The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters

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Dear Kathryn,

What was it about Lois and Frank’s storyline that got me so emotional tonight? There was something beautiful to those beach scenes. I noted last week how everything seems to have this ominous tinge to it right now (heightened by the Deadwood-reminiscent music!). And Frank’s bread-cutting scene began it for these two. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to tell a spouse, “don’t worry – I’m not going to kill you!” and then have conversation continue. In a strange way, it felt like these two have the most vulnerable, honest relationship on the show. Losing the safety-net of the sister-wives puts them back square in the middle of painful, aging monogamy. And I think that’s what got me. After it all, when all other communities have failed them, there’s an odd image of hope in the possibility that there will be somebody – no matter how broken – there for you at the end of it all. Who’d have ever though Lois and Frank could leave me feeling grateful for my own marriage not because of their failure, but because of their example!

A return to couples was indeed at the heart of this episode – which is why it felt weirdly appropriate for Prof. Clayton to incorrectly refer to the Hendrickson’s family as a “couple”. Between the inappropriate revelation of Cara Lynn and her teacher and the icky moment of Ben picking up Rhonda at The Golden Fleece (and what’s going on with that symbolic reference?), not to mention Margie’s movement toward the Gojii guy…we were reminded again and again that just because you’ve only got two, doesn’t make it any less weird by necessity. Polygamous or not, any relationship can be f’d up in the right circumstances.

Of course, the most stellar part of this episode for me revolved around Barb’s desires for the priesthood. I loved the look on her face as she listed for Bill all the priesthood would give her – the power to give blessings, the ability to offer comfort through laying on of hands, the ability to save others and usher them into the celestial kingdom…the desire is so other focused while still so self-fufilling. As a woman who is ordained in a conservative tradition myself, I know that lure of feeling called to a form of power that you possess only ever loosely and only ever to gift others. It feels so ludicrous that anyone would deny you it – while it also feels so obvious that they would want to. The power to gift others is immense and not uncomplicated. There’s a reason people guard it so.  And there’s  a reason why we want it too!

So I LOVED Prof. Clayton – K, didn’t you feel like the paper, “Lesbian Female Bonding as Resistance to Mormon Frontier Patriarchy” was something you, I, or any number of our lovely academic friends could and would write? Of course it sounds ludicrous to those gathered in the room! But I can also imagine the deep insight such a paper would hold…even with all it’s jargony academic play.  It’s not a lesbian relationship – but the same-gendered friendship between Barb and the prof is creating a community of resistance against the patriarchy of the new frontier Bill is forging – even as the prof admits to and endorses the ways in which polygamy has been (and might be) liberating for women moving out of a Victorian paradigm for gender. There’s a genuine open-mindedeness there – as we sometimes find in the best forms of the academy – that can entertain all sorts of unlikely possibilities. For all the communities we see represented in lovely and complex ways on television, the lovely complexity of academia is not usually among them. I enjoyed getting to see it, if only for a minute or two.

In the end what struck me most though was something I experience so often myself in church – Bill’s rant about how religion is about divine inspiration, the text and revelation, not just what I feel or I’d like sounded like speeches I’ve heard a million times from powerful men in religious life (and some women) who are unable to understand that what they think is sacred text and revelation is actually only an interpretation created in and through their own desires for self-preservation and power-grabbing. Bill has been following hunches and feelings in every season – but he’s had the gendered back-up of the church to do it.  What makes his hunches different than Barb’s…besides their gendered origin?  As everything they know to be true uproots them both, I can’t help but feel for both of them.  I might disagree with Bill – but I can see why this new situation scares him so.  The tension between genuinely loving someone and needing to measure than against one’s religious commitments is coming through here for these two in some shockingly honest ways.

In fact, the scene between Barb, Niki and Bill over the divorce pretty much blew my mind! Each one was speaking truth – Bill saw that Niki was grasping for something more than what she was admitting to; Niki could see that Bill was just afraid of losing Barb and therefore compromising his beliefs to keep her happy; and Barb was – very wisely in my view what with that $50K – protecting her future…in a strange way, each was right and even in the right. I found the complexity stunning – especially when it gave way to the rawest, truest statement of all: Right Now I Want to Punch You in the Face!

Still puzzling over how any sex that can connect one more deeply to the love of Heavenly Father could be hot sex…no matter how deeply religious one might be…

xoxo,
Natalie

—-

Dear Natalie,

I know exactly what you mean – how in the world has it come to this, but the beach scene between Lois and Frank was a beautiful, crushingly sad, almost perfect moment. As the series comes barreling to an end, we are seeing in perfect clarity how much it is, at heart, about the misogynistic traps of a patriarchal system that corrodes the characters of all those involved. We have watched various women struggle within this system, manipulate it, find power within it, try to leave it, try to reform it, and often continue to get crushed by it. Adaleen was very close to breaking free, but her own insistence that she is not a victim has only made her more of one. For every reason, Lois should be in the same situation – cravenly desiring to go back to the only abusive relationship she’s known. The fact that we have to constantly wonder if one of them is trying to kill the other or not is a sign of how screwy their history really is. But more than almost any other woman, Lois is not a victim. She has broken free and she has staked ground, fiercely and violently, for her own survival. But when all is said and done, we cannot change the relationships that have formed us and there is something so understandable about her need and desire to be with the one person who knows her to her core and who, just might, be her solace at the end. Like you, I didn’t see it coming, but that scene hit me hard!

It was also the visuals of that scene. The entire episode seemed visually dark to me – sunk in shadows and twilight and dimly lit rooms. Lois and Frank framed by the golden pink sky and the many-shaded blue sea was one of the brighter visual moments of the episode, even as the relentlessness of the waves echoed the rhythms of their relationship and the sense of impending threat that hangs over the whole larger family. It was a beautiful scene and a reminder of how stunningly perfect this show can be.

But if the waves were symbols of Lois and Frank’s ebb and flow of love and hate, they also symbolized the unchanging currents that are sucking so many of our characters into destructive patterns. Last season we had Ben and Sarah serve as foils for responses children of polygamy (and um, let’s pause and think about what a disaster Margene’s rally promises to be) might have to their families. Figuring out how people come of age in plural marriages off the compound has always been a tricky thing for the show. Sarah and Tiny seem to have survived by getting out of dodge. It seemed like Cara Lynn might stand a chance by sheer smarts and preternatural innocence, but alas, no. She too is being sucked into a complicated relationship with a man far too old for her. Though really, I never thought she could really end up with Gary. Like it or not, she is far too mature for her age and so a school-girl crush on super cute teacher seems right. But it is the seriously f-ed up nature of this show/world that super cute teacher can’t keep it in his pants and let’s something start. And what was up with those weird lingering looks between Greg and “Nicolette”?? Then, of course, we have Ben and Rhonda. Ugh. The minute he offered to fry her up a hamburger I knew it was doomed, but really, Ben, really? Yes, really, which is kind of the whole point. He has been groomed to swoop in and save a Rhonda since season 1 when he lost his virginity and guiltily fled to the allure of patriarchy. When Rhonda kissed both Ben and Heather on the cheeks did you think how easily they could look like a married family – Ben and his two wives? Besides the fact that Ben couldn’t see everything that was sad and wrong about Rhonda, do you think Heather left because there was a part of her that felt Ben’s plural longings too? I think one of  the tragedies of the show will be the fact that we leave these young people unsaved and repeating the traumas they cannot face.

But will we leave the Henricksons in tact? That is looking less likely by the hour. I loved what you had to say about the pre-nup scene. They really all were right and in the right and yet there is no way out of that impasse. Was it ominous to you, at all, when Barb said “when I’m dead you can have it all?” We know Alby is on the warpath and I just got this awful feeling that Barb won’t be as lucky as Don. Tell me you think I am reading things into this, please!

Barb continues to rock my world this season and her journey is so powerful for being so confusing and so contradictory. I love that she is not willing to say easily or quickly that things are over. She is clinging for all she is worth to her marriage, even though every step she takes is carrying her closer to a real divorce. I haven’t been so excited for what is next in a long time.

I hear you on the spiritualized sex fantasy – got to love that Margene! I did love that even her fantasies are taking on her new found religious fervor. But I loved even more that the whole episode opened with a reminder that sometimes hot sex comes out of despair, sadness, and the slow burn of intimacy. Barb and Bill were clinging to each other’s bodies even as they slipped right through each other’s hands.

Maybe Margie will survive the divorce by tying her star to Gojijuice in more ways than one…

Kathryn

Written by themothchase

February 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm

One Response

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  1. I know this is an old post, but just wanted to add that The Golden Fleece is an actual strip club, in SLC. It’s been closed now, for a few years, but it was very popular for quite a few years!

    Liz

    March 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm


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