DVD: In Defense of Big Love's Fourth Season

Much of the press around the upcoming (and final) season of HBO's Big Love seems to be saying, "It's good again," after the widespread harumphing about last year. But with this week's release of Big Love: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO Home Video), it's worth taking another look at this maligned set of episodes.

Granted, season three was a tough act to follow -- scuttlebutt has it that the network had threatened to pull the plug, so the writers basically took every plot idea they ever had and threw it into the communal stewpot, and the result was a breathtakingly zig-zaggy season full of twists, surprises, and stunning revelations. So after all that, it was inevitable that the follow-up would be a little stale.

Wrong! With Bill Henderson (Bill Paxton) running for Utah state senate -- with the intent of coming out as polygamous should he win, as a way to bring The Principle to the public -- everything went ass-over-teakettle, particularly since sister-wives Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) are finding workplace success on their own that would be jeopardized by a public airing of their shared-by-three-houses laundry. All of which placed the usually-scheming Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) front and center as Bill's most supportive wife. All four lead characters got richer and more interesting over the course of the season, and the actors playing them constantly top themselves in the way they bring this Utah foursome to life.

Throw in more wonderfully deranged Mary Kay Place moments (we learn Adaleen was keeping the corpse of her husband, "prophet" Roman Grant, in a freezer), a chilling reappearance of Nicki's first husband (Zjelko Ivanek), and the Jack Abramoff story retold with Sissy Spacek in the Abramoff role, and you've got some memorable television.

The departure of Big Love from TV will be a sad thing, but don't buy into the popular narrative that last season was a stinker -- check out this DVD and decide for yourself.