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wallpaper-s5-bill-and-wives-1600I recently finished a full rewatch of HBO’s Big Love. I’d recommended it to my sister and so I watched a long with her, mostly for her reaction to the ending, which was totally worth it. I really love this show, especially what they did with the ending and the way it empowers 3 women in a very interesting way.

Spoilers for the entire show below.

I can never remember if I’ve actually seen this show from the pilot or if you really are just thrown into the action. Bill Henrickson is a self appointed Priest of his own church having returned to polygamy and being kicked out their LDS church and also have been kicked off the compound he grew up in, Juniper Creek, as a 16 year old boy. We don’t see a lot of the history and background that brings this family of 3 wives and 8 children together but can only glean it over the full four seasons. And that picture that we put together ourselves is a complex and complicated one. In many ways Bill is a good man, a well intentioned man. He was a “lost boy” – kicked out by his father at 16 and left to fend for himself in a world that he didn’t grow up in, with rules that he wasn’t schooled in. Presumably Bill (and his brother) was kicked out much like young male lions are from the pack by the dominant male – the threat to his power and virility. On Juniper Creek, women are possessions that can be traded for favours, the Prophet can reassign wives if it pleases him to reward and punish. It seems that most of those wives are not treated very well, most live in what looks like abject poverty, with little power, and the power they do have is through the hierarchy of their sister wives. Not only this but girls are placed in the Joy Book at 15 or 16 to be perused like shoes a catalogue and traded across borders and between other compounds. Not all women are of the age of consent when married off.

Bill is essentially a good man. But that doesn’t mean he’s without flaws or that he does not always do well even when with the best of intentions. He spend his life fighting for freedom for the women on the compound, by way of wanting more for his mother but also in pursuing through legal and governmental policy means, as well as developing a program, to assist women to leave abusive situations. And in trying to help prosecute paedophiles and the peddling of young women through the Joy Book.

As I watched the show this time round, I started to wonder if this show is feminist. Bill has 3 wives. He is the head of his house. He consults with the women and looks for family decisions *unless* they disagree with him. He often makes decisions on his own. Two of the four (one doesn’t work out) wives that he marries he sleeps with before marriage even though he is staunchly against sex before marriage. He absolutely cannot deal with Barb’s (his first wife) declaration that she holds the priesthood too – I loved that whole logic, she couldn’t possibly hold the priesthood because noone had laid hands on her and it was just impossible because its passed down from father to son. (That sounds more logical an argument, even if I disagree with it but in the show it was a lot more circular in that basically he was choosing not to allow her to feel it therefore she couldn’t feel it.). Only Bill’s testimonies from Gpd were real and funnily enough they always involved either him getting a new wife, setting up his own church, deciding to run for office – they always involved him getting more sex or power. I kinda decided in the end that even though he means well, he is a bit of an arsehole. A kinda well meaning arsehole, held back by his frame of reference but kinda sexist and self serving. Basically I found his biggest flaw to be hubris – he never ever took a moment to step back and look at his weaknesses as something to overcome. He never ever addressed ideas like, maybe if I continue to cheat on my wives, then have a testimony that I’m supposed to take a new wife, that maybe my current wives might feel – jealous, betrayed, angry, ignored etc. I feel like he really got in the end what was coming to him – in so many ways he really did try to resolve conflicts but he also conveniently ignored lots of ticking bombs and then was shocked when people reacted in human ways.

Really, I feel like the show is not about Bill at all but about his three wives and that’s what has always drawn me to this show. Bill takes his second wife – Nicky – when Barb is (I presume) sick with cancer. He had a testimony I guess, that he needed another wife to look after his first one but also to look after his kids should the first wife die. In this context, it’s kind of extreme that a woman who did not grow up in polygamy to accept this as the obvious solution but it *is* sort of understandable. If you squint. Barb follows Bill into polygamy I think firstly because she thought she was going to die (and her kids were little, you would want someone to love your kids the way you do so if you could groom that replacement? I dunno). But mainly she follows him because she loves him and accepts him as her head of house. What is interesting though, is how much of Barb’s character we see throughout the four season as a result of this. How much resentment, jealousy, anger and so on she swallows and how she makes the best of this situation.

Nicky is the least likeable woman you would ever want to share a family life with. She’s mean, jealous, spiteful and very prickly. She hates hugs. She will always point out the bad in the situation. She will always expect the worst and remind you of that when it happens. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to learn to love this woman as your sister wife. To share not just your husband but your house, your children, your life. Nicky grew up on Juniper Creek so for her polygamy is the natural way of things. Her jealousy is not about sharing Bill but in all kinds of other ways. We learn though that she was a child bride, her father, the Prophet, traded her via his Joy Book and married her to a man older than her. Bill must have rescued her from the situation of living on the compound – though he did not know of much of her personal history or that she had a child in that union, which must have happened well before she comes to care for Barb. (We learn her father relented and let her divorce her husband, as an indulgence … )

Margene is the third wife and the newest on the scene. She’s young and peppy and not a Morman. She was the babysitter – I guess Barb went back to work and Nicky needed help, this is never really explained much – and Bill had an affair with her. We learn in the final season that she was totally not of legal age when he married her. And so the whole story comes full circle. What’s so interesting about that is even though it’s Bill who is responsible, Barb and Nicky are implicated because they consented (though Nicky did vote No – Of course she did!) to the marriage. And Barb of course was in the house the whole time so she becomes an accessory to statutory rape. And the women feel just as betrayed by Margene as Bill is responsible for sleeping with a minor.

These women have strength of mind and commitment to the vision of their family, both now and in the afterlife where they believe their family will be reunited, to want to work on making it work. It’s so interesting to watch their relationships and they evolve and interact – they must absorb the waves that Bill is constantly making. They must make it work and they work to move past jealousy and pettiness to do so. They raise each other’s children as their own. They have their own politics that are outside of their relationships with Bill. Some favourite moments are when one wife kicks him out of her bed on their scheduled night and he wanders next door to another wife who sends him back to the first. That doesn’t always hold true – later on things do break down. But when Barb leaves Bill, briefly, I love that Nicky and Marge feel like she has left them too, they feel that they are married to Barb as well and that they didn’t deserve to be punished for Bill’s mistakes. There very much are 4 people in this marriage.

What I love most is the evolution of each woman across the series. Barb struggles to find meaning in her life between losing her affiliation with the LDS church and in some ways having to move over and share her husband after I think it was 16 years of marriage. She wants to have her own spiritual path and hold the priesthood – give blessings and take a greater role in the church. I wonder a lot about what might have happened if Bill could have loosened the reins and felt he could share his church with his wife rather than pass it down to his son. He felt very threatened by her desire to have a greater role as though it was commentary on his ability to lead or the job he was doing. Sometimes, it’s not about you, dude, sometimes someone else is just walking their own journey. (Sorry, I did a lot of yelling at Bill this time).

Nicky becomes liberated. She goes from a very traditional woman, living in a suburb but with her head still on the compound. She’s the work horse, she can fix anything that’s broken, isn’t really very materialistic (though amassed a $20k debt before we begin following the story) and cares a lot about the insulation of family against the world. Through various circumstances she goes out to work to a day job, meets other people, falls for someone in her office (which does make her have to address the fact that she’s kinda married to someone she doesn’t actually love and what kind of choices did she have in getting to there), takes contraceptives because she doesn’t want more children (really interesting thread because it’s seen as a betrayal to the vision of the family if she’s not contributing more children yet Margene is allowed to not want more children eventually too with much less contention, though she does have to fight for that somewhat.), changes the way she dresses, eventually falls for Bill and then kinda doesn’t want to share him anymore (interesting …) and runs the underground train for helping women escape Juniper Creek. Really though, what hope did Nicky have given both her parents were amoral, self serving, manipulative, selfish people who kinda didn’t love their kids. Nicky probably does really well with what she has and there are some great moments when she is the parent of choice to go to with problems.

Margene grows up. Basically. She was a child going into a marriage with three adults who in some ways parented her but mostly just tolerated her. She had very little say in things in the beginning and was kind of a sex kitten come babysitter. It’s very hard for Barb to see and treat her as her equal. She was a child who got distracted by having children – three in a very short period of time. I think she was about 21 either at the beginning or the end of the show. In that time, she finds herself. She discovers she’s good at business, setting up her own, and then when that gets harpooned due to them coming out about being in a plural marriage, she gets involved in a pyramid scheme company. But through all this she finds her own voice and her abilities. She starts to earn her own money and see life goals she might want to pursue. That’s a bit difficult when you have kids at home and your husband thinks your family should be your life goal. She agitates a lot for pursuit, and Bill tolerates it where it doesn’t mean he has to give up anything. But clearly that is not going to be a sustainable situation long term. I very much love a conversation between the wives where Margene says that she didn’t get to have a life between being a child and a parent and Nicky points out her childhood was taken from her, thus Margene is better off!

There is much talk about love and family and the vision of their family in the after life. And in the final episode, Bill gets killed. There is this healing scene where he begs Barb to give him a blessing as he dies. Well, healing or infuriating cause he’s ever the hypocrite, anyhoo. And you think, well, did these women really share his vision of family? They are all young women with a long life to live. We get a flashforward to not quite a year ahead and we see that Barb has taken over Bill’s church. And Nicky and Barb are raising Margie’s kids whilst Margie is off on three month stints doing volunteer work in South America. She looks vibrant and energised and happy. And she looks older, more equal to the other two. And Nicky and Barb are at home, in a sisterwives marriage with each other. Living the life Bill envisioned.

I do wonder though. Will those women really live the rest of their lives like this? Surely they will want to meet other men and maybe have other romantic relationships? What will Bill think if they rock up in heaven as a marriage of 7 people! “It’s just not the way it is, Barb! It’s not *right* for a woman to have more than one husband!” But you know, they do like to seal people after they’re dead so … Bill better prepare himself for reality :)

 

 



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I’ve just started watching a doco series on MTV (Foxtel) called Generation Cryo. It’s about a young woman called Bree from Reno Nevada who goes in search of her 14 half siblings and her sperm donor father.  Best quote so far, “my mom blames my lesbian mom for why I’m gay…” (yes her mums were in a gay relationship when they conceived her.)

In the first episode, Bree visits her first set of siblings in Georgia who are Jewish and she has Shabbat with them. The family is really lovely and welcoming and open. Their father is really honest about how he felt about his own infertility and his hesitations with Bree’s quest to find the donor – that he feels threatened by it. It was very moving. Bree forms a bond with her two half siblings and her half brother agrees to give her his DNA so she can search databases to locate their father. (They do get a match and a few of the half siblings send an email but it’s a dead end.)

In the second episode, Bree travels to Boston and California to meet several other siblings. And we learn that many of them have already met each other and their parents have kept in touch with each other over the years. Not something I knew was possible with anonymous sperm banks. In a sense, I think Bree realises she’s missed out a bit by her mothers never being curious about the idea of other people out there related to Bree and that maybe she would have liked to have had some siblings or at least know of them. Some of them take a visit to the Cryo Bank where they learn that they can write letters, when they are 18, to the donor and the bank will pass them along. He may choose to ignore the letters entirely or may communicate back to the bank. Several of her siblings are 18 and so write letters. Afterwards, she learns her half brother Julian had written his own letter more than 8 months ago and had no reply, and she feels a little disappointed. It seems that the donor wishes to remain anonymous. She then recruits one of her other half brothers to help her further in her quest.

There were some really crunchy discussions in the first two episodes – Bree has lesbian mothers who have since split, one family is a single mother, one is where the father was infertile, and another where the father was originally infertile but later on was able to father a child so those two siblings are half siblings and thus related the same was as the donor sperm kid to Bree. And these bring up such interesting discussions about how the men feel. So interesting to see how open and inclusive all the parents seem to be, both with welcoming Bree in to their fold and also with how comfortable the other half siblings feel in some of the other homes. And what constitutes being a parent.

Not all the kids feel the same way either – some want to meet their father, some just want to know who is and some still have no connection at all and want nothing to do with it. Julian, who himself had already gone on an expedition to find this guy, argued that it was immoral for Bree to try and find him – that the conditions that these men donated sperm under was that it was anonymous and that it’s not ok to now try and find them. Bree doesn’t see it that way – it seems incomprehensible to her that someone would donate sperm to create people and then never ever think about it again or never want to know who they are (I wonder how anyone would feel if 16 people suddenly showed up and said, “hi we’re your children”. So many interesting sides to the situation. I’m assuming that they find him because it doesn’t make an interesting arc if not. Though watching Bree be awkward and yet feel kinship with basically strangers is fascinating.



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March 17   Haven Season 1

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I’m rewatching Haven after seeing the finale for Season 3. A lot of information was imparted in the final episodes and I’m interested to see who knew what and how they reacted given I now know a lot more about what they knew (and also, seeing whether the writers were making a lot of this up on the run.) I keep thinking that if you liked Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti, you’d like Haven. But then, we claimed the reverse of that on the back cover :)

In episode 1 we meet Audrey Parker, an FBI agent who perhaps is a bit out there in her investigation methodology. Her boss sends her to Haven, Maine to bring back an escaped convict. As we get a bit of a view of Haven on Audrey’s drive into town, I realise how much I have fallen in love with Maine, and mostly due to Stephen King. Since a lot of the town and coastal shots throughout the show are the same few, it’s obvious it’s not filmed in Maine. But I still think one of those gorgeous red brick farmhouses nestled sleepily into the rocky shoreline, with the windy sea air is just begging to be rented for a year long writing project. As long as they have internet, I can run my press from anywhere, right? Course, not in Haven. Somewhere less … troubled.

Agent Parker’s convict is found dead the day she arrives, in somewhat mysterious circumstances. And she encounters some other oddities – a crack in the road appears as she’s driving which causes her to have a dangerous accident, a local cop with whom she instantly establishes witty rapport can’t feel pain and an odd fog envelops them – that have her hanging around a bit longer than she expected. Agent Parker solves the episode mystery but it raises more questions than answers.

A random highlight is meeting Duke – “The guy’s not all bad,” she tells cop Nathan, “he saved my life and then he served me coffee.” And it should be pointed out, he made plunger coffee! Can’t be all bad at all. And he laundered her clothes. But … replacing her phone was just weird.

SPOILERS (from up to Season 3) BELOW:

So, now onto the broader picture. We’re left wondering just what is happening in Haven – a town with full translated name is “Haven for God’s Orphans”. I always remembered it as Audrey Parker coming to Haven having seen the picture in the paper with the woman who looks like her mother. But no, Vince and Dave totally plot to keep her there by planting the question in her head by handing her the photo of her the day the Colorado Kid goes missing/is killed. And they pointedly mention it was  “27 years ago”. They  know she appears every 27 years and they know that means the Troubles are back. You can see them, rather than rattled by her appearance, eager to pick up where Lucy left off. They ,issed their friend, and are eager to play again.

The Chief knows who Audrey is too. And I think he’s sort of amused that she’s back as an FBI Agent this time.

Agent Howard is all creepy with watching her from afar and calling, presumably the Chief … but maybe Vince? and saying, “She’s staying, maybe she can help you with your troubles.”

Questions. Howard arrives at Audrey’s place to kinda kick it all off. But where did she, and he, come from? Presumably they came out of the Barn. So why does Haven manage to manifest them both so far away from the town? That’s kinda odd considering the Troubles always seem implied to be a Haven only thing (even though it could be a haven *for* the troubled since people obviously come to Haven via the underground railway of Vince’s.)



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