HBO’s family drama Big Love wrapped up its fourth season this week with a series of plot twists that have shaken up the series’ narrative foundations. The Daily Beast spoke to Big Love creator/executive producers Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer in an interview about the season finale.
Now we take you deeper into the world of Big Love to bring you more details from that interview with Olsen and Scheffer. Spoiler alert: They discussed changing Big Love’s opening credit sequence in the fourth season; what happened to the church Bill (Bill Paxton) started; whether it was Tommy (Adam Beach) or Jerry (Robert Beltran) who sold out the Henricksons to Marilyn Densham (Sissy Spacek); what JJ (Zeljko Ivanek) wanted from Joey (Shawn Doyle); the creepy miracle pregnancy of Adaleen (Mary Kay Place); and much more.
“There was one final Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn)/Tommy scene, but it was absolutely impossible to get it to play when all of a sudden we’re in the midst of everything that’s happening up at JJ’s Dr. Mengele House of Horrors.”
The Daily Beast: What was behind the decision to change the credit sequence for Season 4 from the Beach Boys’ “ God Only Knows” to this? Do you think it better reflected the emotional state of the Henricksons this season?
Mark V. Olsen: I think so, but in an unplanned way. I have wanted to deep-six our opening credits for about two years. I felt like it got us out of the gate. Some people didn’t even know that it’s the parable of the Mormon religion: the belief in the afterlife and going to your planet with your multiple wives. Some people think it’s just this lovely little ice-skating in the desert with some veils thrown in.
• Jace Lacob: Big Love's Big FinaleI felt like we moved beyond that… [and] the tone of the show was heading in a different direction. We wanted to do something other than a polemic on Mormon theology in our opening credits. It was really quite fortuitous that HBO had scheduled the publicity shoot for this season, and we watched that footage. It was like, oh my God, this is so elegant and so beautiful. Is there any chance folks that we could jump horses mid-stream and convert something like this into our [credits]? …We didn’t know that we would have a quote in that opening credit sequence, “hold tight,” which was our promo campaign, [that would connect to] that final image at the state house, with the four of them standing up there holding hands. But it did turn out that way.
Will Scheffer: We felt like [the actors] had grown and they deserved to be seen as they’ve matured. Their faces as they are now, we really wanted to show that. A lot of title sequences don’t show the actors, and ours did. We felt we needed to reflect that.
The Daily Beast: What happened to Bill’s church from the beginning of the season? Did it fall by the wayside after his testimony pushed him to pursue a political office?
Scheffer: I remember talking about this while in the writers' room, about his testimony to have an action that made a difference in the world, that took him into the world and not into the insularity of a church, or that kind of messianic or missionary kind of world. Faith in action was… in his DNA in a way. He could have headed toward the prophethood or toward being the head of a church, but he had this need to put things to action, especially out of what was going on with polygamy in the larger picture this year.
Olsen: Even though we share duties in the writers' room, I have a completely different point of view than Will on this one. Although he is quite right, we did talk about that in the writers' room, my rationale is very different. There were certain plausibility issues that needed to be nailed down about Bill Henrickson running for office... Within the context of that discussion, it seemed obvious to me that, even though it’s a very short run—a stealth campaign that only covers about four weeks in real time on the ground, because it’s a special election to replace a deceased member of the senate—it would not behoove him to be meeting with a group of polygamists in a neighborhood church over the course of those four weeks.
We attempted to address that in Episode 5, where there’s a brief moment with Joey… as Bill is awaiting his fortune. Joey is really skeptical about all of Bill’s activities in this regard and asked him, “So hey, what’s up with that church you founded, big brother?” Bill just said, “I had to put it aside for the time being."
The Daily Beast: Will we ever see him go back to that church? Do you plan to address that?
Olsen: Now that the pressure is off him, absolutely.
The Daily Beast: Is Sissy Spacek’s arc on the show finished?
Olsen: At a minimum, we will be referencing [Marilyn] next season. Her involvement in that casino and the scale of what she did in terms of her criminality is such that I think it at least has to be addressed next season.
The Daily Beast: Was it Jerry or Tommy Flute who sold the Henricksons out to Marilyn?
Olsen: Tommy… In the interest of making this finale manageable, we cut [two scenes], but he was the one who did it. There was one final Barb [Jeanne Tripplehorn]/Tommy scene, but it was absolutely impossible to get it to play when all of a sudden we’re in the midst of everything that’s happening up at JJ’s Dr. Mengele House of Horrors, so we [couldn’t] cut to Barb and Tommy sharing a few painful words with one another... But it was Tommy.
The Daily Beast: Will the Flutes return?
Olsen: I don’t know. We’re taking a good long look at that… Will rightfully pointed out, don’t forget Marilyn’s line of dialogue, “Tommy and Jerry Flute might hate me, but boy do they hate you more.” I [thought], well, that’s an interesting dynamic to consider playing: What happens if your partners in this tribal casino despise you and you’re all stuck in bed? We don’t have an answer for that one just yet.
The Daily Beast: What was JJ’s plan for Joey?
Olsen: Joey was a card for JJ to play. Joey was a piece of insurance for JJ to take out. I think JJ was feeling his way along with what could he do with this card. How would he play this card? When was the time right to play that card? We never got to the point in the storyline where we felt the need to declare that moment where JJ was going to pull the Joey trigger, as it were.
Scheffer: I think that JJ’s character thought that he might need to play that card if Bill pursued the prophethood—
Olsen: Or pursued Kansas and what JJ had going on there.
Scheffer: There was a more personal reason, which was evident in the last episode where he says to Nicki, “I’m so glad you came back and we’re finally reunited,” which was his more personal feelings he had for Nicki, which may have [forced] him to take out Bill for these more Shakespearean reasons of a personal nature with his love for Nicki.
The Daily Beast: What happened to Joey in Mexico after the kidnapping? Why didn’t he come back with the others?
Scheffer: We talked about this a lot, whether we wanted to bring him back and play out what he would do at this moment with finding Wanda mute and deal with the fallout from his admission that he killed Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton). I think we again felt like we had so many stories hurdling to their conclusion that it almost felt like a new story.
Olsen: We had Joey plotted out for the last three episodes to make good on his alliance with JJ. We had some great scenes where he showed up at the house demanding that they turn Wanda back over to him. We had a great brother reckoning… We were going to toy with the idea that Joey might even have a “kill Bill” moment or close to it. This is one of those moments, one of those pieces that was hurt by the loss of that 10th episode, because we just couldn’t carry it. So, we thought, OK, we’ll pick it up next year, but we need to park this one because it will be one too many balls in the air.
The Daily Beast: Does Adaleen (Mary Kay Place)’s murder of JJ and Malinda (Melinda Page Hamilton) create a positive situation for Cara Lynn (Cassi Thomson) in that she can now stay with the Henricksons? They’re dead, right?
Olsen: They’re definitely dead. I think Cara Lynn has this kind of horrific history that she was in a way sheltered from [the world] and it does enable her to make a break from it. That was an important consideration for us, that she kind of be free from this stain.
The Daily Beast: Adaleen is now pregnant with the biological child of siblings JJ and Wanda (Melora Walters). Will the unborn child be sticking around?
Olsen: I think that child is going to be sticking around… I think it’s fairly safe to say we’re coming back three calendar months later. We’re actually going to try and pull off doing winter on our show and we’ll be coming back roughly with a timeline set in January. Adaleen will only be three, four months pregnant… I fully expect that woman to keep that baby.
The Daily Beast: Is there any truth to reports that you had met with Macaulay Culkin about possibly joining the cast?
Olsen: Well, we didn’t really meet. He came up to the set one day with Chloë [Sevigny]. She introduced him and we liked him.
Scheffer: We like him enormously and we thought, oh, my God, he’s an actor that could fit into the world of our show in a lot of different ways. I think we expressed how much we liked him and that got blown out of proportion into [a rumor that] he’s going to be on Big Love.
Olsen: Sometimes these things that get blown out of the water do become self-fulfilling prophecies. We have been [thinking] over the last couple of weeks about this thing that tumbled out into the press. Is there any merit to it, Will? Is this something we want to consider? We’re game, we’re open… But, it certainly wasn’t some pre-designed plan.
Scheffer: We have to go into the writers' room in a week and a half and discuss that because it hasn’t happened yet, that’s for sure.
The Daily Beast: How happy was Chloë Sevigny to ditch Nicki’s prairie clothes this season?
Scheffer: Well, I don’t know. She’s always said that she likes playing in them… I felt like, by the end, her character was confused what to do. Almost like she had overstepped, she had gone too far by giving up her prairie dress. She had lost her bearings in a way, and she didn’t know who she was.
Olsen: I think we’re going to try and find some middle ground between prairie dress and flouncing around like a cocktail waitress.
The Daily Beast: So, no more side ponytail?
Olsen: Well, I don’t know. A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a Web site devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.