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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Family continues to explore the shades between light and dark

Illustration for article titled iThe Family/i continues to explore the shades between light and dark
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With only a few episodes left to go in the season, The Family appears to be turning everything up a notch and throwing it all at the wall, just to see what sticks. For example, if you just randomly turned on this episode, you would find a man with a head injury delivering a baby in a dark and disgusting bunker. It would be very difficult to explain to people straight off.

But, we will try: Usually The Family backstories have offered us important plot referentials, like “How did a grown man transport a young boy in a wooden chest”? This week, we get something much more valuable: the sibling minefield of Danny and Willa, and the extremely screwed-up way they grew up. Willa, as we’ve seen, is always a fixer, while Danny rightly rages against his parent’s indifference toward him after Adam’s disappearance. Yes, the way the family lost Adam, on the horrible list of ways to lose a child, ranks as among the most terrible, but there are other ways. Ignoring your kid until they turn against you and become an addict, like Danny does here, is another way. No doubt drinking (John) and depression (Claire) are methods that would help you survive from day to day after the loss of a child, but these are not tools that would help you deal with your remaining children. Especially when you see your mother rallying for an Adam tree-planting ceremony (Claire can say that she didn’t use Adam’s abduction to get elected, but she didn’t not use it, that’s for sure). It makes the distance between the two remaining siblings in the vodka scene, when they’re talking about two different secrets to each other, all the more painful, because at many moments in their family history, all they’ve had is each other.


Willa coped by becoming a fixer, Danny by something to be fixed. Which makes it so poignant when Bridey compliments him on being a nice person, after he asks her to please be careful with Willa’s delicate feelings, and he celebrates with a shot of whiskey. It’s like Danny in a nutshell. On a show, as we’ve mentioned, that offers very few people to root for, he is rare, and a lot can be credited to the portrayal by Friday Night Lights alum Zach Gilford.

Which is helpful because our other sympathetic character may turn out to be not so sympathetic. Ben “confesses” to Willa about what really happened in the bunker, but I still don’t think that makes him a cold-blooded killer. (And again, maybe I just don’t want to believe it, as won over as I am by Liam James’ incredibly nuanced depiction of Ben.) Maybe Ben was so incessantly jealous of Adam’s family that he did kill him, planning to invade the family himself. Maybe he accidentally struck Adam too hard in a fight, and Doug helped ramp up Ben’s guilt factor to control him. Either way, Ben has a lot to lose by telling the truth, and yet he tells it anyway. Does this make Ben a good person, like Danny? And if so, why in the world does he appear to be helping his former captor?


After all, what makes a good person? Hank, who would fall into the bad designation for many people, helps to break the case and, as even John points out, never hurt Adam. Jane was a girl scout before she became Gabe’s captor. Gabe, by all appearances, is a devoted husband and beekeeper, yet he’s also an alcoholic who fell off the wagon last year. His request at the end of the episode appears to indicate some dark days ahead. And Doug may be the lowest form of being, but at least he realizes that about himself, and so was going to off himself (leaving behind, one would hope, a confession about where the boys were) until Jane told him she was pregnant. He then offers to go to the police and confess so that Jane can keep the baby, leading to a now-classic Family scratch-your-head episode ending.

Even Doug has (albeit fleeting) moments of goodness, which is what makes these Family characters, like the rest of us, a fascinating composite of various shades between dark and light. And with only a few episodes left, as much as we can predict anything about The Family, we can expect that it will offer us a few satisfying conclusions, along with one hell of a cliffhanger wallop.


Stray observations

  • I feel like “Why are you telling me this?” is one of those dialogue lines that only exists in TV shows like this one to lead up to some revelation. Something that no one ever says in real life.
  • Was not expecting this zinger from Jane: “Doug, I’d like you to burn in hell. I think that’s your ending.”
  • Under Family subplots, the genetics company/microchipping contract conspiracy has to be my least favorite.
  • “Is your monster here?”
  • Hank all badass in the police station was everything: “It has to be her.” “And why’s that?” “Irony.” Also smacking down John wondering if Hank knew Doug, like there’s a pedophiles’ club. Andrew McCarthy made the most of his few appearances this week.
  • In the world of bizarre Family accents, Nina’s tough-guy inflection seems to have kicked up a notch. And she could be a little more conciliatory to the guy she had wrongfully imprisoned for 10 years.
  • “I’m sorry, Jane. It’s a boy.”

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