The Family, “I Win” Has Surprising Winners & Up’s The Ante

The Family, "I Win"

The Family, “I Win” manages to answer a major question without getting viewers any closer to understanding what’s going on!  It deftly continues to paint Claire Warren (Joan Allen) in shades of gray but also gives us more disturbing information that pushes the envelope on what you think you believe about pedophiles.  There are monstrous pedophiles, but perhaps not all pedophiles are monsters?  ABC’s The Family continues to play with our perceptions about everything!

The Setup

The Family, “I Win” is the first episode that doesn’t open up with a voiceover monologue.  By the time it’s over you get why.  There is too much going on to make it coalesce around a single character.  All of the pieces however do fit together very well.

The first piece is the opening scene with Hank Asher (Andrew McCarthy) as a bullied little boy with an adoring mother (Judith Ivey).  It’s easy to see that viewers are supposed to understand that Hank has always been the “loser” – the one unjustly picked on.  You feel badly for young Hank, and glad that at least his mother always made him feel loved and special.  The scene also reinforces how much his mother dying while he was in prison was a major loss for Hank – one beyond the normal loss of a parent.

Hank’s mother wasn’t doing him any favors though.  She promised him that as an adult things would get better and his bullies “would someday all be working for him.”   This is an idea that many a geeky child has been given some variant of.  His mother called it “justice.”  In truth though it’s not some magic formula that makes the picked-on child rise to the top.  Aside from in the movie Forrest Gump this scenario occurs because often the bullies aren’t smart and the geeks are.  Hank never seems overly smart, so that promise of hers was more wishful thinking.  That never helps anything, and as we’ll see, it plays a part in Hank once again coming out as the loser in life.

One other issue that hit me while watching the opening scene was wondering if there was also an intent to suggest that being bullied contributed to Hank becoming a pedophile, or perhaps that kids picked on him because he always seemed “different”?   The nature vs. nurture discussion on the topic of what leads to pedophilia has lately been more inclined to believe that there are people with distinct physical brain characteristics that are linked to pedophilia although the factor of “nurture” also still plays a part (www.alternet.org).   Is Hank just born this way?   I’ll be coming back to this topic at the end of the article.

In the meantime, when Hank comes out of his dream he wakes up in the hospital where detective Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham) is waiting to ask who did this to him.  Hank tells her it’s John Warren (Rupert Graves).  

That same morning at the Warren’s  we get to see that Claire is under a lot of pressure.  She’s in the shower before breakfast hearing the naysayers on the radio talking about her lack of experience.  Her backers are all talking about her ability to run a city and keep her family together.  That’s not exactly helpful it you feel you aren’t really doing that.  Claire knows her family really isn’t all together.  She’s got an alcoholic oldest son, a political machine for a daughter, and a husband who’s been cheating on her on and off for years.

Let’s get the least surprising news out-of-the-way.  Reporter Bridey (Floriana Lima) took John Warner’s coffee cup and Adam’s q-tip. (we saw that part) and sent it off to a paternity testing lab.  Her boss tells her that what she’s done is illegal and without a source to back her up the story is useless and tabloid.

Meanwhile, as Nina is with Hank and Bridey is giving her news to her boss, at the Warren’s “Adam” gets a postcard from Doug (Michael Esper) – the man we definitively know kept “Adam” locked up for years in that oil refinery bunker and sexually abused him.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWy0ilFKfgA]

The Family, “I Win” – all of the family’s twists

“Adam”

John and Claire take Adam to the police station and end up meeting with FBI Agent Gabe Clements (Matthew Lawler).  Adam tells Gabe that his captor had something called, “the good boy list” – a list of places the abuser promised to take him if he stopped trying to escape.  He even bought “Adam” guidebooks for the places!  Gabe asks Adam to try to remember where those places were so that they can turn the, “good boy list” into the, “Catch the Bastard” list.  

This is important, because no matter what else is going on, “Adam” is without a doubt a victim of serious abuse.   The older Warren siblings Danny (Zach Gilfordand Willa (Alison Pill) even have a sort of bonding moment where Willa stops being harsh with Danny about catching him with a drink after he’d been so adamant about being on the wagon.   Willa gets it, and the two silently commiserate over the fact that their younger brother has been through so much.

So, yes, Danny does come to accept that it’s Adam.  Even when he figures out that Adam had to have turned off the house alarm the night before he doesn’t tell his parents.  Instead, he goes and privately asks Adam where he went. (Big brothers are like that.)

Adam: “I wanted to know I could leave.  Sometimes it feels like I can’t.”

This doesn’t exactly answer Danny’s question, does it?  Where did Adam go?  During viewing the episode one can’t help but contemplate the idea that Adam went and beat up Hank –  except why wouldn’t Hank say that?

I thought perhaps Hank and Adam were working together for some sinister plot yet to be revealed.  Especially when after John’s arrest we see Hank go to the bakery and order a big cake that says “I Win” on it, like something had to be up!  Adam could have gone over at Hank’s request and beat Hank in order to blame John…but that’s as twisted as I got.

However, Danny has none of these thoughts because given the trauma “Adam” had been through, this answer sounds reasonable and believable.   Therefore, Danny ‘s next move with his “brother ” isn’t to out him to the family about turning off the alarm – it’s to take Adam for a driving lesson!  What better way to let Adam feel free than to be able to just get into a car and go?  It’s really a smart choice.

The driving lesson is going well – until Adam starts driving with his eyes closed and speeding up.  It’s like he’s trying to get them both killed!  Danny manages to get “Adam” to hit the brakes and angrily asks Adam if he wants to die.

Adam: Not anymore.

It’s scenes like these, plus following the actions of Doug (we’ll get to him) that make it so difficult to know how to feel about this “Adam” guy.   Even knowing that he is lying about who he is doesn’t change the horrific abuse he’s gone through.   The mystery of Adam Warren’s disappearance has morphed into two mysteries: what happened to Adam Warren, and who is this “Adam” that escaped a psychopath and is pretending to be Adam Warren?

The Case Against John – and its Consequences

One of the interesting twists this week is about John and Claire’s marriage.  Last week, Claire warned Nina to stay away from John (not knowing that Nina had basically already ended things when she learned that John had helped to set up Hank ten years prior).  In a flashback we learn how John and Nina ended up getting together.   There’s a hard moment when the little league accidentally calls the house to remind the Warren’s about the first game of the fall.   The next flashback is that night John surrounded by beer cans at the little league park.  He went to watch the game his son isn’t in.  Young Willa (Madeleine Arthurfinds him there, sees that he’s so drunk that can’t stand up and has peed his pants.  She calls Nina for help.  Nina sends Willa home and brings John back to her place to sleep it off.

The next morning is awkward…until John sees that Nina has all the newspaper clippings and notes for the case up by her bed (I’m assuming they hadn’t gotten Hank yet.). He tells Nina that Claire has taken down all the pictures of Adam – and anything else that was connected to him.  You can see that Claire’s actions have devastated him.  Nina – suffering from lost puppy syndrome – is attracted to him.   John leaves and she breathes a shaky sigh of relief.  Then he comes back and frantically kisses her.  The next morning when he comes home is the first time Willa sees a message from Nina on his phone, and she erases it before her mother can see it.

Knowing these things make the present day occurrences add up. Nina comes over and accuses John of attacking Hank. He can’t believe she’d think him capable of it, but the evidence is against him. There is:

  • his bat being found at the scene with his prints and Hank’s blood
  • the injury to his hand that he claims is from the neighbor’s little dog
  • his admitted arguing with Hank that night
  • the fact that the security system – and therefore the security cameras – were turned off

On top of all of that is the unspoken fact of Nina knowing he’s lied about Hank before. mClaire comes in just as Nina finishes laying out all the found evidence.  Nina glances at Claire, tells John he’d better get a lawyer, and leaves.

Does Nina really believe John did it? Well, when Gabe asks her she doesn’t say she doesn’t believe it and notes that John is, “angry enough” to have done it.   Nevertheless, she is still reluctant to have John arrested and has to be pushed into it by her boss pointing out that the facts dictate they have no grounds not to.

Over at the Warren’s Danny’s just walked in and been viciously accused of being the one that turned off the alarm system.

Willa:     Not doing something and being too drunk to remember aren’t the same thing.

Danny:  I’m not drinking.

At this point, Willa is thinking maybe her father did do it.  After the arrest and being met by a bombardment of press afterwards, Willa suggests he take a plea deal for the good of her mother’s campaign.  Claire – to the shock of both Willa and John – completely shuts that idea down! Willa tells Claire that the situation could cost Claire the gubernatorial race.

Claire:  Then it’s the race.

The next thing you know Claire is at the police station confronting Nina to clean this mess up because they both know John isn’t capable of it.  Nina says Claire may not know what he’s capable of, but that just makes Claire super annoyed.  She tells Nina, “The man takes a spider outside.”  Like, seriously!  Then she really let’s Nina have it!

The Family, "I Win"

Claire: “You’ve been in our bed lying between us for ten years.  Like it or not, you’re with us.  We are a  party of six honey, we live together, we sleep together.  So, you get on board, and you do what’s right.”

After her visit with Nina, Claire comes home that night to find a bat with the words “#PapaBear” in the driveway.  She calls out for John.  John and Willa come out.  It looks like the entire front yard is covered in bats….  It is creepy looking!  The significance of it though doesn’t completely come together until near the end.

That night, John walks into Claire’s shower.  This is one of those quietly knocking it out the park acting scenes.  It happens right after we see the flashback of Nina and John’s first hookup which gives us a real compare and contrast of these two relationships.  John and Nina was all about using sex to desperately try to escape the pain of the loss and inadequacy.  John walking into the shower is him hoping for forgiveness and hoping to make up for his past.  The vulnerability Claire has with John about him seeing her naked is raw and you can see her fears: the knowledge of his affair and the feelings of not being able to measure up to the younger woman he’s been sleeping with.  She can’t even look him in the eyes. John’s reaction is so perfect, tender and simple – all with just two words.

John: No, don’t.

Even then, Claire isn’t sure why he’s there.  When he thanks her, she quickly lets him know she didn’t start the hashtag Papabear that is giving him such an outpouring of support.  In other words, if this is about him thinking she’s helped him he’s wrong and should just go.  Again, John lets her know it’s much deeper.  It’s that she’s never doubted him.  She never thought him capable of beating Hank to a pulp.  That means everything to him, because Nina did think it was possible.  For John that had to be a sobering realization about who really knows him best.  The fact that she didn’t toss him to the wolves for her campaign has to also weigh in strongly.

John moves slowly into giving her a gentle kiss and Claire is crying and falling apart.  The affair has never changed that she loved her husband.  For John, it’s realizing he let his grief about Adam turn him away from a woman he loved.  It’s been losing Adam that split them up.  Now, with Adam back, as strange as everything around this is, it’s giving them a chance to finally heal that break.

Nina took Claire’s talk seriously, so the same night John and Claire are making up she goes by Hank’s place to look over the scene again and talk to him.  It doesn’t take her long to notice and ask about a special plaque sitting on the taped together table that had been broken in the attack.  Hanks says it represents him and his mother. Nina then comments on how much pain Hank must be in from the fight, because in the crime photos she’d noticed how swollen and blistered his hands were – and still are.  At that Hank asks her to leave.  As she’s leaving she tells Hank he’s “a lucky man” – especially since that plaque is still intact despite the table being smashed by a baseball bat.   Hank says “it’s sturdier that it seems.”   Well, not really.  Nina “accidentally”brushes against it as she’s leaving.  It hits the ground and shatters.

Just so that there’s no mistakes with the implication, a flashback shows John and Hank arguing about Hank harassing John’s family and warning Hank to stay on his side of the street.  John goes inside, and Hank sees the bat lying in the driveway.  Yep, he takes John’s bat and smashes apart his living room – taking care to move the precious ceramic tile/plaque that represents him and his mother.  He then sits on the floor…and smashes the bat against his face!  Whoa!  Granted, in the last episode, “Feathers of Steel” we saw even more of just how much Hank has endured because of the Warren family.   Still, smashing himself repeatedly in the face is going incredibly far in the hopes of setting John up.  It reminds me of the saying about resentment being like taking poison in the hopes the person you resent will die.  All Hank’s done is hurt himself – both physically and emotionally.

The following morning the press are swarming around the house because of the news that Hank has dropped the charges.  The press is all over “Papa Bear” and the support that he’s gotten from the public. Aside from the crowd at the Warren house they are also hounding the current governor Charlie Lang (Grant Show) about how he feels about his hashtag “Papabear”!  We get to see just how much things are moving in the right direction for John and Claire when they present a united front for the press –  one that’s really a united front.  He’s now projecting the same tough on crime attitude as his wife.

Claire is just beaming as John talks.  The husband who was so supportive of Claire’s political career before Adam was taken is back!   How long  will this last?  We’ll have to wait and see, but for now things are looking great for her!  Will Hank ever realize his actions have only helped Claire?  I’m hoping they touch on this next week!

Willa and Bridey

The hashtag “Papabear” comes out of a conversation between Bridey and Willa right after the arrest, and now I’m puzzled.  Bridey shows up with a coffee for Willa – and knows just how she likes it.  Did Bridey see that at the Warren’s the other day and just remember it?  She and Willa have a…dynamic that’s difficult to read.  Last week I thought Willa’s lesbian fantasy was just that.  Now I’m not so sure.  Did she and Bridey at some point have an encounter….?

Anyway, Bridey is trying to get Willa to let her be the press person on the inside for the John Warren story because Bridey can give them “good spin.”  Willa tells Bridey to prove it.  It’s Bridey who creates and gets the hashtag “Papabear”  to get picked up and start trending on twitter.   Willa is pleased to see everything working out to the point that even her parents seem happy.

That night Willa meets up with Bridey at a bar to…discuss Bridey being the campaign’s goto reporter – or something like that.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bteUGbbVd_4?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

 

I would love some feedback on what the heck just happened! Did Bridey just figure out that Willa’s a closeted lesbian and act on a hunch, or do she and Willa have some kind of secret history?  I feel like this scene could be read either way. If you have thoughts on this, leave them in the comments, okay?

Doug’s Road Trip

The case of Adam getting the postcards and the road trip that Doug has his wife on is such a disturbing story it needs to be separated from everything else going on.  It’s made clear at once that the only reason Doug is taking his wife Jane, (Zoe Perry) on a road trip is to send “Adam” postcards from all the places on the “good boy” list.  Talk about a woman not knowing who she’s married to – Jane thinks this is a last hurrah before the baby is born!   The only caveat to this is the writing suggests that some part of Jane is aware of something being not quite right.  Otherwise in the previous episode there’d be no reason for her to have been suspicious about what Doug had in the shed – and she was clearly suspicious.

This makes listening to Jane talk to a mother at a local ice cream place about how Doug has this “whole itinerary” for them sad. It’s watching denial in action.  Jane is super chipper, and the mom also seems to think it’s a lovely idea to drive a woman around the country when she’s 6 or 7 months pregnant.  I’ve never been a fan of road trips so I can’t imagine this is fun when being so pregnant.  It doesn’t seem like a normal choice to me, but maybe it is.  Certainly Jane is acting like it, and this mom seem to think so as well.

Then, in the midst of all the “isn’t this all normal” routine, comes an innocuous throwaway line that’s more like the fuse to a stick of dynamite!

Jane: Boys are great.  You don’t have to worry so much about them.

Given the situation with “Adam” and that dungeon we know Doug is building for some other boy, it’s another one of those, “she has no idea” moments.  It’s also a general reminder that our society tends to forget that little boys are just as vulnerable as little girls.  The final kicker to this idea is what Doug’s been idly doing to a magazine while she’s been talking.  It looks like he’s just tearing strips of paper, but the final result completely kills the idea of not having to worry about little boys!

Doug made this...a smiling young boy...in a cage!

Doug made this: a smiling young boy…in a cage! That’s the way his mind works.  Kaboom!

Back in Maine, Gabe and Nina surmise that the “good boy” road trip is the perp’s way of expressing anger at “Adam” for escaping.  They think that he may be trying to go to all the places on that list.  As such they try to create a map based on the postcards and Gabe sends a team to stake out the ferry to the Statue of Liberty in New York City.

Maybe Doug would have ended up going there, but he gets pulled over by a cop. (This, by the way makes Jane nervous about what he did.  It’s like she keeps expecting to find out he’s a criminal….)  At the police station we learn he was stopped because he doesn’t have a license plate on his new minivan nor is his registration in the computer system – both are because it’s a new vehicle.  The officer tells him they’ve been having theft issues at the car dealership, so Doug and Jane will need to wait for the paperwork from the Maine DMV to come through.   This makes him nervous, even more so when he sees a “wanted” sign go up about him, that sort of looks like him.  He’s just about to try to bolt with Jane when the papers come through and he’s free to go.   Meanwhile, the NYC sting operation is a bust.  Gabe says he’s going to leave agents there and at the other sites for a week – just in case, but he’s heading back to Maine.

When Gabe returns he, Nina and the others assigned to the case, have a new problem. “Adam” has gotten more postcards – a lot more, and from all over the place.   It’s Nina that realizes he can’t have been to all of those places so quickly; he must have asked people that he met and were planning trips to mail his postcards from their destination.  A flashback shows one guy mailing a card from Hawaii!

Nina and Gabe are trying to get inside the head of “Adam’s” abductor.  They throw out ideas of him being angry and obsessed.  Is the trip about punishing Adam?  Could he be trying to make Adam feel jealous or sorry that he left? Nina then suggests that the guy is lonely and misses Adam.

The audience learns they are wrong.  Well, at least Nina is wrong.  Doug is not missing Adam.  Why? Because back at their house, Doug shows Jane a gray stuffed dolphin/porpoise he bought for their unborn son that’s “perfect for the little one’s room.”  It seems so normal – until later that night.  Doug goes into the shed and down into the small dungeon he’s built underneath it.  There he carefully places the stuffed toy against the middle of the back wall.

Oh. My. God. That was beyond creepy!  Even writing about it my hands are shaking.  Doug doesn’t miss Adam because he’s already gotten a replacement.  His own son!  In fact, it makes me wonder if Doug actually let Adam go because he knew he was going to have another boy.  Whatever the case, it makes Hank’s issues seem – like just issues.  Hank may be mentally sick, but this guy Doug ranks as pure evil!

The Wrap Up

After that horrendous scene, The Family, “I Win” ends with Nina going over to the Warren’s with a plan to get “Adam’s” perpetrator.  She wants to use Adam as bait!  (Already, this doesn’t sound good!)

By the end of the episode we get the least unsurprising news: the results of  the paternity test for “Adam” says that it’s not Adam Warren.  Actually though, what that test really says is that John is not that guy’s father.  I think we all get the difference.   Basically this means that although we get the expected answer to the test, the type of test it is doesn’t completely rule out the possibility that this guy could be the real Adam Warren.  What if, unbeknown to John, Adam was never John’s biological son?

Wow! I’ve never believed it the guy was the real Adam.  Now this last twist actually makes me wonder. Why make the point about doing a paternity test instead of a genetic one testing for both parents.  Could this kid be Adam, but somehow his disappearance is tied up with Adam not being John’s real kid?  Every character on the show has so many secrets that this idea doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities. How’s that for a thriller messing with your mind!

Final thoughts

One of the things that The Family appears to be doing is putting forth the idea that there’s a difference between a “normal” pedophile and a violent child predator/molester.  They seem to suggest that while Hank’s desires are an abomination and need to be monitored and addressed, it’s not the same as being a dangerous psychopath – which Doug clearly is.  There has, in recent years been studies that say that there is in fact a difference and that being able to recognize them would lead to being able to protect more children.

Basically these studies show that a person born with the mental predisposition to pedophilia will have a lower IQ and less white matter brain tissue than the normal person.  A psychopath’s brain is also different, but with deficits in both white and gray brain matter (www.livescience.com ). While the issue of environment and nurturing is still a big factor in developing the violence and sexual deviance that we see in Doug, there needs to be that predisposition to begin with. (Check out this story of a doctor who accidentally discovered he had the brain of a psychopath to see how the nurturing issue clearly is a factor: www.businessinsider.com).

One of the ways that Hank is shown as different from Doug is how he tries to get back at the Warren’s.  His method is an impulsive idea brought on by happenstance circumstances – seeing the bat in the yard.  He doesn’t take any real time to think it through, and it’s a plan that requires that he physically hurt himself.   This is more the behavior of a sociopath than a psychopath.  Sociopaths are thought to be  “more likely the product of childhood trauma and physical/emotional abuse”  – which fits Hank’s life circumstances.  Hank may have been born with the mental illness of pedophilia, but he was not predisposed to harm others, in fact it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Doug was one of Hank’s bullies as a kid….

The flipside to all of the above is that viewers are being led down this path to be shown that even if Hank isn’t like Doug, he’s still a menace to society.  After all, we still don’t know why Hank had those gloves of Adam’s hidden away, and we don’t yet know what really happened to Adam Warren 10 years ago.  If were to turn out that Hank killed Adam Warren would we still feel badly about him not getting a puppy? (That happens in The Family, “Of Puppies and Monsters”)

I hate to say it, but the more I read about this stuff the less Claire’s chip idea seems less like a bad one – at least if it were done voluntarily and early on.   If there was a way to identify people with pedophilia before they actually act on the desires produced by their mental illness some might welcome the opportunity to have help keeping out of trouble.   There’s apparently a program in Germany that doesn’t use chips, but does work with pedophiles who come forward in order to keep them away from children without just throwing them in jail.

The problem is that programs like the one in Germany, or voluntary chipping, or even Claire’s idea of chipping sex offenders, would only be helpful in cases like Hank’s.  Hank wants to not act on his urges.  For people like Doug who are about violence, power, control and have no conscious, it’d be useless.  They’d never volunteer for a program or a chip and you’d never know what they were about until it was too late. Doug is completely off the radar.  As for chipping known sex offenders, if an offender wanted that chip out badly enough, they’d find a way.  Yet…isn’t getting some of them before they can cause harm – or more harm – better than getting none?

Honestly, it’s hard for me to fathom I’m even contemplating any of this stuff about pedophilla.  However, that shows that The Family is good TV.  It’s the kind that doesn’t just entertain, but challenges your beliefs and makes you think about other possibilities.

  • The Family Season 1 Episode 5 Review
4.5

Summary

The Family, “I Win” manages to answer a major question without getting viewers any closer to understanding what’s going on! Instead of making things easy, The Family deftly continues to paint everything in shades of gray.

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