On The Family, “Nowhere Man” Goes Deeper into the Dark Side

ZOE PERRY, MICHAEL ESPER

If you’re not watching ABC’s The Family, but have intentions of watching it, I suggest not reading this review right now.  Viewing  The Family, “Nowhere Man” is like being shown how an amazing magic trick is done – so you don’t want to spoil enjoying the magic!  However, this show is far from over and there are clearly more tricks to come.  (You can catch up on The Family over on ABC’s website.)

If you have been watching the show then you know how one thing this dark thriller forces you to contemplate is the difference between sick and evil.  Sick is treatable, but evil is  just…evil.  This and the awesome performances makes every scene interesting to watch – and I usually don’t like dark and twisted mysteries.  For instance, I’m not a fan of Criminal Minds.  Yet, I’m finding myself really drawn into ABC’s The Family.  

What makes this show different?  The big thing is that although you’re learning some horrific, bile-in-your mouth facts about screwed up people, for the one major villain the focus is not on seeing the crime, or the terror inflicted.  There’s no glorifying of the acts that occur.  No, what this show is looking at are the long-term effects horrific acts have on people’s lives and very being.

The show has gotten better every week and with its sixth episode it displays a new level of  twisted brilliance.  Working on the premise that less is more, The Family, “Nowhere Man” teases out a few awful pieces and lets viewer put the puzzles together in their minds.  The premise is correct because the mental pictures we get of some of these events are scary and disturbing enough!

I want to take a professional approach to this review of , The Family, “Nowhere Man.”   I really do…so let me just get this out-of-the-way.

Rihanna OMG Gif:

My thoughts while watching The Family, “Nowhere Man”

Yes, this show just pulled off an awesome magic trick!  But it’s not just the final reveal of whom “Adam” is that makes this episode outstanding.   It’s the slow building of the story over the prior episodes that makes the end so chilling.  That’s just the ending though.  There are other emotional tensions being played out in The Family, “Nowhere Man” and they dive deeper into the dark murky waters of human emotions the show’s been swimming in from the beginning.

The Setup

This week the voice over narration is from “Adam” Warren (Liam James)

Adam: Being alone changes you.  The voices disappear until you can only hear your own.  And when you start to listen to it…you become capable of anything.

“Adam” is talking, but we are watching a flashback of Doug – the man who held him captive (Michael Esper) – and the scene is a gut-twister.

Things starts out normal enough.  We see  Doug out in his backyard on a sunny day.   He’s sitting on a white lawn chair taking some notes and then stops to play with his dog – a beautiful black labrador.  The two play for a bit, but the next thing you see is Doug putting drops of chloroform on a cloth. He holds it over the nose and mouth of the now whining and crying dog until it passes out! Then, stopwatch in hand, he just sits and waits.

Eventually the dog wakes up.  Doug pets the dog lovingly and makes it give him a high-five, before writing down in his notebook how many drops of chloroform he used and how long the dog was out.  That’s when it all clicks.  Doug is running tests on his 76 pound dog “Milo” to see how many drops of chloroform he’d need to kidnap a child!

It’s not just the eerie theme music in the background that makes the viewer queasy.  The unsuspecting dog’s cries, the methodical way Doug is going about this, and the loving way he is with the dog both before and after is truly shocking.

One of the consistent things I like about The Family is how it’s revealed how much of a psychopath Doug is.  We never hear him talking about his dark desires or about the rage and violence that exists in his mind.  It’s scenes like this one, or the one last week when he places the stuffed animal in the underground dungeon he’s building for his unborn child, that tell us just how sick and dangerous this man is.

Back in the present, things pick up exactly where we left off last week.   Detective Nina Meyers (Margot Bingham) is asking Claire and John Warren ( Joan Allen and Rupert Graves) to  use “Adam” as bait to lure his captor out so they can get him.  Claire is against it, but Adam says he wants to do it.  He mentions that the man liked to dress him in a plaid red flannel shirt.

Some Quick StoryLine Points

Before going into the story of what happened to Adam Warren, let’s go over the other events in this jam-packed episode.

  • Willa (Alison Pill) has never stopped being a frightened 13-year-old girl who’s as smart and manipulative as her mom.

This time, though, she’s gone too far.  When reporter Bridey Cruz (Floriana Lima) meets with her to say that the DNA test says it’s not Adam, Willa coolly says her mom had an affair twenty years ago.  However she then goes back to her office and hides under her desk.   What. The. Heck?  Willa obviously knows something and it has her terrified!  At the end of the day her big brother Danny (Zach Gilford) comes looking for her – and she’s still under the desk!

Willa: I can’t do it anymore.

Danny: What

Willa:   Hold everyone together

Danny, proving in his own way that he loves his sister, later takes Willa to a bar and teaches her how to drink alcohol and stuff down her feelings.  It’s a touching, yet disturbing scene!  However, before going to the bar, Willa makes a stop at a church and goes to confession.

The Family, "Nowhere Man" - Willa

Willa: “Bless me Father for I have sinned…I told a lie to fix a lie….”

There’s a whole lot in that small statement!  We now know Willa is the one who has brought in the false Adam.  Hence that scene from “Of Puppies and Monsters” where she’s reminding “Adam” that she’s his sister!  But, what’s the lie that Willa was fixing?  The only one we know of is that she framed Hank.  How does she know Hank didn’t take Adam?  That answer comes later.

  • Willa never slept with Bridey before

I was starting to wonder if Willa had a hookup with Bridey before,  but after watching The Family, “Nowhere Man” it’s obviously not the case.  Late that night Willa ends up on Bridey’s steps totally drunk.  After asking if Bridey’s going to tell about “Adam” she and Bridey hook up – with Willa saying she’s never done it before.  So, we can assume Bridey’s bi-sexual…or maybe she’s not but is just willing to do whatever (and whoever) to get this story. In either case, the story’s the main thing! Wait until Danny finds out the woman he’s been enjoying sexually is also doing the same with his sister!

  • Hank Asher (Andrew McCarthy) started taking medically prescribed drugs to kill his sexual desire – whether that be for little boys or desperate women.  He’s also doing it voluntarily.

The desperate woman is Fran the cake lady (Jessie Mueller). She shows up on his doorstep under the pretense giving him his rewards card for the bakery before awkwardly giving him her number and asking him out to dinner. It’s obvious she has no idea who he is, and for Hank, that’s a blessing. Later that day he decides to try going out with her.

Unfortunately, that night Fran ends up throwing herself at Hank.  At first he tries making out with her, but she’s a horny mess and immediately goes for his pants and starts going down on him.  Hank angrily stops her.  Is it because he doesn’t like it or because she obviously doesn’t know who he is?  Later we’ll learn it’s both.  In the moment though it’s both sad and funny when he tells Fran to “google him.”

Later we see Hank at the doctor’s office getting a shot. That shot kills his sexual desires and the ability to be sexual. It turns out that Hank volunteered for a study when he went to prison and has been on the drugs ever since.  The doctor notes that by law Hank isn’t required to take the drugs, but Hank says he wants to keep doing it.

Hank: I’d rather be a eunuch than a monster.

Hank looks haunted and sad.  You know, before all this mess with the Warren’s…maybe he’d have volunteered for the microchip as well.  (Just an FYI: the drug treatments for this are a real thing: http://emedicine.medscape.com)

What we see here is that Hank is a true pedophile who should never be alone with children, but he’s not a true monster, for monsters have no conscience and no remorse. (I talked in-depth about this in the review for The Family, “I Win” ).  The only true monster on The Family (at least thus far) is Doug.

  • Nina is really done with John.

Throughout the episode there are scattered moments of Nina taking in how John is being there for Claire. Yet the moment they’re alone, he starts talking about “being sorry” for making things hard for Nina.

The Family, "Nowhere Man"

Nina looks like she’s about to quote from Ntozake Shange‘s play:
for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf!
(“
One thing I don’t need is any more apologies…”)

She doesn’t though.  Instead she tells him to stop wasting his time and to choose his life.  Short, but equally effective!

The Truth About “Adam”

The Family has been pretty upfront with the idea that the young man who says he’s “Adam” is not Adam.  Yet they’ve also toyed with the idea that he could be Adam because something clearly happened to this guy and there is absolutely a psychopath, Doug, who knows all about “Adam.”  So in this sixth episode, when Willa tells Bridey that her mom had an affair it seems completely plausible – except for Willa’s hiding under the desk thing.  Even when we definitely learn that this cannot be Adam, the mystery isn’t clear, because we’ve also been watching how ten years ago Doug kidnapped Adam Warren!

Yes, Doug absolutely kidnapped Adam Warren, and as the details unfold it gets more and more upsetting because they are painted in singular moments, like red slashes across a painting.

Ten Years Ago – Doug

Doug is in his shed, with the song “Werewolves of London” blaring as he’s sanding down a piece of furniture. His wife (then girlfriend) Jane (Zoe Perry) comes in and complains about the noise. Doug is sweetly apologetic, saying he wants to finish the piece he’s working on to take into town to that “candidate’s night thing” – so he can try and drum up some business. Jane likes the piece, which we see is some kind of big toy chest…

Jane: “Some kid’s gonna be psyched at Christmas”

Jane and him share a kiss and he promises to try to keep it down. She replies she doesn’t mind the power tools or the music – just not at the same time. Once she’s gone he gets an angry look on his face and turns back on the music. Then he picks up the blaring boombox and snaps open the chest. The inside is lined with blue soundproofing foam. There’s a pause before he sharply puts the radio inside and slams the lid shut. The room goes instantly silent. Doug listens, hears nothing, and with a peaceful little smile goes back to sanding the chest. The problem is solved…and the audience is horrified. ( The Family has got the true art of the psychological thriller down! You don’t show the act, but show the mind that does these evil things.)

From there Doug’s steps are straightforward – and brazen. He uses the sweet dog he’d been test chloroforming at the beginning to lure Adam away.  Then the next scene from that time is Claire actually going up to speak to Doug…just as he’s finishing tying the chest into the back of his truck! He is relaxed and acts completely normal…and we know Adam is in that chest. We don’t see him chloroform Adam. We don’t have to. He takes a pamphlet and drives away as “Werewolves of London” plays.

The day after Adam goes missing, Doug, along with everyone who had a booth at the event, is questioned by officer Nina. He tells her that the night Adam disappeared he stayed in town to have dinner in town with his girlfriend. A flashback to the time has him being late to meet her, and the truck with the big teak chest still in the back is sitting in the restaurant parking lot.

That last flashback it mixed in with a flashback of young Willa (Madeleine Arthur) telling her mother that Adam is missing. One of the things about the scene is that Willa says she’s been looking for Adam for “about an hour” but it must have been longer because we saw in the first episode when she went to try to get help from Danny. It was bright sunshine, and now it’s evening. Claire is frantic and yells at Willa to help her look.

This is the moment where Willa and Claire become fused. We see Willa emotionally take on her mother’s despair and franticness – on top of her own fear and guilt. Here is the reason that Willa is now her mother’s campaign manager. The scene is brilliantly done – the acting, direction and editing come together to convey the connection that’s forged that night. (In particular, Arthur ‘s young Willa is truly heartbreaking here.)

“Adam” & Claire

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, the way all the little hints come together is what makes The Family, “Nowhere Man” such a well-done cornerstone episode. For Claire, what we saw last week was her getting her marriage back.  In the beginning of “Nowhere Man” we see Claire as the mother who’s gotten her son back and is terrified of losing him.

Once “Adam” has agreed to be the bait, Claire, John and Adam leave the house – where there are met by the usual crowd of reporters. Adam is now wearing a red, black and white plaid shirt.  Claire acts annoyed about them harassing Adam, but you can tell she, John and all are counting on it.  A reporter asks Adam what he missed most.

Adam:      Just being normal.  Doing normal things.

Reporter: Like what”

Adam:       Uh, I don’t know, like, I guess just, friends, and…movies, and swimming, and pizza…Bill’s Burgers…

“Bill’s Burgers” and the red shirt are the codes to lure “Adam’s” kidnapper out, but later on this little speech really becomes loaded!

(For clarity’s sake, remember that all of the events that happen in the “Some Quick StoryLine Points” section happen on the day Adam actually goes to the mall – not the day of the him being interviewed.)

That night, Claire goes to Adam’s room and, hugging him tightly, suggests the two of them could just run away up the coast and avoid all of this.

The Family, "Nowhere Man"

Adam: “I can’t forget until he’s gone.”

What is curious about the exchange are some of the expressions on Adam’s face.  It’s not strange for his reactions to be a little off, but they’re off in a different way now.   I’ll come back to this scene during the wrap up.

The Sting

The following morning Agent Gabe Clements (Matthew Lawler), Nina, and some technicians are at the Warner house wiring Adam up with a tracking device – just in case.  Claire panics, but John reassures her (which Nina notices.)  Meanwhile, over at Doug’s place, he’s making Jane breakfast while the newsclip from yesterday is playing on the TV.  Adam tells the reporter that “maybe tomorrow” he’ll be going to Bill Burger’s at the Kensington mall.  Doug hears this, clicks off the TV and asks Jane for the sports section.

Danny gets chosen to be with Adam for the sting operation.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpRavI0fMvc]

It’s a bittersweet thing watching this scene because, like Claire, Danny now has total acceptance that this is Adam, and has totally bonded with his “brother.”

As Adam and Danny talk, Claire, John, Agent Clements, and Nina are all in a room with the technicians monitoring them with both audio and video equipment. Claire continues to be a wreck and Adam’s next move doesn’t help.  After telling Danny that he doesn’t want the man caught, but killed, he tells Danny that he should go because the guy won’t show himself if Danny’s there. Claire goes into full basket-case mode, but Adam is right. Doug shows up on the upper level looking down at a pale and sweaty Adam. Nina realizes that Adam has eyes on the guy, but he also looks awful. With an order to lock down the mall, Nina and Clements take off.

When they get down to the food court Adam can barely talk, but he manages to reveal that Doug is wearing a blue jacket. Clements sends out a message to security with Doug’s description – a single man with brown hair and wearing a blue jacket. Doug however, saw them run in, and ditches the jacket. He then ducks into a store where Jane is looking at baby clothes. She notices all the police and security action happening outside. Doug tells her he heard there’s a bomb scare and he and a worried Jane hurry out. No one’s looking for a couple, or a man in a gray shirt, so they don’t get stopped.

Adam & Claire At the Hospital

Adam being hot and sweaty the night before and that day wasn’t nerves. He’s ill and has to go to the hospital.  The doctor tells Claire, “scar tissue from an old untreated infection” – likely from Adam’s time in captivity – has caused an intestinal blockage.  It will require surgery, but it’s a “routine surgery.”

Claire: Nothing about surgery on your child is routine.

Adam, lying in a hospital bed and out of it nevertheless watches Claire as she’s saying this. Again, a moment to take note of.

Nina has the task of telling Claire that they didn’t get him, but they do have tons of video footage to look through. She’d like if one of them could look through it and see if they recognize anyone – even if from years ago. Being we’ve just had the flashback of Doug talking of Claire, you really want Claire to take a look at that footage! It’s John that volunteers though. It makes sense. What mother is going to leave the hospital when their kid, never mind the one they just got back, is about to have surgery. Still, gosh darn it! Nina promises Claire that she’ll “return him.” Claire’s response is priceless!

Claire: You always do.

So while John heads off to look at video Claire is with Adam who’s being prepped for surgery.  It’s during this time that Nina makes it very clear to John that they are done – but it’s also when she tells him that they found the perp’s blue jacket in the trash.  The man was not a figment of Adam’s imagination.   At least he’ll be able to tell Claire that using “Adam” as bait wasn’t a complete waste.

Back at the hospital Claire has gotten Adam his “special monkey” from when he was eight.  She also has the nurse take away a bouquet of flowers because it’s the wrong name on the card.  It says, “Feel better, Ben.”  Right before Adam is to be wheeled out Claire tells him she loves him.  Adam’s response?

Adam:  I know.  …Hey mom?

Claire:  Yeah.

Adam:  I’m coming back.

This is yet another scene to discuss at the end, because the next scenes are incredible!

With scenes like those in the above video if Allen doesn’t win an Emmy and Golden Globe award – yes, I said win – then we’ll all know the fix was in!  You want to somehow reach out and steady her as she’s trying to keep it together while the stupid doctor is telling her she doesn’t remember which kid had his appendix out. (I believe that’s called medical mansplaining….but thank God this doctor is too in his head to consider the other ramification of what she’s saying. That would cause more trouble.)  When she is falling apart with the shock, devastation and disbelief of losing Adam, again, you realize there’s nothing you could do or say to make this kind of pain remotely bearable.  It’s hard enough to find the right words when a parent loses a child once.

The Wrap Up

So the big mystery is that “Adam” is really Ben.  But who the heck is Ben?  When we find out…I think every viewer watching had their minds blown!

In terms of the thriller aspect of the show, what is so remarkable is that even with this reveal about how and why Adam Warren was kidnapped, we still don’t know what’s happened to him!  What seems like giving away information is only opening a door into a new roomful of questions.   For instance, I want to assume Adam Warren is dead, but…remember in the second episode how “Adam” went back to where he’d been held so that he could get a key?  What’s the key for?

Willa

Watching Willa emotionally dissolve back into a 13-year-girl as she tells confirms that, yes, it’s not Adam, but Ben is one of those gray area moments.  Willa had to be out of her mind to do this!  Like, who would do this?  The answer is a twenty-three-year-old woman who’s emotionally stuck at age thirteen and has been trying to make up for losing her brother.  You want to hate her for these actions, but she – and this whole family really – are also the victims of Doug’s actions.

Learning the story of Ben and his connection to Adam also explains Willa’s confession.  Somehow, Ben must have escaped and Willa found him.  He must have told her about how Doug had brought the real Adam Warren to the dungeon and realized that Hank was innocent.  I’m really looking forward to hearing what she has to say about all of this!  (I’m not interested in what Bridey has to say though.  Not. One. Bit.)

Ben (aka “Adam”)

On top of not knowing the final truth about Adam Warren, the new question is this: who the heck is Ben?  The worst case scenario, and my initial reaction, is that Ben is Doug’s son.  Did Doug knock some other woman up, take the kid and kill her?  If that’s the case, Jane’s days are numbered!  However,  Jane’s suspiciousness of Doug in, “I Win” makes me wonder what she does and doesn’t know.

Ben could also be just some other kidnapped kid, but there’s something about the fact that Doug is now building an underground dungeon for his unborn child – and the odd connection that he has with Ben – that makes me wonder.  There are toys in the bunker, along with books and art supplies..like what you’d have for your kid.  Maybe Doug killed Adam because Adam wasn’t his son, and Doug, looking forward to having two of his children buried and caged, no longer needed Adam?

Another possibility is that perhaps Ben kill Adam out of jealousy and has felt guilty ever since.  You know that thing about how the dad hits the mom, the mom hits the kid and the kid kicks the dog?  If all Ben knew was abuse, he wouldn’t have known better.  Even if Ben didn’t kill Adam, from his voiceover on loneliness you can tell he’s come to feel a lot of guilt about what happened to Adam.  He sees Adam Warren’s kidnapping, and all of the grief that the Warren family has had, as being his fault for telling Doug that he was lonely!

What struck me about Ben in this episode, and another reason why I think he might be Doug’s actual son, is that his level of deprivation is so high. The line about, “just being normal” that he says to the reporters takes on a whole new meaning when you see the bunker he’s been living in.  When Claire is hugging him he’s unsure how to take it because he’s never been loved by anyone.

The Family, "Nowhere Man"

Ben looks sad, guilty and overwhelmed.  He’s not used to being hugged by a person who loves their child.

Torn between understanding what he’s never had, what Adam lost, and what it did to Claire, Ben seems unsure how to respond.  Plus he knows the love Claire’s feeling isn’t really for him.

Then at the hospital he gets hit with how much Claire loves “Adam.”  Ben is in the hospital now because his captor “father” let an internal infection go untreated!  Meanwhile, Claire is panicked and worried about his well-being, and is fierce with the doctor about how every surgery is a big deal when it’s your child.  That’s why his reaction to Claire saying I love you before going into surgery is so deep.  It’s like he’s finally processed what it means to be loved.  He can’t say the words back, but what he does do is try lowering her anxiety about him making it through the surgery.  Ben is coming to actually care about Claire and this family, and he’s learning how to love back.  It’s going to make some parts of next week really sad to watch.

Ben may have agreed to this because he had nowhere to go,  but you can’t deny that he’d been living in hell for a long time before he got away from Doug.  I’m not sure if that’s going to make it easier for Claire to understand his part in all of this.  I hope she won’t hate him.  As for Willa…I think Claire’s going to be a lot angrier with her than with Ben.  I wonder how that’s going to play out!

What’s your take on the these new mysteries on The Family?  Let hear your theories in the comments!

The Family Season 1 Episode 6 Review
5

Summary

The Family, “Nowhere man” displays a twisted brilliance by successfully telling a chilling story without displaying the actual horrific acts.

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