Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Family keeps zigging where lesser shows would zag

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Hank starts out this episode of The Family by talking about how we all hide behind masks. Even beyond that, this episode offers is the chance to show that these Family characters are all more complex than they first appear. Many other shows distill certain characters to simply ”good” or “bad,” while The Family embraces all the blueish gray shades in between.

The great thing about the Adam/Ben revelation is that, domino-like, it offers carefully plotted further revelations for the following episodes. Last week we got to see how the switch came out. This week we’re met with another milestone: Claire’s revelation to Ben that she knows who he really is. Whenever the show takes a turn for out-and-out-shock value, traveling down a road that could easily turn sensationalistic, we’re quickly offered a scene that is deeply moving instead. I was practically choked up as Claire kept asking Ben all those questions about Adam, so that she could put together some knowledge about the person he grew up to be. In the end, the “I love you”s appear to indicate that she will keep him in the family, although to what end (beyond political), is still not clear. And when will John and Danny find out?

Claire and Ben highlight even a faux mother-son connection, which is underlined by Hank’s relationship with his mom, Annie. Judith Ivey’s portrayal of Annie as such a nice person, just makes it all the more heartbreaking that she died right before Hank got out of prison. Hank tries to fight the monstrous urges he has, even leaving a kid out in the rain on his porch, rather than bringing him inside, because as he tells his mom, the kid was safer out there. Annie firmly tells Hank there will be “no more parks,” while still loving him for who he is. Jane, on the other hand, becomes almost as guilty as the monster she’s helping to hide.

Ten years later, Hank walks across the street to inform Claire that her son is going out every night, something he didn’t have to do. “I was just trying to be nice,” he says, referring to himself as the “friendly neighborhood pedophile,” who knows more about what’s going on with Claire’s kid than she does. This leads to a similarly striking later walk across the street from Claire to thank him. Yes, maybe this is Hank’s way of smoothing things over with the neighbors, like the realtor suggested. But we are led to think that Hank would have offered this information anyway (although him putting up a political sign for Claire’s opponent is pretty funny). He’s a pedophile, but is not a bad person? How can that even be?

Similarly, we’ve seen nothing possible to indicate that Jane isn’t the nicest, sweetest pregnant woman alive, flirting with her boyfriend Doug (thank God they’re not married) and preparing for her new family. That all changes when she’s brought in for questioning after her appearance is discovered at the mall, and questioned about a man in a blue jacket. When she can’t find Doug’s similar jacket, she knows it’s him, although she tries to deflect questions from Gabe, before she deflects him for real with a cast-iron skillet. Not unlike Andrew McCarthy beating himself with a baseball bat (still the high bar for crazy on this show, seconded only by the revelation that Adam had a bunker-mate), we could see Jane’s violent act coming as soon as Gabe’s back was turned. But it’s still one of those moments that might make some of us (like me) actually yell out loud to the TV: “What in the hell, The Family”?

It soon becomes apparent that Jane is only too aware of Doug’s dark side (no wonder she was so frantic when he blew off their baby shower), that she’s seen him do this before. So this person that we’ve never had any reason to believe is anything less than an exceptionally nice person, gathers a ton of guilt by association. Also, possibly killing Gabe, one of the show’s only straight-up likable characters. (I guess we should have guessed he was not long for this Family world as soon as he started doing nice things like giving honey to people.) I’m assuming Gabe is dead, but then, I thought Hank was dead too, so I wouldn’t put anything past this show.


And that’s what makes The Family, even in the face of one of the most difficult subjects imaginable—child abduction—still such an enjoyable watch. Where Claire could easily toss Ben out, instead they bond over memories of Adam. Where we would expect Hank to be extra-creepy, he does something downright neighborly, and where we would expect Jane to be the nicest, she kills a man with a skillet to protect her pedophile boyfriend. Best of all, when Hank calls a woodworker at the end of the episode, we hardly would have expected it to be Doug, leading to another gasp-worthy moment in an episode, and a series, full of them.

Stray observations

  • Man, Gabe.
  • So it looks like Ben’s key takes him a place where he was formerly in a foster home? Why wouldn’t he just go back there for real?
  • As little sympathy as I usually have for Willa, Claire’s speech seemed a bit harsh. No, she didn’t miss a recital, but she did basically blame her two other kids for losing her third kid. So Willa’s comeback, and subsequent email leaks, seem well-deserved. Bridey sleeping wth both siblings, though, is just gross.
  • Ben’s written-down traits for Adam include “Always Yoshi in Mario Kart.”
  • As much as I appreciate the show’s constant dark and gloomy black and blue palette, it does make it difficult to see sometimes, like when Adam lies down in a strange house.
  • John’s “We’ll watch them like hawks” speech to Claire becomes downright terrifying in the face of what we know about Adam. Every single parent tells themselves that, fighting the fact that, as Claire rightly points out, the world is a scary place.