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Big Love: The Complete Fifth Season

HBO // Unrated // December 6, 2011
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted December 19, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

The end of the fourth season of Big Love found Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton, A Simple Plan) not only being open and honest about his practices of polygamy, but bringing his family out into the spotlight as well, particularly in lieu of his successful election to the Utah Senate. With the show reaching its final season, it certainly would be interesting to see how show creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer could wrap things up in a neat and tidy package.

Considering how the fourth season seemingly doubled down on the incredulity, the last season stepped away from that edge to a degree, but the writers still had a bit of a dilemma on their hands. They had to figure out where these characters would wind up and not only had to restore a bit of gravitas to their events but also present as nice an ending as possible. But the season was not without its drama. The largest part of the friction for the family was easily the advanced role that Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Swept Away) was seeking within the family. Already assisting Bill with matters at the statehouse, she desired a priesthood within Bill's newly created church, a position which Bill could not (or did not feel compelled enough to) provide. Considering that Barb was the first wife and was accepting of Bill's religious views and his desire to take on additional wives through the years you would think Bill would be a bit more accepting of this. Not only is he not, but Nicki (Chloe Sevigny, Zodiac) views this as the perfect opportunity to become first wife, and does it through logistical means so that Barb does not really have a problem with being "forced out," for lack of a better term. Nicki has her own issues when it comes to being a capable parent, with her oldest daughter being involved with her teacher and all. Nicki's brother Albie (Matt Ross, Good Night and Good Luck) returns to a more prominent role in the season to reclaim control of the Juniper Creek compound (where some of Bill's family still lives) and regain some payback on Bill in some way that will hurt him.

And what about Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin, Something Borrowed) you ask? Well her participation in the show seems to dwindle in its final year, as she continues to find herself bouncing around various money-making schemes, with this year's being selling Goji berry juice. As far as her sensationalistic arc in the season, well that would have to be the shocker that she was actually 16 when she and Bill married, making Bill a prime target for a statutory rape charge (with Barb being accused as a "procurer" of sorts). And we haven't even touched on Bill's fight in the statehouse, where he repeatedly clashes heads with the Senate President, an anti-polygamist representative who wants to force Bill out of the Senate almost immediately from the word "go."

There seems to be a bit of a tug of war going on within the storylines of Big Love in Season Five. On one hand, you have the over the top nature of the fourth season propelling things in the fifth, particularly when it comes to the final confrontation between Albie and Bill in the statehouse. There is also Bill's defiant stance against any threat to his livelihood in the political arena, something that let's face it, normal political arenas would have killed him for, or at the very least made him look like Herman Cain.

With the end of the series though, there is one last chance for each character to toss the microphone and go out as they logically should, and the actors certainly devote their resources to it, particularly in Tripplehorn's case, as her performance this season reminds me of her efforts in Season Two. Goodwin doesn't have much to do outside of the norm, but she does handle herself well (and her development might go under the radar for being one of the best the show had to offer). And what of Bill Hendrickson, the guy who, in the words of Ric Flair is "causin' all this"? I think the way Bill goes out seems to marry both the concept of tabloid-esque storytelling and logistics. This is a man whose aspirations through the years have seemingly pulled the family apart, a family that he was desperate to maintain. To see a resolution to this could be seen as a joke to some, but upon further consideration you can think there was no other way for it to happen, and I appreciate it. Doesn't mean I agree with it, but Olsen and Scheffer took the best possible exit based on the route presented, and you can't ask for much more than that.

The LA Times is anonymously quoted about Big Love on the back of the DVD packaging, saying "If there's a better written, better acted, more originally conceived show on television, I defy you to name it." While the conceiving of the show was original and the first two seasons were nicely written and executed, things got a bit sideways over the last three seasons, with the last season ending perhaps as well as it could have, given the circumstances. Returning to the quote, the days of its writing and acting quality have long since left it, making Big Love the equivalent of a solid veteran athlete who has been frequently hurt and relegated to a lesser role on the team. It's not even the best written or acted show on HBO any more, which (considering the dearth of original programming on the network), is saying something. It's sad to see Big Love go, but at this point it was for the best.

The DVDs:
The Video:

The last ten episodes of Big Love are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, consistent with their original broadcast airings. Set against the backdrop of a winter in Utah, the color palette is darker this year than in previous ones, with lots of grays and whites in the exterior shots when not inside during or after hours in the statehouse. The image is natural without any distracting edge enhancement or haloing, and flesh tones look natural. The black levels in the image are decent without many instances of crushing or pixelation. Another solid looking effort.

The Sound:

Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (along with French 5.1 surround and Spanish two-channel tracks) rules the day once again for the show. There is not a lot to sink your teeth, er, ears into over the course of the show, but the soundtrack handles the load easily and stretches into the other channels when called upon. Dialogue is consistent throughout the season and directional effects and channel panning are present, just a little on the occasional side. I wasn't expecting to be blown away from the DVDs particularly in light of what happens on the show, they mirror the experience as accurately as I remember it.


The "Inside the Episode" feature returns once again for this season's worth of discs. The case notes it as "in-depth commentary on your favorite characters and multiple plot twists," but is really the same three to five-minute recollection of events in a particular episode, scene or character from Olsen and Scheffer that we saw before. On the last disc, "The End of Days" (25:52) is a look back at the show with Olsen, Scheffer and the stars as they talk about the origins of the show and the casting decisions involved. In addition, the actors talk about how they arrived to the show and how their character evolved through the years along with their thoughts on polygamy in general. The piece ends with some bloopers tossed in during the end credits and it is a nice inclusion to the set overall.

Final Thoughts:

Toss Big Love onto the growing pile of shows that started off promising yet got consumed by wanting to be outrageous for the sake of the exercise. Technically it still remains a solid set of discs though from a bonus material perspective also remains barren. If you have seen more than two seasons of the show or have stuck with it through the strange times, it is worth checking out to see where things end up, but I'd hardly recommend buying this, particularly if there are plans for a complete series release of some sort.

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