Claire's campaign kicks off with a controversial proposal

By Sage Young
March 13, 2016 at 11:55 PM EDT
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Credit: KC Bailey/ABC

New alliances form and old ones come to light in the third episode of ABC’s increasingly eerie drama-mystery The Family. And the series has really committed to that circular voiceover device that opens and closes each chapter on the same moment, reminding us that the significance of a scene can completely change if the camera lingers just a little longer. “Of Puppies and Monsters” casts suspicions on Adam’s father, John, early on. The younger version of him returns to the Warren house in the middle of the night after some type of errand. He’s visibly agitated, more so when his daughter, Willa, comes out of the shadows. “Daddy, did you do it?”

There are so many it‘s she could be referring to, though. This particular task turns out to have been the knockout punch to Hank to follow Willa’s near-perfect set-up. Willa didn’t find Adam’s ship-in-the-bottle in their neighbor’s underwear drawer; she placed it there. (The 13-year-old was still a mastermind in training, hence her failure to realize the importance of having Adam’s prints on the evidence. Good thing no one cared.) John anonymously called the police to the suspect’s house from a payphone. Eager Officer Meyer was only too willing to take the detour around her inability to secure a warrant, and the rest of the community was only too keen to put a noted creep behind bars to ask many questions about the validity of the search. The Warrens’ fear and hatred of Hank is a given; what’s eyebrow-raising about this scene is the confederation of father and daughter, especially after the showdown we saw between them last week. John has dirt on Willa, too. Will he ever be desperate enough to threaten her with it?

Detective Meyer is much less desperate than I expected to find her this week. FBI Agent Clements pokes some meta-fun at the long and robust tradition of TV federal agents freezing out local law enforcement for no good reason. Meyer knows this case in a “very Beautiful Mind” kind of way, and Clements isn’t thinking about her value as a witness for the prosecution right now. If they don’t catch Adam’s kidnapper, then there won’t even be another trial. Clements is a low-maintenance and truthful partner. Meyer has learned not to give too much away at first, but she’s obviously comfortable working with him. She makes no attempt to dodge his inquiry into her affair with John, presented as it is without judgment.

As far as Meyer is concerned, it may very well be over the moment she reviews the 911 call that started the chain of events that would turn her into a local hero. I’ve struggled to find someone to root for on this show, but the detective is currently head and shoulders above the rest of the ensemble in that regard. Every week, Meyer is knocked down by some old mistake in the Warren case — some step she should have taken or follow-up she ignored. But she refuses to retreat; her humiliation and guilt are nothing compared to what Adam went through. The scene where she confronts John about the call is searing; at least she can blame her inexperience. He has no such excuse.

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The rift that led to Meyer and John’s affair rears its ugly head in this episode, too. Ten years earlier, Meyer and another uniformed cop interview the Warrens again after Adam’s disappearance. In this conversation, John’s missing hour is the main topic. The perpetrators of most child murders can be found within the family, Clements later reminds Meyer, in his dispassionate way. And John has no alibi for the time he spent away from the rally, allegedly picking up more “Warren for City Council” fliers and watching the last quarter of “the game.” The questions continue when the officers leave and the Warrens think that their remaining children aren’t awake and listening. Claire wants a solid answer from her husband so that her mind can stop whispering the worst. A tragedy like this shreds unassailable trust, much to John’s dismay. “The hell if I’d ever turn on you,” he says, and that’s an argument that can never un-happen.

NEXT: Micromanagement

Not that the public needs to know about that. Willa has powered through in her mission to get her mother elected governor. The next step is to present a picture-perfect American family to the press. Every detail has been planned, from Claire’s wardrobe (the RNC prefers red or blue, thank you very much), to the couch throw pillows, to Danny’s blood alcohol content. (“Don’t overreach, just drink to maintain.”) Unfortunately for Willa’s blood pressure, the interview is scheduled to occur soon after Clements and Meyer convince the Warrens to bring Adam to the bunker where they believe he was kept. Claire’s protectiveness is running at an all-time high. She’s still sharing Adam’s closet with him at night and takes his repetitive sleep talking to be post-traumatic nightmares. Her son insists that he’s strong enough to go to the woods. Later, a touching moment becomes something else once he’s back in his underground home. Adam echoes Claire’s reminder back to her — he doesn’t have to do this, but neither does she. Claire stays aboveground, perhaps making it easier for Adam to excuse John, Meyer, and Clements and get the space to himself for a moment. (Claire wouldn’t have let him be alone there, even for a few minutes.) He lays down in his “bedroom,” pulls out a loose brick, and pockets the key that was hidden inside.

Claire didn’t have to see the inside of that bunker to have the realities of Adam’s imprisonment smack her in the face. Willa finds her cozied up the night before the reunited family’s national television debut, putting a dent in Danny’s secret stash. (“I’m sorry I spent all those years taking showers and reading magazines.”) Her anger and guilt over what happened to Adam had fueled her career until this point. But Willa and the rest of the political strategists on Claire’s team know that voters will only want to see a grieving mother they can pity or a trouble-free family they can aspire to be. No in between. The interviewer chirps at Claire that the Warrens got their “happy ending”; how dare they continue to struggle when so many other parents don’t? Clements is talking about cops when he tells Meyer, “They don’t want you to feel the pain; they want you to do your job,” but the same applies to politicians.

Fed up with talking points and fueled by the tension radiating off that couch, Claire goes off, in the middle of this “human interest” story. “A thing like this, it changes you,” she admits. “Forever.” The Warrens are not put back together, and she’s not certain they ever will be. The breakdown goes viral after the candidate segues into a platform. She’s the right person for this job because of the horror she’s still living. It’s the kind of crime that endorses a whatever-it-takes policy to prevent it. Claire’s suggestion? Microchipping sex offenders like Hank. (#MamaBear, #1984)

This proposal perks up the ears of one Bridey Howard, still working the Warren story while dressed like a Coachella first-timer. She’d followed up on her juicy lead from last week: the doctor who signed off on Adam’s DNA results killed himself days later. Visiting the lab as a curious grad student, Bridey notes an advertisement for the company’s microchipping services. When she realizes the implications of this, Bridey looks like the cat that got the canary. If Claire is elected and able to pass this kind of legislation, the few labs who do this work will be rolling in government contracts. But there’s something else in Bridey’s expression: mad respect for a fellow con artist. (For the record, Claire denies to Willa that her outburst was strategy. Is that believable when it came with such a specific call to action?)

Earlier in the episode, Bridey’s messiness nearly burned one important bridge. (“A clean house is a misspent life.” Unless you’re lying to someone you’re sleeping with.) Things are progressing to the leg-shaving stage with Danny; he’s happy to have a respite from his family who shares his affinity for day-drinking. He taps out when he finds Bridey’s story notes and clippings laying haphazardly on a pile of everything else she owns. But later, Danny comes to the conclusion that even Bridey’s lies and seduction under false pretenses can’t match the shadiness of his own blood relations. She has the resources to confirm his suspicions. Let’s start with those dental records and why Claire needed to see them.

In summary, everyone is sweating, except the Pock-Marked Man. He’s a step-and-a-half ahead of the police at every turn, effectively torching biological evidence in and around the bunker and using his relationship with the oil refinery’s administrative guru to gauge how much the cops know. It raises the obvious question: If he’s so good at this, how did Adam escape?

Odds & Ends:

  • “What’s that smell?” “Contempt.”
  • In this week’s most unsettling Adam moment, he watches Willa undress through a cracked door. Probably a topic for that psychologist who changes every episode.
  • Is Hank Adam, or is Hank a puppy waiting for his microchip? I’m getting my metaphors confused.
  • “Do you have kids, Detective?” “Why do people keep asking me that?”

Episode Recaps

The Family

type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 1
rating
genre
status
  • In Season
network
  • ABC

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