I'll tell you one of the reasons I enjoyBig Love: The writers know how to give each episode a satisfying internal arc without sacrificing the sense of the big picture. Every week, we get mini-plots that are interesting on their own, yet also propel the sweeping conflicts of the current season (and the series at large.) It's the balance that eluded Lost in season three, which had too little "big story" and too much nonsense about Jack's tattoo, and is currently stalling Heroes, which wastes so much time explaining grand themes that it forgets to give characters nuance.
Full disclosure: I went to graduate school with one of Big Love's new staff writers.
This week's episode, "Empire," has one of the best examples of that small-yet-large writing. It comes when we learn why Don Embry has been screwing up at work, forgetting to provide architectural models for the Native American casino and what-not: It's because Vernie and Jo Jo, his second and third wives, have run off together and taken their kids. Now Don's family has scattered, he has no way to find them, and he can't go looking without possibly exposing himself and his entire polygamous community.
So delicious. In the big picture, this is a fantastic callback to Vernie and Jo Jo's lesbianism, which was coyly referenced way back in season one and then totally dropped. By having it burst into the plot in such a major way---threatening Bill and Don't business, ruining Don's life, etc.---the writers are reminding us that things don't happen lightly around here. This show is a universe where small cracks can spread silently for years and then open up. That's a great way to get us anticipating the looming drama in Roman's trial and Ana's potential role in the family.
Vernie and Jo Jo also give an interesting spin on this episode's theme. In almost every storyline, someone is breaking an established rule, and though not every scofflaw meets the same fate, "scofflaw" is still the name of the game.
For instance, Sarah breaks her religion's rule about having premarital sex, and she gets pregnant. That's also her "punishment" for breaking the community's "rule" about staying close to home: She wanted to go to ASU, and this baby could force her to stay in Utah.
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