Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the series finale of HBO’s “Big Love” yet, stop reading here!
We come not to bury Bill Henrickson, but to praise him, or at least the wonderful HBO series, “Big Love,” in which he was the protagonist. I got HBO when my patients were asking what I thought of Dr. Melfi from “The Sopranos” and her therapeutic approach with sociopathic (duh!) mob boss Tony. And now I’ll be missing Bill, a Utah Mormon who lived in a “plural marriage” with his three wives and many children (I lost count). I wondered if the series finale would be a cheat like “Seinfeld,” a tongue-in-cheek ending like “Six Feet Under,” or a totally ambiguous one like “The Sopranos.” It proved to be a real ending, in which the often-likeable but deeply-flawed Bill is murdered by his neighbor. How could you not like someone played by Bill Paxton?
Love’s in need of love, or at least treatment
All of the main characters are earnest, some more likeably so than others, but all need treatment and marriage counseling in a big way (pun intended). There’s Barb, the lovely first wife, who wasn’t a fan of plural marriage, but accommodated her husband’s change in belief, thereby colluding in her own dissatisfaction, as any good masochist would.
Nikki is the second wife in the family and the traumatized daughter of a self-proclaimed polygamist “prophet” pedophile. She has a mean streak a mile wide, and is constantly taking offense, as though she’s on the receiving end of her jabs. I always wondered what Bill saw in her, but when we meet Lois, his mother, it all becomes clear. Nikki is just as mean and manipulative as Lois. As many people do without realizing it, Bill succeeds in replicating the craziness and lack of satisfaction he grew up with. People coming to treatment are fortunate, in that they can begin to understand this process and make more satisfying choices going forward in life.
Margene is the third wife, who lied to the other family members about her age, so she could marry Bill at age 16. She’s cute, and full of high spirits that attract Barb and Bill’s teenage son….
And the fun just kept coming, season after season, helped along by a wonderful ensemble cast, till Bill’s death. And now we’re left to wait for Gabriel Byrne to make us cringe at his Paul, the therapist/protagonist of “In Treatment,” whose sincerity and compassion are matched only by his arrogance: He’s a therapist who’s above being in therapy himself. Let’s hear it for complex characters we love and whom I’m compelled to watch. For my patients, of course!