While this is, for all intents and purposes, a flashback episode, it ends up being the best episode of the series yet due to how it contextualizes the manipulative hold Robert Berchtold had on the Broberg family. It’s a chillingly horrifying hour of television.
This recap of the Peacock series A Friend of the Family season 1, episode 3, “The Gift of Tongues” contains spoilers.
A flashback-heavy episode that takes the story back to two years before Jan’s (Hendrix Yancey) abduction, while this sort of playing around with the timeline of a story is very indicative of so much television nowadays, there is an insightful reformatting of past events in the lead up to the first episode that is brilliantly directed by Eliza Hittman that hits home just how manipulative and subtly monstrous Robert Berchtold was and the hold he had on the Broberg family.
A Friend of the Family season 1, episode 3 recap
The episode opens in 1972, two years years before Robert’s abduction of Jan, with a sequence of domestic bliss as Bob and Mary Ann put Jan and her sisters to bed. We next see them at church, where Robert takes to the altar to introduce himself to the community and to tell everyone that the Broberg’s have been very welcoming to him and his family, telling everyone about the indoor picnic they had when they first met.
He continues to make an impression on the family by sending them a fruit basket as a gift which they are very impressed with. Soon he makes an overture to Mary Ann about doing the school run with the children, talking her around to it very easily. In a sequence set to The Patridge Family theme song, we watch as Robert picks them up and takes them to school in a scene that on the surface looks fun and happy but which is subtly loaded with the impending horror of what is to come two years later.
Robert then shows up when Bob is at work at the flower store asking if the wants to go for lunch. Bob decides to close early and declares that lunch is on him. Robert appears distracted and not himself, which Bob picks up on. Robert confesses to Bob that he and Gail are having intimacy issues and wants Mary Ann to talk to Gail in an effort to help her. Bob says he will and that Robert can talk to him about anything since they are very good friends. Robert starts to talk to Bob about ‘transgressions’ that he has with other women, a conversation that Bob relays to Mary Ann later that night when asking her about helping Gail.
Over at the Berchtold’s Robert tells Gail that Mary Ann is going to help her with their issues. When Mary Ann visits Gail, she tells Gail that both Bob and herself are well matched and that’s how they are able to make so much of their marriage work. Mary Ann suggests a makeover for Gail and a new dress, but when Robert returns home he dismisses it as merely a ‘nice effort’. Mary Ann tells Robert that Gail is trying her best, but Robert dismisses her words because in his mind Gail will never be Mary Ann.
Later, Robert is visiting the Broberg’s asking that if anything were to happen to him or Gail will they look after their kids. They says they will, but when Robert says the same applies to them, they tell him that Bob’s brother will look after Jan and her sisters. Robert asks if they have any paperwork with Bob’s brother on the matter. Mary Ann goes to the bedroom to get the paper where Robert discovers is the same place she keeps Jan’s birth certificate. When Jan later has a nightmare, she goes to the Berchtold house where Robert suggests an ‘allergy’ pill.
The night of the ball arrives and both couples attend. Robert dances with Mary Ann much to the annoyance of Bob and Gail. It’s there that Robert tells Mary Ann he wishes he had met her before, in another life, as he did in the first episode.
The Berchtold’s then invite Jan with them out of town where she can go see a play with them, but Bob insists she can’t go. Gail arrives at their house to talk him into it, telling them that Robert is now not going to go at all and disappoint his own children which causes Bob to relent. The next day they pick up Jan and when out on the road with them she becomes sleepy when they have dinner. Robert comforts her and takes her back to the hotel room. They return home but Bob angrily insists that the families need to spend less time together. This prompts Robert to show up as Bob is closing up his shop to apologise and suggests they have dinner together.
At dinner Robert talks about his upbringing and difficult relationship with his stepfather. The conversation swings to Bob’s childhood and some of the stuff he did with his friends when they looked at what he dubs ‘girly magazines’. When they go back to the car, Robert brings up the subject of his intimacy issues with Gail and asks Bob will he help him avoid a ‘sinful action’ by plesuring him. Bob is reluctant but does it anyway. He is ashamed of himself and when Mary Ann suggests making love when he returns home he tells her he is tired.
The next day when he arrives home, he finds Robert making a separate bedroom for Jan.
The episode ends by returning to the latter stages of the story, showing Robert still in prison in Mexico, a guard removing him from a cell and telling him that he is returning home, much to Robert’s clear delight.
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