The Family Recap: Getting Nowhere

Alison Pill as Willa, Rupert Graves as John, Joan Allen as Claire. Photo: Giovanni Rufino/ABC
The Family
The Family
Episode Title
All You See Is Dark
Editor’s Rating

The Family needs to get quite a bit trashier or quite a bit classier. So far, it's operating with fitful success in the middle ground.

As "All You See Is Dark" begins, Adam is still being weird and maybe not Adam OMG. He insists on sleeping in the closet, because that reminds him of his former prison. He stands creepily over his parents while they're sleeping. He asks his brother Danny questions about his past, all of which Danny realizes could have come from looking at old pictures on the family mantelpiece. He talks to himself as he sleeps, saying, "Adam! My name is Adam!" Which, I grant you, is a strange thing to say in your sleep, but then I don't really know what people normally say in their sleep. Maybe the world's slumbers are punctuated by billions of people shouting their names to the stars. (Also, talking in your sleep is apparently called somniloquy, which is a great word.)

By episode's end, we are roughly nowhere closer to learning anything about this boy. The only notable differences: Claire is a little more suspicious, and the cheerfully venal newspaper has caught on to Danny's suspicions. The latter is thanks to the ruthless machinations of self-described lesbian lifestyle blogger Bridey Cruz (!) — a baldly loathsome character worthy of a lengthy dissertation about how television treats female journalists — and Danny's loose, drunken lips. There's also a creepy man hanging around who may or may not be Adam's captor. And there's Hank, the man who was put away for killing Adam, but then was released because Adam's still alive, although if this kid isn't really Adam, maybe he did do it. Also, why does he have Adam's gloves in a weird hidey-hole in his house? Why, exactly, did he hang around with little Adam so much? What gives about his strange relationship with his mother? Anyway, he moved back into the house across the street from the Warren family, so there's plenty of opportunities for him to interact with them in an ominous manner.

Despite the show's best efforts, I don't particularly care so far. The Family remains a jumble, unfurling about 57 plots with annoying slowness, while tossing in a bunch of flashbacks for good measure. It has yet to find a way to balance its many competing threads with the deftness they require. We're pitched back and forth between the present day and ten years ago and the police investigation and the local paper and the house and Adam and then back again and nothing ever settles down.

Quite simply, it's hard to see how all of this will affect the ciphers that are these characters. Joan Allen is doing the work of a medium-sized troupe. The story muddles along, vaguely gathering steam, and then suddenly she arrives, emoting to the last row in the balcony. There's Claire, weeping on the floor! There's Claire, dramatically confronting Hank in front of a candlelight vigil! There's Claire, freaking out because her long-lost son won't sleep in his bed! Allen is more than capable of handling this material, but the relative force of her performance only serves to reveal how comparatively underdrawn most of the other characters are. Perhaps that's because Claire is virtually the only character whose personality isn't being used as a device to further the plot. Pity Rupert Graves, whose patriarch John is saddled with a terrible wig and dye job in the flashback scenes. He clearly lost several battles with his American accent, then was told to either sit around and mope or have gross affairs with Nina the cop.

As daughter Willa, Alison Pill fares a bit better, though she's still made to say lines like, "I don't drink, or date … people." Hmmm, I wonder if that's gonna change! She has one great scene where she almost casually tells her father that she's spent decades covering up for his infidelity, then blackmails him into helping Claire's gubernatorial campaign. Pill's combination of deeply suppressed pain and ice-cold manipulation is both more delicious and more interesting than the entire Adam plot. I really want to see how that show would unfold. It's the evil political soap opera that we all deserve — though I guess there already two of those, and they're called Scandal and House of Cards. But who says there can't be three?

Other Thoughts:

  • Claire neglected to tell John she was running for governor before she made the announcement, though she says this was because he randomly went off to have interrogation-room sex with Nina. It's a wonder they still sleep in the same bed.
  • The creepy, unnamed man who might have kidnapped Adam is so creepy and seemingly guilty that it wouldn't be stunning if he really did kidnap Adam.
  • Nina Meyer spends so much time going into the woods in this episode that I actually found myself humming Sondheim.
  • When Danny goes to the pediatrician and the receptionist instantly agrees to give him Adam's dental records, all I could think was, "Isn't this a massive HIPAA violation?" They don't even let you put baby pictures up in the office, but apparently, you can hand out sensitive information to all and sundry in Red Pines.
  • My favorite line of the episode might have been when Bridey Cruz (!) tells her editor that the doctor who verified Adam's DNA test soon threw himself in front of a train. The editor's response? "You need more." Understatement of the century!
  • Hank buys a $10,000 mattress, something I will admit I did not know was possible to do.
  • Full disclosure: I'm a freelancer for Fusion, which is partially owned by ABC.