You already know that, as of this Sunday, Big Love is back, as in “back on the air.” But what you don’t know is that it’s also back, as in “back on top of its game.” Yep, having seen the first three episodes of the HBO drama’s fifth and final season, I can say with great relief that the new stuff is as grounded and focused as last season was overstuffed and schizoid. The Hendrickson clan itself, however, is a big pile of mess. In the following Q&A, series creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer respond to season 4’s critics (Chloë Sevigny among them) and tease what’s in store for Bill, Bark, Nikki and Margene as they approach the home stretch. Hint: doubt, drama and big decisions.
TVLINE | Did you learn any lessons about season 4 that you applied to this season?
Olsen: Of course. We went back to the writers’ room, as we do every year, and did a post-mortem. We looked at what we did during season 4 and we looked at how it was perceived, critically [speaking]. We had some agreements with [the criticism]. And we also ad some very strong disagreements with it.
Scheffer: This season [we set out] to refocus on the family and bring things into this very intimate place. Last season was kind of an operatic fever dream for us, which we felt was right for the season to get us where we were going, which was [Bill, Barb, Nikki, and Margene] coming out of the closet [as polygamists]. And we also wanted to use a lot of our ensemble last season, and this season we wanted to focus [on the core cast].
TVLINE | Did you take the critical knocks personally?
Olsen: We did not take it personally, but it was confusing because [the show] wasn’t received as we saw it nor as we intended it. So it was baffling and frustrating and irritating. It was like, “Were we all watching the same thing?” At the end of the day, it was a really invigorating exercise for both of us. We read everything. We do. We haunt the boards, we read the blogs, we read it all.
TVLINE | How’s your relationship with Chloë? Did you start the season off with a group hug?
Olsen: We had the group hug with Chloë the day after she made the comments. We love that woman. We get it it. We get what she said.
Scheffer: Chloë is a company girl. She’s so not the fashionista-diva that is her image, so for her to get a little bit drunk on champagne and speak bluntly at a party and then to have it come back to bite her…
Olsen: If anything, we felt bad for her.
Scheffer: She called us in tears. Yes, we were angry that it had made the press and it started to [spiral]. But more than us being angry, we felt bad that she felt so bad about it. And we immediately wrapped our arms around her; she was just a mess about the whole thing.
TVLINE | When did you make the decision that this would be the final season?
Olsen: We’ve always known where we wanted to take the family, the characters, and the story. What we didn’t know is exactly how long it would take and how much story we had to roll out to get to that point. And when we sat down in the writers’ room at the beginning of the season the question was, “Do we have two years in us, or is it one year?” We ultimately decided it was a one-year thing.
Scheffer: It was very much a mutual decision with HBO.
TVLINE | What’s the theme of the season?
Scheffer: It’s about the [family’s] struggle to understand their faith. That question of faith becomes a very centralized theme for the entire season.
Olsen: It’s the ultimate chickens coming home to roost. The bargains and deals that [Barb, Nikki, and Margene] made in their lives, with their identities and how they came into this marriage, are all tried by fire. All of the characters have a journey this season, a journey that [bookends] where they began the series five years ago.
TVLINE | Out of all the wives, Barb seems to be the one questioning her faith and lifestyle the most.
Olsen: Absolutely. This is the season where Barb doesn’t back down.
TVLINE | Will Bill still have three wives when the series ends?
Olsen: Hmm.. Do I want to reveal that? [Pauses] Yes. Yes, he will… [But] there are some good twists.
Scheffer: Something happens that you’ll never see coming.
TVLINE | What’s the title of the series finale?
Scheffer: “When Men and Mountains Meet.” It’s a William Blake quote. The whole quote is, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” It was a quote that seemed to really symbolize the pioneer aspect of the show. And when you see what our hero does by the end of the season, we feel that greatness has been achieved.