Phase one of the Broberg saga concludes as A Friend of the Family initiates a time jump.
Missed a Review? Catch up here: Episodes 1 – 4
Looking at the cast list of A Friend of the Family, it was clear that at some point in Peacock’s limited series there would be a time jump to age up the Broberg kids. “The Bitter Cup” is a natural point to do this as the episode ushers in the back half of the series and covers a period of nearly two years.
Despite the frequent updates (Spring 1975, Spring 1976), time is a little slippery here. The episode opens on what appears to be the morning after Mary Ann (Anna Paquin) sleeps with B (Jake Lacy), but is actually some time later; it’s clear from their conversation that their clandestine meetings have been a regular thing for some time.
The affair comes to an abrupt end, however, when Bob (Colin Hanks) confronts B for sending Jan (Hendrix Yancey) flowers following her performance as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. B retaliates by sending men to threaten Bob at the flower shop (a nice tense scene, complete with close-ups on the jangling doorknob as the men try to enter the back door). This prompts Mary Ann to side with Bob, despite B’s pleas not to end their affair.
A Friend of the Family covers so much time in the Brobergs lives that it makes sense to use montage to convey the passing of time, and the seamless transition from Spring 1975 to Christmas to Susan (Ellie Lisic)’s birthday is a great one. And all throughout, the ringing phone is a constant fixture, subtly reinforcing how B is a spectral presence in their lives, even when it’s just silent calls.
This is when Mckenna Grace (Ghostbusters: Afterlife) takes over as Jan, and while the 16 year old looks a bit too mature to convincing play 13, she’s a welcome addition to this talented cast.
The changes in Jan’s personality in this episode do, however, feel a little extreme. Jan is obviously a (pre)teen now (read: hormones) and B has continued his mental manipulation via both letters and voice messages from Zada and Zethra, but the switch from Yancey to Grace isn’t entirely seamless. Jan feels like a different character and while this likely won’t be an issue moving forward, here it feels…off.
More successful are the scenes that track Mary Ann’s disgrace. After another ill-advised meeting with B and his lawyer, Jennifer Ferguson (Bree Elrod) in which they threaten to reveal Bob’s homosexual indiscretion at the trial, Bob erupts on his wife when he learns that she and Jan met with B.
There’s lots of good (albeit uncomfortable) stuff here, particularly how Paquin plays Mary Ann’s discomfort and confusion. Watching Mary Ann react to B hug her eldest daughter as he stares intently at the housewife is perfection, as is her guilt whenever Bob reminds her how dangerous B is. Mary Ann constantly looks overwhelmed and Paquin’s face registers that uncertainly with a solid amount of lip quivering and tear-filled eyes.
Just like Bob, when news of the affair comes out, Mary Ann is ex-communicated from the church. To add insult to injury, Bob labels her a danger to the girls, threatens her with divorce and ultimately kicks her out. To her credit, Mary Ann doesn’t run back to B, and when he eventually proposes marriage – provided she bring the girls along – she instead opts for a tearful reunion with Bob. Credit the direction here as the repeated close-ups on Bob and Mary Ann’s wedding bands visually reinforce their bond, while Jan pulling away from her mother anticipates her retreat from the family in favour of B at episode’s end.
After B is sentenced following his plea deal, FBI Agent Peter Walsh (Austin Stowell) delivers the shocking news to the Brobergs: due to a combination of factors, including B’s first-time offence and the time he has already served, his five year jail sentence equates to…fifteen days. It’s appalling and a testament to how lax sentencing was back in the 70s for child abduction and predatory pedophilic behaviour.
Of course B – and A Friend of the Family – isn’t finished. After B plants the kernel of rebellion in Jan, she yells at her parents, packs a bag and flees on a plane. The episode ends with a fantastic sequence as Mary Ann dangerously drives with her two remaining daughters to the airport, the sound cuts out and then, as Mary Ann walks back crying, the camera tilts up to reveal a plane taking off, presumably with Jan on it. It’s obvious, but clever, and it’s a nice send-off for episode five.
So Jan has run away with B to destinations unknown, but she’s still a minor and one has to imagine that this is some kind of violation of B’s plea. Where A Friend of the Family goes next, however, is uncertain so tune in next week to find out!
A Friend of the Family airs Thursdays on Peacock