In last night's penultimate episode of the season, we saw all the problems of the season converge in a screwball comedy of manners that sank this season even deeper into the mire.

Admittance time: I steered you guys wrong. I urged everyone so hard to watch this show, because last season was so good, and now this year has been... such a manic, overstuffed bust. Still an entertaining show, yes. But daaangerously teetering on the brink of ridiculous.

What happened last night? Ohhh what didn't happen last night? I don't even know how to write about it, so let's just do a list.

  • Ben came home from their Mexican arm-chopping adventure and is back in love with his dad.
  • Amanda Seyfried showed everyone a trailer for Letters to Juliet as a means to announce that she is moving away.
  • Nicki showed up to family backyard dinner in Margene-style hoochie wear, shocking everyone and making us wish that she'd get her own spin-off. Following Nicki's exploits as she remakes her life on her own could be fascinating and stirring in a way this show has not been more a lot of this season.
  • Bill found out that Margene is planning to marry Serbian Kevin Sorbo, and was mad and didn't want it to happen, but later wanted it to happen, but was still mad.
  • Barb and Bill confronted Sissy Spacek about her naughty wheelings and dealings, she countered by yelling at them and calling the casino a "fucking pup-tent." (Great line. She is great.)
  • Later on Sissy found out that there is badass polygamy going on in the Henrickson household, and she's going to war.
  • Nicki found out, via a Barb tongue slip, that Joey killed her dad. She raged at Bill, ran to the compound and took Wanda away from creepy JJ.
  • Creepy JJ caught Mary Kay Place snooping in the files, she found out that Roman was censuring him for some reason, he chloroformed her. Because he walks around with chloroform on a cloth, always?
  • Barba and her Injun Interest hugged... intensely.
  • Margene is worried that she is going to be attracted to Serbian Antonio Sabato Jr., and so is Bill. To prove his manliness, Bill challenged him to an intense game of tether ball.
  • Everyone hates each other now. The women of Utah especially hate Barb, because she babbled something about put-upon Utah women and all their pill-popping at a big Ladies Meeting. Bill found out, got mad.
  • Bill and family had to do a TV interview to prove that they are pro Family Values (no one knew they were such big Korn fans!). Amanda Seyfried showed up with a big sack of money with the words Dear John scrawled on it and was all "Heyyyy, what'd I miss?"
  • Tini is played by Selena Gomez now.
  • Nicki went to the Compound to try to rescue Alby, who was listening to Nancy Sinatra and weeping (creepy, interesting, more of that kind of stuff, please!). He seemed maybe about to accept her love and leave that awful place, but then the ghost of Roman convinced him to stay and he yelled at Nicki. She went home and told Bill that she wanted love, real love, and he didn't know what to do with that.
  • Other things happened?

There were definitely good moments — anything with Sissy, Nicki's sad revolution — but on the whole the episode felt like it was laid out in meter, with a rhythm of Problem Happens, Problem Is Discovered, People Get Mad repeated over and over again. I'm not really sure why the writers decided to make this season as crowded as they did, but it's just too much. The whole conceit of the show is already a big pill to swallow and it just doesn't need this much jazzing up.

I read Under the Banner of Heaven this weekend, and I wonder if that maybe colored how I watched last night's episode. In light of that book, Bill really is not much more than a hateful monster, his family a strange and cruel institution that has ties to a really insidious and violent history. Sure I knew that Mormons Are Weird before reading the book, but I didn't quite understand to what depths the whole church is an obfuscating cult bent on world domination. I appreciate attempts to humanize people associated with such a nasty thing, and that dynamic made this show a really interesting one last season, but trying to infuse more drama on top of the inherent craziness just comes across a bit greedy, doesn't it?

Sorry to be a downer this week, y'all. Hopefully next week we'll get some satisfying resolutions and some hope for a more reasonable fifth season. But right now I'm just... Tether ball. Ohhh tether ball.