Of HBO's repertoire of reliably mind-blowing TV over the last few years, perhaps only Big Love has been able to simultaneously elicit horror and sympathy from its viewers so seamlessly.
Its first season was an exercise in self-examination as much as it was a straight-forward delicious soap, and in making even an attempt to empathize with its four main characters, viewers found themselves asking questions of themselves and their partners: Could we be part of a plural marriage? Should doing so be a legal option for anyone in the nation? Could I pull off a french braid poof? And, ultimately, is the kind of complex network of marriages we're seeing week after week even remotely sustainable?
With this particular question in mind, here is a probability rundown (based entirely on unfounded guesswork) of every combination of Mr. and Mrs. Henrickson(s) being together at the series' end.
I'd love to conduct actual quantitative research measuring how long it took viewers to go from totally weirded-out by, to sympathetic to, the Henricksons in the first season of Big Love, even on a superficial, knee-jerk level. Certainly morbid curiosity overshadowed outright hater-dom by the time Tina Majorino's cop-dad became an issue late in the first season. She of all people should really know a thing or two about unlikely and controversial relationships:
I think on some level, the family making it through in-tact is a lot of peoples' idea of a happy ending. But I'm gonna go with pretty slim odds on this one. 13%
However, every wife coming swiftly and neatly into secular liberation is perhaps a more widely held vision of a Big Love happy ending. And there is an argument to be made for things heading that way. Nikki slapped Bill! She slapped him right nice! Marge got hitched. Barb's sweating it up with the guy from Smoke Signals. For someone with three rings on his finger, Bill Henrickson is failing to keep that (those?) locked down, to our conflicted delight. But, if anything, Bill's identity is based on his role-within, and power over, his family, and we can't really see him being on his own, leader of no one. 2%
Bill + Nikki + Margene
Sexy Blackfoot (hereby known as SBF). Bill's increasingly divisive (and hilarious) political path. Margene sporadically getting re-riled up about polygamy:
Although Barb has inarguably sacrificed the most for the Henrickson's marriage, she also seems like one of the more likely candidates to jump ship (perhaps in time to sabotage Bill's political image, hurling him toward Juniper Creek once again? Hmm?) 10%
Bill + Nikki
Bill's political career ends, possibly with the exposure of his family. Margene leaves to pursue her career, that Serbian she married, or some combination of the two., Barb bangs SBF. Bill becomes Prophet, and Nikki's totally down. 5%
Bill + Margene
Imagining any future in which Margene and Bill are still together is compelling. A Margene that stays in the Henrickson marriage at the loss of the other wives seems, if not incompatible with the Margene we've been seeing in ecent episodes, then a little unlikely. But the show's creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer certainly like f***ing with us (skank-fabulous 80s Nikki? Surprise cousin-dating? Bed-snakes?). Just imagine a newly prophet-ed Bill and a lobotomized, pilgrim-garbed Margene, dead-inside from time in the clink or too many Serbian leg-squeezes. 20%
Bill + Barb
Nikki runs off with Cara Lynn. Margene finds herself in the most delicious or ironies in a joint relationship with Ana and handsy-Serb. Barb quits hugging SBF. And first-wives around the country rejoice. 20%
Bill + Nikki + Barb
Bill + Margene + Barb
Nikki has proven to be the last two seasons' loose cannon. And assuming Olsen and Scheffer are sticking more or less to the HBO five-season model, she has little time to make up her mind about her role in Bill's increasingly unpredictable future. And her bailing is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. She could totally crush out yet again, continue her love-affair with mid-calf skirts, or simply find a zine in Williamsburg willing to take her as their cover girl. 10%
But what do we know? We want to hear your thoughts, here, and of course in #tvparty.