Willa gives Ben lessons in being Adam — but starts to have second thoughts
More answers fall into place in this episode of The Family. In fact, “All the Livelong Day” would have made a nice season finale if Adam’s identity and how he came to be in the Warren house were the narrative’s main concern. But the flashback to the days leading up to Ben’s assumption of Adam’s place also underscore just how dire the Warrens’ family life had become in the years following his disappearance, at least in Willa’s eyes. Now, the series moves into a new phase, one where we’ll see just how far Claire and her daughter will go to maintain the only illusion that’s keeping any of them afloat.
Several story lines take a necessary backseat to the Adam/Ben plot in this episode. Bridey and her evil editor are nowhere to be found. Meyer appears only in fantasy sequences and in a replay of a scene we’ve seen before. Clements must be making organic honey with his husband at their country cottage. And we don’t see what “our friend” Doug is up to in the present moment, only how depraved and cruel he was to the boys in his possession.
The spotlight is on those boys and the friendship they forged in their isolation. A viewer advisory is earned. The Family doesn’t flinch from their ghastly childhood. Ben and Adam bond over a game where they pretend that stale bread and a single donut to share are pizza and blueberry pancakes. They are both filthy and thin; their small cots are dingy; Ben has a mouse friend named Lola, he tells Adam on his arrival. And though no sexual abuse is shown, it’s made clear that both boys are subject to Doug’s will in that area.
How long has Ben been in Doug’s prison? That information doesn’t come out, though he shows Adam around the bunker like a proper host. Ben and Adam fall into a routine, and for a while, it’s obviously a factor in keeping them both alive and relatively sane. But as they age, Adam becomes frustrated with the nonchalance with which Ben accepts their circumstances and his refusal to name the violation Doug is committing against them. (“He is not our friend.”)
When Adam takes ill, Doug removes him from the bunker. He never returns. Doug tells Ben that Adam won’t be coming back; in turn, Ben tells Willa that her brother has been dead for one week instead of the assumed ten years. Now, I’ve been watching television since my eyes could open, and I know never to count a character out until I see a dead body. Doug could have seen to Adam and removed him to another location because he feared that the older boys would now have a greater chance of escaping together than they did when they were small. The actual season finale may find Detective Meyer opening up another bunker and finding Adam Warren alive.
In that scenario, Willa’s jig is most certainly up. And Willa is already not coming off so great in this episode. There’s a satisfying inevitability to the Warren daughter being the first in the family to encounter Ben. Who else would be up so early, getting a run in before another busy, joyless day? It had to be Willa; she’s the only person guilty and really, organized enough to suggest what she eventually suggests. She’s never met a situation she doesn’t ache to control. Even before the idea of a brother swap occurs to her, she moves Ben into a motel instead of taking him to the police. She wants to reserve the right to drive what happens next.
What’s really shocking is Willa’s complete disregard for Ben’s well-being. This is a person — a child — who experienced the same imprisonment and rape that her brother did. For a decade. But she only views him as either a savior or a threat to her childlike delusions of perfect parents and crisp seersucker for pictures on the White House lawn at Easter time. She treats him like a tool, and Ben is used to it. He goes along with Willa’s scheme willingly, until he doesn’t.
Willa shows Ben family pictures, quizzes him on Adam’s quirks and favorites, and almost smacks him when he starts to brush his teeth with his left hand. Ben learns a new set of rules easily; he’s malleable — almost a cipher. There’s a moment when Willa’s humanity nearly cracks through her shell. “I’ve never seen this before,” Ben says as the sun streams through the motel window. “What?” Willa asks. “Morning,” he answers, contentedly. But no, she’s too far gone. It’s young Willa sitting next to Ben, seeing the sunrise shine on a boy who’s just the right age and the right amount of damaged to help her patch a mistake that’s colored her whole life.
NEXT: Trippin’ off the power
She still is that child, as comfortably as Willa can move through a room of politicians and donors. She actually truly believed that Adam’s return would make her parents love each other again. But as recklessly as she made the decision to Eliza Doolittle Ben into her missing baby brother, she reverses, seeing how hard it could come crashing down on them all. She picks up Ben and drops him off at a bus station with some clothes and $10,000 in cash. (Ten years without seeing a sunrise, no one to go home to, profoundly traumatized…how’s that fit into your “family values” messaging, Willa?) “Thank you for taking care of him,” she says, avoiding Ben’s eyes, “but I need you to leave and not come back.” Ben can be anyone he wants, she tells him. But his circle of influence is pretty damn small, and between Doug, Willa, and Adam, there’s only one role he can easily fit into.
Becoming Adam could be the only viable option Ben can see. Or — hear me out — it could have been his plan the whole time. How did Adam get sick, anyway? The bunker wasn’t exactly a wellness retreat, but it’s telling that the episode wasn’t explicit about what caused him to become ill. The boys weren’t as chummy as they grew up and emotionally apart. And the loosened bricks had been available weapons for quite some time before Ben carried out his escape plan. Did Ben see that he had no future, even if he did get away from Doug? He knows “everything” there is to know about Adam, he tells Willa. All the easier to poison Adam’s food, starve himself until his wrist could wrench out of his iron “bracelet,” cold-cock Doug, and limp into Red Pines looking for the lady on Adam’s T-shirt. Of course, that version of events assumes that Ben foresaw Willa’s invitation. It’s more likely that Ben had simply developed a fixation on Adam’s family with no memories of his own. All he knew is that he wanted to be close to them. Well, he’s certainly gotten his wish.
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The episode begins immediately where “Nowhere Man” concluded. Claire, who has figured out that her boy is not her boy, waits in the dark for Willa to return home. She wants to look at her daughter and see that her suspicions aren’t right, that Willa couldn’t possibly have known. But Willa immediately breaks down into helpless sobs, and Claire knows it’s all true. They have the kind of fight that even blood relationships don’t recover from. Willa betrayed her mother in the most criminal way. Claire’s son has now died twice, and there’s no reasonable way to untangle themselves from this. Still in a rage, Claire moves for the door. Willa worries aloud that she “be seen” in such a state, and Claire rounds on her in a fury. Willa tells herself that she has brought this stranger into their home for the sake of their family, but is that all there is to it? Maybe she’s protecting herself from the truth the way she tries to protect the people around her. This new scheme, like the rest of her maneuvers, may have been committed in the name of securing more power. (“I love you, Mom.” “I don’t believe that either.”)
As a last-ditch effort, Willa feigns concern for her pawn, who beat her at her whole game. She suggests that Ben “deserves” something from the Warrens for what he went through. “He may not be Adam, but he’s the closest thing we have,” she pleads. Willa thinks that her own brother is replaceable, and Claire looks at her daughter like she never knew her. A Republican gubernatorial candidate for the state of Maine drives off mid-nervous breakdown to make a vodka and snack food run at a convenience store and then falls asleep on the park bench Adam’s elementary school dedicated to him. Claire returns home to her upper-middle-class house in the morning, sees her “mended” family in the kitchen, and moves towards Ben like she’s approaching a rabid animal. “Hi, Mom,” he says. She hesitates a beat while she makes her choice. Then she embraces him.
Odds & Ends