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The compulsively watchable The Family effectively plays a giant reveal

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If you’re not already watching The Family, right now is a great time to get on board. I have to admit for a few weeks there I was wondering, maybe this show is going no place, maybe I should cut my Sunday night review slot down from three to two like a normal person. But last week was good, and this episode was insane. That’s the thing about a mystery procedural: Withhold some information from us for awhile, we will be over-the-top grateful for any details at all. And this episode packed an actual wallop. Hank is chemically castrating himself. Nina may have a lead on Jane. And oh yeah, not only is Adam not Adam: He’s Ben, who was Adam’s fellow inmate in the bunker. And Willa knows. It’s actually a lot more information that I could have hoped by episode six, and the end reveal is a masterstroke (you only had to check out #TheFamily on Twitter to find rows and rows of “WTF” reactions).

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A reveal this nuts needs some solid work to ground it in reality. This was provided by Joan Allen, when the doctor informs her that the kid she thinks is hers still has his appendix, when she knows the real Adam doesn’t. Yes, it’s a plotline we don’t see everyday (if ever), but somehow Allen, in the hospital bathroom, managed to capture the grief that would come after thinking your child is alive when he is not, so, basically losing him all over again. And then finding yourself saddled with an absolute stranger in your home.

Adam’s true identity does us the benefit of clearing up a variety of little mysteries before now: All of Ben’s sleuthing (for clarity’s sake, I’m just going to call him Ben going forward), all of Willa’s weirdness, down to climbing under her desk. It’s interesting that Claire, due to that performance in the hospital, does appear to be ignorant of this plot, when some surmised that she could have been the mastermind. But apparently it was Willa, hoping to gain some traction for her mother’s governor’s race? How in the world did she think she was going to pull that off? Did she have the original DNA doctor killed? And how did she even find Ben? If Adam isn’t Adam, does that mean that Hank goes back to jail?

I guess that’s only if the Warren family reveals this latest secret, which, at this point, I doubt. It would certainly lose Claire the election and cause an even more insane media frenzy than the one they’re already in (halfway through this review and I’m already running out of words for “crazy,” ”insane,” and “nuts”). But Ben, so pitiful in that last scene (with a kid that actually looks like a younger version of Liam James), can not really be blamed here. His sad little paintings and dirty moppet face mean that his childhood was also wrecked beyond comprehension. Why wouldn’t he want to latch onto the family he undoubtedly heard so much about?

Sure, there’s other news, like a failed attempt to use Adam as bait to lure Doug out into the open. We see how exactly Doug lured Adam away, and what he carried him in. The connection of Nina to Jane is one of the most positive signs we’ve had so far, as I suspect Jane will be a formidable ally for the police force once she realizes what her husband has been up to. Again some strains of reality threaten to clog up the plot: How could this guy live with someone, who does not seem to be that clueless, and have her not realize that he’s been holding children captive for years? On a more practical level, how do the kids go to the bathroom? Most of these cases, I believe, the culprit lives alone, because it would seem impossible to hide such a thing. But as so often, The Family expects us to offer it various leaps of faith.

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Like the cake girl immediately being so into Hank that she would track him down, force him into a date, and immediately seduce him. It’s so far-fetched, its only real purpose is to show us that Hank has been chemically treating himself since prison, because it’s “better to be a eunuch than a monster.” Hank’s desire to control his vile impulses makes him almost admirable, especially when compared to Doug, who constructs no shortage of elaborate plans to keep his horrifying wants fulfilled. Perhaps Ben’s true reasoning could be what he told Danny, that he wants to see Doug killed, and as the only link, he’s the best way to make that happen. At this point, The Family has shown us that it will offer these kinds of twists and turns with little-to-no relation to what came before them. It’s an unhinged plot progression that may not make 100-percent sense, but it accomplishes what it’s supposed to: to keep us coming back to find out what happens next.

Stray observations

  • Willa + Bridey = meh.
  • Nina telling John to go back to his wife = same.
  • This episode was also directed by Andrew McCarthy, who effectively played up the tension with the mall scene, while adding so much creepiness to those final moments with Ben.
  • Both Claire and Nina had conversations with Doug right around the time of the kidnapping. Michael Esper does a great job of playing a benign human who’s actually the worst kind of monster.
  • Hey, crazy doctor, do you really think a parent would forget which of their kids had surgery at age 5?
  • Speculation corner: I have nothing that could even rival the rest of this episode. Well-played, The Family.
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