“Big Love” crested creatively during its third season, but that serialized storyline entailed so many moving parts as to perhaps inevitably yield hiccups as the series begins its fourth flight. Although the plot about a secret suburban polygamist initially produced plenty of clever moments about marital politics, the program grew richer and more dense by widening its lens beyond suburban polygamy to the machinations of law enforcement, politicians and even Native-American gaming that now surround its thrice-married protagonist. All told, it’s a heady brew, despite the slightly flat start.
Going too deeply into the plot risks spoiling the fun, but suffice to say that life for the extended Henrickson clan still hasn’t quite recovered from the criminal proceedings that dominated much of season three. Bill (Bill Paxton) is still estranged from second-wife Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) — who secretly helped her father, polygamous patriarch Roman (Harry Dean Stanton), and developed feelings for another man. Meanwhile, Bill is preparing to open a “family-friendly” casino (that idea alone is pretty hilarious) in conjunction with local tribal leaders who are leery of the peripheral hoopla regarding Roman and company.
First wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) has problems with the whole casino idea, but it turns out third wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) — while outwardly ditsy — possesses a surprisingly good head for business. Throw in Roman’s closeted son Alby (Matt Ross), an increasingly tortured and fascinating character; Bill’s squabbling, bordering-on-homicidal parents (Grace Zabriskie, Bruce Dern); and the assorted Henrickson kids (among them “Mamma Mia!’s” Amanda Seyfried), and there’s no shortage of diversions.
Perhaps too many, actually, in the first of these nine hours, which feels jumbled and hurried. The show settles down considerably in the second episode, and the cast (which credits a dizzying 30 characters) is almost uniformly superb — extracting memorable moments from what are ostensibly peripheral players, like Mary Kay Place as Roman’s ruthless wife and Nicki’s mother.
At this point, the show’s creative team has earned the latitude to trust that it knows where it’s heading, as unpredictable and soapy (times three) as that path might appear. So while the series has so many plates spinning as to feel messy at times, the course of true “Love” never did run smooth.