It's clear-the-decks time on Big Love as the show prepares to end its five-year run next week. Under the fitting title of "Exorcism," Bill and the wives try to lay a lot of demons to rest -- with varying degrees of success.
Whether we've really seen the last of certain key plotlines and characters remains to be seen in the series finale. But this episode did what it needed to do by leaving the last show wide open to deal with what really matters: the future of the Henrickson clan.
Tearing Down the Fences
Following last week's near-murder of Nicki, Alby is on the run. Bill takes advantage of Alby's fugitive status and brings in construction equipment to knock down the fences that separate the UEB compound from the rest of the world.
Ending the Grants' reign of terror is part of Bill's attempt to wrap up loose ends as prison looms. Barb, too, wants the wives to prepare, though Margene remains in a state of denial. Worse, Nicki accuses Barb of being glad that Bill will be gone, so she can become the family's priesthood holder.
Barb, aghast, tells Nicki she's found another way to follow her new spiritual path; she's joined a new church. When Nicki narcs on Barb, Bill confronts his first wife. She explains she's joined the Reformed Church of Latter-Day Saints. It's similar to the standard LDS, but allows women to be priesthood holders. Bill is more concerned that the church doesn't believe in the Principal, but Barb doesn't budge. Yet another obstacle stands in the way of their relationship.
Boarding School Badness
Nicki checks out an all-girls' boarding school that's loosely affiliated with the LDS Church as a solution to the Cara Lynn-Greg problem.
As Nicki talks with the headmistress, we see uniformed students who appear to be a cross between Stepford Wives and zombies walk in single file down the hall. Our worst fears are confirmed as Headmistress Ratched says that Cara Lynn will be closely watched, have to do manual labor (which Nicki actually likes) and won't be able to see her family for at least a month after arriving. Whatever you think of Cara Lynn and her teacher, this can't be good.
Adaleen helps Alby make a run for the border to join up with Selma Greene at her Mexican compound. Because Alby is still a coward, he tells his mother that she needs to kill Bill. Only she can get close enough to him, he says.
Meanwhile, Frank takes Lois away from her nursing home and brings her back to the compound. (He wants to strip copper piping from the now-abandoned Big House.) She is lucid enough to know that she's having fewer and fewer good days. With no one to watch over her, will Frank harm her?
Undeserving of Love
In one of the most wrenching sequences in Big Love history -- played out over several scenes -- Nicki tries to break Cara Lynn's spirit. She first tells her daughter the school now knows about her affair with Greg, and they're through as a couple. In fact, he was glad to be done with her. (As viewers, we have no reason to believe that's true, but who knows?)
Worse, Nicki tells Cara Lynn that she's a liar and a manipulator who doesn't deserve love. It's obvious that Nicki's working out her own issues by laying them on Cara Lynn.
The next day, the Headmistress from Hell arrives to take Cara Lynn to Arkham Asylum -- I mean, the boarding school. Cara Lynn runs for help from the others. Bill finally learns about Cara and Greg; though he's angry, he protects his adopted daughter. Moreover, he's absolutely furious to find out that Nicki equates the student/teacher affair with his love for Margene. He tells Nicki he'll never forget that she feels that way.
A completely broken Cara Lynn is safe for now, but she has begun to believe her mother that she's worthless and undeserving of love. Nicki, appalled by what she's done, is overcome with guilt for being a rotten mother. Despite his earlier anger, Bill tries to comfort Nicki as the other wives look on.
Kudos to the amazing Chloe Sevigny, who can make us whiplash from hating Nicki for berating her daughter so cruelly to feeling sympathy for having to live with her own damaged psyche.
When Bill and Barb road trip to the compound looking for Lois, they stop for gas at the convenience store. The store isn't as abandoned as it first seems -- Alby and Adaleen walk in, gathering supplies for their south-of-border getaway. When Bill follows Alby out the back, Adaleen pulls a gun on Barb. A shot rings out, and Bill runs inside to find Barb holding the gun on Nicki's mother. Barb is bleeding -- but only because Adaleen bit her. Unfortunately, Bill's distraction allows Alby to get away.
With Alby a fugitive once again, Bill feels that they're probably free of him. (Even Lois turns up at the nursing home; Frank brought her back safely.) Bill heads to the Senate late at night to prepare for upcoming hearings. The reconciled wives show up with take-out food.
Things can't be that simple, of course. Margene goes off to the ladies' room, and we hear another gunshot. This time, it's actually Alby holding the gun himself (we presume that he's shot the sweet night watchman). Bill, who's packing a weapon -- apparently most Utah politicians do -- steps into the darkened hallway.
Margene comes out of the restroom, and Alby turns and fires at her. As she calls out, "I'm OK!" Bill shoots and wounds Alby. Henrickson stands over his murderous brother-in-law, holding his gun on him.
Even though Nicki whispers, "Please do it," Bill lowers his weapon and says, "It's over."
One More to Go
But we know it's not over. Alby may be off to jail, but there's real drama ahead. Will Bill be following his brother-in-law to prison? Will Nicki, Margene, and -- especially -- Barb stand by their man? Will faith pull them apart or keep them together?
To prepare for next week's finale, you might want to check out the special "End of Days" five-season recap running all week on HBO. Even if you remember every plot -- from gripping to grueling -- this is a good chance to relive the best moments from the best show ever about one man and his three wives against the world.
(Image courtesy of HBO)