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‘The Family’ finale recap: ‘What Took So Long'

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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

Her heart may have been in the right(ish) place, but Claire Warren ran for governor of Maine on a lie. No politician, no matter how powerful, can create the type of suburban utopia that she describes in her acceptance speech. No candidate can promise to keep any family safe, even her own. No leader has jurisdiction over “wanting what we shouldn’t want.” People will be monsters when they choose to be or when they simply run out of the willpower that keeps them from it. Like Ben told Danny, if Doug hadn’t taken Adam at the park, he would have bided his time until another opportunity arose. Tragedy always waits patiently in the wings.

The Family’s first season finale became its series ender when ABC chose not to pick it up for another year. This episode not only wraps up the threads we’ve been following since Ben walked into the Red Pines police station, but it also gives a glimpse of what new territory the high-concept drama would have entered in season 2 if given the chance. Fortunately for its audience’s blood pressure, none of the many cliffhangers in this unexpected finale include the current state of the real Adam Warren. The boy is alive and on the run with Doug’s girlfriend, Jane.

Some of how he got there is still cloudy, but finally we know what role Ben played in Adam’s deterioration. A few flashbacks shows how the boys’ strained relationship was heightened every day they spent together in the bunker. Ben’s hope had disappeared long before Adam became his roommate. (And some remains on Doug’s property suggest Ben may have already watched another “friend” come and go.) And Adam grew steadily more frustrated with Ben’s resignation to their inhumane life. Still, he convinces Ben to try another escape plan, this one involving luring Doug close to them so that Adam can strangle him with his chain and Ben can steal his keys. It actually works, though Doug still outweighs his emaciated teenage prisoners. Ben freezes at the moment of truth, watching Adam struggle with the man. Doug gains the upper hand and rises off Adam’s cot. Adam clings to his back and hits his head on a metal pipe running along the ceiling. Hard. “That…that isn’t on me,” Doug says as a pool of blood gathers under Adam’s head on the cement floor. Ben is silent.

In the present, Willa is hoping that her mom will just forget about that whole thing about how they’re harboring the lost boy who probably killed her brother and now using him as a political prop. Claire is a shell of herself, very inconveniently at the moment when she’s supposed to be out in public celebrating her victory. She walks right out of a happy family photo shoot and visits a place she didn’t have the strength to see before. Alone in the woods, Claire rips the caution tape away from the bunker. When she thought that Adam was back in her life, she couldn’t move on with him knowing all the horrible details of his confinement. But believing him dead, Claire decides that she owes it to her son to stand in the place where he lived and died — a place where he spent more time than he did his own home.

The room had been cataloged and swept clean of evidence, but what Claire is looking for is still there. She says goodbye to her son, who appears to her as he was the last time she saw him — all big, wet eyes and his Claire Warren for City Council T-shirt. “What took you so long?” he asks. Claire says what she needs to and doesn’t skip the anger. “You just went with him like a lamb to the slaughter,” she cries. “How, in one moment, could you be this stupid?”

NEXT: Going my way?

[pagebreak]

If it weren’t for Ben’s flame out — if that’s what it was — then that one moment of carelessness and tragically misplaced trust wouldn’t have defined Adam’s entire life. After seeing the bunker, Claire comes to the conclusion that no whole human being could have walked out of there after a decade. “For 10 years, he was kept in a dirty cage like an animal,” she tells Willa. “It’s not his fault that he became one.” But Ben is already gone; he gave the $10,000 back in an envelope labeled with Willa’s name in big, childlike print.

Ben’s departure was a given after his confession to his surrogate big brother. He happens upon Danny being typically productive, i.e. playing online poker on a laptop that probably belongs to another Warren. Danny teaches Ben about hedging your bets and about how making assumptions on what your opponents have is in your best interest. With Claire missing and the cops closing in on Doug, the impostor plays his hand: “My name is Ben.” And I bet Danny has never wished so hard that his cynical instincts had been wrong.

Willa and Claire are 10 steps ahead of the men in the family in terms of processing Ben’s presence in their lives. (Reminder: John still doesn’t know.) Finally, they come around to considering him as a child — a child living under the shadow of an extended trauma. The women drive out into the night and find him hitchhiking in the rain. “Come home,” Claire beckons, and Ben complies.

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Willa goes out again to bring her other brother home, but that trip is less successful. She sits next to Danny on a barstool, and all their sibling bonding from the last episode is a vodka-drunk memory. She was going to tell him, Willa says, but quickly admits that’s not true. Danny can’t even look her in the face. She asks him to punish her with a rope burn like he did the time she broke his Optimus Prime. “At least it made it okay again,” she says. “I love you.” He tells her to close her eyes, but Danny doesn’t think that Willa deserves the distraction of physical pain. He slips away, and she deflates.

Danny seems to have given up on his family, but Det. Meyer won’t do the same to Clements. A uniform plays her a recording of the decoy voicemail he left for his husband, but her instincts won’t let her believe that her partner is really on a bender. The only solution for the stumped detective is day-drinking, and that’s how Meyer finds herself in an empty bar that’s open early enough to treat its patrons to some morning talk shows. Inspiration can come from mysterious places; in this case, Clements’ life is saved by Michelle Collins and Joy Behar on The View. Somehow Meyer hadn’t considered yet that Doug might be keeping the agent underground, even though that’s his whole M.O. Anyway, she heads out to the area where the soil matches the sample she picked up from Doug’s boot tracks last week and is questioning a neighbor when she hears a shot.

Jane had told Clements that Doug was taking her and their baby away to Canada and that she’d call in a tip as soon as they were safely away. Thanks but no thanks, Clements says. He’ll be long gone by then. He still can’t understand why she’d continue her life with someone with a history like Doug’s, but Jane is by no means sticking around to go to jail. “I have a baby to protect,” she explains. “Kids become their parents, Jane,” Clements responds. If she goes through with this, she is protecting herself and dooming her child

NEXT: Poetic justice

[pagebreak]

We see Jane’s next move twice, once in a longer cut. She, Doug, and their son are all packed up to head north, but Doug can’t find the shotgun. Jane begs him not to kill Clements, and he lays the blame for his pending death on her. (This is a recurring theme with this dude.) She tells Doug where to find it. And in the extended version, she turns immediately to another person in the room to announce that they need to make their move right then. Shotgun in his hand, Adam says he has one more item of business to attend to. Minutes after the shot, Meyer finds Doug against a tree, blood pouring from his crotch. He’s alive, but suffering. Just as his victim intended.

Clements greets Meyer with a “hey, kid,” but breaks the news that he can’t positively ID Doug because he’d never seen him. Nothing in the bunker, the cabin, or the house tie Doug to either Adam or Clements’ kidnapping. But the couple’s abandoned dog leads investigators to an electric fence encircling an illegal grave. Meyer calls Claire into the precinct alone to give her two unattractive choices. Either she allows a DNA test of the remains, exposes Ben, and lets her political career go up in flames, or Doug goes free. Less one penis, but free. “Do it,” Claire says, pushing her Styrofoam cup across the desk.

But the science says that the remains don’t belong to a Warren, and we’ll never know if aspiring star reporter Bridey Cruz was aware of that. Bridey ends up dead in the woods at the end of the episode with an incoming snow threatening to cover up her body. Is that Willa’s doing? Her flashes during Claire’s speech and her earlier standoff with her lover/nemesis seem to suggest it. Bridey gave Willa the heads up that she had everything she needed to run the “Adam Warren is Ben Murphy” story, except a comment from the family itself. “You’ll get your 15 minutes,” Willa says. “For one week they will make you feel very special and very pretty.” And Willa’s right. One “above-the-fold” local newspaper article doesn’t make a star, especially in 2016. Bridey seems to choose Willa’s offer of exclusive political press access over a sensationalist exposé, but someone in that town decided that she knew too much. And we’ll never know who, so congratulations: You can count your guess as right by default.

After Doug’s capture, John goes to Hank to try to make sense of what the hell happened to his life. How could anyone do the things that this man did? After a close call with a sixth grader named Devin, it’s very fresh in Hank’s mind how difficult it is to stop. John wants reasoning, but Hank tries to make him understand that desires do not operate according to logic. He asks if John has ever wanted to have sex with a woman who was unwilling. And instead of saying “no,” John says he would never do such a thing. “Wanting it doesn’t make you a monster,” Hank provides. “Taking it does.”

It’s a simplistic view of morality and one that doesn’t account for extenuating circumstances. The question that this show leaves me with is this: Is Ben a monster? He wanted Adam’s life and Adam’s family. And he took it. But is he the same as Doug, who knows what he’s doing and feels no remorse? Or Hank, who understands his defects in the context of the real world and hates what he is? How much does premeditation mean? An unhealthy environment? A lack of love and a history of abuse? These are themes that I hope The Family would have explored if it had had a longer life. As it is, we end on a postcard of a chatty family having a pancake breakfast and arguing over who’s going to pick up a ringing phone. Ben holds the receiver up to his ear and hears the voice of a ghost at the other end of the line. It’s his only friend and enemy Adam, with promise and a threat: “I’m coming to get it back.”

Odds & Ends:

  • “What’d you bring?” “Donuts.” “Yay.”
  • “Ballsy. I like it.”
  • “Why do people always say that when you can’t find something?”

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