There's an unintentionally symbolic moment in one of the last scenes of "I Win." Willa is in a bar talking to Bridey Cruz, the worst journalist in the Western Hemisphere. Bridey tells her that she needs to relax a bit, that she doesn't have to grip her purse with such fervor, that she should just unwind. (She then kisses her, but that's more of a stupid plot point than a symbolic moment.)
As I watched this scene unfold, I couldn't help but think that The Family could stand to take its own advice. If this show is like anyone, it's like Willa — a grim, humorless slog of a person trapped in a grim, humorless slog of a series. Ads for the show hype its supposedly jaw-dropping twists and turns, practically begging us to think of it like we think of Scandal, but it lacks Scandal's vim and savvy and shamelessness, as well as any of its broader social commentary. Instead, The Family has trapped itself within this Adam mystery, and that's a plot that can only bring diminishing returns.
To wit: At the end of "I Win," Bridey rushes into her editor's office and declares that she's gotten the results of a paternity test connected to Adam. "It isn't him," she says. Dun-dun-dun! Well, the kid was always either going to be the real Adam or not, so it's not all that shocking of a reveal. The show gets some points, I suppose, for recognizing that it can't play this game out indefinitely, but where can it realistically go from here? At some point, the Warrens will find out that their kid is still missing or dead, or there will be some second twist, and then … what? Are we going to go through the whole rigmarole again?
Similarly, Adam's supposed captor, Doug, will either wind up being the villain he seems to be, or he'll be something else entirely. (Incidentally, his relationship with his pregnant wife is one of the most stable on the whole show, which is a bad sign for everyone else.) Are we really going to spend the whole season watching Doug slowly evade capture? "I Win" sends him on a trip to some of the places he apparently told Adam they would go if he was good. Because he is a supervillain, he manages to slip away just before he's caught by the authorities. Foiled again!
And what's Hank sticking around for? To the shock of nobody, it turns out he beat himself up and destroyed his own house. He also got himself an entire cake with the words "I Win" written on it. Andrew McCarthy is certainly creepy — he has a nice dead-eyed sort of twitchiness going on — but to what end? Does he matter because he actually killed the real Adam? The answer to that will probably emerge in five seasons.
Before we find out Hank was his own assailant, a cloud of suspicion hangs around John, who Hank accused of attacking him. John is a pretty worthless character — seriously, the man brings less than nothing to the table — and Rupert Graves is struggling mightily, both to bring any life to this loser and to land a convincing American accent. At least John's not also some sort of deranged maniac. He even has a moment of vague reconciliation with Claire; they share one of the more awkward showers you're likely to see on television. Better than sleeping with Nina again, I guess. Claire's put Nina in her place, pointing out that she can't just pretend to be a neutral officer investigating the assault on Hank when she's been sleeping with John for ten years. (The scenes where Joan Allen gets to treat Margot Bingham with contempt are fast becoming a highlight of this show.) Nina listens to sense for a change and helps get Hank to drop his accusation against John.
Also helpful? The aforementioned Bridey, who decides to turn her powers of evil towards Willa instead of Danny. Bridey is perhaps the most infuriating character on The Family, if only because she seems brewed from a recipe whose ingredients only contain hateful clichés. You can tick them off as you go along. Predatory lesbian/bisexual woman? Check! Ethics-free journalist? Check! She uses both to her advantage in "I Win," first offering to help the Warren campaign from her perch at the local newspaper, and then ensnaring Willa in her clutches. No amount of eye rolling is enough for this.
The most interesting part of The Family — Claire's political career — takes a real backseat in this episode, though there are hints that the Warrens are becoming an infinitesimally more united front when it comes to the campaign. John starts the hour whining about Claire's run, as though he has any right to express an opinion about what she should be doing with her time. By the end of it, he's thanked her for not doubting him and is playing his role as father-protector to the hilt. Still, Claire barely registers, which is a big problem. Joan Allen is by far the show's biggest asset, and Claire's ethically ambiguous relationship to her family's trauma is the only portion of the series with any real depth.
"I Win" winds down with Nina saying she thinks she can catch Adam's captor, but she needs to use Adam as bait. Knowing the level of her incompetence, this suggestion seems more ominous than anything else, but who knows? The umpteenth time might be a charm for poor Nina! I'd rather be hitting the campaign trail with Claire.
- The flashbacks have never been well-deployed, but they're becoming extremely tedious. They seem to exist to remind us, again and again, that these people were sad and messed up after Adam disappeared. It's an attempt to flesh out the characters a bit. Instead, it feels like the show doesn't trust itself (or us) enough not to hold our hand so tightly. Nothing can be inferred. Everything must be hammered home, over and over.
- Adam's car ride with Danny is low-key hilarious. He randomly shuts his eyes while behind the wheel and almost kills them. This is the signal Danny needs to understand that Adam is, as he later tells Willa, "messed up." So weird that a kid who was held prisoner for years would have issues! That Danny is a perceptive one.
- Bridey's editor is a strange sort of creature. He eagerly allows her to sleep with and manipulate Danny, which is a wildly flagrant ethical misstep, but suddenly gets cold feet about her quest for Adam's paternity test? Make up your mind, man!