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'The Family' recap: 'Feathers or Steel'

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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

In small towns like The Family’s Red Pines, labels are a venerated form of social shorthand. They make it easier and more efficient to gossip in the dairy aisle. (“The Warrens, you know, that poor family who lost their son…”) Labels don’t tell the whole story, but neighbors don’t want the whole story. Bobby has practice. Susan has a book report. It’s pasta night.

Like all politicians, Claire is learning that labels are a blessing until they aren’t. The #MamaBear momentum that her candid mid-interview breakdown and proposed micro-chipping policy created is still trucking. Willa’s about to re-wallpaper her room in front-page coverage, and the cocky incumbent governor loses most of his press-conference audience to his “one-trick pony” opponent. Claire is a warrior mother; the jury’s still out on who loves that persona more: her constituents or the press.

Gov. Lang isn’t impressed by her noisy arrival on the scene, so he invites Claire to lunch to scare her away with political trivia and a view of the governor’s mansion gardens. Claire leans into her public image — she’d be stupid if she didn’t — but she expects a fellow lawmaker to remember how the game is played. Lang simpers to Claire that their campaigns should be run on issues, knowing very well that races are really won on the kind of sound bites that are drawing journalists to Claire’s side like moths to a flame. He makes a show of signing a big, bad man-document in front of her and then quizzes Claire on their state’s legislature. Claire smiles a tight smile. If she wasn’t a threat to Lang, she wouldn’t be sitting on his patio. “Don’t you worry, Charlie,” she says, smoothly. “I don’t intend to chip adulterers, just criminals.” Secret Service? We’ve got a sick burn here.

Claire is untouchable at the moment, which is basically what an unnamed lawyer tells Hank Asher when they meet. Hank wants to sue the Warren family for defamation and slander. Not only can part of his wrongful conviction be laid at their feet, but now Claire is using Hank for further political gain. (“She called me a ‘monster’ on national television.”) Say Hank has a case here; the public still doesn’t care about the ins and outs of monster classification. So he didn’t do the worst thing. But he could have. Claire gets all the leeway in this scenario, and Hank should just be happy not to be in prison anymore. “Buy an island,” the lawyer advises. “I don’t want an island,” Hank answers. “What do you want?” “Justice.” Good luck with that.

It’s almost spooky how everything’s coming up Claire Warren so far in this campaign. A copycat of Adam’s abduction? Willa couldn’t have orchestrated a better points-scoring opportunity herself. (Hm.) Detective Meyer and Agent Clements (already one of my favorite television law enforcement duos) are on the case of the disappearance of Brian Daniels, a boy whose resemblance to Adam sets off all the alarms. The cops talk about the shared M.O. of the two kidnappings, though they gloss over one major variation: This abductor attacked the boy’s mother before swiping him. Are Clements and Meyer too eager to draw that line connecting the two?

The Brian Daniels Amber Alert syncs up nicely with Claire’s rising profile. She speaks directly to the kidnapper through the media, and evening news producers everywhere send up a little prayer of thanks. Who would question her motives if her exploitation led to Brian’s recovery?

The cops have one significant detail to go on in this new case. Witnesses at the site of the kidnapping noted the captor’s white van and part of its license plate. A solid tip comes through the static; Clements and Meyer bring the photo to the Warren home. I’m 99.999 percent sure that’s Doug (our Pock-Marked Man) standing in front of the vehicle, though his hat does obscure his face. Adam gives the cops exactly what they came looking for; he goes white as a sheet and drops the iPad. Danny watches from the stairs, his conscience working overtime.

Clements and Meyer follow a new lead on the van to a nondescript motel and split up to case the rooms. Meyer reaches Brian first. The child is tied to the bedframe, unharmed. Gun drawn, Meyer notes the kidnapper’s piece on the dresser closer to her side of the room. None of this feels like Adam’s ordeal, but there’s still a child in danger. The man steps out of the bathroom, unarmed and very much not-Doug. Meyer shoots him in the chest.

NEXT: Sex and a necklace

[pagebreak]

“I’m not saying society isn’t better off,” Meyer’s captain later says to her, “but you shot someone dead, and you’re sitting here eating a candy bar.” Meyer dodges all possible consequences of her actions besides the standard psych eval because her partner staunchly backs her up. There’s not much Internal Affairs can hit Meyer with when Clements corroborates her lying liar version of events. This Mr. Lipton wasn’t Adam’s torturer, but he was another monster terrorizing this community. Who’s going to go to bat for the memory of the convicted rapist who kidnapped his ex’s kid at gunpoint? The line starts nowhere.

Just when Meyer is cleared of one possible crime; Claire confronts her about another. Despite young Willa’s best efforts, Claire got wise to John’s affair with the cop working their missing son’s case long before Adam was returned to them. The Warrens hadn’t been the picture of domestic bliss for quite some time, but it’s a Love Actually moment that raises Claire’s suspicions. (Will no man learn from Harry’s mistake?!) She finds a (let’s be honest, very ugly) heart pendant in John’s things; her Christmas present is a red sweater. Later, in a bit of drive-by snooping, she catches John and Meyer trimming her tree together. Darth Vader would be proud because Claire lets the hate flow through her for eight whole years before coming to Meyer with what she knows. “You’re sleeping with my husband. You think you’re special? A one-of-a-kind snowflake? You wouldn’t believe how many women take their panties off for the dad who lost his son,” she spits, right before the women smile and shake hands in front of the press. Is that true, or is Claire trying to make Meyer question her significance? The candidate has been established as a bit of a tactical genius; even her most passionate moments are carefully calculated and timed for maximum effect. Why does she attack Meyer with this and not John? Well, what would be the point? This isn’t about their relationship; it’s about influence, power, and who has the upper hand. Later that Christmas, John puts the jewelry box on Claire’s side of the bed. She moves it to the nightstand. “I’ll open this tomorrow.”

Meyer is coming to realize that once you’re entangled in the Warren family, there’s no way out. It’s advice that Bridey could stand to hear. The journalist has infiltrated the Warren home through sleepovers with Danny. (Worth it for everyone’s relieved reaction to the breakfast announcement, “She’s not a hooker.”) Adam’s reaction to the photo of his kidnapper has Danny questioning his own questions. (“You can’t fake that.”) Bridey has no sympathy; it’s too late to close the door they opened together. The journalist does show a shred more empathy than Gus the Evil Editor, but when it becomes clear that Danny won’t be her willing accomplice, she takes what she needs: a fresh DNA sample from Adam’s wastebasket. Even if Bridey does lose Danny’s trust completely, there may be another Warren willing to step up and assist her. Willa is more than suspicious of Bridey; just look at the effect the journalist had on her evening prayers.

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There are juicier secrets in Adam’s room besides his biological materials. His actions in “Feathers or Steel” support the theory that the teen is working with someone outside of the family, possibly Doug. Under the guise of fear, Adam gets the security code for the house from his father. It’s his own birthday, yet he has to write it down to remember. He uses that paper to wrap up the key he took from the bunker and places it in a drawer. How will he smuggle that information out, and who will it be going to? Doug is knee deep in some kind of preparation, and I don’t just mean baby-proofing his all-American, blue collar family home. That shed feels more like a secret place of work than a kidnapper’s cell to me. And though he’s got that loner look, I haven’t ruled out the idea that Doug might be working for someone, too.

Now, what prominent person do we know who’s used her position for dubious means? After Hank’s conviction, Claire became obsessed with locating her son’s body, even if that information would have to be forcibly extracted resulting in a lifelong fear of sandwiches. At this point, Hank is the only character whose driving urges are simple and obvious. But because of who he is, he’s at the mercy of the outwardly respectable. In the present, the Warrens issue a restraining order that effectively puts Hank under house arrest. Late one night, he takes a step into the street and does his best Shawshank freedom pose. John sees his defiance from his window. Some indeterminate amount of time later, Hank ends up on the floor of his home with Adam’s bloodied baseball bat at his side. It’s the kind of scandal that could keep a small town talking for a long time.  

Odds & Ends:

  • Why do I find it kind of sweet that Doug and his baby mama are waiting to be surprised about the sex of their child?
  • Clements has a house-husband who makes him honey; no wonder he’s so chill.
  • “I’ve never seen you eat anything not in bar form.” “Are you sure you can look for this van and be superior at the same time?”
  • “I know you. You were a strange little girl back in the day.” “I still am.”

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