The much-anticipated fourth season of Big Love bloomed strangely last night — a messy, deliriously overstuffed smear of stories that left us anticipating a season rife with the show's usual eerie, lunar menace. There will also be exotic birds!

That was probably the most gonzo bit of last night, right? Not just Bill's mom and her illegal bird-smuggling operation. But that whole storyline, with the crazy rabbit-toothed Bruce Dern maybe trying to kill Lois but maybe also falling back in love with her, and Lois basically doing the same. I like the arch Shepard-lite tone of it, but worry it could teeter too far into cartoon territory if everyone's not careful. That said, Dern and Grace Zabriskie could pretty much recite tax code and I'd watch. You know what she should really be in? August: Osage County. She'd be perfect. And, actually, Dern could play Beverly. They'd be husband and wife again! Only with slightly less violence. Slightly.

Speaking of violence, Roman Grant is indeed dead. A tip of the off-white ten gallon to the venerable Harry Dean Stanton, who brought such creepy and increasingly-feral danger to the table. I suppose that it's a fine time for him to retire from the show, being that he's 83 years old and all. I loved that they didn't play any game of reverence or awe for Roman's passing. No, instead they dragged that dessicated corpse all across the Utahan desert like it was any other prop. The cruelty and just plain ickiness of the Let's-Move-Roman's-Body plot was funny in a stomach-turning kind of way, though as with the Lois/Frank situation, it ran the risk of being a bit too over-the-top. Big Love has always skirted that line, but last night they went further to the brink than ever before, and while thrilling right now, it's probably a hard balance to maintain.

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Back in the three houses (all alike in indignity), quieter storms were raging. Barb seems to be mourning the spiritual loss of not just her church, but also her oldest, Sarah, who is still engaged and living away from home with her dreamy boyfriend from Breaking Bad. Margene is struggling to juggle both her new, super-flashy job hawking bracelets on a local home shopping network and the demands of her home life — which involve not just child-rearing and Bill-tending, but also being around to help the new Indo-Mormon casino open. Nikki is still trying to get back in her family's good graces after so royally screwing the pooch, over and over again, last season. The wonderfully slimy Zeljko Ivanek is back as Nikki's first husband JJ, who's come to collect his daughter. Nikki wants her daughter to go to a regular school and the girl plays along, but she's secretly made a quiet promise to her father that she'll run away with him when he leaves town. Or will she? Was that a ruse? Ivanek was listed in the opening credits as a cast member, so I'm sure we'll see much more of him.

Bill, of course, is dealing with the casino, but also with constant FBI annoyances and his new seat on the UEB. His chief opposition on the Juniper Creek front, now that Roman is six feet... well, dead, is Alby — who went and got his freak on with a random jogger in a park who turned out to be another Mormon councilman guy. Right? That's who he was? It was sort of unclear to me. If he'd been on the UEB, Alby would have known him right? Ah well. Alby's mom had been hiding Roman's body for a time in her basement meat locker, like something out of Creepshow. The scene where she desperately revealed the secret of his death to a bewildered Nikki was enough to sew up an Emmy for Mary Kay Place, were I in control of such things. Her collapsing on the freezer floor doesn't mean she's dead or anything, right? I would be really sad if that was the case.

So the casino has opened, but not without hitches. Crab legs vs. salmon, the surprise cameo of Roman's carcass, and constant questioning from the feds has gotten the Blackfoot folks a little steamed. And the thing with the hat at the end — Adam Beach and his dad now know that Roman was on their property, dead or alive — likely won't do much to endear Bill to them any further. Neither will the mysterious absence of Kenny Rogers! I mean, Benny and his Jets is a decent replacement, but still... Kenny Rogers, man.

I hope there isn't a ton of casino office politics this season, just because there are so many other interesting stories on this show that it'd be a shame to put 'em in the backseat so business stuff can steer. Though, I do love the new setup and backdrop of the casino. It's like on Facts of Life when they built the new store for Mrs. Garrett (Over Our Heads I think it was called?), except it's a lot more interesting in a comment-on-American-consumerism kind of way. It's the Peach Pit After Dark, essentially. A new non-home set for the actors to emote in front of. But, like, subtly done or whatever.

By far the most terrifying moment of the episode was little Benny's band playing their Jesusy up-tempo pop muzik, a scene of such mercilessly drawn-out awkwardness that I just had to get a clip of it and post it above. I don't know if that actor is really brilliant or actually just the most noodley, weirdo kid out there, but that Ben character is just so believably unpleasant and not-right. I *know* they're going to do something with the whole Ben's Boner for Margene plotline, and something tells me it's not going to go anywhere good. That Benny is a time-bomb — all coiled, horny wiring and sweaty anger. I'm kind of scared!

Last and probably least, the opening credits. What did you think? I thought they were a bit too heavy-handed, with all that portentous, dreamy music and the actresses' stunned/turned-on/enraptured facial expressions. Plus, the falling? A bit Mad Men, no? But they were also pretty, and probably applied more to the show in whatever artsy way than the Beach Boys and ice skating ever did. Those are posted below, in case you missed them.

So, fasten your seatbelts! I sense this is going to be a bumpy ride in the big SUV. I can't wait.