The Family Series Finale Closes Some Cases While Opening New Ones

The Family Series Finale

Episode 12, “What Took So Long” is ABC’s The Family series finale.  Because of the abrupt cancellation I was expecting to be left completely without closure.  That’s not the case.  There are some things left open-ended, but mostly those things are the start of new story arcs.  Many of the big questions of the season are wrapped.  Of course, those new story arcs are intriguing as hell.  Sadly, barring a miracle pick up from Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon, we can only guess at the answers to the new questions.

What got Wrapped in The Family Series Finale

Claire Warren, Ben/”Adam” and Willa

The voice over we get is from Ben/”Adam” (Liam James)  He’s talking about life being, “a series of moments” and asking if a person had a chance to live those moments over would they take it.

Flashback – Ten Years Ago

Young Ben (Aidan Fiske) and young Adam Warren (Maxwell James) are in the dungeon.  Adam is screaming his name through the grate, hoping someone will hear him.  Young Ben is trying to get him to to stop trying and to play Connect Four.  The scene gives us the beginnings of the rift between the two because Adam tells Ben that someone was looking for him, and that the reason they hadn’t found Ben is that, “no one was looking.”  When Ben pushes back that no one was looking for Adam either, Adam takes the game and throws it against the wall.  The dent against the wall is how they found the spot to try digging a tunnel out.

Present Time

The last time we saw Claire Warren (Joan Allen) she was sitting on her bathroom floor after winning the race for governor – and learning that Ben/”Adam”(Liam James) had actually killed the real Adam Warren. It’s now the next day and Claire still hasn’t come out of the bathroom.  Willa Warren (Alison Pill) is trying to get Claire to come out and take a photo for the papers.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsszCHsvT60]

 

The look Claire gives Willa after hearing Willa promise that she would “fix” the problem with Ben is an astonishing moment. Worse than just anger, seeing her personal grief and profound disappointment in her daughter for what she’s done, and for thinking the solution was so simple, literally silences Willa for a moment. The line that really kills is when Claire asks Willa if she thought Ben “would be her brother?” Claire is grasping at straws, trying to find a reason that Willa would do this.  In that single instance we really see Claire as Willa’s loving mother – which I’m not sure has actually ever happened.  Mostly we’ve seen Claire being concerned about Claire.

The idea that Willa missed Adam so desperately that she tried to replace him touches Claire – even though it’s a ridiculous idea. This is only an instant though.  As Claire’s walking away, she’s already back into grief and disdain. The exchange is another brilliant performance by Allen, and Pill’s ability to go from a young woman to a scared little girl is amazing! Gosh darn it, I’m going to miss these Willa and Claire scenes!

The thing is, Claire’s not completely off base. When Willa first put this plan together she did have the thought that Ben could be, “her brother” and fix that empty place where Adam had been in her family. It was the thinking of a 13 year old girl.   Some part of Willa really thought it could be like she’d gotten her brother back.

Although I do appreciate the Willa and Claire scenes the most, Allen has hit every scene in the series out the park. If I stop and talk about each one in The Family series finale this review is going to be a novel.  Just know she’s amazing everytime I mention Claire.

I do have to comment about the bit with the tie though.  Did anyone else wonder if Claire was going to strangle Ben?  It certainly felt like she wanted to!  As for Ben, his desperate need for Claire’s affection is just sad.  He’s like an abused puppy…. which, when you think about it isn’t far off.  It’s ultimately the conclusion Claire reaches for herself, but her journey to see it that way is interesting.

Claire Visits the Dungeon

Claire’s entry into the photoshoot setting up in her living room proves to be too much for her.  Nothing makes sense.  She grabs her coat and walks out.  Where she ends up is the place Adam and Ben called home for ten years.  Remember, she never went inside.  Now she wants to.

Once inside Claire sees young Adam, who asks her, “What took you so long?” (Hence this episode’s title.)  Claire reacts as though Adam is real – even though she says she’s just imagining him, and there are shots that confirm that she’s talking to the air.

The time in dungeon is cathartic for Claire.  At one point she yells at Adam for going off with a stranger – despite being told over and over to never leave with a stranger.  The figment disappears and Claire begs forgiveness.  It’s such a real moment.  Despite knowing the fault isn’t the child’s this is a thought that flashes through every person’s mind.

There is one thing about these scenes with young Adam that I question.  Even though the writing goes through a lot to make sure that it’s clear that young Adam is just in Claire’s imagination, it feels like she got some information that only Adam would know – which would make him an actual ghost.  I suppose that Ben could have given her the details how Adam was abducted.  However, there’s also a flashback that – because of how it segues back into Claire’s present time – makes it unclear if she knows what happened then as well.

Flashback – Three Months Ago

This is right after Ben and Adam (Luke Slattery) discover the tunnel is blocked by sheet metal.  Adam had given up, but Ben convinces him they’ll find a way.  Adam comes up with the plan to attack Doug (Michael Esper), but when they put the plan into action Ben becomes paralyzed with fear and can’t do what he’s supposed to.  

Ben is supposed to get the key from Doug to unlock their shackles so that the two can escape.  Because Ben doesn’t do this, Doug is able to overpower Adam and smash his head against the pipe.  Adam goes down unconscious and bleeding from his head.  Doug tells Ben that what’s happened to Adam is Ben’s fault.  In other words, Ben didn’t actually kill Adam – he just thinks he did because he’s taken on the blame for what happened!   The last scene is of a crying and highly distraught Ben curved around the shape of  Adam’s body, which then spirals and dissolves into Claire in present time curved similarly as she holds young Adam.  

Present Time

When Claire returns from the dungeon the exchange between her and Willa is profound.

The Family Series Finale - Willa and Claire

Claire: “For ten years he was kept in a dirty cage,
like an animal. It’s not his fault he became one.”

Holy forgiveness, what a scene!  Claire and Willa both conclude and agree that they are forgiving Ben because he’s as much a victim as Adam was.

What I question is how much of Claire’s understanding comes from what we saw – that Ben’s part in Adam’s death isn’t him setting out to kill Adam, but rather him not helping Adam when he should have.   I’m not sure if Claire is aware of this or not.  Was that scene just for the audience to feel better about Ben, or Claire as well? The level of forgiveness is more powerful if Claire doesn’t know, but the way those scenes are edited together makes it unclear.  Nevertheless, both scenarios are huge leaps of compassion.

Willa and Claire head out to find Ben.  By the time they find him it’s nighttime.  He’s on a lonely stretch of road trying to hitch a ride – in the rain no less.  Claire fusses at him about how dangerous hitchhiking is.

Claire: Come home.

With just those words, Ben realizes that he’s been forgiven and returns with them.  Willa thinks that maybe now things will be okay, but no.  Before Ben left he told  Danny Warren (Zach Gilford) the truth.  Danny was left completely devastated.  Not only has he lost his brother all over again, but he’s been betrayed by Willa – and his mother.  I think it’s Willa that hurts the most though.  After Ben tells Willa that Danny knows the truth she heads out to find him.  He’s – as expected – in a bar.  

Willa buys him a couple of drinks, and he’s likely had quite a few before she’s gotten there.  She tries to ask him for forgiveness by referring to an incident from their childhood.  She’s broken a toy of his and as punishment he tricked her into closing her eyes and letting him give her a rope burn that was “red for days.”

Willa:  At least that made it okay again.   …I love you.

Up to this point Danny has not said one word. He finally does.

Danny: Close your eyes.

Willa does and Danny gets up and leaves.  Willa opens her eyes and sees that he’s gone.  With tears streaming down her face she knocks back a drink – which is something she’s learned how to do from Danny.

Resolved: Willa and Claire have forgiven Ben and he will continue to live with the Warren’s with the world thinking he’s Ben.

New Issue: Willa and Danny are now estranged.

Hank Asher

In the last episode the big question left about pedophile Hank Asher (Andrew McCarthy) is whether or not he’s going off his drugs and going to become a danger to society.  We watch him come dangerously close.

The Family Series Finale

At the end though Hank throws the sixth grader out of his car after giving him a ride home.  He does though keep the scarf as a souvenir, which he puts in a box full of similar items.  The implication is that once upon a time Hank would do this regularly – almost do the unspeakable, only to back away from it. Still, the entire scenario is creepy!  (I suppose the good news is that kid will never get in a stranger’s car again?)

The idea that Hank has never actually touched a child is reinforced when that night John Warren (Rupert Graves) comes over to Hank’s place with some beers to, “celebrate” with Hank that Detective Nina Meyers (Margot Bingham) has captured Doug. (There’s more on that in the next section.)  Hank is dumbfounded that John is there, but just like when Claire has come over, his sense of politeness has him letting John in.

Soon the real reason John has come over is apparent.

John: How do you take a kid,  an innocent child,h is whole life ahead of him. What kind of a monster does that?

Hank: You asking me, John?

John is asking.  He’s trying to understand how anyone could do this to a child.  Hank talks about forbidden desires that one knows they shouldn’t want.  The analogy he eventually comes up with is a good one. He asks John about what he would do if he wanted a woman that didn’t want him.  Would he take her anyway? Horrified, John says no, because that’s rape.  “Neither would I,” says Hank.  This is the difference between Hank and Doug that he’s trying to make.

Hank: Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster.  Taking it, does.

It’s an interesting thought…but I’m going to have to ponder it for awhile.  Mainly because rape is not about “desire.”   It is primarily about exercising power and control over the one being raped.  Perhaps that’s the point Hank is getting at?  That while his sexual attractions are towards children he would never act on them because he’s not a rapist? In that sense the analogy works.  This suggests that Doug’s behavior isn’t so much about being a pedophile as of being a psychopath, sadist and rapist – who also happens to be a pedophile.

Is anything resolved here? Well not really. The talk suggests that Hank has never gone through with molesting a child – and despite his urges doesn’t want to. His skipping his meds was more out of anger at is situation, and Nina saying no matter what he did no one would ever accept him. With John actually coming over and talking to him, I think it helps some of Hank’s feelings of isolation and despair of having any kind of life in that town. He likely will go back on his medication.
New issues: Are John and Hank going to become friends? John is now the only Warren that doesn’t know “Adam” is Ben. If he finds out he’s going to need a friend – and it won’t be Nina, because she’s been lying to him about it as well.

Nina, Agent Clements, Jane

Really, what does a woman do when she realizes her boyfriend’s been keeping boys locked in a dungeon for sex the entire time you’ve been together – and you’re having his baby?  The first thing Jane (Zoe Perry) did was clock Agent Agent Gabe Clements (Matthew Lawler) with a heavy frying pan – an act she quickly regretted.  Still, she’s seemed reluctant to get away from Doug…until now.

Back in Red Pines, Detective Nina Meyers (Margot Bingham) is the only person who believes that something has happened to Clements.  Being she’s wrong as often as she’s right, people are going with the idea that Clements is just out on a bender – as he was once before a year prior. This didn’t keep Nina from getting some dirt from Doug’s shoe that got left behind when she’d interrogated him and having it analysed. The results help her narrow down the area where Doug could be.

Nina’s excitement is shut down by Agent Lisa Davis (Ana Maria Jomolca).  She plays a phone message Clements has left for his husband that confirms the idea that he’s had another alcoholic slip.   In the last episode Clements was forced to leave that message by Doug and Jane.  Doug told Jane they could let Clements live if Clements made people stop looking for him.

The good thing about the message is that Clements is able to leave a clue about his whereabouts.  It’s the kind of clue that only Nina, with her leaps of intuition, would likely pick up on, but luckily she does.  He’s reminding her that Doug has a thing about keeping his victims underground.  Armed with this information, Nina heads out to the area the dirt indicated, which has a grouping of rental cabins scattered about.  Nina goes to one of them and asks the woman there if any of the properties have cellars or basements.

Getting back to Jane, having a baby seems to have given her the strength to leave Doug.  Doug had told Jane the plan was that Clements would make that call, then he, Jane and the baby would escape to Canada.  Once they were away, they would call and leave an anonymous tip about where Clements was.  (As Clements noted to Jane – he’d likely be dead by then.) Jane seems to have realized Doug wouldn’t keep his word, because when they are all packed up Doug’s shotgun is missing.

What happens next is a great convergence of events.  Jane tells Doug the shotgun is out in the trunk of the car.  He goes out to get it – as Nina is talking to the cabin owner.  A loud boom and birds flying away sends Nina running in the direction of the sound.  She finds a big pool of blood and a blood trail leading to… Doug under a tree bleeding profusely – from his crotch.

Nina finds Clements in the cabin’s cellar and calls for an ambulance and back up.  She tells Clements that Jane shot Doug.  She’s also thinking that while they can’t get Doug for the Adam Warren kidnapping they can get him for this – but Clements tells her they can’t.

Clements: I never saw him.  He always sent her.  I only saw her.

So, Clements is totally protecting Jane!  He figures Jane shot Doug and took off with the baby to Canada. He knows that it had to have taken a lot for her to shoot Doug and is willing to let her get away.

With no case against Doug, Nina and Agent Davis go over Doug’s real home again.  They discover that there’s a buried electric fence surrounding a plot of land in the backyard.  It keeps the dogs from digging up the ground there.  They get that area excavated and find the body of an adolescent male!

Nina assumes this is the body of Adam Warren – so she goes to tell Claire that she’d like to test Adam’s DNA against the remains.  If it is Adam it will out that Ben is not Adam.  Claire knows the implications.  She’s not thrilled, but she does want to get the man who took her son and agrees to the testing.

This time Nina gets a swing and a miss because the body is not Adam.  They don’t say it, but it is likely the body of the first kid Doug took…the one Jane told Clements about.  If there were a season two maybe they’d get to look into that.   Oh well….

New Issues: Whose body did they find? Will they ever be able to nail Doug and put him away?

Willa and Bridey

Reporter Bridey Cruz (Floriana Lima) is told by her boss Gus Flores (Felix Solis) that so long as she’s got all the research and facts she will get the entire front page story and byline. She’s got to turn it in by 5pm that day. Bridey must have called Willa because the next time we see her Willa is walking into Bridey’s apartment. Bridey tells Willa she’s running a story that says Adam isn’t really Adam, but Ben. She wants Willa to give a statement. Upon hearing this, Willa has quite a lot to say!

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDWzZ_wjWO0?rel=0]

 

Willa’a comment about Bridey already owning her is intense. It’s not a declaration of love exactly, but…it’s in the ballpark.

Bridey decides to kill the story and take Willa’s offer of having “unprecedented access” to the governor’s mansion. She runs into Gus as she’s walking out. Gus thinks she’s leaving him the story and all of her research to back it up. Instead the box on his desk has her press pass.

The next day Claire is giving her acceptance speech and talking about the support of her family. As Claire is talking, Willa is standing on stage holding back tears.

Claire: Great change doesn’t come without great sacrifice and believe me, we know that better than anyone.

A flashback to what’s on Willa’s mind is shocking: it’s Bridey’s dead body dumped in a snowy ditch on a mountainside! What. The. Heck? I did not see that coming! While, I haven’t liked Bridey, I didn’t think she’d go out like this! The fact that Willa knows is scary. Did she have it done? I find that one hard to believe. I’m thinking that Danny killed Bridey and Willa covered it up – you know, the “rope burn” she asked for? Especially since Danny isn’t on that stage. Again, without a pickup, we’ll never get the full answer.

Resolved: Bridey decides not to report that “Adam” is really Ben.
New Question: Who killed Bridey?

Adam Warren

The big final question comes out of realizing that Adam’s dead body hasn’t been found. It turns out there is a darn good reason for that. The answer is surprising, but also…not really. Adam is alive!

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoH_lvYx1M4?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

 

I had an odd response to  learning that Adam is alive. It wasn’t that I was thinking all along that he was, but at the same time, once the initial reveal occurs I wasn’t completely shocked either.  We never saw Adam actually die, and if you go back to the idea in the episode “Betta Male,” the point was that the fish needed to be separated.  There’s also the fact that it makes more sense that Adam is the one who shot Doug.  For one, it certainly explains where Doug was shot!

The anger and aggression we see from Adam fits with the picture we’ve gotten from the flashbacks about him.  Adam’s fury is rightfully intense.  Ben didn’t back Adam up when they were trying to escape, so now it looks like Ben did it on purpose – to steal Adam’s identity!

However, from Ben’s reaction, he doesn’t seem to have known that Adam was alive. In fact, it was learning that Adam had died that empowered Ben attack Doug and escape. Ben also didn’t try to pass himself off as Adam to Willa, so stealing Adam’s life wasn’t his planned intention. Nevertheless, that’s what has happened, and now that he has it, will he want to give it up? I doubt it.

Resolved: What happened to Adam Warren.
New Issues: Will Adam make it back to his family. What will happen to Ben with Adam being alive? Will Ben meet his real mother? Will Adam identify Doug as the kidnapper? How will Adam being alive affect Claire and her governorship? What about Jane in all of this? If Adam goes back, does it mean Jane will also?

The Wrap Up

Shows like The Family really bring up questions about the purpose of broadcast television – and that’s not about saying broadcast is bad. However, beginning with HBO’s The Sopranos, outlets for shows outside of the network have opened up new ideas of what kinds of stories can be told in the medium of TV. Unfortunately, it also seems to have segregated the audience and where one looks for certain kinds of stories to be told. With its uncomfortable subject matter The Family might have been better served as a streaming show.

Still, even with only one season, The Family managed to shake up everything a person has ever thought about a person with pedophilia – which is one heck of an accomplishment. If you’re one of those people who wait to see if a series survives before watching it, I’d suggest viewing the season despite its cancellation It’s challenging subject matter, and there is enough closure at the end to make it worth the time. Besides, maybe some streaming service will pick the show up. That would be great!

Also, for those wondering about what a season two might have looked like TV Guide did an interview with The Family creator and showrunner Jenna Bans. It’s an interesting read!  One tidbit from it is that even though Bridey is dead we would still have her in the season via a ton of flashbacks that fill in some major blanks on the character.  Apparently there are a lot of people who might have wanted her dead!

  • The Family Season One Episode 12: The Series Finale Review
4.9

Summary

Because of its abrupt cancellation I was expecting The Family series finale to leave viewers completely without closure. That wasn’t the case. Although some things are left open-ended, many of the big questions of the season are wrapped.

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