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'The Family' recap: 'Election Day'

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ABC/Giovanni Rufino

The Family

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
1
run date:
03/03/16
performer:
Joan Allen, Rupert Graves, Alison Pill, Zach Gilford, Liam James
broadcaster:
ABC
genre:
Drama, Mystery

There’s stiff competition for the creepiest scene in any given episode of The Family, but this week’s involves Ben watching Willa sleep and asking her about the Catholic sacrament of confession when she wakes. She lays out the basics once she’s recovered her breath: soul-baring, penance, absolution, in that order. A tried and true recipe for a clean conscience. “Does it work?” Ben asks curiously. “Not for everything,” Willa clarifies. Ben seems satisfied by that answer.

It’s election night in the state of Maine, and Det. Meyer’s voiceover tells us that we’re in a story that’s “hurtling towards the inevitable.” Every drama must have its finale, just like every election must have its eventual victor. With one episode of this season to go, the confessions are coming fast and furiously. So are the accusations.

The episode picks up right at last week’s cliffhanger, when Doug walked into the police station and identified himself as the man on the poster, a parallel of Ben’s actions in the pilot. Meyer is certain that Doug is her guy but very aware that he’s at the station to stay one step ahead of her. She pulls out every interrogation technique she knows to throw him off his game and uses each of the 36 hours allotted to her to try to wear Doug down. But Doug is used to operating right under the nose of the law; he gloats to Meyer about her lack of substantial evidence. He’s unmoved by her interpretation of his life story, the one that made him the kind of guy who keeps a child in a homemade dungeon to satisfy his sexual urges. And as that kind of guy, he can’t even be inspired to empathize with his younger self.

Circumstantial evidence would be enough to support a positive ID from Doug’s victim, so Meyer calls Ben and the Warrens to a lineup. She asks Ben for a word or phrase that his captor would repeat; five average-height white men dressed in plaid step forward one by one behind one-way glass and say, “bracelet, keys.” And then Ben does what we had to expect he would do. Doug wouldn’t have turned himself in for questioning if he thought that Ben would point the finger at him. Ben tells Meyer and his parents that his jailer isn’t there, and Meyer looks like she’d like to lock him in that interrogation room for a day and a half. But she’s no less sure of Doug’s guilt.

Doug leaves uncharged but with a GPS device planted in his jacket pocket. Meyer later follows the signal to one of those play places with arcade games, bumper cars, and rubbery pizza kept warm under heat lamps — the kind of establishment where parents drop their kids for a few hours so they can go shopping. The ideal spot to stake out another victim. Instead of doing that, Doug ditches the jacket with a small skateboarder, and Meyer is again left twisting in the wind.

Meanwhile, Agent Clements is racing against the clock and frantically appealing to the goodwill he stored up with Jane by helping her deliver her baby. (Someone needs to take that kid to the hospital, by the way.) There will be no negotiating with Doug, of that much he’s sure. But Jane has only made a few decisions that support this life, and she regrets them all. It’s all over when Doug gets home, Clements tells Jane. His life will definitely be on her conscience then. “I don’t think he’s a murderer,” Jane wavers, and what a thing to say about the father of your child. “You don’t know what he is,” Clements counters.

Nothing is getting through the chains that are holding Clements. (Doug’s had years to perfect his technique.) The choice is messy but clear: Clements will have to go full 127 Hours if he wants to survive. He calmly tells Jane to gather the materials she’ll need to amputate his thumbs without killing him. She knocked him out with a frying pan. She gave birth on a cement floor with no drugs. She can do this. But Jane wavers while she watches her son in his crib on her visual monitor. Clements reads her; she’s no longer thinking about herself surviving this horror show but her child. “I have a husband,” he blurts out, and lets her in on all of Jonah’s wonderful, terrible habits. Clements was supposed to bring some smoker fuel home for their little beekeeping operation and he is for damn sure keeping that promise. With Clements practically cheering her on, Jane puts the pliers around his thumb, closes her eyes, and squeezes. Clements screams.

But when he wakes, Clements is only missing one digit. The blood threw Jane, and she retreated to the other side of the room. He starts his pep talk again, but Jane hears a car. “Do it now!” Clements commands, but the moment of opportunity has passed. Jane leaves him and meets Doug in the kitchen. Where was he for two whole days? Doug is irritated to be asked and even more so when he sees the blood stains on her hands, face, and clothes. He starts to lose it, and Jane knows that she’s not above being sacrificed. “Were you trying to get him out?” he seethes. “I had the baby,” she tells him. Clements thinks he’s about to die when Jane returns, but Doug isn’t with her, and all she’s holding is a phone. “Make them stop looking for you.”

NEXT: Decision 2016

[pagebreak]

It’s a different kind of war zone at the Warren house. Their home has become campaign headquarters, and it’s all hands on deck. It’s a real race; Claire has a shot. This is everything Willa has wanted for 10 years, but she’s about to break at any second. She’s one of two people in that house who knows that Ben is responsible for Adam’s death and she watched as Ben let the man who took them both walk out of the police station a free man. It happens when she hears him introduce himself as “Adam Warren” to a voter one too many times. Willa summons Ben to his room and give him his marching orders like she did the day she decided not to go through with their original plan. (What makes her think he’ll obey her now?) He’s going to ask to go to a boarding school for trauma victims, and he’ll slowly fade out of their lives. Ben flounders, first invoking their “Mom” and then offering to give Willa her $10,000 back. “Is that what my brother’s life was worth?” she asks, scandalized. “Mine was,” Ben answers.

Money isn’t what Hank is looking for. If only redemption were tangible. He’s frustrated by the lack of movement on his tip. He even calls into a news channel, claiming to be the police and proclaiming the heroic fact-finding of Hank A-S-H-E-R.

In flashback, we see the life that Hank spoiled for himself. It was small, but it had its perks. He wore a suit. He was respected by his co-workers. One day, he begs off of happy hour to watch some boys play soccer in a park and lowers his zipper while he does it. That’s the rest of his existence settled. (“I’m not a bad person.” “Well, what are ya, Hank?”) In the present, Hank goes to the station to ream Meyer out for failing to make him a folk hero. She’s just as frustrated as he is, but she has perspective that he doesn’t. There’s no “parade” coming for either of them, but Hank is the one who really dug his own grave. He’s delusional if he thinks that catching the real kidnapper will put him back in good societal standing. She’s seconds from shaking his shoulders and reminding him, “You. Are. A. Pedophile.”

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And yeah, maybe that shared defect is helping their case. Claire knocks on his door on election night to ask how Hank knows for sure that Doug took her son. Hank watches. He knows what watching looks like. Claire may not like where his expertise comes from, but he has it. He recognizes his own. Later, Hank listens to a message from the clinic where he gets his voluntary chemical castration. He missed his appointment and doesn’t seem inclined to reschedule. He’s damned anyway, so why continue fighting?

On Claire’s night of glory, Willa finds her standing in the kitchen alone while her campaign volunteers cheer at each conquered district. Claire can’t understand why Ben lied about who Doug is, but she knows that he did. (“He has a tell… Can you believe I know my fake child so well?”) She knows Willa even better and quietly demands the truth. If Doug is caught, then the particulars of Adam’s death will be revealed. Ben was protecting himself. “He fought back the most,” Ben had told Claire earlier about Adam. Suddenly that sentence has new meaning. Claire wins the governor’s seat but doesn’t make her acceptance speech. How can she when she’s raising the boy who killed her son? Willa does it for her, to a very confused press. Congratulations, Maine, you’ve elected one hell of a First Family.

Bridey may have missed the results. She’s out on the road, holed up in a Wi-Fi-free diner, making chit-chat to the kindly waitress about her moral conundrum. Where’s she headed? It turns out that the diner itself was her destination. Bridey spends a whole day spilling her heart (as it were) to this woman, hoping only to get one tiny piece of information back. Regrets are the topic of conversation. Bridey makes like she regrets playing Danny and Willa (meanwhile, those two are having a formative relationship moment over their shared lover) and makes like she might regret airing this family’s dirty laundry. Sally the waitress’ only regret is landing in jail as a “stupid 17-year-old” and losing her son to the foster system. That lost boy’s name? Ben. Willa was right: Not all confessions end in absolution. Some will be used against you.

Odds & Ends:

  • “None of this makes me a kidnapper. At most, it makes me a country song.”
  • “You’re not one of those folksy, advice-giving waitresses, are you?”
  • Only Agent Gabe Clements would call the woman who clipped off his thumb with no anesthesia “good girl.”
  • Please let John find out something. Anything. He has nothing to do.
  • Hopeful moments come in unlikely places. This week, there’s light in a gas station parking lot where Danny and Willa sip boozy slushies and have a heart-to-heart. These are strange circumstances under which to show some brotherly protectiveness, but Danny does it all the same. Bridey isn’t worth Willa’s tears, but he will take her laughter over the very unceremonious way she comes out to him. That’s one of many weights lifted. Thanks, corduroy overalls. 

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