Secrets and Lies
Big Love, Episode 9
By Rob Wilson
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Rob is a member of this online community. This series of reviews is his first submission to us. He can be reached via email, or through our forums.

This will be an ongoing review for the entire 12 weeks of the HBO drama Big Love. Previous editions of this review can be found in the Monthly Columns archives.

The most important moment in this episode comes about when the show is about two thirds of the way over. Bill’s daughter Sarah has lied to her father about a father-daughter pancake breakfast, the reason why she tells him is “because it hurts her to see him lie about his life - telling people you have one wife, one family.” She continues, “I hate that about this life . . . all of us having to hide.”

Nearly everyone that is in a polyamorous relationship of one sort or another lies or keeps secrets from someone in their lives. It could be family who ‘would not understand’ to our employers. We keep these secrets and the lies that we tell to protect them is the central focus of this week’s Big Love. The funny thing is that my girlfriend and I had this exact discussion about my desire to “come out” to my family. “How can I be open and honest in my relationships,” I asked, “when I’m keeping a secret from them?”

Two different stories are told in this episode, titled A Barbecue for Betty, both dealing directly with secrecy and lying.

Margene’s desire for connection is explored further since learning that Bill’s business partner, who already has three wives, is considering taking a fourth wife (Betty), and she has to be accepted by the other wives. She is and loved by them, until her past experiences within various cults are exposed and she is then rejected by them. Margene relates as she has been feeling uncomfortable lately since learning that several votes were held to determine her status in the family, and that someone voted against her.

Although I don’t have any experience with the voting in of a new member of the family, it does bring up a good question. When does the family have the right to vote on where the heart takes us? Is such a thing for our protection - against disease or behavior for example? Or is it something potentially disrupting? These are wonderful talking points but the show sidesteps them were as I would have liked to have seen them explore this issue a bit more in-depth.

Margene also goes to dinner with her friends from the neighborhood and is introduced to a man named Chad who is smitten with her, and later shows up at her door in the pouring rain with flowers. Despite her protests that she is not “available - emotionally” and that she has her eye on another man, Chad tries to kiss her. Rebuffed he heads into the night telling her, “perhaps your looking in the wrong direction.”

This is a clear distinction between polyamory and polygamy, as practiced by many Mormons and other religious faiths. Margene is married and chooses to remain “loyal” to Bill. Here is a chance to explore the differences between polyamory and polygamy. Imagine the direction the show would take if Margene accepted Chad as a lover?

Although she is not lying to anyone, the secrets that she holds are eating away at her, and are causing her to fall into a depression. Unlike Nicki, who is harboring a big secret of her own and this is causing anxiety.

Nicki finally tells Bill about the $60,000 she owes to various credit card companies but does so in their mutual post - coital afterglow. He explodes, heading out of the house and into the street where he drives off. Leaving Nicki standing barefoot and in her nightgown watching him go. The next day Nicki’s anxiety grows as Bill refuses to have anything to do with her and asks Barb if she knew about her debt.

“I was in a difficult position,” Barb tells him. “I’m married to two other people. You seem to forget that sometimes.” Stating basically when do we share information, and how much do we share.

Despite her best attempts Bill continues to rage at her. Which just increases her fears that she will be thrown out of the household. Finally giving in to her fears, she tells Bill another deep dark secret, that her father has been helping her pay the bills. This of course sets Bill off and Nicki running out of the house.

Could this have been prevented? Of course, and although it is much easier said than done in the real world, I believe this is one of the cornerstones of the poly lifestyle, at least the way I understand and interpret it. Honestly along all partners.

I will be the first to admit that I know little about my girlfriend’s financial situation, but have been willing to help her with her ongoing attempts to refinance her house. It is her choice to tell me where she stands financially since we live two different lives for the most part, but it would stand to reason that a family involving more than two people would combine their assets together in some way. Hence I’ve seen Nicki’s debt as nothing but a plot device up to now.

It is more than that. Nicki knows that she has been hiding a deep and terrible secret and fully expects the worse, to be “thrown out like a sack full of unwanted kittens.” She has seen it happen before. So she wonders off into the night, leaving behind her kids and sister wives to be consoled by the lights and merchandise of the local mall.

Bill finds her there the next morning, disheveled from spending the night in a “shelter” and unsure how to answer the ‘martial status’ question on an employment form. Seeing this Bill is able to forgive her. Stating that “You made me feel that I had failed, that I wasn’t in control. But I’m not in control of you.”

He continues “We can disagree, we can argue. We’re human. And beneath that there’s something strong - family. Nothing breaks that bond. We don’t kick out family members.”

No matter what the issue or problem it can be resolved. What a wonderful statement for the show to end on, and indeed this is one of the powerful advantages of polyamory. The fact that we understand and accept that one person can love more than one. That love, that desire to help a love one is powerful. Love of course will not pay off the debt, but at least she has the support of her family to help her try.

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