A Friend of the Family season 1, episode 5 recap – “The Bitter Cup”

By Eamon Hennedy
Published: October 13, 2022 (Last updated: January 27, 2024)
View all


A powerfully infuriating hour of television, “The Bitter Cup” lives up to its title as the episode builds up to Jan’s inevitable second abduction by Berchtold and a reminder that when it comes to crimes such as this, the criminal justice system is horrifyingly inert.

This recap of the Peacock series A Friend of the Family season 1, episode 5, “The Bitter Cup,” contains spoilers.

You may feel a pressing need to scream in frustration at “The Bitter Cup.” The hold that Robert Berchtold (Jake Lacey) continues to have on the Brobergs feels like it might be lessening in the latter stages of the episode until a reminder of how inept the criminal justice system is when it comes to predatory crimes, and sexual assault comes to the fore and leads to a final scene that is the series at its most deliberately aggravating, but also chilling. “Over the Rainbow” has perhaps never felt so deflated or empty as it is here when it is played over the end credits of the episode.

A Friend of the Family season 1, episode 5 recap

It is the morning after Mary Ann went to Robert’s motor home. She tells him she doesn’t want to leave but that she feels guilty about sleeping with Robert. He tells her that Bob doesn’t value what he has with her, but that they also need to find a way to make the trial go away.

After having played Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard of Oz, the Brobergs return home to find flowers for Jan with a card saying ‘Forever, B’ written on it. Bob goes to the Berchtold house to confront him, but Robert calmly tells him to just go home to his family and to ‘say hi to Mary Ann for me’ which makes Bob suspicious.  Later that night, Robert sneaks into the Broberg’s house, and the mini-speaker that Jan has had since her abduction starts playing a voice telling her that her father is in danger and that she needs to stay on the mission.

When Bob goes to work the next day, a red car is parked at the back of the building which he initially takes no notice of. He is making a bouquet of flowers for the funeral of a Mr. Roberts, but when he calls the telephone number for the order, the person on the other end tells him there is no Mr. Roberts. Someone then tries to open the back door of the store, and a voice behind it tells Bob to stop making threats. He calls Mary Ann to tell her what happened and that he intends to buy a gun and that she needs to stop any contact with Robert.

She goes back to the motor home and Robert is happy to see her, but she tells him that nothing will come between her and her family and that it’s over between them. He tries to be jovial when he asks her not to beg, but she walks away.

Spring 1975: The telephone rings at the Broberg house and it is Robert on the other end. Mary Ann hangs up on him. As the year passes, they continue to get phone calls, but there is nobody on the other end of the line.

Spring 1976: Robert’s lawyer Jennifer Ferguson calls Mary Ann into a meeting with her and Robert and once again uses the threat of revealing Bob’s sexuality if the case goes to trial. She storms out and Robert gives chase, telling her that he’ll not say anything about Bob at the trial if she testifies that Robert had permission to take Jan to Mexico. Mary Ann says that’s a lie and walks away. Robert gives chase anyway, and tells Mary Ann that he’ll agree to a plea deal, but only on the condition that he can speak to Jan.

Mary Ann arranges a meeting between Jan and Robert on the side of a road, but is seen by Bob’s friend Spencer who reports it back to Bob. Bob confronts Mary Ann about it when he returns home; she tells him that she did it so Robert would take the plea deal, which Bob says he was going to take anyway. Mary Ann eventually confesses to sleeping with Robert, which upsets Bob who tells her she is endangering their children. He storms off and is away all night. When he returns home he hands Mary Ann a piece of paper. It is a legal notice claiming that Mary Ann is an imminent danger to her children and she is to stay away from the house. Bob tells her that divorce papers will follow.

Because of her infidelity, Mary Ann is ex-communicated from the Mormon church and leaves the house to stay with her mother and sister, the latter telling her she will find life hard without a husband and that Bob was a good man. Bob takes Jan and her sisters for ice cream, but at the ice cream parlor, Jan sees the same nurse from the hospital she went to when she was examined after returning from Mexico and worries that she is an alien keeping an eye on her. Robert continues to keep watch over her at night by sneaking into the Broberg’s house, and the mini-speaker continues to tell her to stay on mission and to find a way to return to her ‘male companion’.

As she is making plans with one of her friends after school, a pair of hippies approach Jan with a piece of paper with an address. She leaves her friend to go to the location which is a house where Robert is waiting for her. He tells her that they need to go away to Wyoming for the mission, but that he doesn’t want to separate from her. She comes up with the idea of working with him there, and that she could tell her parents that she is getting a summer job so that would allow her and Robert to be together. He tells her that he thinks that could work and that she needs to convince Bob, but not to worry about Mary Ann. When she later asks Bob if she can go he says she can’t because she is needed at home over the summer.

Mary Ann visits Bob at his motor home, telling him that she feels like her life isn’t working out the way she thought it would. He tells her they should get married and leave for Wyoming and that along with their kids they could be like The Brady Bunch. This prompts Mary Ann to return home. She tells Bob that she has been a fool, that she loves him and not Robert, and that she misses the girls. She asks Bob to forgive her. They share a tender reconciliation on the couch which Jan oversees. Her sisters then arrive asking if their mum is moving back home. Bob says that for now, she is.

July 1976: The day of Robert’s trial arrives. The judge finds him guilty of the charges and he is sentenced to five years in prison, but since he is a first-time offender, he will only serve forty-five days in prison. He doesn’t have to report for jail time until September, and with time already served, he will in fact only face fifteen days behind bars. Agent Walsh and the District Attorney are shocked and disappointed in this outcome. Agent Walsh relays this to Mary Ann and Bob who are deeply upset, especially since there is nothing that can be done for which Agent Walsh apologizes.

After he leaves, Jan happily tells them about working on a production of Bye Bye Birdie, but that it is in Wyoming, to which both Mary Ann and Bob tell them she cannot go. This angers Jan who tells them they are terrible parents. She storms off to her bedroom where she packs a case, and a large number of letters that Robert has written to her over the last two years is revealed.

The ending

Jan sits on the porch doing a crossword puzzle. Mary Ann leaves the house to go to the store, telling Jan to keep an eye on her sisters. In a powerfully chilling moment, the camera pans around Jan to the neighborhood where other kids, including her two sisters Susan and Karen, are playing. When we pan back around to Jan, she is gone leaving behind her crossword book. When Mary Ann returns, Susan is upset because Karen has fallen off her bike. When Mary Ann asks where Jan is, Susan tells her she went away in a taxi. Mary Ann, along with her two other daughters, drives to the airport, hoping to catch up with Jan and Robert. When she walks back to the car, she is alone and upset. Susan asks where Jan is. A plane flies away above their heads and “Over The Rainbow” plays over the end credits.

What did you think of A Friend of the Family season 1, episode 5? Comment below.

Additional Reading

Peacock, Streaming Service, Weekly TV
View all