YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Putting the store back in order

The Henrickson clan's outing as polygamists threatens reputations and livelihoods.

June 20, 2007|Patrick Day | Times Staff Writer

Now that Tony Soprano sleeps with the fishes (we know in our hearts that it's true, so let's all stop arguing), it falls to Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) -- father, owner of the rapidly expanding Home Plus chain of stores and recently exposed polygamist -- to carry on HBO's torch as its leading harried patriarch.

On the surface, the clean-scrubbed Henrickson family of "Big Love," which started its second season last week, is worlds away from the bottom-feeding Sopranos, but look again: Both families revel in materially comfortable lifestyles while coping with the quiet fear that one day it'll all be taken away by faceless authority figures that seem to stand in for a disapproving mainstream society. Both pay constant lip service to personal virtue while at the same time indulging the deepest desires of their ids. And both have a talent for getting into conflicts that inevitably lead to violence.

In the opening two episodes of the new season, Bill Henrickson was on a hunt to find out who was responsible for the family's public outing as polygamists in last season's finale. Like Tony Soprano fuming about the rats and turncoats in his own crew, Bill was outraged at the betrayal -- not so much to his personal family, but to the attack on the reputation of Home Plus. Defaced store billboards mocking Bill's multiple wives were causing anxiety about the future of the family-friendly store in button-down Salt Lake City. And though Bill's first wife, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), had locked herself away in the house and was suffering equal parts embarrassment and soul-searching anguish, Bill seemed more intent on putting the store back in order.

The search initially focused on Bill's secretary, Wendy (Jodie Markell), who had discovered Bill's secret last season. At first threatened with firing and legal action, she then came under attack from mysterious dark Hummers, which caused her to get into a car accident in the Home Plus parking lot. Later it was revealed that second wife Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) had sent her father's henchmen after the poor secretary. Recalling Carmela Soprano's raging mother lion side, Nicki seemed single-mindedly intent on protecting both her family and the money spigot that provides her with a comfortable life.

The attacks ended only after the secretary, in a neck brace and sporting dark glasses to hide her bruises, begged for peace from Barb, who in turn sweetly asked Nicki to call off the Hummers.

What would have been viewed by most as a reckless, possibly criminal, act was seen by Barb as a misguided, but harmless character flaw.

And here we see the crucial split between the Henrickson clan and the Soprano clan. While Tony's crew performed vile deeds with sociopathic nonchalance -- Bobby Bacala was able to carry out a hit in Canada and come back to be with his kids without a second thought -- the people in Bill's world seem genuinely shocked when their actions or emotions come out in less-than-wholesome ways.

Take, for instance, Wanda Henrickson (Melora Walters), the wife of Bill's brother Joey (Shawn Doyle). Last season she sweetly put antifreeze in a drink and offered it to Alby (Matt Ross), the thuggish son of polygamist compound leader Roman (Harry Dean Stanton). Even though Roman's tactics were as sinister and threatening as any mob leader, he seemed truly surprised and maybe even a little hurt that someone would try to poison his son. And for all of Bill's talk about really taking on Roman once and for all, the idea that someone could actually die from all this tough guy posturing seemed unspeakable to him.

Meanwhile, the rest of Bill's clan -- sweet but weary Barb, sweet but dim Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) and extremely sour Nicki, along with all their kids -- were coming to terms with a world that's suddenly become aware of their polygamy. Margene has finally decided to become fully involved in her duties to the family, while at the same time Barb has grown tired of the acting and role-playing they have to do for outsiders. Under duress, she accompanied Bill to a dinner with the neighbors, trying to find out if they were the ones who had exposed the family's polygamy. As Bill's off chasing down turncoats and stirring up controversy with Roman, the politics at home grow ever more complex.

While it's doubtful Bill will ever suffer the same fate as Tony, it's possible his future will be even more grim. Tony juggled a vast criminal enterprise, managed to help raise one-and-a-half successful children and still had time to revel in the joy of the state's best onion rings. With new stores to open, his wives' anniversaries to remember and Margene pregnant with yet another child, by the end of this season Bill may well be wishing someone would put a bullet in his head.

Show Tracker follows television series through their highs and lows.

Los Angeles Times Articles