Unprisoned (Season 1) Review, Recap, Ending Explained: Created by Tracy McMillan, ‘Unprisoned’ is a comedy-drama based on her own life experiences. It follows the story of Paige Alexander, who tries to build a life with her father, Edwin, once he returns home after years of incarceration. Paige is a therapist and a self-proclaimed relationship expert who advises others on how to deal with their personal issues. The show navigates how she deals with such emotional issues when it comes to her own life.
The Hulu series stars Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo in the lead roles of father and daughter. Besides them, it boosts a solid star cast of Faly Rakotohavana, Brenda Strong, Marque Richardson, Jee Young Han, and Jordyn McIntosh in pivotal roles.
Before delving further into its narrative, please be aware that there will be spoilers ahead.
Unprisoned (Season 1) Recap:
Paige Alexander (Kerry Washington) is a therapist, and a single mother, who works part-time as a social media influencer. The show begins with her Instagram live session, where she notes that how you get parented is how you get partnered. Right afterward, she takes her teenage son, Finn (Faly Rakotohavana), to his class. Before leaving, she warns him not to get close to her father, Edwin (Delroy Lindo), even if he is getting out of prison.
After dropping Finn to school, Paige goes to the penitentiary to pick up her father. She still recalls her visits during her childhood, when she kept hoping Edwin to show up to meet her every time the door opened. Now after 17 years, he finally becomes free. Before leaving with him, she meets officer Mal (Marque Richardson), who informs the rules Edwin needs to follow soon. She rejects Mal’s advances despite him expressing interest in her.
Afterward, Paige takes Edwin to Starbucks for a meal. The waitress shouts his name, which gives him a flashback of his dreadful prison time. Now that he is free, he hopes to crash at his old friend Fox’s (Edwin Lee Gibson) place. However, on their way, he cannot help himself but act impulsively and selfishly. He flirts with a woman that he meets in a supermarket. Later, he goes to meet his old flame, Nadine Gregory (Brenda Strong), and ends up having sex with her.
It upsets Paige, who is not just dealing with Edwin’s selfishness, but also her boyfriend, Bill (Tim Daly), ignoring her. When she goes to meet her foster sibling, Esti Nelson (Jee Young Han), about a home deal, Edwin stays back at her place. That’s when Finn meets Edwin and gets to eat a well-cooked meal instead of the heated ones the way his mother gives him every day. Soon after, Paige returns home, sees them together, and gets upset. So, she drops Edwin at Fox’s place.
But, because of his wish to make things right, he returns to Paige’s place and requests her to let him stay there for the time being. He promised that things would be different than in the past. She reluctantly lets him stay for the time being. She then moves into her new place with Edwin and Finn. While Edwin continues with his flirtatious behavior toward Nadine, he teaches Finn how to drive a car without fear or shame. Later, he goes to a restaurant and applies for a job so that he can provide a helping hand in the family’s finances. Because of his impressive cooking skills, he easily gets that position.
Meanwhile, Paige struggles to make peace with what Edwin says about her relationship with Bill. Edwin believes Bill never lies to her because he sees her only as his mistress and isn’t serious about their relationship. She still goes to a dance rehearsal with Bill even if she isn’t invited to his daughter’s wedding. But the moment he says that he is ‘just dating’ her, she realizes what Edwin said was true. She decides to break up with him. However, it is too hard for her anxious attachment style. So, she cannot get over him that easily.
Edwin treats the family to a meal in the restaurant where he gets the job. Over there, Paige keeps venting about Bill while ordering too many plates of breadsticks. Edwin soon learns from the restaurant manager that he can’t get the job since he is an ex-felon. Finn overhears that Edwin has been fired but does not reveal that he knows about it. Edwin, however, continues to pretend that he still has that job. He also asks Finn to drop him there the next day.
With her father staying with her, Paige deals with her ‘mother’s wound’ issue. She starts thinking about the mother figures that shaped her life in one way or the other. One of her patients speaks about her guilt about being perceived as a ‘bad mother.’ It makes Paige question Nadine, who was Edwin’s partner-in-crime during her early years, besides being her irresponsible caretaker for years. In an online session, she speaks about the wounds Nadine left on her mental health. So, when Nadine meets Paige, she questions her about making this part of their life public. Nadine defends her parenting methods saying that she did the best she could. But Paige isn’t ready to forgive Nadine’s carelessness that easily.
On the other hand, Paige experienced caring parenting from her foster mother, Carole Nelson (Carol Mansell). After attending a church prayer with her, Esti, and Edwin, Paige invites her to a housewarming party. Mal also joins, who sounds like Paige’s rebound after her breakup with Bill. Despite being uninvited, Nadine arrives for this party and spoils her mood. Nadine continues to defend her side even if Paige likes the conventional motherly nature of Carole. Noticing Paige’s anger, Edwin asks her to introspect if she wants to be right about things (and about Nadine) or if she wants to be happy (by forgiving Nadine). So, after thoughtful consideration, Paige acknowledges Nadine’s contribution to her growth.
After dinner, Paige kisses Mal and starts a new romantic chapter of her life. Finn, meanwhile, shares a job opportunity with Edwin. These new bonds from her life increase her awareness of how there is more than one way to be a mother. Later on, Edwin starts working at a thrift store (thanks to Finn) but gets annoyed by their stringent work policies. When a co-worker gets bruised, Edwin advises him to go to the hospital for treatment while he takes care of his shift.
But seeing the result of this action, Edwin decides to retaliate against the system. He calls out the store manager for his unruly treatment and then leaves the job. On the other hand, Paige begins a relationship with Mal, who is caring, evolved, and cognizant, in contrast to the men she previously dated, who were liars or emotionally unavailable. She traces her prior inclination back to her father’s neglect pattern since he was never there for her when she needed him. Meanwhile, Edwin forges a strong bond with Finn, making him sense his intelligence.
Paige sees that her father has been fired from his restaurant job. But she empathizes with his situation considering how hard it is to get a gig for a black ex-felon. As a result, she treats him by making a meal the way he likes it. Because of leaving his new job, he impulsively decides to earn from an ice cream truck. He starts his new business venture in a park and sells ice cream without much effort. That’s where he comes across a woman whose little dog remains stuck inside a car. He breaks the window and rescues it. So he gets an instant reputation as a hero on social media and in the news broadcast.
Edwin also asks that woman out on a date and charms her with his candor about gratefulness and honesty. Paige struggles with the thought of ‘not being normal’ and decides to throw a sex reveal party for her white colleague to prove that she is, in fact, normal. But the moment someone asks her about her father, it takes her back to her non-normal reality. She panics, and her guests do not react nicely after learning that her father’s been in prison for 17 years for drug dealing.
However, Paige soon reaches a realization that she does not need to be normal. ‘F*** normal!’ Instead, she decides to practice radical acceptance. She also understands that people resonate with her and respect her because of her painful experience. Because of it, the same white co-worker offers her a spot at one of the Ted talks. While this news overjoys Paige, Edwin feels heartbroken when he finds out that his bicycle has been stolen.
Later, Edwin checks Finn’s knowledge about black history and is surprised by how little the young man knows. So he decides to take Finn and Paige with him to his ancestral home in rural Alabama. He also needs his birth certificate to start his life afresh, which he can get only there. So the family travels there, where Finn goes through five stages of what Edwin calls ‘Nigrescence.’ The first stage is ‘Pre-encounter,’ where Finn understands the influence of whiteness and white culture on him.
Edwin gets emotional from a mixed baggage of feelings at their ancestral home. Finn goes through the stuff inside to ‘Encounter’ a conscious awareness of how he needs to build a separate worldview from what was fed to him. While he learns about the losses of black lives, Paige has her share of gut-wrenching realizations. She sees Edwin as a child, terrified by what he saw happen to his family. Afterward, they all go to Church to find Edwin’s birth certificate and meet Annie, who recognizes Edwin even despite all the years in between.
While Edwin keeps refusing to share details of why his family moved to Birmingham, Annie tells about the brutal incident in which Edwin’s mother was taken away by white men at night. The mother returned much later with bruises all over her body. That is why Edwin’s family needed to uproot their lives overnight and move out of Alabama. After this soul-crushing dialogue, the family goes out for some soul food. Finn prefers it to the health-cautious meals that his mother gives him otherwise. During her time in Alabama, Paige keeps dodging Mal’s calls.
Meanwhile, Finn hears a term called ‘moon cricket,’ which is a racial slur used by white people. Later, at a local office, Paige learns some more awful details about Edwin’s past and understands how difficult it must have been for Edwin to talk about them. When they finally see Edwin’s birth certificate, the officer denies giving it, stating that Edwin does not have an ID card and has only his parole officer’s signed letter. While Edwin questions him, the white man arrogantly keeps telling Edwin to lower his voice.
So, they all leave this place to realize that the authorities won’t help them in this matter. The never-ending cycle of not getting a job because of not having a driving license, because of not having an ID card or a birth certificate keeps being perpetuated by racist people like that man in power. Due to this awareness, Paige also enters the stage of ‘Emersion’ where she accepts that there are many different ways to be Black.
After this soul-crushing incident, Edwin wants to meet his cousin Bumpy before returning to their home. Since Paige has a ted-talk the next day and Finn has school, she decides to return first, and Edwin promises to return later. However, he lies to Paige about his plans. He gets a car from Bumpy (not his cousin) and drives all the way back to fulfill his wish of driving the way he used to before going to prison.
Back home, Paige decides to make Mal her Instagram-official boyfriend. She also prepares for what she considers to be the most important day of her professional life – the day of her Ted talk. Edwin drives home as fast as he used to. He gives Fox the car keys in exchange for money and tells him to keep their deal a secret from Paige & Finn. Later that day, Paige invites Edwin into his world by asking for his opinion on what she should wear for the Ted talk.
Edwin later shares his happiness about it with Nadine. But he also gets emotional, realizing the endless number of possibilities of what else he can do for them. Nadine consoles him and tells him not to be so hard on himself. He feels comforted by her words and by her presence. Back home, Paige prepares her speech and asks Edwin for his input. He hears her speak about getting over selfish Bill to finding the love of her life in earnest Mal. He senses her dishonesty in this statement and makes her question whether she truly loves Mal or if she is into only emotionally unavailable men like Bill. It messes up her chain of thought.
While Paige tries to figure out the answer, Edwin takes Finn out to get him a birthday gift. He sees that Finn spends most of his time honing card-play skills on his computer. So, he takes him to play with actual players, where Finn fumbles due to his social anxiety. Meanwhile, Nadine comes to meet Paige to lift her spirits with their fond memories. Paige speaks with her about her concern – whether Mal is the right choice for her. Nadine says that one knows the right choice only after making mistakes. So, after this talk, Paige goes to have sex with Bill. That’s when she reaches the conclusion that she was never in love with him.
On the other hand, Mal continues to keep Paige happy and satisfied being in a relationship. While she prepares for her Ted talk, wearing a bright yellow dress that Edwin chose for her, Edwin’s car pulls over when he drives back home with Finn. Soon after, Finn calls her to tell her that he is safe at home, but Edwin has been arrested. However, since she is about to go on stage to give her Ted talk, she does not deal with this issue right away.
Unprisoned (Season 1) Ending Explained:
Does Edwin return to stay at Paige’s home for good?
While Edwin gets put back in prison, Paige begins her Ted talk. Despite having prepared her speech in advance, she stumbles due to the unexpected, shocking news. She goes off-script and starts speaking about her messy relationship with her father. She asks what one does with a parent whose best was not good enough for their children. Later at home, she keeps envisioning him around her. But she refuses to free him from jail. She feels betrayed since he messed up the one chance he was given to make things right.
Since Paige refuses to take Finn to meet Edwin, Nadine takes him to prison. Meanwhile, Paige keeps ignoring Edwin’s return to jail as a serious issue. By then, she also learns that her Ted talk has become viral. But she realizes that only ‘being vulnerable’ isn’t the way to heal her emotional wounds. She decides to come clean to Mal and tells him that she slept with Bill. He ends the relationship right away, saying that she deserves someone good, but she also needs to heal from her traumas to make it work.
While Paige occasionally has conversations with her younger self (Jordyn McIntosh), she finally recognizes how her inner child needs support and healing. Then, she takes Finn to meet Edwin, she learns that he has gotten out on bail. Edwin goes to Mal’s place to thank him. Mal says that he is nothing more than Edwin’s correctional officer and that Edwin should not consider him a friend.
Then, Edwin goes back to Paige’s home to take all his stuff and leave. While he promises to change for good this time around, she does not want to get hurt any further and tells him that he can’t stay there any longer. Finn, however, has become incredibly close to Edwin and to having his presence around by then. So he starts crying when Edwin does not decide to stay. Finn continues to stay distant from Paige while Edwin tries to figure out how he should deal with his life thereafter.
Unprisoned (Season 1) Themes Analysed:
The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Edwin is one such individual whose prison life kept getting prolonged over the years. His post-prison life becomes painful for several reasons. There is an eternal struggle in trying to build a dignified life after getting incarcerated. We witness it through how Edwin struggles to find a job as an ex-felon.
Even the endless loop of documentation keeps him distant from finding any source of income. He also battles PTSD when various triggers remind him of his dreadful time in prison. Besides the practical causes, people’s perception of an imprisoned person also keeps him struggling to gain a semblance of self-respect.
While the series discusses racial tension throughout its duration, the sixth episode, titled Nigrescence, goes in-depth to navigate its impact viscerally. We see how light-skinned Finn tackles his racial identity concerns while Edwin processes past traumas for being born black.
As the episode concludes, the characters realize that there is more than one way to be Black. Besides the incident from Edwin’s childhood, the scenario in the Alabama office (where the officer refuses to share his birth certificate) highlights how racism still prevails in the US despite the glossy, progressive image the country puts forth.
Childhood Trauma & Therapy
Throughout Unprisoned, Paige is seen discussing with a younger version of herself, where she tries to make sense of all the trauma she went through. She discusses all her internal conflicts with this manifestation of her ‘inner-child’ and progresses on her journey of self-exploration and healing. Through Edwin, we visit a scared child who is afraid to confront the harsh reality of his past, despite the years of passage.
These emotional wounds stunt their growth to form a healthy relationship. Therapy, practiced by Paige, and acknowledged by others, provide a helping hand in finding manageable solutions to step beyond such psychological boundaries.
Unprisoned (Season 1) Review:
Unprisoned presents a sensible portrait of post-prison life through a deeper understanding of its characters’ emotional struggles. The best part about this Hulu series is how it takes enough time to delve into their individual mental landscapes to navigate the far-reaching impacts of its central themes. Whether incarceration, childhood trauma, or racial tension, it presents these themes through the deeply personal journeys of its characters. Despite dealing with these incredibly heavy issues, it manages to become a light-hearted comedy-drama.
The aspect it falters in is its tonal shifts. The script showcases how Edwin cannot help himself but get pulled back toward his flirtatious side. The questionable nature of some of his dialogues also makes you question the definition of charm that the makers have. While his behavior can still be considered an aspect of his relapse to this faulty side of his personality, those patchy comedic sequences merge oddly with the show’s serious overtones and dramatic scenes – making them stick out like a sore thumb.
However, the season still excels because of its mature handling of pertinent themes, besides the fantastic performances by the entire cast. Delroy Lindo, who flexes his comedic muscles, is phenomenal here. Besides that, he also presents his potential to shift to the serious aspects of his character effortlessly. Kerry Washington is also excellent, whom I’ve rarely seen in comedic roles besides her work on SNL skits. She seems much freer than her oeuvre of weighty roles. Besides them, Brenda Strong, who finds humanity even in her flawed character, is a highlight of this season. That is another aspect where the show stands apart: presenting flawed portraits of its female characters with the utmost compassion.