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'The Family' recap: 'Betta Male'

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Giovanni Rufino/ABC

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

Doug’s spanking new kid-dungeon finally has its first tenant on The Family. Fortunately for Red Pines and rest of the world, Agent Gabe Clements has not vacated either just yet. I’ve never been so happy to have eulogized a supposedly dead character way too soon. Though, I was pretty into the version of The Family that Clements’ possibly posthumous opening voiceover suggested: the one where a dead cop helps his trusty partner solve their last case from beyond the veil. Next season, maybe.

Of course, Clements’ sad, continued existence doesn’t make much sense when it comes to the wellbeing and freedom of Doug and Jane, the kidnapping Bonnie & Clyde of New England. I assumed the FBI agent was for really real dead because there’s no rational reason why it would be less messy for his attackers to keep him alive. The reveal of his condition comes late in the episode, when Jane brings the bloodied man a sandwich. “I’m so sorry,” she mutters repeatedly, indicating that it’s her guilt that saved his life (for now — untreated head wounds aren’t good for anyone’s health) and has also put Jane in a very precarious mental state. The beams are sighing all over this joint, as the hidden-in-plain-sight sanctuary Doug built for them is starting to give.

And maybe that’s what Doug wanted to talk to Ben about. The full-time carpenter, part-time jailer spent a day at Hank’s house in this episode, fixing some warped cabinets and getting his jollies about the one he pulled over on the entire system. Doug tells Hank that he feels “like [he] owes” him; he does the job for free, but it’s not a gesture of generosity. Ten years ago, Doug could have stuffed Adam into that trunk and drove until he’d put 10 states between him and the Warrens. But he enjoys this too much. He likes to stand in someone’s home with the knowledge that he has or is in the process of destroying his life. He likes seeing Claire’s face plastered on billboards, knowing exactly where her missing progeny is. Hell, he’ll probably vote for her. And by the end of the season, Doug’s downfall will probably come courtesy of his propensity for gloating and for failing How to Be a Criminal 101. The first rule of Criminal Club? Never return to the scene of the crime. And don’t talk about Criminal Club.

Doug also comes to Hank’s house as soon as the speed limit will allow because he can’t resist the chance to be near Ben, or at least Ben’s new home. He couldn’t have predicted that Willa would ask Ben to stay home and skip Claire’s debate, but Doug’s plans for the night are set when he sees Ben through his bedroom window. The kid doesn’t close the door properly after the pizza delivery man, and suddenly Doug is in his bedroom. “Hey Ben,” he says, softly. “Time to have a talk.”

As far as we can tell, talking is what they did. Ben is visibly agitated when Willa, John, and Claire come home from the debate. But he’s there, and he’s outwardly in one piece. What did Doug want from him? Whatever it was, it took precedence over taking Ben again.

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Before Doug arrived, Ben watched on an iPad while Claire outed him to the entire state. Kind of. Incumbent governor Charlie Lang takes Claire to task during their first head-to-head, accusing her of exploiting her family tragedy for votes. Claire magnificently counters that every politician uses the tools at their disposal to get their ideas in front of people and that her notoriety was no less earned than Lang’s rich boy lineage. She also shaves about 10 years off of Willa’s life when she announces that the Adam the world knows is “not [her] son.” But Claire veers into metaphorical territory, talking about how trauma alienates and how she will never regain the boy she lost. But every single thing that she says is true in the present situation as well. She’s raising a stranger, and it’s pretty weird for her. It’s a claim that supports both the public lie and the private truth.

NEXT: Spy games

[pagebreak]

Claire nails the debate, and Willa is walking on air. Every time her mother has a victory, Willa believes her actions more justified. She is so detached from what she’s done in bringing Ben into their lives that she honestly thinks that some positive headlines will drown out Claire’s doubts. But when she’s not trouncing her smug 1 Percent opponent in this episode, Claire is spiraling over Ben’s existence and what little she actually knows about it. She’s committed to the charade for now, but she’s not signed up to pretend that Ben is actually her son. Willa tries to talk Claire down before the debate (“Tell me who he is!”), and it’s almost sickening. Claire’s frustrations with Willa compound because Willa frankly doesn’t care who Ben is. His personality, his identity — they’re simply not relevant to her.

But Claire and Ben scale another barrier in their relationship when Claire ignores Willa and asks him about his life before the bunker. Ben is Ben Murphy, born in freezing cold Minnesota with a little Irish blood. He doesn’t like the spicy food that Adam did, and he’s a pro at sniffing out surveillance devices. Ben confirms what Claire suspected — that he knew she was spying on him — and his statement on the topic sounds more like a request than a warning. Claire is satisfied and almost sheepish about taking that step. But if Mr. Sock Monkey’s camera had stayed on the shelf one more night, it would have caught Ben and Doug’s little chat.

The Family has to remind us every so often that Ben isn’t an evil genius. He’s just a child. Something has been niggling at Meyer about the returned boy, and she watches his videotaped therapy sessions to get inside his head. Distracted by his therapist’s Fishtank of Symbolism, Ben uses the wrong pronoun in a statement about his time in the bunker. “We had school,” he says before correcting himself. His shrink hears her doctoral thesis come screaming back into relevance and launches into a discussion of Adam’s imaginary coping friend. His name? Ben. And he’s persona non grata. (“I never want to see him again.”)

Meyer can’t wait for Clements to reappear to follow up on a hunch. “Imaginary” Ben moved a lot, so Meyer looks into registered foster homes on the street that she followed “Adam” to on one of his nighttime field trips. She speaks to Ben’s foster dad, a schmuck who’s all the more pathetic because he seems to have some shred of decency at the core of his greed. He’s gaming the foster system for money; when Ben “ran off,” he didn’t report it because any attention to his situation would have revealed his violations. Like a boss, Meyer uses those violations as blackmail to get the truth, and then announces that she called Child Services before she even knocked on the door. Do not exploit children on Detective Meyer’s watch, sir.

She’s so close, and both Claire and Willa know it. They’re having matching coronaries in the living room next to poor, ignorant John while Meyer interrogates Ben about what Adam was wearing the day he was taken and searches his expression for a reaction to the childhood picture of Ben that she took from his foster home. Meyer’s progress is interrupted, however, when Clements’ husband Jonah shows up to ask after him. Everything feels wrong; Clements is as reliable a cop as he is a spouse. All police resources are rerouted to finding him. The only pro to this situation is that Meyer gets to order around the obnoxious colleagues who were just razzing her about her exposed affair with John Warren. (That happened!) Clements is one of their own, and it reminds them that Meyer is as well.

NEXT: Three’s company too

[pagebreak]

While the detective is out in the field, Hank Asher waits patiently to make a break in her case. In a flashback to the candidate rally day, Hank severs his friendship with Adam for the boy’s own good. (“Friends should want what’s best for each other, right?”) He buys something to soothe himself; something that he thinks Adam probably would have liked. It’s a birdhouse from Doug’s woodworking booth, though Hank pays his booth neighbor for it in Doug’s absence. In the present, he plays with his newly functional kitchen drawer and notices a seal branded onto the wood. It sends him tearing into the boxes in his garage, sifting through Christmas ornaments and old luggage until he finds it: the birdhouse, with the very same seal. It’s not possible to watch this show without comparing Hank and Doug: two very different kinds of deviants. When Hank sees the seal, he’s already put the evidence together. It comes easily to him because he subconsciously recognized something in Doug. When Meyer returns to the precinct, she’ll find Hank there with a brown paper bag that will move her investigation to the next marker.

The goalposts keep moving on this show. With one answered question comes a dozen more that are unresolved. The next one is a doozy: Did Ben kill Adam? Certainly it’s an option we’re supposed to be considering. The aforementioned Fishtank of Symbolism (and source of the episode title) is about as subtle as a jackhammer. His therapist tells Ben that the males have to be kept apart because their biological tendency toward aggression will drive them to kill. Willa hasn’t met the fish, but she’s going down that terrible road as well. She notes an inconsistency in Ben’s story about Adam’s death and storms over to him to demand the truth. He didn’t lie, Ben promises. Adam hit his head and then got sick. There’s a lot of room for details in that thin sketch, including details that could incriminate Ben. Regardless of his guilt, this isn’t a conversation he enjoys.

Black sheep Danny is doing his best to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, too. He and his sister, Willa, are both sleeping with the same woman, and Danny is pretty sure he knows that this is true. (“I messed up. I’m sorry.”) Unpleasant, yes. But at least Danny has reentered the prime narrative. One to two sarcastic comments a week are not enough to him justice. Anyway, everyone in this love triangle is a certified mess. Danny is drifting, and he drifts toward Bridey because she’s not related to him and she always has a scotch on the rocks at the ready. Willa is being truthful with herself for the first time, but knowingly moving in on her brother’s on-off whatever and the journalist who would love nothing more than to make a name on exposing her family. And Bridey has lost the plot herself, coming to Evil Editor bemoaning her decision to drop the paternity test results because of Willa’s weak cover. Evil Editor believes that everything happens for a reason though. Now Bridey can break a different story — the one where the gubernatorial candidate’s daughter orchestrated this whole lie. Bridey may not be too hung up on morals, but she’s questioning whether she’s prepared to screw over this many people in pursuit of fame. It’s not newspaper friends, Bridey. It’s the newspaper business.

Odds & Ends

  • “Well, kid. Here we are: in the suck.” Clements wasn’t even really gone, and I still missed him.
  • “Represent!”
  • Willa on Claire’s Good Wife routine: “Bill and Hillary. John and Jackie. We’re not reinventing the wheel here.”
  • “How is she?” “Not well… she’s dead.”
  • Everyone prepare yourselves for Ben to ask for a big piece of birthday cake with a lot of frosting. Callbacks! 

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