The Family recap: Nowhere Man
A medical emergency exposes a lie, and the Pock-Marked Man makes an emotional mistake
Atonement is pursued through many methods on The Family, though none of the penitent are currently satisfied with the state of their souls. “I told a lie to fix a lie,” Willa tells her priest. And we’re so deep into the concentric circles of misdirections and cover-ups that surround the Warrens that I’m not even sure which two lies she’s specifically referring to at this moment. The teenager who introduced himself back into the lives of this ten-years-broken family as Adam is actually a boy named Ben. People can study pictures and learn names and fib. Internal organs can’t.
After the show’s standard voiceover opening, “Nowhere Man” picks up right where the last episode left off — with Det. Meyer proposing that Adam help the cops set a trap for his kidnapper. Meyer and her FBI partner, Clements, are banking on one crucial piece of their suspect profile: The Pock-Marked Man misses the boy he lost and won’t be able to resist getting another look at him. They bait the hook with a sound bite from Adam to the press still gathered around his house. There’s a burger joint he’s been craving, and he’ll probably be heading there soon. Doug doesn’t flinch when the news item airs — as practiced as he is in shoving his own interests to the bottom of his metaphorical suitcase, at least in the presence of Jane. But we know that he heard. The gears are quietly turning.
The family reluctantly trusts Danny to be Adam’s second to conspicuously eat fries in the center of a crowded food court. (“Wanna play ‘Spot the G-Man’?”) Dressed in his captor’s favorite shirt, Adam is shiny with sweat as his eyes dart around the cafeteria. He tells Danny to walk away; the man won’t approach unless Adam is alone. Claire watches helplessly from the surveillance van, already regretting being talked into this plan. The cops spring into action when Adam starts to have some kind of episode, and the mission is aborted. Doug watches from above until he can’t anymore, but he looks coldly satisfied by his short and silent communication with the escapee. Clements instructs some uniforms to call the paramedics for the kid while the rest of them fan out to find the 30-year-old brown-haired man in a blue jacket. Doug dumps the garment into a trash can and hooks back up with his human camouflage: a wholesome-looking mother-to-be. No one looks twice at them as they leave the building. But Jane isn’t entirely nondescript to everyone. Clements and Meyer later spot her in the security footage and note her past connection to the case through her job at the oil refinery. Baby steps.
I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing that Adam’s dread over facing his abuser contributed to his intestinal distress. The medical issue is nothing a quick procedure can’t handle, but Claire’s handwringing over the prognosis gives the symbolism of the boy’s aggravated, internal scars plenty of time to land. In the end, it’s the scar that exposes Adam’s real identity and the machinations that brought him to the Warrens. Claire didn’t simply forget which of her children had his appendix removed (but thank you for your thoughts, mansplaining doctor); she knows that the child who was checked into the hospital under her son’s name has one more extraneous organ than he should.
And Claire knows. She knows immediately that only one member of her family could be detached and determined enough to pull off this switcheroo. Danny can barely keep his head above the puddle of cheap whiskey in which he’s chosen to spend his days. John puts his energy into an extramarital affair and a secondary career — anything to escape that home. There’s something about mothers and daughters — no matter how different they are, and Claire and Willa are by no means the same person — an almost psychic connection isn’t abnormal. Was Willa motivated by guilt alone? She feels responsible for Adam’s kidnapping; the flashback scene where she tells her parents that he’s gone is included in this episode for good reason. But that’s not all there is to it. The two lies she references in confession aren’t enough on their own to keep her shaking under her desk for an entire night. Long ago, Willa appointed herself the protector of the Warrens, and I’m certain we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the horrible things she’s done to “keep everyone together.” It’s consumed her entire life. But the house of cards is swaying, and Willa doesn’t know how to prevent the collapse. “Who asked you to?” Danny asks her. Her actions are so foreign to him. He’d burn the whole thing down, if he could.
NEXT: Liquid courage
In a rare moment of sibling bonding, Danny takes his sister out for shots to teach her his ways of actively ignoring his problems. As Homer Simpson once said, alcohol isn’t just the solution to all life’s problems; it’s also the cause. There’s no absolution at the bottom of that bottle for Willa. Instead, it takes her right to Bridey’s doorstep where she literally gets into bed with the outsider who has the most ammo to take her family down. Earlier in the episode, Willa buys herself some time by telling a paternity-test-wielding Bridey that Adam and John wouldn’t be a match anyway because of her mother’s affair. (Truth or another lie? It actually doesn’t matter at the moment.) But considering Willa’s emotional state and Bridey’s power over her, Willa may not be able to keep the truth about the boy in their house to herself for long.
Booze throws Willa off her game; pain medication does the same for Ben. But Doug, our Pock-Marked Man, remains impressively unflappable. Most of the time. Meyer had the right idea with that sting operation, and it might have been successful had Ben/Adam not been in distress. Doug is so generically pleasant; his two regular modes are cow-like passivity and laser-focused determination. But not when he’s looking at Ben at the mall. That’s the first time we see a true emotion flash across the Pock-Marked Man’s face, and that emotion was anger. Doug is furious that Ben escaped. I think he’s furious, too, that Ben is trying to take Adam’s place. It seems unlikely now that Adam can possibly be alive, and Doug obviously feels a deep connection to his victims. He’s disappointed in Ben for being where he doesn’t belong. That’s why he sends him those flowers: as a greeting and a warning. He betrayed their little family, and Doug is planning to right that wrong.
Doug’s rage is the best tool the cops have, though they don’t even know it yet. How else will they be able to catch a man who’s dispassionate and amoral enough to construct a soundproof, child-sized beechwood cabinet under the loving eye of his sweet girlfriend and practice chloroforming on his trusting dog? He’s already getting sloppy; the lab is able to pull animal hairs from his abandoned jacket. “It’s not nothing,” Clements wisely tells a dejected Meyer.
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Also trying desperately not to careen out of control is Hank, who’s resorted to science to quell his urges. His spectacular cake-eating skills and politeness caught the interest of the lady baker Fran who served him in the last episode. She shows up at his doorstep, boldly offering a frequent-buyer card and her phone number. Watching Hank try to have a normal life is like watching a video game character aimlessly and repeatedly careen into walls. He nearly stands Fran up for their date but gives up when she spots him. He tries to hinder her advances by suggesting they move right into the director’s commentary after they finish their movie but gives up when she kisses him. His self-hatred and fear of giving up control take over when she unzips his pants and puts her mouth on him; Hank practically shoves her off. After warning his date to stay far, far away from him, he proceeds almost immediately to get his chemical castration shot. Fran is an adult and willing, but he knows very well that she’s also a gateway drug. The tech reminds Hank that he’s not legally obligated to receive the treatment. But he opted for it in prison, and he opts for it again here. “I’d rather be a eunuch than a monster,” Hank says, and the tech is more than satisfied with that answer.
“Being alone changes you,” began our intro voiceover for this evening. And at the conclusion, we learn that Ben and Adam were a lot of things, but they weren’t alone. How much about Adam’s family must Ben have heard in those years they were together? It’s an awful thought. But Ben also isn’t alone in this deception. Willa accuses Bridey of being too caught up in clickbait and scandal to see the gray areas, but Willa herself has no problem reducing her own actions down to something simple and easily correctable: a lie. There are now two victims in this scenario, and one is tying himself into knots to win a stranger a political campaign. Whatever penance her priest gave Willa Warren, it wasn’t enough.
Odds & Ends:
- “Google me” has probably ended a lot of nonfictional dates, too.
- I’ll never hear “Werewolves of London” the same way ever again.
- “I’ll return him.” “You always do.” Yikes.
- “Which has been around for longer: booze or Jesus?”
- Out of all the Warrens, I continue to identify the most strongly with Danny, who makes it his business to grab one last fry before he leaves the table.
- Justice for Milo.
- We had better get to meet Clements’ star of a husband before this season is out.