Not one of us is holy
In a packed, busy episode, there are two images from last night that seem to capture so much of what this season is about. The first is the couple’s skate at the holiday ice rink. As the Henricksons performed their pas de quatre on shaky limbs, it was the first time their public revelation seemed so stark to me. Skating four abreast into the romantic fog, they seemed more like an awkward beast lumbering toward the oh so simple, oh so innocent two-person relationships, which as if sensing the threat, cleared the ice as fast as their skates would take them. In some twisted way, Alby was right: all the complicated intricacies of relationship, all the finely spun threads that unite the four of them, could not survive in the glaring light, or the dim light of a couples skate. They looked every bit like a patriarchical harem, the preening man with smile plastered to his face, flanked by three attractive, submissive women. I kept waiting for them to all join hands in a circle, but they didn’t, and that simple move spoke volumes about how they are perceived and in a sense, how they ultimately might function.The other image was the final shot of the episode: the Henricksons in elaborate costumes enacting a live nativity for the neighborhood decoration contest, as a seemingly unending line of cars drove past them to gawk and judge. Coming on the heels of Barb’s stinging, drunken, prophetic statement in the backyard – not one of us is holy – this image drove home just how much the Henricksons are trying to perform the image of the perfect family – the Holy Family – and how doomed to failure that performance has always been. Both images are about public performance and the disconnect between those images and the reality underneath them.
All of this was played out in the big revelation of the night: Margie was only 16 when Bill married her. I have to admit, I did not see that coming. I worried that she was hiding her license from Bill because she had somehow remarried or otherwise legally entangled herself with Ana and Goren. It took a bit for the full weight of the revelation to sink in – at first I felt a bit like Margie herself (sure it is bad that she lied and kind of creepy, but she is of age now and certainly seemed to have her wits about her, as much as these things go, when she entered into the arrangement) – but as it has I think it is one of the better “revelations” of the series. Not only does it play on all the new fears of public revelation – wouldn’t that just sink the ship for Bill if this got out? – but it goes straight to the heart of the family’s experiment. They have prided themselves on not being “of the compound,” of representing the new face of polygamy. Barb and Bill especially have an enormous pride invested in not being “like those folks.” And for good reason – underaged marriage is a bad idea and underaged marriage of young women to older men in patriarchical arrangements is a terrible idea. Even though we all know that Margie was not in that group, exactly, her marriage to Bill at 16 is yet another reminder that patriarchy will reproduce itself, no matter how hard you try to imagine yours is the “benign” kind.
That theme has been running throughout the show for all five seasons, but was highlighted on many levels last night, not only in the age revelation. Bill wants to be progressive. He wants to affirm and support his wives. Not by enabling their spiritual leadership, but by assuring them that they are worthy of godly priesthood holders to oversee their lives. He wants to change ritual and process in his new church, but not by recognizing his wife’s spiritual gifts, but by replicating the same patriarchical lines through his son. Bill was more likeable than he has been in a long time last night. He was sensitive and caring. He actually seemed to listen (he really did take care of calling the butcher and taking Lois to the doctor) and he tried to meet each wife where she was. It was hard not to like him when he stood up to Alby and protected Lura and her children. But I think it was no mistake that the very same episode drove home the fact that some things cannot change. Husbands can be more or less understanding, more or less loving, in a Principle driven marriage, but they, and only they, will always be the priesthood holders with all that that entails.
The one area Bill seemed less than perfectly understanding was his purchase of guns for the wives. WTF? And, um, how many episodes before they reappear in a tragic end?
Final thought, Ben and Heather! Part of me hopes she could save Ben from the path he seems to be walking, but I am equally worried she will get sucked in herself. Did she look a little too much like a longer-haired Margene for anyone else’s comfort?
OK, Moth Chasers, Natalie is out of town this week so write in with comments to keep the conversation going! Is there a way for the Henricksons to be progressive polygamists? Is the age revelation a big deal to you? What is Alby’s end game? Do you think the Speaker of the House is going to come round or will it take more than one sweet carol?