It’s no longer worth wondering how The Family can credibly sustain its high-concept plot for an extended period of time. Just consider it a given. For now, it looks like we might be moving onto a decent short-term path. “All the Livelong Day” does a pretty good job of triggering all of the little explosives that have been laid over the previous six episodes. And more important, it transitions firmly past the mystery that was at the show’s heart.
Thank heaven for that. The Adam mystery sucked, and “All the Livelong Day” is unquestionably the best episode so far because it doesn’t spend any time on it. It’s no coincidence that it succeeds, because all of the series’ worst parts — that mystery, Nina, and Hank, and Bridey — barely show up or are completely absent. Yes, it isn’t a great sign that The Family is at its best when it sheds half of its main characters, but let’s be thankful for these small mercies.
The episode opens as Claire grapples with a traumatic trifecta: The boy she thought to be her long-lost son is someone else entirely, her daughter helped to engineer this cruel deception, and her real son just died. She is, understandably, quite angry and devastated by all of this news. Director Paul McGuigan lights the subsequent scene between Claire and Willa in ice-blue tones of bleak rage, and rage is certainly what we get from Claire. Willa’s explanations — that she thought she could make everything better, that she just wanted to fix things — don’t quite cut it. Joan Allen and Alison Pill have a good time conveying all of this melodrama. Allen, in particular, takes her voice on a journey from shrieking squall to guttural fury.
Then we discover what exactly led to all of this. Yes, it’s another edition of Flashback Fun, but, at least for one episode, the flashbacks actually tell us something meaningful. We learn how Ben welcomed Adam into his horrific captive fraternity, and how Ben sustained himself on a series of desperate fantasies about what was happening to the two of them. Adam is clearly less inclined to indulge such delusions, especially as the years go by, and it seems like Ben eventually comes around to his companion’s way of thinking. How do we know this? Because after Adam gets sick and dies, Ben attacks Doug with a brick and claws his way to freedom.
We still don’t know where Ben came from, but he appears to have no family, so he makes his way to Adam’s family instead. Fatefully, it is Willa who first encounters him, and she takes him to a motel and helps him get his bearings.
Of course, it’s no guarantee that any of the other members of our crew would have handled things any better. As we are all too aware, this family is a horrid mess. Danny is hitting up Claire for money with barely competent lies, and she’s going along with it in an equally desultory fashion. John, meanwhile, is trying to get a divorce from Claire, presumably so that Rupert Graves can go off to be boring and useless in another series. Claire is not into this idea, what with her trying to run for governor and everything, though I think if she said, “Hey, my husband cheated on me for ten years right as I was grieving the death of our son,” most people might be forgiving, but that’s just me. Anyway, all of that is set aside after Willa has some crazy visions while Claire gives a speech about the value of family. She suddenly hallucinates what it would be like if Adam hadn’t vanished, and of course everything is fantastic! Willa has the dazzled, joyous look of a cult member as she imagines these things. She rushes back to Ben and sets in motion her plan to pass him off as Adam.
Oh, Willa. “All the Livelong Day” firmly establishes the Warren daughter as the most unhinged member of the unit, and also the most destructive. After the very stupid decision to recruit Ben into her lie, she then tries to send him away, realizing that she’s been very stupid. Part of her attempt to move Ben along consists of handing him $10,000 in an envelope. This is also stupid. How did she get this money? Who knows?! Will it cause her massive problems down the line? Definitely! Anyway, it doesn’t work. Ben sensibly decides that, since he’s already done all that Adam impersonation training with Willa, he might as well go through with her plan. So he does — and really, why wouldn’t he? It’s not like Willa can say anything that wouldn’t completely incriminate her. Another fabulous plan, Willa!
It is the last part of the episode that gives me some hope for the immediate future, because it suggests that the gubernatorial race is about to take center stage. The tensions between Claire’s private and public spheres are by far the most interesting part of this show. The lengths she will go to reach the governor’s mansion have been given criminally short shrift, but it looks like that mistake is ending, at least for now.
Claire has a bad night after Willa comes clean. She drinks a whole bunch of booze in her car, then sleeps outside on a park bench with a memorial plaque for Adam on it. (If both of those things don’t become campaign issues, I’ll be very surprised.) After that, she goes back home and decides that she’s going to become part of the Adam conspiracy. The hug she gives her fake son is the sort of hug you might give someone before suddenly sticking a knife into their back. It is a frightening thing to behold. But Claire is all in. She’s got an election to win, after all.
- After Danny starts babbling about how he needs money from Claire to launch an app, Willa asks, “What does the app do?” with a biting venom I wish were on this show a whole lot more. I just want everyone to be evil and fun all the time, not evil and morose!
- Superfluous Hank Update: In a couple of prison flashbacks, he has a conversation with his mother, and then tries to kill himself. He doesn’t.
- It was only after the episode was over that I realized we hadn’t seen Bridey once. It was a really lovely thing to realize.