Big Love

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Big Love is an HBO drama about the Henricksons, a polygamous family with its roots in a fundamentalist Mormon splinter group hiding in plain sight in a Salt Lake City suburb. The series lasted from March, 2006 to March, 2011, with a total of 53 episodes in five seasons.

Bill, the father and husband, was born on the Juniper Creek Compound, run by a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism known as the United Effort Brotherhood (UEB). His grandfather was a prophet who died under mysterious circumstances. Roman Grant took over the sect afterward and Bill was thrown out of the compound at age 14. He eventually succeeded in life despite being thrown out. He attended college where he met his first wife Barbara, and eventually started his own business, Home Plus, a small chain of home improvement stores similar to Home Depot.

Barbara 'Barb' Henrickson was a mainstream LDS who met Bill at the U. They have three children: Ben, Sarah and Teeny. Barb worked as a substitute teacher to bring in extra money. She developed uterine cancer and nearly died after the birth of Teeny. Bill brought in a girl from the compound to help care for Barb and the children. On her "deathbed" she agreed to take Nicki as a second wife for the family. Barb's family disowned her for this decision. She is the Harem Nanny.

Nicolette 'Nicki' Grant is a daughter of Roman Grant, the Prophet of Juniper Creek, by his sixth wife. She was raised on the compound and dresses very modestly. Of the three wives, she is the most comfortable with polygamy and the challenges of such a large family. She is not very used to the outside world and has her own issues relating to the world. She became a shopaholic and was responsible for most of the Product Placement. She has two sons by Bill. Her sons needed a baby sitter when the boys were younger, resulting in the hiring of Margene.

Margene 'Margy' Heffman is the third wife and the youngest. She was a klutzy employee of Bill who was not born a Mormon. Hired as the babysitter, she was very attracted to Bill and joined the family. She's been the breeder of the family with three kids in the short time she's been married.

Additional major characters live at Juniper Creek, including Roman Grant, the Prophet and leader of the compound. Bill's brother Joey and Joey's wife, Wanda, as well as Bill's mother and father, and his father's other wives also make appearances.

Tropes used in Big Love include:
  • Armchair Psychology: Used to avoid being taken by feelings of distrust and jealousy.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Alby.
  • Arranged Marriage: Roman and the Joy Book, a catalog of unmarried girls on the compound.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Bill seems to have done this at the end of the series finale.
  • Ashes to Crashes: Nicki's sons eat Margie's mother's ashes! And then Margie leaves the urn on the back of the car...
  • Ax Crazy: So very, very many people on the compound. Lois, Adaleen, Wanda, Roman and company...
  • Back for the Finale: Sarah.
  • Balanced Harem
  • Bumbling Dad: Bill is more than a little naively ignorant of his two oldest children and what his wives really feel about each other.
  • Bury Your Gays: Dale commits suicide in Season 4.
  • The Bus Came Back: Rhonda, Roman Grant's child bride, returns in Season 5 after a long absence.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Apparently a dominant gene in the Juniper Creek population.
    • Helps that Alby's primary wife is played now by the actress who played Cutthroat Bitch on House.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Bill's brother Joey and his wife Wanda are not seen or even mentioned in Season 5 after being important characters for the first four seasons.
  • Closet Key: Don's second and third wives, to each other.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The only show on HBO that averts this.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Nikki.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Sarah Henrickson, Bill and Barb's daughter.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Roman.
  • Creepy Child: Rhonda Vollmer is a non-supernatural variant: behind her artless demeanor and expressionless blue eyes lurks the brain of a baby sociopath and master-manipulator-in-training (not to mention a disturbing fondness for rhinestones). She's got something of an excuse, having been raised in an abusive cult and married off at the age of fourteen to a man in his seventies, but it doesn't do much to make her less terrifying (amusingly, she's played by Daveigh Chase, who portrayed the ultimate Creepy Child in the American version of The Ring).
  • Cure Your Gays: Sarah meets an "ex-gay" guy and his wife when looking for potential adoptive parents. She's disturbed by the whole situation.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Kathy.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Nikki and her out-of-control narcissism.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina: After all his troubles with the Utah legislature, the LDS Church, and various compound loonies, Bill is taken out by a minor character we've hardly ever seen him interact with. Justified in that the dissolution of Carl and Pam's marriage was a subplot of Season 5 and Carl blamed Bill and Margene.
  • Double Standard
  • Downer Ending: After a season of Bill fighting political opponents and taking down the compound, he's suddenly and unexpectedly murdered by an unhinged neighbor he had no real animosity with.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Alby becomes this after Roman's death becoming the Big Bad of the final season.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Justified with most of the adult characters, since they are polygamists. Where this is murky is with the teenagers. Nikki, normally the most fundamentalist of the wives, does not seem exceptionally surprised or outraged when Sarah relates the I'm a Man, I Can't Help It anecdote noted below to her.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Margie goes blonde after her (blonde) mother dies.
    • Nikki displayed her rebellion against her family by cutting off her waist-length braid.
    • It's suggested that Bill's mother did this long before the show's beginning, when her daughter died. She is the only woman on the compound with short hair.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Frequently happens in polygamy. Ana pretty much did/was this. Sarah does a version of this in which she suddenly gets engaged and claims to be madly in love with the guy she dumped a few months earlier---for not loving him.
    • More accurately, she broke up with him because he got her pregnant. The love part's debatable.
  • Gaydar: Rhonda picks up that Heather has a thing for Sarah. Heather appears to shut herself firmly in the closet after this but Rhonda alludes to it again in Season 5.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: Very much used, highly surprising for a HBO series, although justified considering the main characters are an offshoot of the conservative Mormons.
    • Margene will occasionally drop a real curse word, but only when she's really steamed.
  • Harem Series: Possibly the only example to occur in Live Action Television.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The three wives - Margene is the maiden, Barb is the mother, and Nikki is the crone.
  • Heel Realization: Nikki at nearly the end of Season 5 realizes her actions are just as evil as those on the compound.
  • Hot Dad: Bill, without a doubt. In the first season, we see either him in his tighty whities or his naked butt.
  • Housewife
  • Humiliation Conga: The entire fifth season.
  • Idiot Ball: Firmly grasped by Bill over the last two seasons. Everyone told him that his plan to enter politics in Season 4 would lead to disaster. And enormous strife and pressure was introduced into the marriage in Season 5 due to Bill's decision to divorce Barb and marry Nicki in order to adopt Cara Lynn--when Cara Lynn is a teenager who would be of age in a couple of years anyway.
  • I Have Your Kid: Kim Lee.
  • I'm a Man, I Can't Help It: At one point Sarah discovers a flirtatious message from an ex-girlfriend on her boyfriend Scott's phone. She jokingly says it sounds like they hooked up, which he confirms. When she gets upset, he uses this as an excuse (Sarah and Scott are not sexually active at this point). Here, the claim is treated as completely legitimate. Bear in mind, by the way, that they're both Mormons.
    • First of all, he was not a Mormon, IIRC, he was a Baptist (heresy!). And it was NEVER considered OK by the show - Sarah was devastated by the incident, and Scott was made out to be a complete douche for it. Their entire relationship was never treated as healthy - it was treated as Sarah running away from home in a socially acceptable fashion just to get away from the walking traumatizer that was Bill Henrickson.
  • Last Episode Theme Reprise: Natalie Maines' cover of "God Only Knows" plays over the final Fade to Black.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Three wives of Bill, eight kids so far, employees, friends and, above all, relatives on the compound.
  • Long-Lost Relative: J.J. to Wanda, Franky to Bill.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Cara Lynn to Nicki.
  • MacGuffin: The Woodruff letter.
  • Mama Bear: Lois Hendrickson. Hollis Green learns this the hard way.
  • Mercy Kill: Frank for Lois in the series finale.
  • The Mole: Nicki at the law office.
  • Native American Casino: Like most of Bill's bright ideas, this does not work out in the end.
  • Papa Wolf: Bill. Alby learns this the hard way.
  • Parental Abandonment: teenage boys are frequently thrown off the compound for developing sexual interest in the teenage girls intended for old men. Nicki had a good reason for abandoning her daughter: in order to get out of her first marriage.
  • Product Placement: The first season was full of them, as part of a shopaholic storyline with Nicki.
  • Psychotic Lover: Rhonda, the child bride of the cult leader. She trades shamelessly on her status as an abuse victim, right up to the point when she flips completely and flaunts her status as bride of the Prophet. She's willing to blackmail and manipulate, but she takes pains to appear as a sweet innocent to anyone she's not specifically attacking.
    • Wanda has a poisoning fetish as well.
    • In Season 3, Joey kills Roman in revenge for Kathy's death.
  • Put on a Bus: Teeny, Bill and Barb's younger daughter, was Put on a Bus every time the actress currently playing her grew too tall. Even in the last episode's coda -- set nearly a year after the episode's primary events, so she could legitimately have been shown as having grown into a teenager -- she merited only a vague acknowledgment that she was in the bathroom playing with makeup.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows".
  • Red Herring: Lois tells the story of her daughter's death, and it seems that it will be a plot point. Apart from being an explanation for Lois's Important Haircut (she is the only woman on the compound with short hair), it isn't.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: From "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys to "Home" by Engineers.
  • Road Show: "Come, Ye Saints".
  • Subculture: Radical LDS Offshoots.
  • Taking the Kids: What Don's wives did to him. He's not legally married to them, which makes it worse for him.
  • Teacher-Student Romance: Cara Lynn and her math teacher, Mutual Attraction subtype. Also something of a What Happened to the Mouse? ending to the story. Nicki ends the relationship with a very cruel verbal beat-down of Cara Lynn in which Nicki claims that the teacher had done it before and wasn't really interested in her, but the audience never sees whether that's true or not or if the supposed meeting between Nicki and the teacher ever happened.
  • Thicker Than Water
  • Three Faces of Eve: The three wives seem to fit this, although Margene is the innocent and the seductress, and Nicki is just "darker and edgier".
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: said about Kathy.
  • The Unfavorite: Nikki, in spades. Her dialogue and backstory makes it's obvious that she grew up as this, being female on the male-dominated compound. Then, we learn Bill took her in not because he'd fallen in love with her, but both to secure a loan from her father, and because Barb's illness left her unable to have more children. A good deal of behavior can be attributed to this.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Pretty much everything related to the Juniper Creek compound on the show is based on real people and events. Juniper Creek is based on the real life FLDS community in Arizona called Short Creek (now known as Colorado City), and the raid on the show was based on the real life raid of Short Creek in the '50s. The UEB is the real life FLDS' "United Effort Plan", which was also taken over by the state. The Grants are the Jeffs, with Alby specifically supposed to be FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs who also took over his group when his father died. Even the satellite compounds in Kansas and Mexico exist in real life.
  • Villainous Incest: J.J.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Alby and Nikki both have this going on.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The grand house that Bill was building for the whole family to live in has been forgotten.
  • Who Will Take the Kids?: Huge issue if anything bad happens in a polygamous relationship. The second and third marriages are not legal. Without any agreement, Bill's rights, and the rights of the kids to be with their siblings, are very limited.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Nicki in Season 3.