Calling all fans of The Family: We would like to apologize, on behalf of ABC, for the ultimate knife-twist that you just experienced.
Not only was the freshman thriller axed last Thursday, as part of the Alphabet Net’s massive cancellation spree, but Sunday’s episode — now a series finale — left viewers with a whole slew of cliffhangers, never to be resolved.
Claire, still reeling from the knowledge that Ben may have murdered her son, spent the better part of the hour revisiting the bunker where Adam and Ben were kept — at which point she realized that the boys were treated like animals down in that hole. If Ben eventually turned into one himself, and it prompted him to either hurt or kill Adam, how can Claire and the rest of the Warrens fault him when he was just trying to survive?
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But just when Claire and Willa decided to accept Ben for who he really is, and the Warrens seemed to find peace for the first time in a while — well, with the exception of Danny, who left town when Willa informed him there was an impostor living under their roof — Ben received a phone call from the real Adam: alive and well and on a mission to get his life back from the boy that stole it.
Other developments in the crucial hour: After turning in her cover story on the Warrens and quitting her job at the Red Pines Gazette, Bridey was revealed to be dead — and though we never saw who killed her, it’s strongly hinted that Willa had something to do with it; Nina finally, finally located her missing colleague (at last, a victory!); and Hank, no longer receiving the injections that suppress his pedophilic habits, just barely resisted the urge to violate a young boy that he drove home from the park.
Oh, and that entry on our May Sweeps Scorecard involving a character getting shot in the penis? That would be Doug, who, just before getting apprehended by the police, received a bullet to the groin, courtesy of Adam.
Mere hours before The Family‘s cancellation was announced, TVLine caught up with showrunner Jenna Bans, who broke down the biggest moments of the finale and shared what would have unfolded in a possible second season. Read on for her insights.
TVLINE | You’ve said before that when you pitched the series to ABC, you already knew how it would end, including that Adam would still be alive. Tell me why you felt this reveal was the best way to end the season — and was there ever a time when you didn’t plan to “resurrect” Adam?
[Bringing Adam back] was always part of the pitch, and it was always a way for me to give the series longevity and not just make it about this central mystery. That was important to both ABC and me — when you’re pitching a series, you want to have more in mind than just the first 13 episodes. A big part of the show, moving forward, is having Adam out there and having these two boys circling each other, with both of them being in the family’s life. I’m trying to remember if we ever had second thoughts about [resurrecting Adam]. In the writers’ room, we probably had second thoughts about when to reveal it. It was on the board an episode earlier, and we were going to jump forward in time in the season finale. But with a twist like that, it’s hard not to leave it until the final moments.
TVLINE | And when Ben picks up the phone to hear Adam on the other line, it’s the first time in a while the family has seemed OK-ish.
Yes, absolutely. They’ve come, emotionally, to this place of accepting Ben. I love what Claire says when she comes back from this experience in the bunker, which is that he was treated like an animal down there, and we can’t really judge. It’s not his fault if he turned into one. Claire and Willa both hear that, and they’re looking at Ben like he’s a survivor of this horrible trauma, too. They’re going to accept him into their lives no matter what really happened, and they are at this peace. Claire has won governor, everyone’s on board — it really feels like the family has had this victory, both emotionally and politically. And then that phone call comes, which is clearly going to shatter everything, moving forward.
We always knew we wanted to end it on Claire’s question — “Who was it, honey?” — and then abruptly cut to black. I love her face, so full of love and happy and calm. There’s no stress on her back right now, and it’s one of the few moments we see that in the series. There’s this irony of Claire just making pancakes and washing dishes, and she has no idea what’s about to happen — that’s what we were going for.
TVLINE | Now that Adam is back in the picture, how will the show evolve in a possible Season 2?
The tone of the show will always be a fast-paced, twisty-turny thriller, in a way that doesn’t hold answers back from the audience. We’ll have a lot more going on next season, which is why I’m really excited. We’ll still have our flashbacks, but they’re going to be telling a very different story in Season 2. They won’t be surrounding the time of the disappearance. We’re going to have a riveting murder mystery going on, because as you see at the end of the season finale, Bridey has been murdered, and it heavily implicated Willa. You’ll see in Season 2 that that answer isn’t so clear-cut. A lot of the flashbacks will revolve around Bridey, and I said to Floriana [Lima, who plays her], when we made the decision to go this way, that this is the one show where you might actually have a bigger part, having been killed off. [Laughs] We do take place in more than one time period. She was excited about that. She’s definitely not off the show, and we have some good stuff coming up with her. And, of course, we have the Adam storyline. He’s out there, and it won’t be late into the season that he makes his reappearance into the family…. The season opener will begin with Claire seeing the real Adam. We’re not going to wait. It basically happens in the teaser. [Laughs] We have this great, dramatic way of opening. It will be in the first two minutes of the show.
TVLINE | Speaking of Bridey, why did you decide to kill her off, given how integral a role she played in Season 1?
We had gotten to the end of the season, and we realized, “Wow, this reporter has all of the cards.” So we went down two paths. One path was that we could keep her out there — Willa makes this offer to her in the finale that if she keeps her mouth shut and doesn’t publish the story, she will basically have all access, all the time, to what goes on in the governor’s mansion. We did go down that storyline and looked at what that would be, and for me, it was our biggest struggle to tell fun, organic Season 2 stories with Bridey. We had so much going on with all of the other stories.
Then we said, “What if we killed her off, but she’s not off the show? And we showed next season how she was into way more things than we thought she was into, in terms of her investigative reporting?” That option became all the more interesting for us, because A) it gave us a lot of story, but B) it also gave the character more to do, ironically, in death. We thought about how to best serve this character that we all really like, and it’s so hard when you have so many storylines going on. We really wanted to find a cool way to use her, and we realized flashbacks would be a better way to explore everything we thought we knew about this character next season, because we didn’t know everything.
TVLINE | Flashbacks played a really big part in showing us the Ben/Adam relationship this season, and we saw quite a few flashbacks indicating Adam was either very sick or possibly dead. Did you want to leave room for the audience to suspect Adam was still alive?
It’s a fine, fine line to walk. We didn’t want to cheat the audience in terms of showing a fake death. We really didn’t show him die. If you look back in Episode 7, their escape route in this tunnel is foiled, and then in the next flashback, Adam is lying there all sweaty, and Ben is helpless and doesn’t know what to do. And then in the finale, you actually see the injury that happens and the escape attempt and that Ben doesn’t help him in the moment Adam needs him most. You see how that injury has occurred, but you still don’t see him actually stop breathing. You just see Ben on the ground, staring at this wound, and then Doug comes down and says, “I did everything I could.” Savvy audience members were probably going, “Wait, we didn’t see him actually die. We didn’t see a burial.” Fans out there are definitely guessing, but at the same time, you want to lean as much as possible into the idea that he’s gone, because you don’t want to ruin that cliffhanger. I’m hoping we delivered a finale where, even if the fans know [Adam’s return] might be coming, it’s still satisfying for them to see how and when it happened.
TVLINE | The last couple of episodes have laid the groundwork for Hank to revisit some of his old habits, since he hasn’t been getting his injections. And, of course, we see him get very tempted by a young boy in this finale. Why did you want to have Hank backslide a bit?
The thing that’s really interesting about Hank is he’s determined to distinguish himself from Doug, from the monster that actually took Adam. Here’s the man that has been blamed and incarcerated for what happened to Adam, and he didn’t do it, but he’s still not a saint. He’s still a pedophile, and we didn’t want to shy away from that. While people do have overwhelming sympathy for him — and I love that, because I do, too — we wanted to make it more complicated than that. We wanted to say to the audience, “Listen, this is a guy who struggles with this, and it is a problem, and he has a very, very hard time fixing it.”
The storyline in the finale — it’s the ultimate temptation for Hank. He’s off his meds, and this quest to exonerate himself for the crime — in terms of helping Nina solve it and being publicly praised for it — has all gone awry. Going into the finale, Hank’s like, “Screw it. If everyone thinks I’m a monster, I’m going to be a monster.” And he runs into this kid and does the worst possible thing he can do, which is drive him home. He doesn’t offer; all those moments were so carefully crafted. We were like, “Should he offer? No, the kid has to ask!” And then it’s bad enough that he agrees, but there’s this moment where he’s looking at the kid in the car, and we fully realize that this isn’t just a light yearning for this man. This is who he is, and he hates himself for it, and we hate him for it. We’re so relieved when he says, “Get out of the car.” The conversation with John [which happens later in the episode] is really about Hank needing to prove to John that he’s not Doug. They’ve been looking at Hank like he did it, and he really wants to draw the difference between wanting things and taking them. That’s what Hank ultimately tells himself every morning in the mirror, and that’s how he gets up and lives with himself as a person. He thinks, “I don’t take it. Even though I’m broken in this way, I am not the monster that other people are.” We wanted to serve the complexity of the character and not shy away from it, but at the same time, really show that there is a difference between him and Doug. It had been building all season as he’s been looked at by this family as “just the guy that took Adam.”
TVLINE | I found it so interesting that, upon Doug getting taken in by the police, John chooses to celebrate with Hank, of all people.
I love the idea that John founds out they got the guy, and he thought that would be the answer. He thought that would make him feel better, and it just doesn’t. He goes over to Hank’s house because he needs to know how it happened. He needs to have some closure, and even though the guy’s in the hospital with his penis shot off — [laughs] — it still doesn’t make John feel better about what happened to his son. He turns to the most unlikely source for closure, and the two of them are always really interesting together. We had fun with that scene.
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