Friday, March 31, 2006

god only knows what i'd be without you

I tend not to be an early adopter of television shows. Living in the Netherlands means new shows on channels like HBO or Showtime have a chance of coming here only if they do really well, like Sex in the City. I didn't find out about one of this year's best new shows, Prison Break, until last month.

So it was no surprise that I was a few weeks before I saw an episode of Big Love, HBO's new polygamy show. I have heard it hasn't the best of ratings, especially compared to the powerhouse Sopranos, but I heard the same thing, which kept me away from the Sopranos until Livia died and everyone was talking about it. Well I have to say, the subtle comparison of polygamy and homosexuality with the implicit question of which is really worse for individuals, is really well-done. In forum comments with real-life polygamists on TV w/o Pity, I noticed the balanced dramatic view tended to be disregarded by them because the authors are gay. Of course, the completely respectful and honest portrayal of not only polygamy within the context of Intermountain Mormon Fundamentalists but also how this differs from what most of the members of the CoJC&LDS believe, is a product of how gay lifestyles can be wildly misperceived.

Here is an authentically American lifestyle, one which seems incredibly persistent and has some pretty horrible consequences, all of which the series deals with: child marriages, exploitation of women and children including all variety of abuse justified by church doctrine, blood atonement for perceived sins against the community, and most horribly, the 'lost boys' abandoned on the streets of Salt Lake City without a cent or a skill after reaching an age where they might be thought of as competition by their vicious elders.

All of this is reflected in the show, from the detailed characterization to the sterling cast, each one bait for the Emmys from Bill Paxton's beleaguered Bill Hendrikson and his three wives (mother hen Barb, insecure Nikki, and immature Margene) to a supporting cast featuring everyone from the girl in the Ring as a child bride to Grace Zabriskie from Twin Peaks as Bill's mom. And the icing on the cake: Harry Dean Stanton as the hillbilly emperor. But a major character in the series is the state of Utah. Lots of purple mountains majesty, red rocks, mentions of the recent Olympics, and Utahn culture, like the Jello obsession, the creative epithets, and similiarly inventive first names.

I write this mostly because I cant get the title sequence out of my head: here is gorgeous, stylized encapsulation of Bill's life, as he sees it. We open on the Wasatch valley, as a shaft of light falls on Bill's face from the heavens. He is standing on skates upon a frozen Salt Lake in the middle of the desert, as Jeanne Tripplehorn skates over to take his hand, next he dips Chloe Sevigny as she gazes lovingly in his eyes, and then Ginnfer Goodwin pirouettes into his arms. Then, as they all skate together, a crack in the ice appears and split them apart. Next, we are in a room of following curtains, where Bill drifts, just missing his wives, until at last, they one by one meet him. Finally, we pan out from a candle flame, as we see the four of them saying a prayer before breaking bread, as they sit alone on a planet in the cosmic reaches of space.

I was baffled when I first saw it, then I read about the concept of pre-mortal, mortal and post-mortal existence and how plural marriages or polygamy is also considered 'celestial marriage' needed to enter the highest reaches of heaven. All the while, The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows' plays.

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