In my eyes, Bill Hendrickson is not a hero. He's not an anti-hero like Vic Mackey, but he certainly wasn't a hero like Jack Bauer (although Jack being a hero is debatable). Bill wasn't necessary malicious, he very rarely hurt people physically, but he was always very narrow-minded.
Through the seasons, we've seen him manipulate, be selfish, be stupid, and give outlandish speeches in support for himself, as well as more circumstantial wrongdoing like his marriage to a teenager and dalliance with Ana. The only reason why the fifth season had so much angst is because Bill decided to drag the family through the limelight. And even in the series finale, we see the pathetic duality of Bill, yelling at the senate about how the polygamist women were given the right to vote before they were "stripped of their rights" when polygamy was outlawed, while simultaneously refusing to entertain Barb's notions of female priesthood holders. He's perfectly fine invoking women when attacking the senate, but doesn't budge in private, and that's douchey if you ask me.
But the writers apparently don't see it this way. "When Men And Mountains Meet" completely absolves Bill of any past wrongdoings, ending on a surprisingly upbeat tone. Bill is killed randomly by Carl and in his last breaths, tells Barb to perform a blessing--another case of using a outside influence to dramatically affect the family--and in the coda, we see everything perfectly fine: Margene off to save people, Barb with the priesthood, Sarah and Scott still together, and a big hug from the three wives. Yes, Bill is dead, but he's probably going to heaven, and, most importantly, he didn't have to own up to his actions. So, after five seasons, the writers are telling us that Bill was not only a good person, but a truly wonderful person whose presence and actions helped the family.
That's kind of my reaction after finishing the episode--confusion, a tiny bit miffed, and overall very disappointed. I'm taking huge pauses while writing this just so I can wrap my head around what happened.
I think the writers were trying to go for a distinction between 'good family,' the Hendricksons, and 'bad family,' the Grants. Every family has its flaws and weaknesses, but how they deal with them divides the good from the bad, and the writers were supposed to see that.
However, the patriarchal nature of the show meant that Bill dictated what happened and it never quite meshed. Despite the feminist overtones, Bill was the one who dictated the action. He was the breadwinner, he made the big choices, and he was the one with the ideal to change Utah, linking back to the Mormons of old in his vision. With his single-minded drive, Bill hardly cared about what was best for the family until after something bad had happened. Yes, he was better than Alby and Roman, but was he respectable enough for a somewhat happy ending (as opposed to Barb leaving the family, etc)? I don't think so.
I came into tonight's series finale expecting Bill to get his just deserts, what he had coming to him as a consequence of his long string of selfish actions. Instead, I saw that the writers intended him to be a hero. For all his flaws and actions dragging his wives through hell, Bill was intended to be a grand idealist, striving as a reformer to make polygamy legal, and that somehow enabled him to come out looking spotless in the end. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that Big Love is not an HBO drama, but a Lifetime drama.
I had this idea for a silly series finale a few weeks ago when Bill was going to go on trial. I'm not sure if I wrote this somewhere else yet, but now that I think of it, it may actually have been preferable to "When Men And Mountains Meet" so I'll bring it up again. The episode consists of Bill's trial, where everyone gets to testify. That way we could actually see tangible reasons why Bill should be absolved. The wives, Ben, Sarah, and Bill's friends deliver stirring testimonies while Alby fails miserably on the stand, actually implicating himself in several felonies. Bill gives his own closing arguments, the jury and courtroom is brought to tears, and Bill is let free. Happy ever after. It's incredibly cheesy, but anymore than the actual series finale?