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“Big Love”: Wife No. 4 on the way?

Watching the season finale of “Big Love” last night and seeing Bill Paxton making out with his wannabe girlfriend/fourth wife to be Branka Katic (Ana the waitress), I wondered why it’s OK for him to be unfaithful in his marriage and not anyone else who tires for old and wants something new and fresh?

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Being polygamists, the Henricksons don’t have to abide by normal laws of matrimony: one wife at a time. But under the guidelines of his religion, Bill Henrickson can, without discussion, announce to his three wives — all wonderfully portrayed by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin — that he’s received a calling for a fourth woman to share his bed.

Suddenly, when Bill locked lips with Katic, my first and only wife turned around to me and said, “He’s just a cheater.” Can’t really argue with that.

The episode was a strong, if not stellar, conclusion to “Big Love,” the series that HBO moved to Mondays in order to allow “John From Cincinnati” to gather post-“Sopranos” momentum. Yeah, how’d that work out for “John”? “Love” often feels like it’s traveling under that radar at HBO, which sees much bigger buzz on “Entourage” and even the low-watched but geek-friendly “Flight of the Conchords.”

Even at Emmy time, “Love” seems, well, unloved. Granted, it wasn’t eligible this Emmy season but in its first campaign it didn’t receive a series or any acting nominations. And Paxton and his three ladies — or at least one of them — are certainly worthy of awards attention. Even Sevigny, who’s so good that she makes me hate her Nicolette Grant.

With “Sopranos” gone and HBO looking for a drama series that might be able to capture some of that watercooler talk that Tony and the gang seemed to create week after week, “Big Love” is as good a candidate as anything they’ve got.

Certainly, the upcoming “Tell Me You Love Me,” about three couples who go to therapy and reveal intimate details about their love life, will get plenty of publicity for all the sex that takes place. And it would be a shame if this addictive series is dismissed as exploitive and not given credit for the terrific dialogue and intricate interplay between characters, as created by Cynthia Mort.

But “Big Love” is the better long-term candidate for keeping viewers subscribed to their HBO. Though the network will rightly say that it counts its audience on a cumulative scale — adding up the different broadcasts during the week, including video on demand, rather than just on the premiere night — moving it to Mondays didn’t seem right.

It’s earned a move back to Sunday for season three. Polygamists, whether you agree with their philosophy or not, seem a better fit than surfers, no matter who they’re sleeping with.

— Stuart Levine

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