The Family, Of Puppies and Monsters: The Right to be Safe & Loved

The Family, "Of Puppies and Monsters"

The Family, “Of Puppies and Monsters” is, despite its title, not as intense as the first two episodes of the series.  It certainly has its moments of surprise – but as of last week it was obvious that there are no totally innocent characters in this story, so most of the revelations don’t have the same shock value.  This is not a problem, but the episode also feels more scattered than the first two. Maybe because this is a bridge episode to upcoming twists the writers thought they needed to create more intrigue, but the choices made to do so only succeed in the episode losing the focused storytelling of the first two episodes.

On the positive side,  The Family, “Of Puppies and Monsters” does a number of things well.  It makes you question your own point of view about…puppies and monsters.  Most of the characters in the story are revealed to have a puppy and monster within them and you find yourself having empathy with them in one moment and thinking dark thoughts about the same person in the next.  The acting also continues to be top-notch all around.  The performances are what hold things together when things get shaky. Another well done aspect The Family, “Of Puppies and Monsters” is that the more information we get about the events that occurred ten years ago the more it’s difficult to fathom what happened to Adam Warren back then.  The mystery keeps getting deeper and as a viewer I’m looking forward to the next episode because I want to know what the heck is going on!

The Setup – John’s Story

Most of the choppy storytelling this week can be traced back to the framing opening monologue being handled differently than the first two. I suppose it’s because in this episode they wanted to create a shocking reveal, but the lack of a framing guide makes the episode feel disjointed.  This the opening voice-over line

“Have you ever done something you can’t undone?”

The actions happening as this goes on are those of the ten years younger version of John Warren (Rupert Graves) running into his house with shaking hands.  A theme begins to build suggesting that perhaps John killed his son, which makes it likely that he did not.  At one point they even try to make it seem like young Willa (Madeleine Arthur) is asking if he did it.  We also see that, at the time,  even his wife Claire Warren (Joan Allen) starts to wonder.

The thing is, the sequence of events never really sells the idea that it’s John because he never comes off as guilty of the crime.  There’s no ambiguity in his emotional responses.  Early on Young Willa hears her parents arguing over the fact that John had been gone an hour and the police are wondering, as is Claire, about why.  He says he went to get more flyers, but stopped to have a beer and watch the last quarter of the game.  Claire doesn’t believe him, even though it sounds totally plausible. He’s devastated that she could even think he’s guilty.  Later he goes to detective Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham) – who was office Meyer at the time.  She does believe him.  We get a sense that this is how their affair started.

It feels like the attempt to make John look like a suspect is to create a bigger reveal about what he actually did.  John caught young Willa coming back from the house of sex offender Hank Asher (Andrew McCarthy).  He finds out that Willa has planted the bottle.  Willa’s motivations are now not only about believing Frank did it, but that she doesn’t want anyone blaming her father.  Half way through the episode it’s shown that Willa brought John in on the plan and had him make a fake 911 call about hearing screaming from Hank’s house.  That’s what we saw at the top of the episode – him running into the house after having gone to a payphone to make that call.  It’s why the voice-over is commenting about guilt.

It’s appropriate commentary, but it’s not John’s commentary.  Instead, the commentary has been coming from the pock-marked man (Michael Esper), whom in this episode we learn is named “Doug” and has a wife and baby on the way.  At the end he’s commenting on a few people’s sense of guilt, but to contrast it to the fact that he has none about whatever part he’s played it the disappearance of young Adam and with the holding of the young man who’s returned claiming to be Adam Warren (Liam James).

With the other two episodes the monologue framing device makes sense because it all comes back to the person talking and their knowledge of what’s going on.  In this case, it being Doug’s thoughts, but John’s actions don’t add up because how would he know what John – or Nina and “Adam” for that matter – are feeling? There’s no sense of payoff the way that the first two episodes had.  Finding out the feelings we heard at the beginning aren’t actually John’s doesn’t allow for all the information that been thrown at the viewers a place to land.

John and Nina

Of course, John’s story isn’t all that happened this week. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s the ABC story synopsis:

FBI Agent Gabe Clements joins the investigation and makes it clear to Nina how he would like to handle the case. Nina interviews a seemingly innocuous refinery employee, but later we see that she has a questionable connection. Despite Claire’s objections, Adam agrees to return to the bunker to see if anything will trigger his memory, and when he’s down there alone, it becomes evident that he is hiding something. Willa questions Claire’s motives when she ends her national interview with an emotional plea. In the past, John’s hesitancy to provide an alibi for some missing time has repercussions on his relationship with Claire. Bridey continues to follow her leads, but her contact with the family is put into jeopardy when Danny makes a discovery. We learn Willa and John share a secret when Nina investigates the 911 call that led the cops to search Hank’s house. Hank plans to get his life back on track are derailed when the Warren family brings attention to him again.

FBI Agent Gabe Clements (Matthew Lawler) is a good addition to the mix.  The case needed someone who really has no connection to it.  At first there’s the usual friction that is displayed whenever the local police and the FBI are working together on-screen, but then they settle into a solid working relationship. It’s Gabe who suggests they try to get permission to take Adam back to the site and who later gets Nina to reconsider the evidence ten years ago.  Nina listens to the 911 call, recognizes John’s voice and calls him on the carpet for it.

Nina: Your kid in that hell hole, that will always be on me.  But it’s on me because of you. (A long silence ensues) Get out of my sight.

I think it’s fair to say that affair is over!

Current Events

Willa

Willa (Alison Pill) continues to be a real piece of work.  Between what was revealed about bringing John into things 10 years ago and way she handles things now, is anyone else starting to think Willa could be a psychopath?  Her level of coldness, ability to manipulate others, and need for control is certainly high enough.

The things that go on between her and older brother Danny (Zach Gilford) is awful!   She tells him that he needs to stay sober until Claire’s interview the next day, but when he says he can go two days without a drink she coolly says not to overreach and “just drink to maintain.” She also tells him she’s less concerned about how Adam will be on the air than she is about him.

That’s not the worse of her and Danny though.  It’s much later in the episode that Danny confronts Willa about the dental records.  Willa claims Claire told her to pick them up, but then totally blindsides Danny by saying the entire situation is his fault!

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUVwJ5sz6kc?showinfo=0]

 

Did you see the way she flips the focus from the dental records to it being Danny’s fault? She may have just been thirteen years old, but I’m starting to think she has something to do with all of this. What, I don’t know, but she knows more than we’ve seen.

Whatever part Willa may have in this mystery, it can’t be all her.  Doug, the total psychopath has been revealed.  His wife is the pregnant woman at the refinery that Nina interviews and gets all the vehicle records from.  That’s how he knows to destroy the truck – which we see happening at the end.  It’s without a doubt that he’s the one who’s held “Adam” in that dungeon for ten years-ish.

“Adam”

Each episode thus far has suggested that the young man who’s returned as Adam Warren isn’t Adam.  However, it’s also been made clear than whoever he is, the guy really was held and tortured in that little space for a number of years – and that the mysterious “Tom” is the one who did that. Otherwise there was no need to destroy the evidence.  It also is apparent that this “Adam” was drilled to become Adam Warren.

In this episode Nina and the FBI agent want him to go back to where he was held captive.  Claire doesn’t want him subjected to it, but Adam throws it in Claire’s face that he’s not “a little kid that you need to protect – not anymore.”  There’s also an earlier scene where “Adam” is questioning John about why he stopped looking for Adam. This “Adam” seems to take a perverse pleasure in these moments, but I think it’s fair to say being physically and sexually tortured in a dungeon for years is bound to severally warp one’s mind.

False Adam agrees to go back to the place he was held, and it’s horrifying for his parents.  Claire can’t bear to go in, but John, along with Nina and  Agent Clements accompany Adam inside.  He explains the layout of the dreary space, which later John tells Claire is the same layout of their house.  After this, Adam requests a moment alone in the space.  Once everyone is gone he lays down and feels along the wall for a loose brick.  Behind it is an old silver key!  That’s why he wanted to come back!  Could it be the only thing false Adam has that connects him to whom he actually is?

That key ties into a final disconcerting scene between him and Willa.  She catches him peering through a crack in the bathroom door while she’s undressing.  It’s the conversation she has with him afterwards that’s awkward and strange.  Adam keeps saying he messed up and apologizing.  Willa is uptight, but gentle in telling Adam he can’t look at her like that because he’s her sister.  Adam gets this look on his face that says he knows Willa isn’t actually his sister, but that he also knows he has to play along with the charade.  When she leaves, he opens up his hands and stares at the key.  I really want to know who “Adam” really is and why all of this setup is happening!

Danny and Bridey

Reporter Bridey Cruz Floriana Lima) has followed the trail of Adam Warren’s DNA testing to a Biotech lab that’s working on a tracking microchip that will graft itself  to human cells.  It’s the same lab that did Adam Warren’s DNA test, but the doctor Bridey’s talking to acts like no one is supposed to know they did it. What exactly happened with the tests is never said because those trackers are the next clue.

Bridey comes back from this and finds Danny waiting outside of her building.  The next scene is them hanging out in a bubble bath.  This somewhat romantic interlude gets interrupted when Danny has to go check his messages in case Adam called to be picked up.  While scrounging for a piece of paper he finds some of Bridey’s research on his family and Adam’s return, plus he sees her press pass.  He cuts out immediately!  Was I the only one cheering?  I am so glad he found out!

Danny however, doesn’t stay away for long.  After the second run in with his sister and having to sit through that TV interview he goes back to Bridey’s place and tells her he has her story.  What the heck is he going to say beyond, “I don’t think this is my brother?”  This could be interesting next week!

Claire and Hank

This is the story arc that the episode takes its title from, and it’s also an arc that makes you question your own thinking.  Claire is devastated by hearing the facts of how Adam was held captive.  On top of that, she blows off the person running some version (because they never actually say it) of the Republican National Committee (RNC).  Willie is trying to make everything fine and have her mom sign off on the things they want, but Claire is being difficult.  The RNC woman asks if Claire is getting enough sleep because running a campaign can be exhausting

Claire:  You know what’s exhausting? Sleeping on a closet floor with an innocent child who’s been held in a bunker for ten years.  …Tell me what color you want me to wear, I’ll wear it.

Claire gets up and leaves!  Willa is left to take care of the cleanup, and the committee chair warns her Claire had better have it together by tomorrow and be ready to “tow the party line” if she wants their money and endorsement.  Later Willa finds her mother drinking.   She snaps at her that getting on national TV and saying the family is fine, when all she can think of are all the ways Adam suffered while they obliviously lived their lives enjoying things like showers, makes no sense.  Willa says doing so gets her mother power, and that power will make it that people “can’t hurt other kids.”

So, we’ve learned that Claire does in fact have genuine sadness and grief around what’s happened to Adam. This doesn’t mean she’s above using it for her campaign.  What she does had truly sad consequences for Hank. who has decided he’s going to get a puppy.

The scenes of Hank with the puppies are beautiful, but right before he goes into the home of the woman selling the puppies we see him looking at a group of children – boys and girls.  It’s a reminder that he is in fact a pedophile, even if he is trying not to act on it.  Seeing his shock and then joy at the unconditional love he’s getting from these puppies you see a sick man trying to turn his life around, and you have hope for him.  Until Claire’s next move takes it all away via her interview on national television.

Claire: There are monsters all around, us every day – and we need to protect ourselves.
Interviewer: Monsters? Would you consider your neighbor, Hank Asher, a monster?
Claire: Absolutely, yes, yes, I would.
Interviewer: Even though Mr. Asher was innocent
Claire: He may have been innocent of taking Adam, but, umm, he’s not, innocent. He was a convicted offender, Julie after all – let’s not forget that. And statistics show that sex criminals re-offend more often than they don’t.

Poor Hank…Claire goes on and on about sex offenders can’t be “cured” – and makes him an example, even though he technically hasn’t done anything. The teenaged daughter of the woman selling Hank the puppy sees the interview and realizing that the person being talked about on TV is Hank, rushes to tell her mother – just as she’s given Hank his puppy. The result is no puppy for Hank…and despite it all, I feel sad for him.

At the same time, Claire’s statistics aren’t wrong. When she starts talking about micro-chipping sex offenders there’s a moment where it actually starts to sound like a good idea….

I said it started to sound like a good idea for a moment. Maybe in some other country, but the law in the U.S. is innocent until proven guilty. You can’t take away someone’s freedoms because of what they might do, right? This is a question that is being discussed in so many different ways in the U.S. right now especially in this current political season. I like that there isn’t a simple answer here.

Claire’s outburst on TV freaks out Willa – until she learns that it’s actually helped the campaign. Willa things her mom planned to “go rogue” but Claire tells Willa not to be so cynical as it’s bad for the soul. Willa doesn’t know how to process that! However, Willa isn’t wrong. A secret smile when Claire turns away tells us Claire did plan this. It’s the answer to the question she was going over while drinking. Who would believe the family was “fine” after something like this? Claire realized the strategy was wrong and found a way to spin things by being “honest.” It’s kind of…monstrous. I’ve said before Willa and Claire have a similar personality….

The Wrap Up

What feels puzzling about all of this is Claire having a connection to the microchip lab. Right now the idea is only a supposition, but someone does stand to gain if Claire’s elected and gets her idea passed. If she did have the results faked then she’s a part of it. Maybe Willa approached them? She knows her mother’s platform, so she could have sold the idea that it would be in their best interest to say the person found is Adam Warren.  Willa could have thought it would be good for the campaign? On the other hand, in the first episode we had “Doug” saying the Warren’s had a long way to go.  He definitely has a part in what’s going on!  This is a really good mystery!

3.5

Summary

The Family, “Of Puppies and Monsters,” while not as intense as the first two episodes of the series, does a number of things well. One of those things is making you question your own beliefs. 

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