Sometimes, I wonder if The Family is just toying with us, just to push the viewers to see how much they’ll take, and the ABC censors as well, although that network just had one of its show leads kill a disabled man with a chair, so they’re obviously lenient. They must be, because in a series full of disturbing moments, is the scene with the thumbs the worst ever? And not just that Jane tries to cut off Gabe’s thumbs, but that she fails and leaves him a bloodier mess in even more pain than he was before. And not even just that, but Jane talking about why she had to stop because of “the sound of the bone,” and you know this show is not just messing around anymore.

Advertisement

Bridey is a million times better a reporter than I expected if she actually tracked down Ben’s birth mother, but there’s no way that’s a random coincidence. I guess in the probability of these two events, Bridey’s competence is more likely?

About as likely as, let’s say, Claire becoming governor of Maine based on a single platform and one positive debate appearance. This is the lady you want running your great state? What up, Maine? I did like how it showed the grassroots tactics that might have helped her get elected, with Adam/Ben turning into the perfect political prop he was supposed to be from the get-go, voting (illegally, as it turns out) and making phone calls. I get her post-breakdown after the election (and the timing of “You won” was perfect), but I still maintain that there’s bound to be much more to the story than “Ben killed Adam.” And even if he got homicidal after being locked up for so many years, as with those betta fish, who could blame him? Again, Liam James does such wonderful job of straddling the line between menacing and vulnerability; I don’t know how he does it, but it’s hella compelling, and we can’t help but still root for him even when we maybe shouldn’t be doing so at all.

Also in that camp: Hank’s back story offered a bit more disturbing detail about his character. No, he didn’t technically hurt anyone, but he was on the path to do so. And God knows Nina isn’t right about much, but she is right when she scoffs at Hank thinking that his breaking the case will change how people feel about him: It probably won’t. And since he has to register as a sex offender everywhere he goes, he can’t escape the stigma (which he should have realized when he started casing playgrounds and downloading disgusting things onto his laptop). But right up there with the thumb-sawing is the disturbing revelation that Hank has stopped his injections. What does that even mean? That if he’s getting blamed for something anyway, and the guy who actually did it is still on the loose, he might as well do it? Like James, Andrew McCarthy has an ability to make us be on the side of a character we should be against, so that this latest twist has more impact than it would with a lesser performer.

Advertisement

Alongside performances like these, the ones that fail, really do so. Rupert Graves has not been given nearly enough to do as John, even with his goodbye to horrible Nina this episode. And I can’t figure out the rationale behind Claire and Willa leaving John and Danny in the dark about Ben. Cynically, I think it’s because Willa and Claire are afraid that their family members would have ordered a stop to the election or gone immediately to the press. But now, when Danny and John do find out, how are they going to explain why they didn’t tell them for so long?

Danny is another underutilized character, but Zach Gilford makes the most of every scene he has, especially in his moments with Willa. And speaking of performances, Willa’s hysterical laugh/crying while coming out to her brother was the best thing Alison Pill has ever done on the show, and the most I’ve ever liked her character. Too bad that’s all about to get blown up by Bridey’s big front-page splash.

Still, Nina remains The Family’s worst character. Her humorless incompetence is laughable in and of itself at this point. Yes, she was thrown some twists herself this episode, but she is at a loss with what to do with them, and having her partner, the brains of the outfit, bleeding out in a bunker is not helping matters. Doug walks right into her police station? Ben bails on the lineup identification? Doug shrugs off her tracker in a matter of moments? It’s mind-numbing. How about a little threat to the family where she says she’ll tell the world that Ben is not Adam unless he cooperates? On the day of the election, it would have worked. Or there’s got to be enough suspicion related to Doug for another search warrant, so that she just keeps going over Doug’s place until she finds something. He may not have cracked like an egg like Hank did (and she really should stop berating the man whose life she ruined for 10 years), but Jane totally would, once they found her. It’s all right there, and it’s only that difficult in the incompetent hands of Nina.

Advertisement

It makes for an odd mix of frustration and compulsion. And yet, The Family knows we’ll be back next week: To see if Gabe survives, to see what in the world Claire is going to say to Ben. The suspense the show crafts is working, despite its sometimes-clumsy execution.

Stray observations

  • “What did you do, Jane?’ “I had the baby.” I died.
  • Next week: season finale! I predict the show ends with Ben hearing from his long-lost ma, but I dearly wish it was going to end with Adam walking right through the front door. I believe it’s still up in the air whether this show is renewed or not, so a lot is riding on next week.

Advertisement