It’s Helping Me Find My Center of Gravity
I love an episode that focuses on what we really care about – the wives – and especially one that lets the attention fall so squarely on Barb! There is such a flurry of activity going on around Barb right now – from her “drinking problem,” to giving “smutty” books to Cara Lynn, to literally finding her voice (but with disastrous affects) by speaking on a Sun Stone panel (really, what did she think would happen?). But the two most interesting to me last night were the dance lessons and, of course, the blessing. And I think what made them so interesting to me was that while they were showing Barb spin out of control, they also showed her deep attempts to hold on to the woman she’s always been. There was a nice connection between that incredibly strange scene with Margie manically dancing to pop music (“she’s lost herself and she’s just trying to find herself” – 0r whatever crazy telling thing it was she said about Jewell about herself) and Barb’s controlled, footwear specific, classy ballroom lessons. Barb is going to do right what the youngset wife is, herself, yearning for. And in that, even second wife is going to take some of her first steps. Even in the spinning out, there’s a way in which Barb is still their leader.
And that’s why I found the blessing – or at least her attempts at a blessing – to be so appropriate and so lovely…and, of course, so incredibly dangerous. Sure it’s a single instance of her taking the power that is only rightly her husband’s (at least in their understanding). But her mother’s reaction made me realize how much more than that it is. Barb was trying – if only sub-consciously for now – to set up a separate matriarchal lineage to stand next to the patriarchy. When we see how desperately sad Nancy is at her own eventual feminist failings, we get a glimpse of why her daughter might have such desires for courage bubbling up within her own life. To reconcile with her mother through taking the men’s power for blessing, and passing it on to her wife who is little more than a child herself – Barb is on to something that feels like, perhaps, a much more genuine revelation than all the one’s Bill’s had put together. And most certainly, more genuine of a revolution! I think Niki was right in her comments to Bill – this isn’t just careening; it’s intentional!
These themes were summed up most poignantly (and creepily) with the closing montage including Adaleen injecting hormones into her thigh in a big house all alone next to a suit, hat and photograph neatly arranged of her dead husband. Much as Barb’s struggling for some new type of lineage outside the patriarchy was messy and, in the end, unsatisfied, it remained a less horrific image than that of a dead patriarch next to his drugged up version of a Biblical Sarah.
And this was affirmed for me when even Niki reveals she’d want her daughter to be like Barb, not like her – there’s something to this new line that the show is developing that is mesmerizing to me, and I really hope they don’t drop it.
So much more to talk about – Anna’s baby, Cara Lynn’s blossoming science and math abilities (who would have thought compound home-schooling could produce that!?), and Bill’s bill – both of them, the one he’s trying and the one against him…and, of course, Alby’s brewing vendetta. The sub-plots are fun, indeed – but I love it when they leave us wanting more of them, not using them to take up the whole episode. Last night was the perfect balance!
still giggling at that Scarlet P joke,
Sorry it took me so long to respond to you today – I think I was in need of one of Barb’s blessings! The scene where she prepared to give Margie a blessing, carefully measuring out the olive oil, taking a deep breath, and beginning to say the words she must have heard said so many times was absolutely breath-taking. I got goosebumps. It reminded me that sometimes this show does an amazing job portraying what it feels like to be caught up in a transcendent moment and to really and truly yearn to believe what you profess to believe. We’ve seen other such moments of Bill praying in his car or Ben striving for holy chastity (and, um, remind me – where is Ben??). But Barb’s gentle and earnest step toward expression of her own alternative take on the Mormon faith was amazing. From the manic, panicked fear in Margie’s eyes to Barb’s own tender injunction to cling to the scriptures, to her sudden awareness of what was called for in these situations – “sometimes there are hurts only Heavenly Father can heal” – I was completely convinced. And most convincing and spin-tingling of all was Margie’s immediate acceptance. The calm that flooded her being, her hope that Barb was right, and the utter simplicity with which she accepted what was being offered – faith and grace on her behalf.
You (and Nicki) are right – this is intentional, but not necessarily premeditated. What I loved about that moment was how it seemed to just come to her: Margie needs a blessing; I will give her one. It was a kind of grace for Barb too, to realize in a moment of need that she had resources in her she didn’t know she had. That was a big theme for me in last night’s episode: what do each of the characters need to survive the tempest and what resources do they have on hand or have to learn to find? As you say, Barb is the most mesmerizing to watch as she lives out of a place of conviction (she no longer needs Bill) that frees her to claim more confidence for herself, even as she also has to experiment and feel her way into each day. Nicki oscillates between trying to claim new ground for herself – more patience, more vulnerability, more willingness to really be part of the family that has somehow claimed her – and falling back into the cesspool of compound learned behavior – lying, manipulating, saying the nastiest things she can think of designed precisely to wound and put someone else in their place. Nicki is in a tough position in that she has so few internal resources to hold on to – she is so wounded and angry about her past that she is clutching at straws to learn how she should now behave. And Margene, poor, sweet, wounded Margene – she seems positively bereft of any resource other than her own despair. While Barb is the most compelling to me, and Nicki the most fascinating, Margie is downright breaking my heart. Her childishness has always been apparent, but I think only now, watching her grow up am I aware of just how innocent, naive, and even foolish she has been. There is something extraordinarily painful about realizing for the first time that the choices one makes open some doors but irrevocably close others and I think most of us spend some time consciously or unconsciously mourning those closed doors. How much more so when you realize that the door you walked through left you without a high school diploma, married to three people, and the subject of intense public pillory? Her responses are ridiculous, painful, childish and unproductive – and I believe every single one of them. So what to make of her half-smile at the end of the episode as she watches Bill bath one of the boys? Is it the smile of a woman who is trying to remember the few good things she has to hold on to in her life right now, or is it the beginning of being trapped by the small gestures of Bill that hide his fundamental selfishness and the impossibility of their situation?
There is so much more to say about all of this and I haven’t even touched on the side plots, but I think I better wait till next week.
I think I need to brush off my copy of that smutty sex-ed book,