The events of last night's series finale were shocking for some, but what's even more surprising is the admission by the show's creators—in a post-show interview—Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer that Big Love "has always been a feminist show." Really? Yes, really.
(Major spoilers to follow.)
This entire season has had overt feminist themes: Barb's search for autonomy and a religion that would consider her an equal; Nicki's struggle to understand her past and resolve the differences between abuse and choice; Margene's quest for an identity and mission of her own; age of consent laws; statutory rape; fertility issues; questioning the patriarchy; Mormons and the ERA; divorce. But according to the show's creators, that was the point of the entire series:
The show has always been a feminist show, which I think people didn't always understand. And some people were put off by the fact that these women were quote-unquote under the thumb of a patriarchal jerk. But it's always been a show about the bonds between women, about the way that women subvert power when they're in [oppressive] situations.
It seems logical, then, that the only way that they could've expressed this sentiment—and prove that this was a show about the relationship between these women than one about polygamy—was to remove Bill from the equation and have him killed off in the finale. And I liked it. Even though the ultimate message was that Bill had created this family that endured, beyond his own life, I felt like he was actually the worst thing that happened to his family. He was always getting them in trouble and fucking things up and being hypocritical about a number of things.
Bill's death is probably what saved his family—it brought his daughter back to his church, it empowered Barb to hold the priesthood, thus fulfilling her, it brought the three wives closer together—and he's probably smug in the vindication of his messiah complex in the afterlife.
But, interestingly, according to Olsen and Scheffer, Bill's final vision during Easter mass was actually about his realization that there's more to life than patriarchy:
Bill realized that his mother was the ultimate victim of this patriarchal and polygamist lifestyle on the compound. She had been disempowered and had contracted a venereal disease that led to her dementia. In the same episode where Bill is struggling with his version of his abuses—his knowledge that he married Margene when she was 16—he sees Emma Smith in that dream sequence and she is the personification in Mormon culture of all the abuses of polygamy on a personal level because her husband Joseph Smith was the philanderer who broke her heart. Now fast-forward to the finale where Bill has had his moment of grace, and at the back of this entire room is the character of Emma Smith, who looks at him and nods and affirms what he is now feeling and now learning that there is more to life than patriarchy and that Bill has made the internal adjustment to absorb Barb's growth. So that's what Emma Smith represented. Bill had a profound and deep change.