The drama series “A Friend of the Family” on Peacock tells the tragic story of Jan Broberg in a fictional setting, with popular actors playing the characters. Although it uses the faculty of fiction, the series almost entirely sticks to real events and incidents. Along with it are also added a few slight threads that make the show more compelling and effective. With solid acting performances and an easy, precise style, “A Friend of the Family” is an interesting and impactful watch.
‘A Friend of the Family’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
In 1972, the Berchtolds, headed by Robert and his wife Gail, had moved into a peaceful, tight-knit neighborhood in Pocatello, Idaho. As a regular member of the local church, Robert meets with their neighbor, Mary Ann Broberg, and soon the Berchtolds and Brobergs develop a warm friendship. Mary Ann and her husband, Bob, take their three daughters to the Brobergs’ house, and the girls make acquaintance with the Berchtolds’ three boys, who are of the same age as them. Robert, who runs a furniture store in the town, offers to help the Brobergs by taking their daughters to school along with his own sons, and the bond between them keeps growing. The three Broberg girls, Jan, Karen, and Susan, also grow very fond of Robert, whom they affectionately call “uncle B” or “B,” and Robert too enjoys this affection. He makes strong friendships on personal levels with Bob and Mary Ann as well, and his wife Gail too becomes the typical neighbor, always coming over to their house and helping around. Things seem really warm and homely for some time until Robert oddly spends increasingly more time with the eldest Broberg daughter, Jan. On one October afternoon in 1984, the twelve-year-old Jan is taken for her horse-riding lesson by Robert, even though Bob had asked him not to do so because the Brobergs had some other plans for the evening. As the usual time of their return approaches and some more time passes, Bob and Mary Ann grow concerned that some unfortunate accident might have befallen their daughter and their best friend.
On the other side, young Jan wakes up inside a small, dark room with her hands and legs tied, and a mechanical voice from somewhere inside tells her that she has been abducted by two aliens named Zada and Zethra. These aliens claim that Jan has been chosen by them to save their planet, for she herself is half-human and half-alien, and if she does not help them, then her youngest sister Susan will be taken instead of her. The only way to save the alien planet, they say, is for Jan to have a baby with the other male companion they have abducted, Robert Berchtold.
What Was The Exact Extent Of Robert’s Disgusting Crimes?
It was obviously Robert Berchtold, a pedophile, which was later confirmed by medical practitioners and the law, who had hatched the entire plan of scaring Jan into having sexual acts with him. The first time Robert kidnapped the girl, he drove her to a city in Mexico in his motorhome and then started to groom her for what was about to follow. He had convinced Jan, both through his own words and with the use of a portable speaker, pretending to be an alien, that the girl was to try and have a baby with him before she was sixteen years old, or else she would be vaporized out of existence and her sister would be taken for the mission instead. The effect of this on the young girl’s mind was immense, as she was terrified of this consequence and easily agreed to the whole plan. It must be remembered that Jan had heard all this straight from the mouth of the man who had earlier spent years establishing himself as a great friend of not just her and her sisters but also of her parents too. There was never a doubt in Jan’s mind that what her uncle B was saying could be untrue or lies. Using this entire ruse, Robert coerced the child into sharing intimate moments with him, and he soon wanted to get married to her. While in Mexico, he even got hold of a marriage certificate with his and Jan’s names on it, but he kept claiming this was only to make sure that he would be able to return to America lawfully without raising any eyebrows in Mexico. The end of this first kidnapping period came when the FBI sent Mexican police to look for the two, and they were arrested by the same, but this did not in any way lead to the end of the disgusting plan that Robert had. During their captivity in Mexico, shortly before being returned to the US, Robert convinced Jan to never tell anyone about these happenings and to remember that the mission was still on, and aliens would keep watching her. Along with this, he also laid down certain rules, like she was not allowed to touch her biological father, Bob, or to let any other boys touch her, which probably shows the pathetic obsession Robert had with her and the perspective he had about all fathers and men.
Unfortunately, Jan could not have any doubts about the fact that Robert might be lying to her, and she held on to these beliefs and instructions for the next many years of her life. Even though she was returned to her parents in 1974, Jan kept thinking about her sister’s protection from the aliens and was also contacted by Robert from time to time. To understand why Jan was so fixated on the lies she was fed, it is perhaps important to acknowledge that she had been growing up in a family with certain religious and parental control over her actions and decisions, even though her parents were extremely loving and caring towards her. To any teenager, a figure of control is always more threatening and villainous than a person who allows them to live out their whims. Robert Berchtold had become such a figure in Jan’s life who faked support for her independent aspirations and her wish to become an actress. Not that her own parents had issues with her pursuing an acting career, but they were very reluctant to let her go over to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to pursue such interests. While this idea had been fed into her head by Robert himself, Jan ultimately decided to run away from her house and fly over to Wyoming with a ticket that Robert had gotten hold of for her. Jan was returned to Pocatello sometime later, as the Brobergs put pressure on Robert through their newly recruited lawyer at this time. However, in August of 1976, Jan was taken from her house once again by Robert, this time at the age of fourteen. The man continued his horrific acts on the girl as he took her to Wyoming to see his new gaming arena at an amusement park, and this time he was even more forceful on the Brobergs to let Jan marry him. Jan, too, was convinced that this marriage would be the ideal thing, as then they would easily be able to continue their attempts to have a baby. Now he put her up at a Catholic boarding school in California, and Robert even convinced the nuns here that she was his daughter, and he was a CIA agent, for which information about them should not be given out to anyone.
While the FBI got involved again and ultimately rescued the girl, she still remained convinced that her parents were unknowingly obstructing her from performing her duty, and her frustrations grew at the time. She was doing these things only to protect her family, especially her young sister, and it can be assumed that Jan knew what was happening was not very right. This was possibly why she was blindly trying to save her sister from something so wrong, but instead of thinking that Robert was the perpetrator, she believed that it was the aliens who put her in such a difficult position. It gradually took Jan a lot more time—at least four more years—to fully realize what was going on, and she feared at every step of the discovery. It was through doing things that she was not supposed to do (according to the aliens and Robert) that the girl understood what had happened to her, and “A Friend of the Family” takes adequate time and care to present this too. Jan had met with Robert sometime in 1979, too, before her sixteenth birthday, and the man still kept reminding her of her duties. On her sixteenth birthday, while her family and friends tried their best to cheer her up and enjoy the occasion, Jan remained extremely scared that she would be vaporized, and her sister would be abducted the very next day since she had failed the mission. Incidentally, Susan also gifts Jan a speaker that she had until now known to be a mouthpiece of the aliens, and the next morning, Jan also feels surprised and relieved at the fact that nothing had happened to her or her sister. Soon she went to a dance night at her school with a boy from her class and was also relieved to find that nothing happened to her when he touched her hand or when he came near. It was gradually now that Jan started to understand Robert to be the horrific sexual predator that he was.
How Were Bob And Mary Ann Repeatedly Duped By Robert?
At first glance, it does appear like Jan’s parents, Bob and Mary Ann, were most blind to their daughter’s situation, and that was somewhat the case too. However, both of the parents were also extremely simple-minded people who were not prepared to face such evil. From the beginning, there had been countless indications that Robert had convinced both Bob and Mary Ann to look past, and the fact that he could do so had laid the groundwork for the incidents later on. Robert used to see a therapist for his acute depression, and he told the Brobergs that he needed to lie down beside a young girl like Jan and connect more with her in order to help his struggles with mental health. While the parents had let the man do so, Robert’s sexual exploitation of Jan had begun from this time on, as he also used to regularly drug the girl with capsules, saying that they were pills against an allergy to horsehair. Robert used to then possibly break into Jan’s room and take advantage of her drugged state. For a very long time, even on the day of the first kidnapping, the Brobergs kept believing that nothing was wrong with Robert. However, the series shows Bob to have grown a bit suspicious and frustrated at the fact that Robert was spending so much time with his family members, often crossing boundaries and encroaching on family time as well. On the day of the first kidnapping, Bob repeatedly tells Robert not to take his daughter, as he wants the Broberg family to spend time on their own, but Robert manages to convince Mary Ann to get permission. Bob had realized that although Bob and Mary Ann were considered a strong and loving couple in the community, there was possibly a chink in their armor too, and he made use of this, along with their reputation as religious followers.
With Bob, who was a professional florist with his own shop, Robert feigned close friendship to then somehow make the man perform a sexual act with him. Although it did not have too much significance for Bob, Robert made use of this as an opportunity to blackmail the man soon after. When the FBI arrested Robert in Mexico, and a case of kidnapping was started against him, he convinced the Brobergs to sign an affidavit saying that they had given their permission to Robert to let him take their daughter to Mexico. The primary factor in this convincing was Robert threatening otherwise to reveal Bob’s homosexuality in court, which would hamper their life in the church and community. In the very religious community of 1970s America, homosexuality was a sin beyond forgiveness, and Bob gave in to Robert’s demand. Sometime later, while Jan was being returned to her home, Robert feigned attraction towards the mother, Mary Ann, wishing that they had met earlier in life, and then managed to make her believe that he was in love with her. Mary Ann was convinced too, even though her daughter had been earlier kidnapped by the same man, but the Brobergs still did not believe he had done anything too wrong. Mary Ann later admitted in court that the fact that Robert showed attraction to her and that the two also indulged in a sexual relationship convinced her that Robert did not have any sexual interest in her daughter. At one point, this relationship created a huge rift between Bob and Mary Ann, as the husband found out about her infidelity and wanted to end their marriage. Their reputation at church was also affected, as Bob himself admitted to his homosexual act and because Mary Ann had cheated on her husband. But as both the figures gradually realized that it was Robert who had played both of them, they reconciled and worked together to try and bring the man to justice and also to keep their daughter safe. Bob was directly affected by the whole situation when two men first tried to break into his shop, and then, later on, Robert sent two of his friends from prison to put his florist’s shop on fire.
“A Friend of the Family” also gives the Berchtold family some time, especially two characters—Robert’s wife, Gail, and their son Jasper. Gail’s character plays out exactly as a faithful wife who religiously follows her husband’s words in order to stay in his good books. It was Gail who made the Brobergs get more attached and believe in Robert, and she also seemed to genuinely like the family too. But when she realized that her husband might have done something wrong with Jan on that evening in 1974, she tried her best to cover for Robert and make the Brobergs delay informing the FBI about the incident. Perhaps Gail realized that she was not desired by her husband at all, and she tried her best to support him. But it did not ultimately work out for Gail either, since Robert divorced her before wanting to marry Jan. Jasper, who was possibly the same age as Jan and was also her classmate, also seems to have doubts regarding the relationship between his father and Jan. Especially when Jasper is seen working at Robert’s gaming arena, while his father gives Jan numerous gifts for her birthday, the boy is upset either because he feels their relation to be strange or because he feels Robert to be loving towards the girl, which he had never got from his own father. Either way, Jasper cannot help the situation or complain in any way and is instead taken notice of and comforted, in a way, by his uncle Joe.
‘A Friend of the Family’ Ending Explained: Was Robert Berchtold Ever Punished For His Crimes?
Even after two accounts of kidnapping and suspected pedophilia, Robert ultimately did not receive just punishment for his crimes. At the time, the idea of who a pedophile is and how culpable they are, can be deemed to be something very new and unheard of at the time. Robert’s own therapist and other practitioners who studied him later confirmed that he was a pedophile, and he had also made similar attempts on other young girls as well. While the first charge of kidnapping had resulted in a short prison sentence, the duration was shortened even more to just ten days spent behind bars. In the second case, Robert was kept in custody for some time and then put up for trial in court. The judge’s decision was to acquit him of the charges and instead send him to six months at a mental institution because Robert was considered to be sick and, therefore, unable to be punished for his acts. Even though the man was completely in control of all that he had done and was a master manipulator, too, he was not punished for the heinous acts he had committed.
On the other side, Jan grew up and published a book titled “Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story” which she had written with her mother, Mary Ann. During this time, Robert started to stalk them, and Jan subsequently filed for a restraining order against him. The two met in court once again in 2004, and “A Friend of the Family” shows an actual clip from the court trial, in which Robert publicly apologizes to Jan for what he had done to her. Understandably, Jan says that he should then admit his crimes and serve his time in prison for the same, but Robert ultimately committed suicide shortly after that. While the pathetic sexual predator could never be punished by the law, Jan and Mary Ann made use of their experiences in life to spread awareness and continue to help victims of sexual abuse even today.
“A Friend of the Family” is a 2022 Drama Thriller series created by Nick Antosca.