HBO's Mormon polygamy drama Big Love wrapped up its five-year run on Sunday night. Never a crossover hit on par with The Sopranos or Sex and the City, the series nonetheless registered an impressive cult following since its debut in 2006. In print and online, devotees weighed in on the finale (which we've avoided recapping, lest you still have it waiting on your DVR) and presented arguments about the show's cultural impact

  • To understand the show's genius, writes the New York Times' Ginia Bellafante, one must consider the circumstances under which it arrived. When it debuted in 2006, "the series was served up as a chewy slab of sirloin for the network’s liberal audience," a red state version of The Sopranos. If James Gandolfini's mob patriarch was an "appealing avatar of Clintonian compartmentalization and appetite" Bill Paxton's Bill Hendrickson was a "distinctly Bush-era counterpart, forever unquestioning and wed to his certainties." Yet the show never looked away from its main character, and Bellafante applauds writers Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer for scripting a finale that portrayed their "protagonist in a lionizing fashion," instead of reducing him to a punchline.
  • The refusal to leave any Sopranos-style loose threads "took some of the fun out of the finale," concedes New York magazine's Aileen Gallagher. Not that it bothered her that much: "The show's greatest achievement was its compassionate, complex portrayal of faith, and the doubt that comes with it," rather than tightly plotted story arcs.
  • The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman echoed Gallagher's comments on the show's sense of empathy. At its peak, Big Love was "one of television’s strongest dramas" because of one "surprisingly simple element: compassion."
  • Allyssa Lee of the Los Angeles Times was thrilled the show had the courage to go out with a finale that was final. A "definitive end to the show" was in keeping with the program's tone and worldview. "In the end, it was as it should be," she observes. "The family stayed together."