I'm Glad I'm Not Them.
HBO’s Big Love just concluded its third season while Showtime’s United States of Tara, created by Oscar winning writer Diablo Cody (the genius behind Juno), is wrapping up its first. When I watched these two dramas over the winter, one thought kept popping up in my mind, “I’m damned glad I’m not any of these women.” From the unsettling polygamist life, painful excommunication from a beloved church and the fear of a recurrence of cancer, to trying to have a normal life when one has three alternate personalities whose chaotic antics upend an entire family’s life, the women in these off-the-wall programs have more than their fair share of woes.
Take Big Love, the creepy polygamist drama set in Utah. The show’s central family, the Henricksons, began many years ago with the garden variety marriage of Bill and Barb Henrickson (Bill Paxton and Jeanne Tripplehorn). Bill -- born and raised on a poor, backwards polygamist compound named Juniper Creek whose leaders kicked him out when he was a teenager -- became a pillar of his suburban community and started a chain of Home Depot-like stores. Barb, raised in the mainstream Mormon church, never expected to find herself as one of a collection of wives. It was only when Barb became gravely ill and cancer treatment rendered her unable to bear any more children -- she already had three -- when her husband convinced her to start practicing polygamy seven years ago. She reluctantly gave the okay for the daughter of Juniper Creek’s “prophet,” Nicolette Grant (Chloe Sevigny), to become Bill’s second wife. Nicki was soon followed by the family babysitter Margene Heffman (Ginnifer Goodwin), 20+ years younger than Bill and Barb, moving in as wife number three.
The first two seasons of Big Love explored the relationship between the individual family members and how keeping their illegal lifestyle a secret was incredibly taxing, to the point where Bill wasn’t able to appear in public with the children by his other two wives without risking being outed. This past season, however focused on how the individual family members’ actions and secrets affected the Henrickson clan. Barb and Nicki’s stories were dreadfully dour and, even though they were supposed to have one another as “sister wives” to lean on, they felt very much alone. Barb, who’d just weathered a cancer scare, was devastated when she was excommunicated from the Mormon Church which had always grounded her and given her life meaning even though she stopped attending services after Nicki joined her marriage. Her teenaged daughter Sarah became pregnant, miscarried, announced she wouldn’t be attending college as planned and then said she was going to marry her twentysomething boyfriend.
Nicki, however, got the worst of it this season. A mother of two who was secretly taking birth control because she didn’t want any more babies (the Henricksons actually took her to a fertility doc to see why she hadn’t gotten pregnant in several years), Nicki was strong-armed into betraying the Henricksons and obstructing justice on her parents’ behalf, thwarting her father’s prosecution for forcing underaged girls to marry grizzled, lecherous compound men. During the course of this season, viewers learned that when she was 15, Nicki was compelled to marry an older man, gave birth to his daughter and then successfully convinced her father to nullify that marriage on the condition that she abandon her daughter. Nicki’s life unraveled in season three as she was briefly kicked out of the Henrickson complex of adjoining homes and threatened with prosecution for meddling in her father’s court case.