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The Family treads water when it should be moving forward

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This is only The Family’s fourth episode, when the show should be focused on getting us emotionally invested in this Adam Warren mystery. Instead, The Family pulls a classic bait-and-switch this episode, teasing us with enough clues so that we think Nina and her delightful FBI partner Gabe are about to finally catch the pockmarked man, but she instead shoots someone else. It’s maddening, and a little frustrating, because there’s no person in the world we want to see get caught more than someone who hurts children. But with this lengthy detour, by the end of the hour there’s been almost no progression forward. The most excitement we can hope for is actually dangled on the end of a Q-tip, as another DNA test by the hard-hitting Red Pines Tribune should hopefully clear up the matter of whether Adam is a Warren or not.

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So there are a lot, actually too many disjointed elements in this odd episode, a stumble when The Family has been trekking along at a pretty good clips so far, We’ve got Hank, who is not even allowed to adopt an animal, as we saw last week, getting served with a restraining order and trying to craft a plan that will bring him justice against the Warrens, which only appears more impossible. We have Nina and Gabe on their quest to save another abducted child, juxtaposed against the pockmarked man missing his own baby shower to plan some more monstrous acts. We see the ruthless side of Claire as she finds ways to hurt Hank in prison, takes down a governor at lunch, and demands that Nina stop sleeping with her husband: Really, after 10 years? Oh, and Willa is gay. It’s fairly convoluted, and weird dialogue about Claire as a “pretty pretty pony” show does not help. Thank god Bridey got away with that Q-tip.

The episode almost randomly ends with what appears to be Hank’s murder (although the fact that he’s still bleeding is a hopeful sign?), with a Warren baseball bat as a murder weapon. While this also may point to an intriguing development, I bet it turns out to be the same crazed person who spray-painted “Monster” on Hank’s garage, who found the bat outside after Adam and John were playing with it and decided to make it a weapon. If Andrew McCarthy is off this show, it’s too bad, because his character was one of the most intriguing, and again, credit to his own talent at making such a heinous person sympathetic. Look at how much stronger Hank is when he faces Claire in prison, when he can’t help her with her questions, before the terror in the prison starts, and the years of imprisonment weigh on him. It’s that old strength he likely taps into when he defiantly steps off of the curb to break the restraining order, to not be constrained any more.

So we see two sides of Hank, and maybe we’re also supposed to see the two sides of Claire (the feathers and steel of the title). Her takedown of the governor was enjoyable, especially an offhand sarcastic remark about how the two freshman in the legislature would have trouble with the budget because they’re women. Then the writers recycle the lamest “way to find out about your husband’s lover at Christmas” plot there is, straight from Love Actually. If it’s supposed to elicit sympathy for Claire, it’s failing, because she, like most of the characters on The Family, is wildly unsympathetic.

Drawing another Broadchurch comparison: Even in a town full of suspects, that show wisely gave us two investigators to root for, as well as one strong character who was always off the table as a suspect: the mother. In The Family, the person who draws the most sympathy is a convicted sex offender. I suspect the show is called The Family because everyone has their own levels of guilt and dishonesty (and it turns out that the alcoholic may be the most moral of the lot). But without an actual heart for the show, it lacks a central structure, which it makes it hard to root for anyone. Maybe we can’t get invested in The Family because there’s no one to get emotionally invested in.

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Stray observations

  • Speculation theory No. 1: The real Adam is dead, and this one was in that bunker for so long, he has no idea about his own family. Somehow he heard about the Warrens, and figured that joining their rich and powerful family would be as good an escape as any. Liam James’ portrayal is also exemplary as a kid who had been locked in a bunker for years would act.
  • Speculation theory No. 2: Adam is the real Adam, but the years of imprisonment has basically washed away most of his previous memories, so that he has to write things down like his own birthday. I think this theory is pretty plausible actually, as this episode has shown us that this how loves to mislead us to draw out the tension.
  • The Family overexplains: We don’t need a repeat of the fact that the alarm code is Adam’s birthday mere seconds after we hear it the first time.
  • Other things that don’t make sense: Why would pockmarked guy’s pregnant wife wait until he comes back to check out the shed? If he was away for hours, wouldn’t it just have been easier to do it then? The show only set it up that way so that she could get caught.
  • Very happy to see Jake Hanson as the ruthless governor. Grant Show has had a very interesting post-Melrose Place career (Six Feet Under, Swingtown, Devious Maids, and here).
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