After quietly turning in three seasons of must see TV, HBO’s life-affirming drama about a family of suburban Mormons, Big Love, dives into their fourth season with lots of changes in store. Gone, for instance, is the blissfully campy ice skating opening sequence and the Beach Boys song that went with it and in its stead is an equally gorgeous opening that plays to the song “Home” by the British band Engineers. Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) are preparing for the opening of their new reservation casino and also dealing with the mysterious disappearance of The Prophet Roman Grant.

Of course us loyal viewers who watched season 3 know that Mr. Grant is no longer with us and soon enough the rest of the major players will be filled in as well, but that only leaves open the question of who will take on his all important role. They also have to deal with an FBI raid of the Juniper Creek compound which has the unfortunate side effect of unearthing yet another one of Nicki’s lies, so to say that this family has a full plate would be an understatement. Watching them bob and weave their way out of one predicament after another is still so pleasurable because the writers have given us full characters that we understand and relate to. That’s hard enough to do on a regular show dealing with your average American family but here we dealing with worshipers of the Church of Latter Day Saints and polygamy, two things that leave a lot of people with an uncomfortable feeling in their gut.

The show, as always, is stuffed to capacity with soapy subplots that ensure every episode is a rich and fulfilling experience. Having this many characters however does mean that some plot threads are more satisfying than others. Amanda Seyfried is always welcome on our screen and it is a relief to see her back in action here as opposed to totally selling out in Hollywood. She plays Bill and Barb’s oldest daughter Sarah and her early season struggle to find her own way in the world despite her mother’s nay saying is a perfect example of the heights that Big Love can reach. Besides being a tender story about the power of conviction on the surface it also, if you look a little closer, has far reaching implications that push the heart of the season onward.

There’s also Ginnifer Goodwin as Bill’s newest wife Margene. Her evolution from season 1 doormat into a woman with her own voice has been slow yet realistic, and serves as the standard for character development on TV. There are, on the other hand, a few storylines that we’d prefer the writers kept to themselves. Ben (Douglas Smith) and his blossoming career as a Christian rocker is off to a less than promising start and Alby’s (Matt Ross) battle to stave off homosexuality feels obligatory and sort of a concession to try to be like everything else on TV these days. But most problematic remain the scenes that take place at Juniper Creek. Dull and distant, it is sad to see that after all these years the writing team has yet to right this portion of their ship. Frank’s (Bruce Dern) failed attempt to have his wife Lois (Grace Zabriskie) offed is so bad it’s nearly comedic.

All in all everybody involved has done a superb job of laying the groundwork for an intriguing season yet to come. On top of all that has been mentioned before perhaps the biggest headline to come out of the first two episodes is that Bill, feeling boxed in and threatened by local government, has decided to run for the state senate. Moreover, once he wins he plans to out himself and his family as polygamists so that they no longer have to spend their days hiding from the truth. This has the potential to push the show off in a radically different direction, one that showcases the families desire to stand behind their faith as opposed to spending their days having to veil who they really are. It also brings up a small little question about Bill and his lifestyle, how does he cram it all in? Besides running his successful chain of home improvement stores he is also juggling that new casino, three wives, nine children and all of that drama happening at Juniper Creek. Add to that a run for office and it becomes clear that this man must have more than 24 hours in his day. The show, like Bill, runs the risk of spreading itself too thin but if there is a show alive up to the challenge then it’s Big Love and thus far the new season has us giddy with anticipation.

Read more about: