“Big Love” has had great moments in the course of its run, with the show’s premise –- a polygamist and his three wives, braving suburban bliss –- providing a wonderful showcase for its top-notch, multi-generational cast, and a wide variety of hairpin twists and turns.

Biglove11_11 Last season’s finale, however –- which saw the protagonist, Bill Henrickson (played by Bill Paxton), go public with his commitment to “the principle” after waging a state senate campaign –- has set up a final season that seems virtually doomed to disappoint.

Having watched three episodes, the closing arc of this HBO drama seems intent on testing the characters and forcing them to suffer, with first and third wives Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) taking the chain of events especially hard. Meanwhile, there’s that little matter of Alvy (Matt Ross), a closeted homosexual and sadistic psychopath who has assumed control of the polygamous compound where Bill’s other wife, Nikki (Chloe Sevigny), was raised.

The cast is strong enough to keep the show interesting, but going public was in hindsight a terrible mistake dramatically – the kind of big flourish that makes for a gee-whiz cliffhanger but has left the writers with relatively little dramatic wiggle room. Biglove11_12 If anything, the show has become mostly shrill, and while Ross is terrific, misses Harry Dean Stanton as his father, a wonderfully evil villain.

Perhaps there’s a way to pay all this off that redeems the season’s plodding start, but at this point I’ll be watching the subsequent episodes more for the sake of continuity than out of enthusiasm.

Then again, that just goes to show how vulnerable serialized dramas are to such missteps – and reminds us that when it comes to our favorite series, falling out of love can be a real bitch.