The Family Recap: A Terrible Status Quo

Joan Allen as Claire, Rupert Graves as John. Photo: Giovanni Rufino/ABC
The Family

The Family

Sweet Jane Season 1 Episode 8
Editor's Rating 3 stars

A lot of plot gets churned up in “Sweet Jane,” but it’s all secondary to the Very Important Theme of The Family. That Theme is, of course, “people doing very stupid things to preserve the terrible status quo at the heart of their lives.” 

In this episode, everyone is deluding themselves (or actively conspiring with evil) to maintain what they’ve got, even though what they’ve got is awful. None of these people are even happy! Their lives would be infinitely and instantaneously better if they gave into sanity and did what they simply have to do. But no, they all do the wrong thing, and they all do it with extremely steadfast dedication to the Theme.

Claire decides to stick with Ben, a boy with virtually no redeeming characteristics who is, lest we forget, impersonating her dead son, because — well, there is no good reason. Ben tells her stories about Adam, and she simply lets him stay. She even thanks mournful pedophile Hank for keeping an eye on this fake kid. If it were me, I would have gotten all the stories out of the kid and then cut him loose. Instead, Claire just installs a hidden camera in Ben’s room, so that’s definitely going to lead to something fabulous and healthy.

In flashback times, Hank’s mother decides that his pedophilia isn’t a reason to kick him out of the house. He just won’t be around kids anymore! Great parenting.

And in the most dramatic example of misplaced loyalty, Jane, boyfriend of kidnapper Doug, gets confirmation from Agent Clements that her beloved is actually a terrible demon person, and helpfully bashes Clements’s skull in with a pan. (Talk about something you could see coming from a mile off: Why does anyone on this show ever let anyone else leave a room unattended?) Then, she tells Doug she’s mad that he keeps doing this kind of stuff, all while doing some Lady Macbeth–level blood removal. Great lecture, lady! Might have taken you more seriously if you hadn’t just murdered a guy to protect your Voldemort sweetheart. I’m willing to forgive this, though, because Jane is quickly becoming one of the best characters on the show.

Do you see a pattern emerging? Everyone in this benighted metropolitan area makes terrible choices, all the time, and will probably ruin their lives even further, and then they will never even smile again. Nobody on The Family ever smiles, or tells jokes, or has a single moment of happiness. There’s no time for any of that nonsense when there’s a Theme to adhere to.

Even when characters aren’t slotting themselves into conveniently pre-baked molds, they’re still choosing to do precisely the wrong thing. For instance, Willa is still sleeping with Bridey Cruz, which is a bummer for Danny, since he also wants to sleep with Bridey. Is there any plot thread less interesting than this one? Definitely not. Willa is also being colder than the coldest ice in her quest to put Claire in the governor’s mansion. Confronted with pictures of Claire’s recent and very understandable bender — by the incumbent governor’s wife, no less — she instead leaks gross texts sent between John and Nina. Her father is definitely going to be cool with that. Especially when he finds out she’s behind it!

All of this action is useful, in a sense, because it provides “Sweet Jane” with by far its best scene. Like virtually all the best scenes in The Family, it is between Claire and Willa, whose mutually dependent, mutually repellent relationship is by far the most interesting thing we’ve seen in these eight episodes. True to form, their conversation about how Willa sent dad down the river is a dark delight. Claire basically asks Willa how she turned out to be such a monster, and Willa basically says, “Takes one to know one, and also, I’m the monster who’s going to make you governor.” Make the show about these two, please!

“Sweet Jane” ends on one of The Family’s better twists, when someone knocks on Hank’s door and … it’s evil kidnapper Doug! They know each other in some way, which is nicely creepy and also completely understandable. Bad people gotta stick together. This simultaneously provides an unexpectedly effective cliffhanger and (temporarily) solves the problem of Hank’s complete uselessness. You’re on plot probation for now, Hank. Just promise me there won’t be any Very Important Themes next week.

Random Thoughts:

  • You gotta hand it to Mrs. Lang: She is not here to make friends.
  • Hank gets lucky when he decides to sell his house. He picks the world’s dumbest realtor. Just like his ill-fated cake-shop flame, the realtor apparently missed the gigantic, very recent news story about Hank Asher, extremely famous sex offender. Does Google not exist in large swaths of Maine?
  • Ben keeps sneaking out at night and going to a house where he probably used to live. It might be some sort of foster home, considering all the pictures of random kids on the mantle. There’s also a dog who loves Ben. This is all well and good, but what is this house that has a loyal dog in it but no people? Ben just stays there for hours and apparently nobody notices.
  • Speaking of Ben: Should we be calling him Ben or Adam? Badam? Aden? Bendam?
  • Danny has yet to be given specific characteristics beyond “drunk.”
  • John is a moron and a dog who can barely hold onto his American accent. No matter how awful Willa was, I am fine with him being exposed.
  • Bridey is such a bad character. Her appearances onscreen should come with a trigger warning.
  • Next week: Doug and Ben have a reunion. Eek!

The Family Recap: A Terrible Status Quo