Big Love: Earthly TemptationsS

This week's Big Love sees the characters torn between what they want for themselves and compromising for the sake of everyone around them. Bill toys with politics, Nikki battles competing allegiances again, and Sarah officially leaves the flock.

Chloë Sevigny picked up a Golden Globe for acting, and last night's Big Love was a conveniently strong showing for her. With the closing of the federal investigation against her, Nicki ill-advisedly showed up on prosecutor Ray Henry's doorstep, trying to explain her actions. Her development over the past few seasons has been all about shaking her firmly-held beliefs, instilled — or brainwashed — on the compound. Though she ultimately chose Bill over her father, that allegiance is shaky as well. In earlier seasons, the temptations included material goods (and credit card debt), an outside job and an attraction to another man.

Meanwhile, Bill — never one to stay at equilibrium — has come up with his wackiest scheme yet: running for state senator. The family is constantly teetering on the edge of collapse, only to somehow right itself, more or less intact. With Roman dead, Bill's crazy campaign provides a whole new tight-rope walk for this season.

Nicki is desperately trying to tie together her past and her present by insisting that Bill is the prophet. His brother Joey agrees, but Bill — despite having just built a church — is resistant. So far, he's more interested in earthly power and forging some kind of powerful future in politics. He wants to change the secular (or at least Latter Day Saints) world, rather than restoring the Hendricksons' dominion over the compound. What still ties Bill and Nicki together (besides, well, their kids and her general lack of options) remains an open question.

Sarah, who already violated her family's values with premarital sex — and with an older ex-Mormon! — is threatening to estrange herself even more by refusing to be sealed in her father's church. Both Nicki and Barb have had their beliefs challenged, but they still seem to firmly believe that "til death do us part" is a blasphemy that denies the afterlife portion of marriage. Sarah is taking a chance that she'll find happiness on earth and that will be enough. But she still gushes over that uber-plain dress.

Nicki is desperately trying to give Cara Lynn the life she didn't have — going to school and avoiding being put in the Joy Book. Her father's death allows her to free herself even more from the pulls from the compound, so when her mother shows up with her sister to try to convince her to come to the funeral, we see Nicki stand up to her as never before. (Using vaguely feminist language, no less!) Still, I thought her sister's casual use of "that's how he was brought up" to be somewhat implausibly consciousnes-raised, even after all the outside assaults on their values.

Bill has already given up on his dreams to run when, in a nice twist, Sarah's talk about not hiding who you are and being improbably inspired by his polygamous example renews his resolve. He's going to run with the family's structure kept secret — and when he wins, all will be revealed. After all, polygamy's only a misdemeanor. Well, this is television, so maybe he can pull it off.

In an episode of compromises, Sarah makes one that somehow still feels true: she marries in the backyard with her family around her. (Did they get a justice of the peace to make a last minute house-call?) A brilliant ending shot pans from one family member to another: Barb, relieved and moved, Margene, caught up in the moment but full of doubt about what Bill's decision will mean for her business, Nicki, weeping openly — maybe a little bit because she's moved by the wedding, or because she compromised and showed up to her father's funeral, but also because she seems to be contrasting Sarah's choice with her lack of it as a younger woman.