For some reason, although I relish HBO's "Big Love" on an episode-by-episode level, it's a show that rarely adds up for me cumulatively. I often find myself forgetting the running plotlines from week to week and the overall events from the season often slip in and out of my head. I can't be sure if this is a mental problem on my part or if there's something unusual about the way series creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer are telling stories.

With that in mind, the third season of "Big Love" was probably the show's strongest to date. Sunday (March 22) night's finale, after only 10 episodes, wasn't on the same level as "Prom Queen" or "On Trial," or "Come, Ye Saints," but it left plenty to think about.

[Those thoughts -- feel free to chime in -- after the break...]

"Big Love" has always been a show about assimilation, about an unorthodox family trying to find its place in the community at large, wedged between the general Mormon church, a faith that's already unorthodox for much of America, and The Compound, an extreme offshoot of the Mormon faith. In general, the resolution of "Big Love" has usually been that salvation for the Henricksons was in their family unit, however dysfunctional, rather than in any sort of organized church. They kept clinging to one organized sect or another, even without being a part of anything, but their three adjoining lots were really what held everything together.

Sunday's finale pushed that idea to the extreme. Titled "Sacrament," it concluded with Bill Paxton's Bill throwing down the gauntlet.

"We've lived as exiles from a church that rejects us and from an abusive splinter group we cannot abide," Bill said, underlining three seasons of plot. "This night, I claim for us the seeds of our own community, and the authority to administer to it. I claim the keys. This night, from this moment on, we are a new church, born of necessity and born anew into God's kingdom." 

The episode ended with viewers having to decide for themselves whether what Bill did was a pure and spiritual thing, or whether it was an isolating act and a piece of blasphemy every bit as bad as Roman Grant or Hollis Greene's declarations of prophet-dom. 

When Barb cried to Margene, "Things have got to change around here or I'll lose my mind. Things are just too painful for everyone," was this the change she had in mind?

The LDS church exiled Barb in last Sunday's episode and this Sunday, Bill lost faith with the inevitable knowledge that the letter he hoped would validate The Principle and polygamy within the Church was revealed to be fake. That letter could have instantly mainstreamed the Henrickson clan, which is why we all knew that it was never ever going to be made public. What would the fun have been in that? By the end of the finale, Bill was using the Church as another tool in his isolation, cutting BYU in on his casino project as a means to cut his brother-in-law out. Turning the LDS church into a low-bid contractor showed Bill's disconnection with the institution from which he'd previously desired recognition. 

Instead, he decided to form his own church in his backyard, a move paralleled by the apparent death of Roman Grant back on the compound. Although  Alby spent much of the episode plotting various ways to kill his father -- ending up with a bomb-shredded face and a mangled cleaning lady instead -- it was Joey who actually did the deed, in retribution for the death of Kathy Marquart. 

Did Roman know the end was coming when he pulled Bill aside and have him a "I know it was you, Fredo" kiss on the lips?

"I've been kissed by heavenly father and that's as close as you'll ever get," Roman told his son-in-law. Was he actually conveying the heavenly father's blessing? Did Bill take the kiss as empowering? As a passing of the torch?

Bill spent the season trying to be made whole by his casino venture, but was he actually set free by the messianic gesture at the end of the episode?

Nikki was made whole by acknowledging the daughter we never knew she had. Barb was made whole by making peace with Nikki. Margene was made whole by discovering that she actually has value (as a retailer of Indian jewelry) outside of her spousal duties. Sarah was made whole by deciding that more than a baby or a college education or friends, she needs a husband (that can't possibly be a good idea). 

I'm not sure where that puts "Big Love" heading into Season Four. This latest season de-emphasized Bill and probably benefitted from that choice. Is next season about Bill's transformation into Roman? Is he going to be a better Roman or a worse Roman than the departed patriarch? What will happen to Joey? Will Adaleen go on the warpath to avenge The Prophet's death? Will Zeljko Ivanek's recently introduced character take kindly to having his daughter (Nikki's daughter) stolen on the eve of her induction into the Joy Book? Wither Rhonda? Wither Frank? 

Anyway, I just wanted to jot out some quick thoughts... What'd you think?

 

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