Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cheeseburger & Fries Salute Bill

If memory serves me right, it was two years ago today that we raised our glasses to Bunk & Jimmy from The Wire, in honor of their distinctly Transylvanian flavor of guy-style. Now let's toast a toast (I love toast) to the man, the myth, the Mormon, Bill Henrickson from Big Love.

At first glance, you might find it puzzling why Bill would merit consideration from the Old Older of Transylvania Gentlemen. After all, he's a clean-living teetotaller, a religious ideologue, a social conversative, and his idea of a good time is sipping a milkshake while watching the Weather Channel. So what's the big deal about Bill?

I think Bill's misadventures strike a resonant chord in many men - especially our brand of man - because, like Caesar, he is beset from all sides with negative naysayers who continually place obstacles in the path. Furthermore, he is, like Howard the Duck, trapped in a world he never made; swimming his way through a society that is not his own. A society that would probably lynch him if they knew how he really felt about life, the universe, and everything.

Bill is an organized man, and everywhere he goes, he encounters disorganization. His wives hold daily morning meetings to discuss family matters, assignment of household duties, etc., essentially treating domestic life like a military war room or a corporate board of directors. But all too often, they squabble amongst themselves, jockeying for power and attention instead of staying focused on the greater mission.

Bill is a positive man. Time and time again, he attempts to foster forward-thinking, positive energy among those around him, but he gets shot down every time. His business partner Don jeopardizes a casino deal because he can't leave his personal marital problems out of the workplace. His own employees spy on him and gossip about his religion and his lifestyle. Even the man who he rents billboard space from unprofessionally insults Lady Bird Johnson during a business meeting, and looks at Bill as if he's a putz for being offended by it. During a candle-lit family get-together for Margene to talk about the good things she remembers about her recently deceased mother, she can't think of anything kind to say. Much to Bill's horror.

Bill is a tenacious man. Stubborn, even. He finds himself enmeshed in a whole constellation of various conspiracies, secret groups and sub-groups, with undetermined motives and shifting alliances. But Bill, milquetoast though he may seem at a glance, takes on all these enemies and challengers by the horns every time. Using some tricks out of the Patrick McGoohan "Hammer Into Anvil" playbook, he even successfully pits some of his oppressors against each other. (Somewhere, Lao Tzu is smiling.) Bill takes no pleasure from all these conspiratorial shenanigans, unlike Alby, who seems to get off on it all for its own sake. Bill does not seek these fights, but he does prevail.

Bill is a ladies man. He's not much to look at, but he has a very healthy sex life with each of his three (four if you count Anna) wives. So much so, that he has to covertly pop those little blue men's pills to help keep the flag from flagging. Naive though he may be in many worldly ways, he's savvy enough of an observer of psychology to know what his women want - as in the episode where we see the contrast between sex with Nicki and sex with Margene. Margene wants oral sex and wants to be told she's a very bad girl, and Nicki can't accept anything but vanilla face-to-face positions, and wants to be told she's a very good girl. Though Bill would never admit it, he's very in touch with his feminine and sensitive side. Moments when he's trying to be studly, like a discussion about women with Don that includes the phrase "break that filly", come off false and awkward.

Bill is a family man, a team player. Nicki may be a more obvious example of a character who looks at life in strictly black and white terms, Us vs. Them, Insiders vs. Outsiders, but Bill's every bit the same way. He's just a little more socialized and learned to fake it, that's all. At heart, Bill organizes humanity in only two boxes: on one side, there's his family and friends who share devotion to the common cause, The Principle, and on the other side, there's everybody else. But whereas Nicki's disdain for outsiders leads her to sociopathic behavior, Bill takes a more moral high road and chooses to simply ignore that which does not help further the goals of his own mission. but as evidenced in the episode where Bill thinks the neighbors are slandering and shunning his daughter, woe be into anyone who threatens his children. Bill is just seconds away from tearing the man apart when Nicki suddenly interrupts the street fair with her rooftop soliloquy.

Tonight's the season opener of the latest round of Big Love, and I look forward to seeing what happens next. Ever since the night when Bill had the fall from the hayloft - when he laid there dazed and staring wide-eyed into a star-filled night sky fraught with meaning, he seems headed for cosmic greatness. Advance whispers about this season's plot arc would seem to corroborate my theory.

- - JSH

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