A Friend of the Family Episodes 1, 2, 3 & 4 Recap: Streaming on Peacock, ‘A Friend of the Family’ is an American drama miniseries based on a harrowing true story. It follows the events covered earlier in a true crime documentary called, Abducted in Plain Sight, streaming on Netflix. We follow the events in the lives of the Broberg family from a suburban neighborhood, whose daughter – Jan was kidnapped multiple times in the 1970s by a charismatic family friend – Robert Berchtold. In this recent wave of true crime dramas, this Peacock show stands apart due to the gaze always being against the vile kidnapper. With its first four episodes, it already manages to send chills down your spine.
A Friend of the Family Episodes 1, 2, 3 & 4 Recap:
Episode 1: Horseback Riding in American Falls
Directed by Eliza Hittman, the first episode begins with the pivotal event of the first meeting between the Broberg and the Berchtold family. Berchtolds, having recently moved to the neighborhood, invite Broberg family members to their home for bonding. During a performance by Jan Broberg, Robert – referred to as ‘B’, gets smitten by her. The day ends on a sweet note with both families building their familial bond for the time being. We see the following period of him strengthening the very bond by helping out with a chore, here and there. Then the narrative shifts to a while later to the day of the first kidnapping incident. Jan’s father, Bob (Colin Hanks) does not allow B to take Jan for a horseback ride trip. However, B finds a way to manipulate Marry Ann (Anna Paquin) into making her agree with his proposal and then takes Jan out on a drive with himself.
B promises to return by a certain time at night. But when it starts getting late, it worries Jan’s parents. Since Bob was adamant in particular to not let Jan go with him, he gets furious. They speak with B’s wife – Gail (Lio Tipton) who tries her best to stall them from filing a complaint against her husband, stating a flat car tire may have caused the delay. However, she also seems awfully worried since she had seen B leave in rush while packing some items. They also go look for the motorhome, that Gail has seen him working on earlier, but can’t find it in its place. Mary Ann and Bob, meanwhile, are stuck between deciding for their daughter’s safety and giving B the benefit of the doubt. At a particular moment, they call the police to learn that there hasn’t been a car-related issue reported throughout the day, which makes Gail’s claim invalid.
Till the end of this episode, Jan & B are nowhere to be seen. Only late in the episode do we get a glimpse of Jan tied inside a motorhome, with a strange recording around her, with a voice claiming to need a ‘female companion’. We also learn that B whispers in Marry Ann’s ears about his desires for her. By using her vulnerability, B makes her trust him to take Jan away. We learn that B manipulates her by making her feel incredibly special about herself and lures her into doing things according to his wishes. During the scary night, Gail reveals that B has manic depression that left him with unreliable mood swings. We also see B taking out a huge amount from his bank before the incident and packing his duffel bag with a bunch of clothes as if he’s going on a long trip.
Episode 2: The Mission
Directed by Rachel Goldberg, the second episode follows the events from the next day of the first kidnapping incident, where Jan’s parents and Gail still haven’t been able to locate B. Meanwhile, in the motorhome where Jan was seen being captive earlier, she wakes up without the chains and looks for B. She finds him with his head, bleeding. She gets emotional seeing him. However, he keeps manipulating her with a false fantasy tale of how some aliens surrounded their car, made them get out of it, and left them in this motorhome. Jan shares some details from the recording about their names Zada and Zethra and how they chose her to save them. The recording helps B to manipulate her into thinking that they are companions on this mission. The naïve kid under his spell believes in all of it.
Meanwhile, back at home, Bob gets more and more frustrated with Jan’s disappearance. He finally calls the police to report, who tells him to speak with the FBI instead since it involves a minor. On the 4th day of her having been missing, the FBI drops by their home to learn the dynamics between B, Jan, and their family. An official mentions having found B’s car in an accident with some of their belongings inside. Since Gail stopped the parents from going to the authorities, they also question her. The FBI officials meanwhile learn that B was giving Jan some pills stating that they would help her with horseback riding. They also speak with B’s counselor who mentions him being a pedophile. They start checking all the vehicles to stop those with a man traveling with a young girl.
B manages to escape this trap by making Jan look like a boy and they cross the border to get into Mexico. Sometime later, B contacts his brother – Joe at his store, and learning this detail, the FBI tells Gail and Mary Ann to call Joe to get details out of him. While he initially remains secretive, he reveals B asking for the parent’s permission to marry Jan. After the call, Gail suggests doing so to help in the current circumstances. Bob finds B’s request to marry him with his 12-year daughter preposterous. The FBI agents meanwhile understand that this was B’s way to connect with them, which would be repeated according to a pattern.
Later at Joe’s store, the FBI tries to locate B, who doesn’t share it through the conversation. But the prolonged chat with Joe helps them locate him near a hotel in Mexico. They inform Jan’s parents of the same after which Mary Ann insists on coming to Mexico for her daughter themselves. The Mexican police later capture B from his motorhome. Both he and Jan are locked in different cells. Over there, he bribes the guard to get some time to speak with Jan. He then manipulates her again into not believing in anyone except him for the sake of their ‘mission’. Later, Marry Ann and Bob reach this prison and bring Jan back to their home. However, there’s one more issue highlighted by a Mexican cop that shows the marriage certificate of Jan & B.
Episode 3: The Gift of Tongues
Directed by Eliza Hittman, the third episode shows the events before the first act of kidnapping and after the dinner, the two families have together. We witness the ways in which B used the vulnerabilities of others to manipulate them into behaving according to his wishes. He lures Mary Ann with his charm into letting him drive her daughters to school. He builds fondness with Bob while mentioning how jealous he is of him for having a wife like Mary Ann. Since Gail couldn’t romantically satisfy him, he even gets Mary Ann to groom her to be more like her. In an era where it was more prevalent for women needing to be serviceable to men before anything else, Gail’s lenience to B seems like a reflection of the period and the patriarchal notion to serve a man.
Besides, we encounter early signs of B’s encroachment into the Broberg family’s personal lives that helped him in his kidnapping attempt. All the Broberg daughters loved him and considered him the dearest. Mary Ann, among other women from their neighborhood, was smitten by his charisma. Their closeness made Bob jealous. Sometime later, when Mary Ann decided to let Jan go out along with the Berchtolds, he objected to it and denied her to go. Gail came over to convince him to go along with B’s plan to not let Jan feel miserable. What becomes apparent through Gail’s appeal is the fear-filled mental domination of B that resorted her into being almost like a device to act as per his whims.
When the Berchtold family returns with Jan from the trip, Bob makes it clear that they are not one family for B to take such decisions all the time. Seeing him getting on the opposing side, B decides to use the same mental tricks that he used on others to charm them. He takes him out to a diner and gets him to talk about his vulnerabilities. Bob opens up about going through pornographic magazines when he was a kid where he and his friends pleasured themselves by touching one another. While at the moment, B makes him feel safe and secure about such desires of his from the past, he uses the exact trick against him. B pleasures himself with Bob, which emasculates him. He finds another leverage to use against these innocent people if they dare speak against his actions in the future.
Episode 4: Article of Faith
Directed by Rachel Goldberg, the fourth episode shows the aftermath of B’s arrest and Jan’s return back home. Jan seems awfully scared by everyone around her due to the fantastical tales told by B. In her reports to the doctors, nothing is revealed by her that could build a stronger case against B. Due to B’s actions, the Brobergs decide to keep their distance from his family and advise their kids the same. Yet, probably trying to save her marriage and her family, Gail blackmails Bob to use his sexual past with B in the courtroom and portray him as a homosexual man. That scares him and Mary Ann to the point that they sign an affidavit provided by B’s lawyer, which states their permission to B for taking Jan. Both he and Mary Ann sign it for the fear of not letting their family fall apart.
However, that very thread of B’s kidnapping i.e., taking Jan out without their consent, was integral to convicting him. As a result, Broberg’s impulsive decision angers the prosecutor who tells them to retract their statements in front of the press. Later in the courtroom, when Jan is asked to speak about B, she does not say anything negative about him, which weakens their side of the case. Mary Ann and Bob do not help either since both of their testimonies give the impression that they trusted B to the point of considering him as more than a family friend. Even at the court, B manages to sneak a word or two of assurance to Jan in order to keep her belief in their mission intact. And as a result of the claims in the court being made against Bob being homosexual, he is disfellowshipped. While he is made to feel remorse for his actions, B is forgiven in the church considering his actions merely a result of his manic depression.
A Friend of the Family Episode 4 Ending, Explained:
Mary Ann gets a call from B who agrees to share all the details only if they meet in person. While initially she even denies having a phone conversation with him, she goes on to meet him at his motorhome. He mentions making the marriage certificate with Jan just so that he doesn’t get caught up in jail in 10 years fighting to get back. He makes Mary Ann feel special yet again and professes his love for her, mentioning how he wanted to take her away instead of Jan. Even after kidnapping her daughter and leaving her scared for weeks, he manages to manipulate her into being intimate with him. The episode ends with B and Mary Ann passionately kissing one another.