The Family has managed to score some genuine surprises in its upper-middle-class-American-Gothic way, but none of them occurred in this episode. ABC teased “I Win” with a specificity that took all the air out of a realization that the show should have nailed. Is the teenager currently living in Adam’s bedroom Adam Warren? (Well, Adam Warren as we know him?) Of course he’s not. The only suspense in that question was when the answer might hit. The promotion for this episode assured viewers that they’d get their confirmation by the time the hour was out. When Bridey announced to Evil Editor Gus that the paternity test she requested with John and Adam’s stolen samples came up negative, it was not with a bang but with a whimper.
If you’ve ever watched a serialized mystery series in your life, you already know that this DNA test will only lead to more reversals. This is only the fifth episode, after all. First, we have to consider that this paternity test answers one very specific question, and one question alone: Is the person who used that Q-tip related to the person who used that mug? Say that the Adam Warren who disappeared ten years ago wasn’t biologically John’s child. That DNA wouldn’t match, even if the elder Adam is who he claims and knows himself to be. Is Claire projecting some internalized shame onto her husband and Det. Meyer because of her own past transgressions? Or is there a more clinical reason why John couldn’t impregnate his wife? All conjecture, of course, but this result shouldn’t and won’t close the book on Adam’s actual identity. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ll keep calling the present day Adam by that name. Because nobody wants to read a recap littered with awkward “Not-Adam’s.”)
Anyway, this week Adam gets a pen pal he never asked for. He receives a postcard in the mail and tells his parents and the cops about his captor’s “Good Boy” list. It was a list of places that the kidnapper promised to take Adam, if only he’d stop trying to run away. And with Doug (a.k.a. the Pock-Marked Man) dragging Jane, his poor, pregnant wife/girlfriend/whatever, on a part of that road trip, the list doesn’t seem entirely fraudulent. Later in the episode, Meyer supposes that their suspect is motivated by loneliness now. So, he embarked on the trip he’d fully intended on taking with Adam someday, involving his former prisoner in the only way that he can.
Clements puts the FBI’s budget to work setting up a perimeter around each of the stops on the catalog that he re-christens the “Catch the Bastard” list. Based on the other postcards drops, their team calculates when Doug will be reaching the endpoint of his pedophile field trip: old Lady Liberty. The sting is a bust because Doug is pulled over and waylaid at a small-town police precinct for not being able to produce his registration. Troop Eagle Eyes fail to notice that the police sketch they’re tacking right above Jane and Doug’s heads is of the man whose trip they’re very sorry to have inconvenienced. Spooked by the close call, Doug insists they head back home instead of continuing. He surprises Jane with a stuffed dolphin for their unborn child and places an identical one in the bare basement of his shed, like a placeholder or an offering. Despondent though he may be, Doug is more cunning than he looks. The police are forced to disregard the postmark dates and return addresses of every new postcard Adam received; Doug enlisted several friendly fellow travelers to mail them from their own destinations. They’re useless.
That’s considerably more forethought than Hank Asher gave to his own half-cocked revenge plan. When last we left miserable Hank, he was lying on the floor of his mother’s house, bloody and unconscious. He’s only had 10 years to let his hatred of the Warrens fester; how could he have resisted giving them some of their own medicine? John is booked and charged with aggravated assault on the merits of a few damning pieces of evidence: John and Hank argued on the street at 4 a.m.; Hank was beaten with John’s baseball bat; and the Warrens’ security system had been disabled before the attack occurred.
Bridey tips public opinion to John’s side easily; just one tweet from the paper’s handle gets #Papabear trending and about a hundred offertory baseball bats placed in the family’s yard. The press loves it, and their invasiveness becomes an asset to Claire’s campaign again. The backlash against the candidate was just beginning to heat up before John became the media’s new beacon of parental ferocity.
NEXT: Bad News Bears