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
Claire doesn’t waver in her support of John in this case, not like she did before. There’s a tender shower scene between them that signifies a healing and the end of a major affection drought. The Warrens’ marriage could be a real one again, as long as Claire doesn’t tell John the real reason she knows he didn’t attack Hank. John’s tendency under duress is to be self-destructive, not outwardly violent. A flashback to a the fresh aftermath of Adam’s kidnapping proves it. Willa finds her father — shaken by the innocent voicemail of a clueless mom calling with a reminder about baseball practice — dead-drunk and pissing himself on the bleachers where he once sat to cheer on his son. Compelled even in childhood to fix every snafu and intercept any potentially embarrassing moment, Willa calls Det. Meyer instead of her mother. John wakes on her couch and sees something in her home that ignites their whole affair. Meyer has a mini-shrine dedicated to the case in her own bedroom, complete with pictures of John’s smiling child. John is hurt that Claire has removed all traces of Adam from their own home. One of these women is an detective of no blood relation who is working the case, and the other is a grieving mother, but that day was not logic’s day. Later, Willa sees and erases a text from Meyer telling John that what had happened between them was a mistake.
Back in the present, John’s cowardice and Meyer’s bad judgment are still under the jurisdiction of Claire Warren. “You have no idea what he’s capable of,” Meyer says to her about John when Claire stops by to see Meyer at work. But Claire isn’t thrown by Meyer’s attempt at professional distancing. She came to make sure that Meyer is prepared to play ball on this assault charge. She’s earned the pleasure of being on Team Warren, anyway. “You don’t get to sit on the visitor’s side,” Claire tells her, coolly. “Not now. You’ve been in our bed, lying between us for 10 years. You’re with us. We’re a party of six, honey.”
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Hank’s mistake was to try to get ahead of power. He does what those bullies did to him in grade school. He wounds himself and wrecks his home to inspire the sympathy only his mother had for him. But her promises never came true, and they never will. No one is looking up to Hank now, regretting hurting him in the past. Even if he plays dirty, the socially stunted sex offender will never come out on top of the handsome political family. Meyer notes the blisters on Hank’s hands from the grain of the wooden bat and the family heirloom the “attacker” conveniently spared, and the charges are dropped. John gets to keep his reputation as a club-wielding protector of his offspring. It’s a lose-lose for Hank Asher, sex offender and professional failure. He can buy the cake, but he’ll always be eating it alone, with no witnesses to his pathetic glory.
Bridey has her sights on a new Warren mark and sets about taking advantage of Willa’s self-imposed isolation. “Anger makes smart people stupid,” Clements tells Meyer about their suspect. Well, so does want. The intrepid journalist can spot Willa’s repression a mile away. She hits Willa first with a trust-establishing tactic: generating mass support of John and making a potentially damaging situation all but go away. Then she hits her with the physical appeal, and Willa literally and figuratively unclenches. With the paternity results in hand, what more does Bridey need before she and the paper can go to print with a story to rock Red Pines? Bridey is covering her bases with Willa. She’s leaving another door to the Warrens’ private life ajar, for whenever she may need to step through it.
Danny is still reluctant to play ball with the image curation and selectively willful ignorance that’s happening in his house. He ignores the posturing and instead takes it upon himself to give Adam back the freedom he’s been craving. (It was Adam who shut the alarm system off that night and probably not for the innocuous reason he gives his brother.) Danny’s therapeutic methods are…let’s say unwise. Danny and Adam take a joy ride in the convertible, ignoring the fact that Adam didn’t get regular driver’s ed in the bunker. They cruise down a secluded highway, and the power lines and swiftly passing scenery lull Adam into a trance. He bears down on the accelerator, oblivious to Danny’s panicked shouts. Finally, Adam snaps back to reality and slams on the brake and brings them to a stop. “Do you want to die?” Danny demands rhetorically. “Not anymore,” Adam responds.
Odds & Ends
- Hank pointedly calls John Meyer’s “friend.” Does he know about their affair? Does that even matter, with his record of failed power plays?
- “One awesome thing about the bunker: no math.” I’ll take Ghastly Breakfast Jokes for $500, Alex.
- Who gave John the gash on his hand? Because I’m 200 percent sure it wasn’t a dog.
- They never have personalized keychains with my name on them either.
- Doug’s predatory paper art was a little much.