“Betta Male” crystallizes two things about Red Pines, the town where The Family is set. The first is that nobody in the town seems to watch television or use the internet. The second is that Nina Meyer is the only active police officer in the area.
The townsfolk have a bizarre habit of burying their heads in the sand, which is evident in the response that Nina gets while talking to the shady character who runs the foster home where Ben stayed before he was snatched by evil Doug. Despite the fact that the whole planet is supposedly riveted to every twist in the Adam Warren story, it doesn’t cross this guy’s mind to mention, “Hey, you know what? That kid I’ve been seeing on every channel, newspaper, and website looks a hell of a lot like this kid who used to stay with me!” Just like the cake lady who had no clue about Hank’s extremely well-publicized past, the foster guy has let some very big things pass right by him.
No matter, Nina doesn’t need his input. After weeks spent running in circles, she’s suddenly making connections at blazing speed. It takes her about three minutes to figure out that the Adam in the Warren house is an imposter. She does this without any assistance, since her partner is conveniently being held hostage by Doug’s wife, Jane, and nobody else appears to be available. This is all especially strange because Nina’s hot streak comes just after her very lengthy affair with John has been revealed to the world. Some police departments might regard that as a massive PR disaster and conflict of interest, but not the Red Pines PD! Nina is allowed to carry on, totally unimpeded. She even gets to interrogate Ben, coming very close to accusing him of not being the real deal. Claire steps in to protect the boy, meaning that Nina instantly figures out that she’s in on the lie. If I were Claire, I might remember that I’m the mayor of the town Nina works for, and that I could probably force her off the case, or even fire her, and that nobody would think it would be crazy for me to not want to deal with the person who’d been sleeping with my husband for 10 years, but hey — that’s just me.
Maybe Claire is off her game because she’s got a gubernatorial debate to worry about. Yes, it’s time for her first major encounter with Charlie Lang, who’s like Scandal’s Fitzgerald Grant without the interesting bits. Willa assures her that she’s got this whole thing in the bag — the public sees her as the Beyoncé to John’s Jay Z. (Too soon?) Her plan to bring the whole Warren crew up on stage after the debate, however, falls apart. Claire’s too conflicted about Ben to want him next to her, and Danny is too busy drinking and moping about Willa’s thing with Bridey to show up.
Nevertheless, Claire is helped immensely by her hapless debate opponent. Lang chooses that old foolproof strategy: Harshly attack a woman whose son was brutally kidnapped and held prisoner for 10 years. Guess what? It goes badly for him, even when Claire all but announces that the kid living with her is a stranger. Hey, Mr. Governor: Maybe pick a debate tactic that’s not 100 percent guaranteed to backfire on you next time?
That said, it’s surprising how quickly The Family seems to be burning through its political plot. The episode airing two weeks from now is called “Election Day.” With that kind of timeline, you have to assume Claire’s on her way to victory, at which point the potential cost of her lying about Ben will presumably come with much graver consequences.
It’s too bad Ben didn’t go to the debate, because who should come sauntering in the house while he’s alone but Doug? His encounter with Hank turns out to have been a bit of a red herring — he wasn’t a co-conspirator with Hank, just a guy there to fix his cabinet drawers — but it gets him back into Ben’s life, as he uses his proximity to the Warren house to break in and tell his former captor they need to chat. We don’t see what they say to each other, but I bet it wasn’t fun. At the very least, we’re talking about the reunion from hell.
The episode ends with the entirely random suggestion that Ben might have killed Adam. It’s exactly that sort of annoying twist that’s plopped in our laps for no reason. It doesn’t come from any particular character or plot development; it simply happens. But hey, that’s your big moment of the week. Next week, we’ll see if it amounts to anything.
- Claire says that Ben is a “stranger,” and that is absolutely correct. Liam James is playing a person who has no function except to be a plot device for others, which makes it pretty difficult to care what happens to him. Joan Allen is trying valiantly to illuminate Claire’s struggle to cope with this person who’s entered her life, but she has next to nothing to work with.
- Danny is also still not really a human being. Seriously, can someone give this guy a plot? He spends this episode getting back together with Bridey, thus continuing the world’s ickiest sibling love triangle. Yawn. Can’t Bridey get hit by a bus or something?
- You’ve got to hand it to Hank’s memory. He sees a logo on the drawer Doug fixed, and bam! He remembers it’s the same logo from a birdhouse he was sold ten years ago, when Adam disappeared! Which obviously means Doug is the kidnapper! I can barely remember conversations from three hours ago, let alone logos from things I bought a decade ago before I went to prison and my life was destroyed. Maybe Hank spent a lot of time thinking about that birdhouse while he was locked up? Anyway, he’s now on the case to catch Doug.