each other. However, under the veneer they are constantly deceiving each other, trying to get their own way, and refusing to deal with the honest questions and struggles of their children. Bill Henrickson is just as chauvinistic, authoritarian, and manipulative as the husbands in the FLDS, he just wears a coat and tie.

The show's writers do a good job of revealing the characters' nagging doubts about the ethics of polygamy. It's like Bill and his three wives must constantly tell themselves, "Polygamy is OK...right?" Methinks they do protest too much their own morality. What is especially telling is the unhappy, promiscuous lifestyles of the Henricksons' teenage children. Of course, that doesn't surprise me. The parents are rarely shown having a meaningful, lengthy dialogue with any of their kids.

If you've forgotten how wonderful is the gospel of grace, or how beautiful is the Biblical pattern of marriage, watch Big Love.

(Disclaimer: If Big Love were a movie, it would be rated R for some sexual dialogue and nudity.)

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