The fourth season of HBO's social drama just keeps getting bigger. Last night we saw a trip across the country, an accident that brought two fringe cultures together (sort of), and a wild and surprising kiss.
The episode, written with daring aplomb by playwright (and staff writer) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, showed its four main characters venturing further from their backyard sanctuary, exploring new lives and new possibilities with results that were both encouraging and punishing.
Bill was off to Washington D.C. to seek the endorsement of his congressman, a typical white-haired white politician-type who seemed a million miles away from Bill's world of long dresses and dusty mesas. The country mouse was greeted by a condescending and bureaucratic wall of lobbyists and faintly-penciled-in five minute meetings at galas. This season's special guest star, Sissy Spacek, finally emerged as a snaky Christian lobbyist who has the congressman's ear and, beginning with Bill mistaking her for a secretary because that's how it is in Utah, became a smirking foil to Bill's dopey squareness and dearth of big-city savvy. Denied several meetings with the congressman, Bill finally got an audience with him after latching onto a nice old lady who just wanted him to have a nice trip. It was more dumb luck than cunning political maneuvering, but it was effectual nonetheless. Bill failed to secure an outright endorsement, but he got the congressman to guarantee a campaign donation, which Bill hoped the voters would see as a tacit approval.
Accompanying him on the trip were Nicki and her compound-missing daughter Cara Lynn, who were just hoping to have a nice family vacation. Or, at least, Nicki sort of was. She's still trying desperately to get back in Bill's good graces, though I'm not quite sure I got that, in light of her revelation last week that she's not sure she really loves him anymore. (A commenter last week suggested maybe she never did, which I wouldn't disagree with.) Of course, Nicki is so bad at trying to create a normal, happily-functioning family unit that the trip ended up a depressing disaster. Cara Lynn bucked against wearing normal clothing and hairstyle, Bill was too busy running around town trying to ask the congressman out on a date to really spend any time with them, and she nearly got arrested for bringing a gun to a political event. The event just happened to be the party where Bill finally got to speak with the disinterested representative, and though she later mucked things up with the whole gun incident, Nicki did help Bill by revealing to Spacek's character, girl to girl in the bathroom, that Bill is a real "big shot" back home in Utah, with an Indian casino and everything. Sissy was impressed ("I like big shots") and gave Bill her own kind of endorsement. Though I'm not sure I entirely trust it. Something about the way she reacted to the casino information makes me suspicious of what's really going on there.
Back home, JJ had no idea that Nicki had taken Cara Lynn with her, because Cara Lynn had lied and told Nicki that she'd gotten his approval. Why Nicki believed that pretty unbelievable fib wasn't really clear, though I suspect she just willed herself into doing so. She wanted to show Cara Lynn "the world", hoping she wouldn't end up like her mother, but Cara just seemed to miss the flat and open skies of Kansas. You can take the girl out of the horrifying Mormon fundamentalist compound, but you can't take the horrifying Mormon fundamentalist compound out of the girl. Disaster's brewing there, what with JJ showing up at Margene's house in a violent rage, only to be chased off by a puffed-chest Ben. As he disappeared into the shadows, JJ said to Ben, "That was a big mistake," and I believed him. As Benny wanders further and further into the strange and responsibility-laden world of Mormon male adulthood, I imagine he'll just keep getting into trouble.
Also getting into trouble was Barb, who's become the de facto head of the casino while Bill is out drumming up support for the campaign. After bringing Sarah to a disastrous sensitivity training — which involved a croupier saying "Get the fuck off our land!" — she accidentally hit a young woman from the reservation with her big stupid SUV. Mormonism literally whacks right up against reservation culture with, I think it's safe to assume, impending disastrous results. The woman turned out to be a meth head with a rap sheet and Adam Beach's character (still a possible love interest for Barb, methinks) had to give her a little education about the meth epidemic. It was a problem that sheltered Barb, of course, was completely ignorant to, even in 2009. Sarah, ever the bleeding heart, ended up taking the woman and her baby into her own apartment, so I guess Amanda Seyfried is sticking around for at least another episode. I'm loving the reservation storyline this season. It gives us another chance to see Barb's worldview pried open, and it also presents us a companion minority culture. One that, unlike the ever-so-persecuted (to hear them tell it) Principle-People, really are under the thumb and at the mercy of the big American system. Here's a culture that genuinely suffers — from poverty, from isolation, from a cruel kind of invisibility — while Barb and her moneyed clan, sure, has to keep some (chosen) things in the closet, but they also get to storm onto reservations and build big, money-makin' casinos. An education in the scale of minority strife might be a good thing for old Barb.
And then we come to the Wowwwww of the episode. There was a small scene in which Ben, after the alarming JJ Attack, tried to play a weird little game of house with Margene. He was sitting at one head of the table, surrounded by the little ones, and he said "Margene, come sit down and eat." And, again, I'm not sure if that kid is a fantastic actor or if he's just really weird and creepy himself, but it was so strangely and quietly aggressive. Just a small moment, but one that led to...
OMG MARGENE KISSED BEN. No, not the other way around! Ben canceled a Mormon rock show to go watch Margene hawk bracelets on primetime for the first time, and she was just so glad to see him, to see anyone, that she just up and kissed him square on the mouth. I'm sure it also had to deal with residual adrenalin and hormones and homey protective stuff from the JJ incident, but I think it was mostly a strange impulse that Ben will read wrong. Margene's producer also read it wrong and, during the live broadcast, had the cameras pan over to "Mr. Margene Heffman," much to everyone's — including Barb's, who was watching at home — terrible surprise. Yiiiiikes! Will anyone make the connection between the gangly kid blushing in the corner and the big grinning casino owner? We'll have to (agonizingly) wait and see.
For whatever reason (probably because I'm a total creep), the Ben/Margene sex-tension has always been one of my favorite little plot points, and I'm thrilled to see it addressed again after Ben's weird love letter thing last season. And that it was Margene who did the kissing! Oh, you sad confused minx.
Also kissing a lot last night were Alby and Mr. UEB, who have agreed to team up to secretly co-run Juniper Creek. "You'll be remembered as the great reformer," the UEB guy whisperingly told Alby, who appeared to like the idea. Their relationship is beyond doomed and Alby is still a gross creeper, but it was oddly touching to see Alby relieved to hear the news that there is no gayness in the Mormon afterlife. I mean, it's complete hogwash (there is only gayness in the Mormon afterlife), but still. Nice to see him... happy.
That's it! What'd you think? Satisfying? Too much? Do you trust Sissy Spacek any more than I do? And what's going to happen with The Incest?