In this Christmas episode, Katie has a vanishing husband, a house full of guests and visions of Aeden Bennett dancing in her brain. Also, Dan changes something in his past and it *doesn’t* come back to bite him.
By this point it seems almost silly to say that a lot happened in “Home By Another Way,” because a lot happens in every episode. But still, a lot happened here, and it was mostly all really good. I’m going to focus on Katie for most of this, because I never focus on Katie, and she earned it this episode.
Turns out she’s been doing a lot of Christmas baking. What she hasn’t been doing is a lot of talking about the hostage situation Aeden Bennett had her in during “Blowback.” She swears she’s fine and just wants to move past it, and Dan, all healed up from his gunshot wound, lets it go. I like that this episode never turns into a lesson of Dan convincing Katie that he knows what’s best and she just needs to talk about it.
Except, Katie does need to talk about it. As the apron Aeden made her wear keeps popping up, she starts having flashbacks to that episode. She never cracks in front of her guests, but it’s in those moments when nobody is looking that you can see the pressure. And there’s one moment where Dan is gone, Jack and Trout have just raced off for reasons I’ll get to in a second, and her mother-in-law is being so passive aggressive that Katie just sinks into a chair and you realize just how alone she is in the house and in her head.
Meanwhile, Jack catches Trout snooping around Dan and Katie’s medicine cabinet. She’s looking for an indication that Dan is mentally ill. She says she’s concerned, because sometimes that can be genetic. “So, what? You think if Dan’s crazy I must be, too?” Jack asks.
Nope. She’s not worried about Jack. She’s worried because she’s pregnant. And maybe it’s a really obvious story line and introducing babies is always an iffy thing to do, but I don’t care, because Jack and Trout? Like Dan and Katie, they also are kind of adorable.
So, Jack’s in whole hog. This is what he wanted, even if it’s not exactly what either of them were planning on right then, but he’s going to stick around. Trout tells him to slow down. She’s not even sure how she feels about him, much less how she feels about having a baby. But they talk it out, and you get the feeling that these two crazy kids just might make it work.
Except, Trout asks Jack once more if there’s anything she needs to know about Dan, and Jack says no. Oh, Jack. Don’t build a relationship based on a lie.
Dan’s main story and mission are pretty straight-forward. There are layoff rumors going around, and then on Christmas Eve he gets the axe. I am familiar with this. Not with being laid off, but with it being Christmastime with the threat of impending layoffs hanging overhead. It sucks. Which is why when Dan travels back to the 1979 Christmas Eve party at The Register, he gets some dirt on the current publisher — the former publisher’s son, who because he has issues, watched his dad have a heart attack and die that night — and somehow gets all layoffs in 2007 canceled.
I’m not sure what I think about villifying the publisher or how not cutting staff keeps the paper afloat, but those are worries for another time. Because really, the thing we care about when it comes to Dan’s time in ’79 is his second run-in with his father, Frank.
Livia (who, by the way, is about to get engaged to a man named Henry in the ’40s, and I have to wonder if that was a Time Traveler’s Wife shoutout) shows up, and Dan tells her that this is the night Frank left his family and he and Jack never saw him again. Frank recognizes Dan from “The Legend of Dylan McCleen,” and they talk.
Dan asks some leading questions about whether Frank has family before presenting himself as someone who’s dad left when he was seven, kind of freaking Frank out, but opening a door for him to talk and ask how Dan handled it when his dad left.
And again, I like the way this plays out. Because, while we see Frank being a flirt with anyone who looks at him, it’s clear that his leaving isn’t just about running off with other women. He doesn’t feel like he’s been a good husband or a good father. He’s gone all the time on assignment anyway, and doesn’t know how to connect with people except through the lens of a camera.
And yeah, maybe these are all just excuses to not have to work at being better, but they’re an understandable way to feel, even if his actions aren’t understandable actions to take. What I really appreciate about this story line though is that Dan can’t fix everything. This isn’t a Disney special where everything gets tied up nice and neat and happy. Dan doesn’t drop pearls of wisdom that make his father rethink his life and turn into Super Dad.
Dan never sees the outcome of telling Frank that his kids will always wonder if he left because of them, but when he gets back to the present he asks Jack to tell him about the night Frank left.
“Do you really want me to tell you this again?” Jack says. “Christmas Eve, Dad came home and he woke us both up and told us that he was leaving because he felt like a freak.”
I’m sure there was way more to that three-second story, but I love Jack’s telling of it so much. And even though it “pretty much ruined Christmas” Jack confirms that hearing it was better than not hearing it, even if Dan doesn’t remember it because he was too little.
But Frank isn’t the only Vasser parent getting attention this episode.
When it comes to Katie, Barbara Vasser says that she makes Dan happy and gave her a beautiful grandchild, for which she is grateful, “But first you hurt Jack,” and she can’t be happy about that. But when the chips are down and Katie’s all alone while the carolers sing downstairs, Barbara’s there.
“And Dan isn’t much help is he?” Barbara says. “Oh, I know he wants to help, and he says the right things, but the truth is he’s not here, is he? Just when you need him, he’s gone. And it’s never his fault. It’s always work or its some damn thing that’s pulling him away. You worry that he’s going to leave some day and not come back, don’t you? ”
This is where you really have to stop and think about what life must have been like for Barbara. It’s easy to think about how Frank’s absence affected Jack and Dan, because we see Jack and Dan every episode. While her situation is not a direct parallel to Katie’s, it’s eerily close, giving up an immediate tool to relate to Barbara, and what we can see now of Barbara — a woman who raised two sons on her own — gives us hope for Katie, and gives Katie hope, too as Barbara continues.
“Now you listen to me, Katie. You don’t need him. You don’t. He’s my son, and I love him, but you’re strong. You are a strong woman and you don’t need anybody except yourself.”
I’ve never been an angry “Fight the patriarchy!!1!” brand of feminist, I love that this is a message that isn’t being imparted onto her by the men in her life, but rather by another woman who has been where she is (sort of).
Barbara doesn’t know that Katie’s fear of losing Dan isn’t born from the idea that he might run out on her, but she knows that fear of being alone. And she knows that whether Katie is dealing with an absent husband or the memory of a madman, she can handle it. Because she’s strong.
Next up: Only two episodes left. Watch The Hanged Man free on hulu.com/journeyman and meet back here Friday.