I was a faithful watcher of HBO’s Big Love throughout its 5-year run. However, there was always a disconnect between what plenty of critics thought about the show, and its point-of-view about its lead character, and what it seemed the producers saw in him. That extended right down to the very end of the series. As you can probably tell, spoiler alert for the end of the show…
To a lot of viewers, Bill Henrickson was not a sympathetic protagonist. Angry, controllist, passive aggressive and aggressively lacking in wisdom, he was frustrating to watch. Each season managed to build steam simply because Bill would fumble around a situation, retaliating and making it worse and worse until it exploded in the face of everyone else in his life.
And in the end, Bill Henrickson was killed. Not as a result of his three marriages, which ranged from unhappy to merely troubling, nor from his tensions with the nearby polygamist compound. It was because of a bad situation that he accidentally exacerbated, trying to be a good guy and just making things worse. As he always did. And his three wives were shown, a family together without him, moving on.
After the finale, the producers discussed the decision with the media, framing it in the sense of wanting to show that Bill had something to be proud of: that he’d built a fantastic family that would continue after he was gone. However, my reading of the finale was different. The point of those final scenes, for me, was a moment not to glorify Bill Henrickson’s legacy, but to celebrate one thing: these women survived him. Through all the trouble he brought down on their heads, all of the controlling behaviour and all the danger he brought home to them, they surived.
The legacy of the show doesn’t lie with Bill Henrickson, but with the women who managed to live through every mistake their husband made or made worse. And though I disagree with the producers on whether he was a good man, or just one who helped push the drama, at least the ending satisfied us both.