Since the nation last saw the Duggars, the famously big and pious family has been through a lot of drama: a late miscarriage, a controversial funeral/pro-life rally, campaigning for Rick Santorum . . . and yet, the first episode of the new season was quite very dull.
The most unexpected thing was that the title of the show, and the opening credits, didn’t change. Since before baby number fifteen was born, the title of the show has reflected the number of children in the family, and yet they are still at “19 Children and Counting.” The twentieth, a baby who was named and for whom a funeral was held, somehow doesn’t count in the title or the opening narration. Maybe this is just because a “20 Children and Counting” which has an opening credit starting with Josh and ending with “and Jubilee, who was born still” is too depressing for TLC. However, it’s more likely that it points up an inherent contradiction in the Duggar world view, which is that a baby is a baby is a baby from the moment of conception. Which means that the first-trimester miscarriage that happened more than twenty years ago (and which started this whole process, because the parents Duggar were told that they killed their baby by using birth control) should have bumped the count up by one from the first special. And belatedly naming that “baby” Caleb doesn’t change the fact that it never factored into the official count. Which in turn means that it’s awkward to count Jubilee as number twenty when “Caleb” should have made Jubilee number twenty-one.
At any rate, it’s late October, and Jim Bob has impulsively decided that he wants to plant an orchard. He breaks out the numerous bits of heavy equipment he owns (backhoe and whatnot), but the employees who came out with the trees use their shovels to plant twenty-eight trees, in contrast to the four trees the Duggars plant with the machines.
Later, Michelle is taking the big girls to a “ladies’ Bible study,” which she says is about encouraging young mothers. The written material, however, is about making sure the young mothers understand the Seven Basic Needs of a Husband; these rules involve never refusing “physical affection” and not “taking matters into your own hands” as a way of “guard[ing] against a husband’s abuse.”
Back home, Michelle’s headship promised to “babysit” the children, but he’s sleeping in instead. Michelle assures him that the boys can look after the little girls in a pinch. Jim Bob, however, spends the day complaining that he usually has X-chromosomed people to do the childcare. He tries to assign preschool-aged Johannah to look after her two toddler siblings, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as when the big girls are on hand to make the household run smoothly.
Later, the Duggars visit a corn maze. It is as exciting as it sounds. Finally, Michelle goes for a pre-natal check up. The doctor can’t pick up the heartbeat with the Doppler and has to use an ultrasound machine, and TLC is crass enough to use this to tease the upcoming pregnancy badness -- “Ooohh, remember how Michelle miscarried? Think you’re about to see that go down? Psych! Look at those fetal legs kicking all around! This pregnancy has more than a month before it ends in tragedy!” Talking-head Jim Bob praises God for potentially striking down his child in the womb, but on screen Michelle beams in relief. Here’s hoping she weathers this storm well.
Also? In this edited-after-the-fact recounting of the story? Michelle’s baby voice is gone. For whatever that’s worth.