This episode of The Family, “Sweet Jane,” is named for the woman on this series whose presumed ignorance made us all more comfortable. But “Sweet Jane” was about all the women on this show — about the appalling things they willingly do and the soul-draining pacts that they make with themselves for the security of the people that they love. And for sweet, sweet control. That too.
Jane, Jane, Jane. She filled the role of Doug’s secondary victim so well that this reveal felt like an accusation of the audience. Bare-faced, pregnant, cooperative. It was easier to believe that a future mother wouldn’t be forgiving of Doug’s past offenses. It was easier to believe that she’d think the double order of Cheerios was pretty weird, actually, instead of actively looking the other way. Even when Jane’s face fell after her talk with Meyer about the mall sting because she’s clearly started putting some pieces together about Doug’s behavior, I pitied her for her lack of worldliness. I underestimated Jane. And Clements paid the ultimate price for doing the same.
I would like to briefly eulogize Agents Clements. He was, as the kids say, a perfect cinnamon roll. He liked Red Vines and his husband yelling at him for coming home late and calling Meyer “kid.” He ordered food like Sally Albright. Too good for this world, too pure. I knew he was in for it when he showed such delicate kindness to Jane. There’s no longer room for a person like that in this story.
There is plenty of room for the women who do what needs to be done, no matter how it destroys them. Next on the list is Annie Asher, who takes on her most significant plotline so far. The Asher house always feels like it’s drawing 20 percent less light through the windows than the Warren house, as if no one in there would like to be fully seen. In a series of flashbacks, events occur that lead to Hank’s forced confession to his mother. Ironically, theirs is one of the healthier familial relationships on The Family, and it’s becoming retroactively clear how silently devastated Hank was when he returned from prison to an empty house.
Claire, always the enforcer, plays a part in Hank’s exposure. After the Warrens pick up the piano student Hank left catching his death in the rain on his front porch, Claire suggests that Annie no longer invite children to her home and that she ask her son why that’s a good idea. Hank confirms that the rain did little Jack more good than a private audience with Hank would have. When he offers to leave her home and find another place to live, Annie won’t hear it. No more arranging blind dates with nice, eligible girls from the neighborhood; she has a new project, and that’s to keep her son clean. “No more parks, no more kids,” she tells him. “We can do this.” Hank is her son; and as far as Annie is concerned, she doesn’t get to choose which parts of being a mother she wants to assume. His incarceration hastened her death; of that, I’m sure.
Willa has turned shouldering emotional burdens into an art form. After her weak moment last week, the Warren daughter has returned to her old, terrifyingly efficient self. She adds another bullet to her resume of being the Olivia Pope of Red Pines, Maine, when Gov. Lang’s wife personally delivers a little blackmail to her church pew. (Cold!) Claire’s foray into parking lot vodka shots and drunken suburban camping was captured on film. Lang’s wife threatens Willa and Claire in the manner of a neighborhood book club hostess. It would be best, wouldn’t it, if Claire took a few years to get herself ready for this position? Mrs. Lang smells blood in the water and she accurately predicts that female voters would, too. For a man, emotion is forgivable, even lauded. But for a woman, it’s weakness.
Willa’s weakness has been buried under years of stiff smiles and iCal updates. She “neutralizes” the photos by releasing her father and Meyer’s sext log to Bridey. (Interesting that she was holding that text history to retain power over John but relinquished it for a greater cause.) Claire had thought Willa had already performed her career-high masterpiece of manipulation by installing a new son in their home. But surprise, she is and will always be capable of more. “Where did I go wrong with you? Did I miss a recital? Did I not praise you enough?” Claire barks. “How are you this person?” But Claire has benefited from Willa’s deviousness, and she knows it. “Where would you be if I wasn’t?” Willa responds. In fact, Claire basically dared Willa to top herself here. (“You will think of something. You have covered up much worse.”) Willa put her life on hold to become the fixer of her family, and her success in this endeavor has eroded her humanity. Was she acting out of love for her mother and the rest of them? Maybe in the beginning; but no more. Now family scandals are just pieces on the board for Willa to move as she sees fit.
NEXT: Another one rides the bus
Last week’s episode ended with Claire hesitantly choosing to uphold the Ben lie for now. And her motives for doing so aren’t just related to the campaign. Claire has no one left to parent. Willa is too busy being a puppet master; and at any given time, Danny is looking for any opportunity to escape. (“Hey, you wanna go out? There’s a gothic vibe in here.”) Ben, though. Ben wants to be tucked in. He says “I love you” to Claire every night. It creeps her out at first, but her son’s replacement has some valuable currency to trade. After Hank tells Claire about Ben’s late-night walkabouts, she even tries to kick him out and let the whole thing burn. It’s unsettling how Ben knows exactly what he needs to say to keep his place: “I know everything about Adam.”
So Claire and Ben bond. She begins to feel close to this boy because for 10 whole years he was the closest person to her actual kid. Those details about Adam that Ben studied on the bus to his foster home are laid out and built upon for Claire’s benefit. But they talk about more than likes and dislikes. Ben’s stories about Adam’s coping mechanisms and survival instincts ring true to Claire. (“Be a little bit brave for a little bit of time.”) For the first time, Claire starts to get her hands on that closure that Willa told herself was the main reason for her deception.
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But what closure is there for Ben? One night, Claire tells her fake son that he needs his rest for therapy the next morning. Imagine the psychological quagmire that little charade is creating. Meyer catches wise to Ben’s regular bus rides (thanks to an smitten and appropriately intimidated uniformed cop) but doesn’t know the location of his ultimate destination. Ben had told Willa that he didn’t have a family, but he meant in the traditional sense. The crowded photo gallery and friendly dog in the nicely appointed home that draws him point to Ben growing up, at least for a time, with a loving foster parent or two. (A deep-sleeping foster parent, apparently.) He feels safe enough to doze off there, which raises the question: Why not proceed directly home after his escape and not to the Warrens’?
Detective Meyer will probably ask that question when she finds out who Ben truly is. As it is, she’s getting closer, piecing together “Adam’s” strange behavior and the discrepancy of his dominant hand. Clements’ cryptic voicemail will add to her suspicions. Although Hank might work out the puzzle before she does. It’s Hank who tells Claire that Ben is sneaking out; he takes her subsequent fury for what it is: guilt, that “the friendly neighborhood pedophile” has to update her on her own kid. (“Stop watching my son.” “Well, somebody has to.”)
Whether she’d admit to herself or not, part of the reason that Claire allows Ben to stay is that she wants another chance. She wants another chance to be Adam’s mom. And if this episode of The Family has a defining thesis, it’s that the women of this show will get what they want or die trying.
Odds & Ends:
- Protect Ajax.
- Props for loading the old Google homepage when flashback Claire searched for Hank.
- Adam’s favorite Mario Kart player (Yoshi, of course) is another on-point period detail.
- “How’s the story going, WikiLeaks?”
- I love the pettiness of Hank hammering a Lang for Governor sign into his front yard.
- Betrayed by a stuffed, pink penguin. A classic tale.