The Clearing Episodes 1 & 2 Recap & Ending Explained: Based on the book “In the Clearing” by J.P. Pomare, “The Clearing” is an eight-episode miniseries, a fictional account of the real-life cult called The Family. Formed in the mid-1960s under the leadership of yoga teacher Anna Hamilton Byrne, the group would host meetings at his manor, Shantiniketan. The group’s members would be recruited by Raynor and referred to Hamilton-Byrne’s yoga classes.
Around 1964, Hamilton-Byrne acquired fourteen kids between 1968 and 1975. Some were the family members’ biological offspring. In contrast, others were gained through unauthorized adoptions conducted by group members who had access to lawyers, medical professionals, and social workers and could circumvent the established procedures.
With the help of fake birth certificates or deed polls, the children’s identities were changed. They were all given the surname “Hamilton-Byrne,” and they all wore similar clothing, down to having their hair colored a similar shade of blonde. The kids were home-schooled and kept in seclusion at Kai Lama, a property at Taylor Bay on Lake Eildon, close to the town of Eildon, Victoria. The other adults in the group were referred to as their “aunties” and “uncles,” while Anne Hamilton-Byrne was identified as their biological mother.
They were forced to follow a strict regimen that included starvation rations, regular, brutal beatings—often for little or no reason—and complete isolation from the outside world. The children would be frequently dosed with psychiatric drugs like fluphenazine, haloperidol, diazepam, etc. Upon reaching adolescence, they would be dosed with LSD as part of an initiation process. While under that influence, the children would be kept in the dark room with only visits from Hamilton Byrne or one of the psychiatrists.
On August 14, 1987, authorities conducted a raid at the group’s headquarters, and all of the youngsters inside were saved. Hamilton-Byrne was accused of conspiring to commit fraud and perjury in June 1993 after declaring the births of three separate kids as her triplets; however, those accusations were later dismissed. On the final count of providing a false declaration, she entered a guilty plea and paid a $5,000 fine.
The Clearing Episodes 1 & 2 Recap:
Episode 1: The Season of Unfoldment
The detailing of the historical context until the closing line in the paragraph is essential groundwork. Though, to the show’s credit, it is very much focused on world-building by shuttling through two different timelines and managing to explore both of those timelines, with both of them remaining equally compelling for the most part. Most of these series have a hard time maintaining a similar sense of engagement with regard to their plotting. But “The Clearing” by co-creators Elise McCredie and Matt Cameron, written by them along with Osamah Sami and directed by Jeffrey Walker and Gracie Otto, manages to straddle the fine line (so far at least). For this recap, we will explore the two timelines separately:
The kidnapping of a little girl named Sara by a blonde-haired girl named Amy, reluctantly assisting her compatriots, is the inciting incident that leads to the domino effect of the events of the show. Sara is brought to an undisclosed location and welcomed by children wearing the same uniform and having the same bleach-blonde hair. One of the supervisors, Tasmin, offered Sara an alternative moniker, Asha, but she declined. Amy seemed anxious and remorseful about taking a little girl but was obligated to abide by the cult’s regulations.
The group also had Hannah and her husband Henrik as supervisors, in addition to Tasmin. The kids were all dressed in blue tracksuits and sporting bleached blonde hair. Sara presented complications for the adults, but the other kids appeared to be compliant. She had a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings because she had been forced into the group. However, the surroundings themselves were hardly suitable for the kids. Tasmin repeatedly beat Amy for no apparent reason, though it can be inferred that it was for approval from their leader, “Maitreya.”
Sara made several fruitless attempts to leave the neighborhood. Eventually, Adrienne, also known as Maitreya, the cult’s leader, emerged. The kids called her “mommy,” but Adrienne privately preferred Amy more than the other girls, and you would be hard-pressed to wonder if this is Adrienne’s actual daughter. And even within moments of intercutting between the past and the future, the show never loses sight of that ambiguity.
The moment Adrienne and Dr. Latham arrived, it became clear from their conversations with the other adults that the abduction of Sara was the first time they had attempted something this daring. Usually, the kids would be acquired through fake birth certificates or fake adoptions. Sara later turned into an even bigger issue for the sect. The problem of a kid like Sara being kidnapped is because of her cognizance in remembering the world before she had been kidnapped. So logically, she resisted the cult’s programming.
She attempted to flee the area one final time, but finally, one of the children, Anton, located her and delivered her to Tasmin. While Tasmin tried to hide this escape attempt, when Adrienne finally met and learned about Sara, Anton revealed his complicity in the capture to curry Adrienne’s favor. What is fascinating, though, is how much Amy is given importance in this strange hierarchy, especially because she has been given the responsibility to groom and bring Sara into the fold, almost as if Adrieene is grooming her to succeed one day.
In the future timeline, we meet with Freya Heywood, and we realize that her anxiety regarding her son and her high-strung nature on hearing about the disappearance of a kid might be because of her connection to a cult, possibly this cult itself. The kidnapping of Carrie Anderson is especially frightening for her because she hadn’t heard the entire news report and thinks that the cult has resurfaced and kidnapped the girl. It is further exacerbated by the appearance of a white van that is following her.
Freya sought to keep her mother at a distance because of their difficult relationship. Despite this, Freya grudgingly agreed to her mother’s visit at Billy’s request. An accident occurred during her mother’s visit, resulting in Billy’s eye being damaged as a result of Freya’s irresponsibility. While Freya downplayed the occurrence and described it as an accident, her mother didn’t seem ready to let it go.
Freya became more and more concerned that Anderson, the new child, might have been kidnapped in the same van. She kept calling the police to report the vehicle, but they demanded evidence linking it to the kidnappings. In her desperation, Freya contacted an old acquaintance, Joe Saad, a retired inspector, and asked him to investigate the van. Joe didn’t seem interested in the information, however.
So far, the episode has been connecting or shuffling between timelines, making you wonder in the beginning whether Freya is connected to Sara; perhaps she had escaped and is now in hiding. It turns out that Freya is Amy, and the scenes where she submerges herself in the water and holds her breath are the moments of silence where she recalls the times when Sara tried to escape.
As we follow Freya along, we see her driving up to a house and talking to a male nurse about her mother’s health, which increases your confusion because we, as viewers, just met her mother. But as she enters the house, we finally see the two timelines connecting as Freya meets with her mother, a visibly aged and ill Adrienne, but still carrying that air of malevolence and manipulative spark. We see her embracing Freya and calling her Amy, hammering home the obvious connection but increasing more and more questions. More specifically, as to what the show is going to be about. Is it about the recovery from trauma after escaping from a cult? Or is Freya still connected with the cult and still carrying a semblance of loyalty to her old “mentor”?
Episode 2: Kindred
We learn in this episode that Amy has been entrusted to realign Sara with the cause. However, it is all in vain, as Sara refuses any attempts at realignment. One of the celebrations of Adrienne’s greatness and her methods of protecting these children from the world and its cruelty, which she is very adamant about explaining, is her methodology for the cult’s existence. But Sara just snaps and publicly calls Adrienne a liar, revealing that she is not “her mother.”
Even as Adrienne manages to calm her audience down, it is evident that she is very shaken. Sara was imprisoned in a tiny chamber as a result of Tasmin’s punishment. The ceremony went on without Sara, and one by one, Adrienne’s supporters came up to her for a discussion. We also see Sara doing what is essentially a form of confession for her supporters.
Still, looking at how one of her patients almost has a radical and heightened reaction, we can safely assume that some form of drug use or hypnotism might have been involved. While it is never explicitly revealed, Miranda Otto plays the charismatic cult leader’s manipulative personality to perfection. Adrienne also gives the same form of confession to a second patient of hers, Colin, who we learn is an inspector and a co-worker of Inspector Joe Saad, who is already investigating Adrienne and her cult.
Adrienne felt that Amy needed to be subjected to clearing because she had failed to realign Sara. In private, Adrienne accused Amy of forsaking everyone, including her friends, family, and even herself. Although Adrienne seemed to enjoy Amy’s suffering, she offered her something that resembled a narcotic to help her cope with the stress caused by these terrible statements. Amy ingested it and remained in a confined room, where she started to have hallucinations.
Eventually, she blacked out due to her inability to bear the discomfort. The following morning, Sara was nowhere to be found. She was informed by Dr. Latham that Sara had been returned to her family. This is the closest place where the show actively acknowledges the historical basis of the story, as Adrienne offering Amy a narcotic also definitely felt like the “initiation process,” which the show points out as “clearing.” This drug usage also retroactively proves how Adrienne manages to cure or work on her patients, and that alone makes her even more terrifying.
When she finally wakes up, Amy goes to the outhouse, where she sees cages. It is implied that the children who disobeyed “Maitreya” or their aunties would receive corporal punishment. But even in her groggy state, Amy realizes that Sara isn’t there. She sees Dr. Latham entering the outhouse, and when asked, Latham answers that Sara was sent home. But the way Guy Pearce as Latham delivers the line, we are led to believe that the truth is far more sinister than we are given here. While we are still not sure how far these people will go to keep their organization hidden from the world, or even the abduction of Sara, we can safely assume that Sara has been killed.
In the future, Freya seeks out Joe, who we realize is former Inspector Joe Saad. This leads to increased speculation about whether Amy will finally be the person who becomes the whistleblower and leads the police to the cult. But now she confronts Joe, remarking that he had never told the police about her suspicions about the white van. However, Joe reminded her that there had been no reports matching a white van to the latest abduction, making it difficult to investigate the lead.
He speculated that Freya’s obsession with the white van might be related to its past involvement with Sara’s kidnapping. This causes Freya to wonder if she has been dwelling on the past for longer than necessary. Despite her efforts to calm herself, she was still concerned about who had abducted the youngster. Joe speculated that the missing girl could be lost in the woods, but Freya refused to accept that scenario. For Freya, Occam’s razor is still a distant possibility because coincidence is not the easiest solution to accept.
Later, while picking her son up from school, Freya receives a call from Wayne, and listening to the intensity of their conversations, we realize that Wayne has been separated from Freya but is the father of Billy, which gives him an avenue to contact Freya and try to reconnect with her. However, Freya is adamant about not entrusting Billy’s care to Wayne. She even manages to hurt her mother verbally when her mother reveals to her that she called Wayne because it would only help Freya. As she mournfully remarks that she is Freya’s mother, we see a very revealing moment where Freya angrily shuts her phone and mutters, “No, you are not.”
This loyalty that she is still exhibiting towards Adrienne is a fascinating wrinkle that the writers chose to introduce in the future narrative. We know that this account is a fictionalized view of true events, and to some extent, we also know where the story is going, but it would be wrong to state that this immediately doesn’t make both strands of the plot equally compelling. What is also interesting is the relationship between Wayne and Freya’s mother, who likes Wayne enough to give him her spare room where he could crash.
The Clearing Episode 2 Ending Explained:
We finally cut to Freya returning to Adrienne’s place, where, after dismissing the manservant early, Freya reveals Wayne’s return and her worry about being abandoned by Billy. Adrienne smartly plays on Freya’s fears, reminding her of the value of a mother’s love in a child’s life and how much that loss affects her, and both of them are cognizant of that. This works on two fronts: on the one hand, Adrienne again re-establishes the mother-daughter dynamic between “Amy” and herself while also informing the audience that Freya had been interacting with Adrienne even after the supposed disbanding of the organization.
The final bombshell, albeit a soft one, drops when it is revealed that a hooded man dismounts from a white van and receives a call from Adrienne, who asks whether he has reached the location. We then cut to a man looking at the park where children are playing, with that same bleach-blonde dyed hair. This brings a sense of foreboding as we realize that Freya’s suspicions were right. Now the series would explore both aspects of the cult: the inevitable fall of the cult while also exploring the restructuring of the cult again in secret, with “Maitreya” still at the helm, older but still alive, still charismatic, and still manipulative.
This is a show that has been designed to be a deliberately slow burn. Unlike most slow burns with multi-pronged plot structures, the writing of the show has interesting enough wrinkles that both of the core plot threads remain interesting throughout the length and breadth of the narrative. Two episodes down, and while we know the endpoint of the story, the writers are playing the long game and ensuring that the worldbuilding is revealed through little flourishes carrying ginormous impacts.
It is, of course, bolstered by fantastic performances. Teresa Palmer as Freya is excellent as the high-strung, overly anxious adult who carries the trauma of survival from a brainwashed cult, while Julia Savage as Amy manages to showcase the trauma, the confusion, and the heartbreak and disappointment of not being able to fulfill her mother’s wishes exquisitely.
But the star of the show is arguably Miranda Otto’s Adrienne, who joins a long line of portrayals of charismatic godmen, and she is chilling in expanding Adrienen’s convictions on her beliefs as well as her maternal instincts, hiding the sociopathic manipulative person within. She is terrifying to watch, and Otto delivers tremendous control by making her theatrical without going over the top. As a result, this show becomes surprisingly intriguing to watch, making me salivate for the next episode.