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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
hen we left the proudly polygamous Henrickson clan at the close of Season Three of “Big Love,” their fundamentalist nemesis Roman Grant had been shuffled off this mortal coil, seemingly clearing the only major obstacle between themselves and a peaceful, drama-free existence. But from the opening moments of Season Four, it’s clear that Roman’s death won’t make things any easier for the Henricksons – which is, of course, good news for fans of the show.
There was a fair amount of negative buzz around Season Four of “Big Love,” most notably comments made by Chloë Sevigny about it being “awful” and “far-fetched,” and some of it was on point: watching these episodes, you can feel the creative team behind the series getting restless, the way Genji Cohen did with “Weeds” a few seasons ago, and tearing at the narrative fabric of the show. The dominant theme for this arc is change, starting with Roman’s death and rippling ever outward – from the obvious stuff, like the Utah Senate campaign waged by Henrickson patriarch Bill (Bill Paxton) and the uprooting of eldest daughter Sarah (Amanda Seyfried), to the shifting dynamics between wives Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin).
Change can be a good thing, though, and that’s happily the case with Season Four of “Big Love.” If there’s a major problem with this season, it’s that it only runs a piddling nine episodes, a comedown even for a show that’s never offered more than a dozen at a time. As a result, you get a whole bunch of stuff crammed into each hour, which certainly minimizes dead air, but also leaves the show feeling a little bit like a clown car, with random bits of patchwork chaos poking out at odd angles. When a show about fundamentalist Mormons reduces a major character’s homosexual affair to subplot status, you know there’s an awful lot going on.
That being said, “Big Love” is a serial drama, and to complain about too much of a good thing seems churlish. Parceled out over several weeks, Season Four might be hard to untangle, but now that it’s on DVD and the episodes can be seen back-to-back, it’s every bit as absorbing as the show’s earlier, more critically lauded seasons. And while the hectic tilt between the high-stakes tension of Bill’s campaign and the madcap lunacy developing everywhere else on the canvas definitely feels frantic, there’s a method, and a real rhythm, underlying the madness.
Most importantly, at bottom, “Big Love” is still very much the show it’s always been: an examination of what it means to uphold an ideal, and how many parts of yourself you’re willing to lose in order to see a dream to its fruition. This may not be the best season of the series, but it does a fine job of ratcheting up the stakes for the show’s final run, set to begin in mid-January. By the time the credits roll on Season Four’s last episode, you’ll be left wondering how in the hell the Henricksons can possibly keep going. And isn’t that exactly how we want to be left hanging?
Special Features: Given that this set only takes up nine episodes and three discs, you might be hoping for heaps of bonus material, but “Big Love: The Complete Fourth Season” doesn’t really deliver. We have to give points for including added content for every episode, but it’d be nice if that content was more than just a brief “inside the episode” featurette offering a few minutes of interviews with creators/executive producers Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. They’re fine for what they are, but don’t buy this set for anything but the episodes.