As far as disturbing episodes go, this one really took it up a notch for me. I know, I know, we’ve seen worse in terms of physical violence and even double-crossing manipulation. But in terms of showing us the dark underbelly of the patriarchal theological, moral, and social universe our characters inhabit, this episode went straight for the jugular. It was as if all the strange neuroses of our characters could be summed up in two distinct moments of this episode: Alby telling his mother that she is the property of the priesthood before he marries her off to her former son-in-law and Bill basically kicking Ben out of the house out of jealousy and fear of competition.
The title of the episode – “The Lost Boys” – is clearly meant to highlight the latter moment. And the “next on” promises to pick up this theme next week as Bill political opponent goes after lost boys and polygamy more generally. While there are plenty of non-polygamous family arrangements where sons can fall for their father’s wives, set in the context of this family and this storyline, the hardening of both of their faces as they recognize each other as sexual competition was particularly heart-wrenching. Even more so, because Ben leaving his father’s house was just one example of the consequences of a system where women and children are the property of men who are themselves so screwed up by their fathers no one stands a chance at “normal”.
We also have the demented (have to agree with you there, Nicki) plot of Adaleen’s marriage to JJ. Did anyone else really think that Adaleen was “practicing the art of perfect obedience” – what does JJ have on her that is keeping her in line? The scene where Alby and JJ are haggling over her fate was perhaps one of the most disturbing moments of the episode. We’ve seen this power play through woman-trading before, but those two men trading on the language of the priesthood as they both weave plots of manipulation and control was pretty damn creepy. Even the one moment of subversion – Jodeen releasing the parakeets and smiling as Lois and Frank scramble to recover them – seemed a shallow act of revenge for a woman about to have to honeymoon with Frank at a Holiday Inn Express.
Bill’s entire scheme to run for senate is also implicated in the system of male control, and might just be his most hair-brained expression of self-righteous self-determination yet – covered over by the language of revelation and divine mission. As every aspect of their life begins to unravel – Don taking the bullet and outing himself and his family, Barb rushing to the basement to search the grain for weevils, Margene realizing she has feeling for Ben, Sarah trying to keep an Indian baby to compensate for her miscarriage – Bill just keeps on pressing forward, convinced that it will all lead to the happy open polygamous life. But hasn’t he thought, for even one moment, about what will happen if they are exposed before he is elected. Not to mention, the emotional fallout of self-exposure, even if he is a senator, to say nothing of economic or political reprisals. The real question for me at this point is not will this destroy the family? but how can it not help but destroy the family and on what grounds can the writers possibly expect us to believe they can keep it together? If the show is really headed for an end (can anyone confirm this?), maybe they are going to take the bleak way out…
I know I sound like I am bashing the show. The strange thing is – I’m not. I think it is brilliant and I am still totally addicted. It is just that somehow this episode made clear to me that no matter how fantastic these characters are, no matter how compelling, no matter how over the top and addictive the drama – it is compelling precisely because it doesn’t look away from the dark consequences of a whole system that rests on the continued subjugation of women, and the consequences that extend to children and to men because of it (and let’s just take a good hard look at Alby to see how women aren’t the only ones screwed by this system).
As for favorite moments that actually made me laugh, despite the darkness: I loved the scene of Lois stuffing an empty hair-spray bottle and her own socks with cash as she congratulates Bill on his political bid. And I so want to know what JJ has enlisted Joey to do. Speaking of JJ – he is coming into his own as a villain and wow, what a nasty piece of work he continues to prove himself. Anyone want to take bets whether he’ll end up on the bad side of one of Wanda’s acts of hospitality? Sadly, that would be far too easy.
If other people had more positive takes of the episode, I’d love to hear them. And I can’t wait for Sissy Spacek’s return next week!