The new FX drama series “Kindred” has a really interesting concept at its core, but its execution almost always leaves us wanting more. Adapted from Octavia Butler’s novel of the same name, the show depicts twenty-six years old Dana James, who mysteriously starts to be pulled back centuries into the past, when slavery was the common law of the land, and her own ancestors were slaves on a plantation. While the supernatural and thriller elements seem adequate, Kindred’s surface-level treatment of racial abuse in American history and an overall lack of effect in its portrayal is what let it down.
‘Kindred’ Plot Summary: What Is the Series About?
Dana James, an aspiring writer for television, moves to Los Angeles to get herself professional opportunities. Despite being twenty-six, Dana has not found success in any profession yet, often being out of work and having mostly had to rely on her dear grandmother’s wealth. After the death of the grandmother, Dana was left with her big Brooklyn house as an inheritance, and she had just recently sold the property off before moving to LA. Here she buys a new, spacious house, which is rather big for her single life, but she is excited for a new chapter in her life. The woman had lost both her parents in a fatal car accident when she was just a young girl, and at present, her only relatives, incidentally, also live in LA. Her father’s sister, Denise, and the latter’s ex-police husband, Alan, are the only blood ties Dana has left, but she is not too keen to meet with her aunt and uncle either. Despite all proceedings having been carried out legally, there seems to be a bit of tension between Denise and Dana because the niece sold off her grandmother’s (Denise’s mother) house. Dana does not fret much about this and decides to keep minimal or no contact with her aunt and instead focus on her own life. She gets acquainted with a server named Kevin at a restaurant and soon gets romantically involved with him too.
However, there is a more unsettling thing going on with Dana after having moved to her new house, and at first, she believes herself to be sleepwalking. This is because she has been waking up at a particular spot in the new house after having gone to sleep in her bedroom, but the woman soon figures out the strange affair that has been going on with her. At sudden unexplainable moments, Dana gets transferred back in time to a period ranging over the 1800s and even meets her mother, Olivia, there. Despite this seeming like a dream or nightmare, the woman realizes that her travel back in time is very real and frighteningly personal. Dana now tries to figure out why this has been happening to her and what can be done to stop it.
What Happens With Dana In The Timeline Of The Past?
Gradually, as the series progresses, it becomes clear to both Dana and us viewers that there is a clear pattern in the moments Dana travels back in time and then returns to her present. The first time that this happens, the woman seems to have a dream in which she wakes up inside a plantation estate at the sound of someone putting a baby to sleep. Getting up to check, she realizes that the baby has been laid down on its stomach and that it would suffocate and die if she did not intervene. Finding herself alone in the room, Dana turns the baby over and then walks outside to see her mother talking to a white woman, who is Margaret Weylin, wife of the plantation owner, Thomas. When Dana makes her presence felt, both these women charge at her with fear and shock (naturally, since Dana has appeared out of thin air and is also clothed in modern attire), and this is when Dana wakes back up in her present reality. The second time, she travels back to the 1800s, when a young boy is about to drown in a river, and Dana has to quickly pull him out to save his life. It is clear that this boy, who is Thomas and Margaret’s son Rufus, is the same baby that Dana had saved in her first encounter. Once again, the woman is transported back to the present when Thomas points a gun at her and threatens to kill her. What becomes evident is that Dana is pulled back in time every time that Rufus’ life is in danger or when he believes he will die, and she is once again pushed back to present reality every time she is scared that she will lose her life. When Dana goes through this experience the second time, her new romantic interest Kevin is in the house but in a different room, and he obviously does not believe whatever she says. But the third time it happens, Kevin actually sees her vanish right in front of her eyes before eventually appearing out of nowhere in the empty drawing room of the house. This time around, Dana gets to spend some more time in the past, the year 1815 to be precise, as she turns up when the Weylin mansion catches fire, and she has to save Rufus from the burning building. With Thomas and his men once again looking for perpetrators who had caused the fire, Dana has to run through the woods and is helped by a Black man named Luke, who works under Thomas. Luke tells her to go to a woman named Hagar’s house, and here Dana meets with her mother, Olivia, once again. Both are obviously shocked to see each other, and Olivia reveals that she, too, had been pulled back to this historical timeline when she was 26 years old, but she has never been able to return to the present, unlike her daughter. Before Dana can help her mother some more, though, she is attacked by a patroller, who tries to force himself on her, and she returns to the present.
The next trip back is Dana’s longest so far, and this time around, she happens to tightly hold Kevin when she falls to the ground in pain inside her LA house. As it turns out to be, Kevin is also transported back to the 1800s, and the two pose as weary travelers robbed of their possessions on the road, looking for some shelter at the Weylin estate. Since she is already here without any desire of her own and also can return to her reality only by fate, Dana decides to make it her point to somehow help her mother out of this time warp. But after tracking down and talking to Olivia, she has a different understanding of the whole matter. Even though Dana had experienced these supernatural pullbacks in the past over a period of just one or two days until now, many years had passed in this past timeline between the times when she showed up. It is almost like a minute spent in the present is equivalent to a whole day spent in the past. Because of this difference in how time passed and the fact that she was never able to go back to her reality, Olivia had spent years at the place and had developed relationships she could not just abandon and leave. Talking to her aunt Denise, Dana learns that her mother’s body had never been found after the accident, for she had driven the car into a lake. Dana now believes that her mother had actually been pulled back into the past and had not really died in the accident. Olivia reveals that after coming back to the 1800s, she first worked as a slave and attendant to Margaret Weylin, who was struggling to have, or rather keep, a child alive, and it was under her guidance that Rufus was born and brought up. However, Margaret was always extremely prejudiced and harsh towards all Blacks, as was the custom in the region back then. Out of this racist perspective, she believed that it was Olivia who had started the fire in their estate that had almost killed them and Rufus. Ever since then, she had been driven out of the estate and had become a free woman, living with Hagar and her young daughter Alice. But Hagar too had died, sometime after Dana had visited her house during her previous time travel, and it was now Olivia who looked after Alice and stayed with her in Hagar’s house. Even though Dana makes multiple attempts to convince her mother that she could easily take her back to the present, just like she brought Kevin into it and also her neighbor’s cat at one instance, or like Kevin once took back a ring Olivia gave him, the mother refuses to leave. She explains how she has grown into a mother figure for Alice and wants the girl to grow up as a free woman. For this, she refuses to leave until something can be done for Alice. It is also Olivia who is called on by the Blacks of the Weylin plantation whenever any medical or any sort of major help is required.
The idea of America’s racist past is obviously a huge focus in “Kindred,” and various sides of it are presented in the times when Dana and Kevin spend days at the Weylin house. They decide to keep up with any pretense required to be safe till Dana can figure out exactly what she is supposed to do, and for this, Dana needs to pretend to be Kevin’s slave. Even though the protagonist woman is always tough and unmoving against the racist orders that she is often given, at times, Dana has to go through the misery that her whole race had to go through over a period in history. There would be torture and beatings at every possible opportunity, with Thomas Weylin himself often partaking in such punishing, and the plight of women was even worse. Along with everything else, Thomas also made some of the Black women at his plantation indulge in sexual acts with him, and in one instance, one such woman got pregnant as well. Thomas’ portrayal is like a typical racist estate owner of the time, as he is ruthless enough to starve all his workers as punishment for one of them having escaped the plantation. He is equally horrible towards his wife Margaret, as to him, everybody is beneath him, a white man. Thomas is always frustrated and angry with his son Rufus too, often threatening to kill him. Margaret is helpless against such unjust treatment, but she, in turn, carries out similar atrocious treatment on the workers and attendants of the house. Rufus is mostly bored around the house, and incidentally, he had been the one to start a fire in the estate house. The boy takes an immediate liking to Dana, for she reads him stories, but he keeps referring to her using racist terms. The various guests and friends or family members who arrive at the house over the stretch of time shown also bring out the attitude of the times. There seems to be a sort of parallel drawn between all the whites of the 1800s and the nosy neighbors at Dana’s present-day LA house, Hermione and her husband, Carlo. The way these typical wealthy white people believe in having their own privilege and high ground and act with the mixed-race couple is more in line with the modern world, but at the end of the day, they are just harassing Dana and Kevin in a roundabout manner. They are very piqued by their new Black neighbor and seem to get even more concerned when they find her with a white man. However, it needs to be mentioned that Kindred’s portrayal of the neighbors is rather careful and soft, as opposed to being direct and resonating with the present reality. If there is this parallel drawn between the two timelines, then it is a rather weak one. Also, interesting to note is that the series mentions its present timeline as being 2016 when racism was arguably tremendously on the rise in America.
What Was Dana Required To Do In The Past Timeline?
After Olivia turns down Dana’s offer to take her back to the present, the woman turns her attention to what is required of her in the 1800s timeline. This thought becomes primary to Dana in order to escape this loop, and she gradually comes to the realization that she is hereditarily related to Rufus, meaning that the young boy was an ancestor of hers. The fact that she was being forcefully brought into the past every time there was a threat to Rufus’ life makes more sense with this realization. Had Rufus died in either of these situations, there would be no existence of Dana, and therefore she was being brought to the past to save her own lineage and existence. It seems like all of Dana’s family, on her mother’s side, had been involved in such a twisted play of having to save their predecessor and their lineage. It is reported that Dana’s grandmother had left her mother when she was just a child and gone away somewhere, never keeping any contact since then. Dana’s mother, Olivia, also apparently died in a car crash, leaving her daughter alone as a young girl. It is perhaps evident that her grandmother, too, had been pulled back into the past, but Olivia never met her because she might have gone away from the plantation, been killed, or died. However, it was only Dana, so far, who could actually return to her present time as well. After some more thinking, Dana realizes that a young girl of around the same age as Rufus is a good friend of the boy, even though she is black and is a slave of the family. This girl, Carrie, is the daughter of the plantation’s head cook, Sarah, and she is often seen providing company to Rufus, even though Sarah does not want her to be in the estate house. Incidentally, it had been Sarah who had tried to cause baby Rufus’ death the first time Dana had visited; Sarah did not want Margaret to become a mother, and she had also previously led to her previous babies’ deaths. Dana comes to the conclusion that Rufus and Carrie will have a child in the future, who would then go on to bear children, leading to herself. The reason the woman believes so is that she had earlier spoken with her aunt Denise about her mother’s accident and their family. Denise had mentioned something about the name Carrie being in their family, and Dana had stuck with this name. She understands that her whole purpose of being in the past is to ensure that Carrie and Rufus grow up together and stay in the same place before getting involved with each other and having a baby. Despite a number of instances working against her plans, Dana does manage to keep Carrie safe at the plantation until some point. During this time, she and Kevin also decide to try and help the whole racist slavery situation in their own way as much as possible. Kevin’s talents with music get him appointed as the piano teacher for Rufus, and during his time spent with the young boy, the man tries to teach him about racial injustice and the rights of all humans to be treated equally. Kevin, of course, cannot do all of this in the most direct way, but this is what he intends to do with the child, hoping that Rufus will grow up to be a much better man than his father. On the other side, Dana teaches Carrie and another boy of their age, Nigel, how to read so that they will not remain so helpless after growing up.
All of this changes with time, though, when Margaret’s sister May visits the house. May tells Dana that she is a woman of liberal thoughts, having spent a long time with like-minded people in Boston, and she is of the belief that Thomas is a terrible father and husband. She convinces Margaret to leave her husband and go live with her, and the sister agrees to it. However, this creates major difficulty for Dana’s plan, for Margaret takes her son Rufus along with her, and the protagonist is now stuck on the plantation only with Carrie. Meanwhile, Thomas had been on a trip with Kevin, during which the latter could not simply maintain his pretensions of being a racist. He has a spat with Thomas, for which the latter abandons him and threatens not to return to his plantation. Kevin somehow reaches Hagar’s house and informs Olivia of this happening. Back at the plantation, Thomas returns home to find his wife and son gone. Sending men in search of them to bring them back, the man turns his attention towards Dana. For this long, he had known Dana to have been Kevin’s slave, but now he reveals to her that her master is lost and tells her to be his slave instead. Dana denies such a horrible offer, of course, but it is clear later that night that the owner is not someone to listen to a woman’s decisions, much less a Black woman’s. He informs Dana, through Sarah, that she is Thomas’ slave from now on.
‘Kindred’ Ending Explained: What Happens to Dana and Kevin? Who Was Dana’s Real Ancestor?
The next morning, as Olivia arrived hurriedly at the plantation to save her daughter, Sarah informed her that Dana had left the place the previous night. While Sarah had indeed tried to make Dana leave the place, she had refused to do so, possibly so she would not lose track of Carrie as well. Thomas, who walks into Sarah and Olivia’s conversation, suspects something is wrong, and on his rounds through the plantation, he finds Dana with his books. Thomas had ordered Dana to never read or touch his books a number of times before, as it was illegal for Blacks to read during this time, and he is livid at the woman’s defiance. He is even more shocked when Dana offers to give him reading lessons, teaching him how to read, as she understands that the man cannot read beyond basic numbers and arithmetic. Insulted by such a proposition, Thomas cruelly drags Dana through the courtyard and into the barn, where he lashes his whip on her back treacherously without end. Olivia, who was in the kitchen at the time, hears the cries of her daughter and rushes to the scene. Pushing Thomas away, she jumps onto Dana and holds her tightly, and this is the exact moment when Dana feels that she is about to die. She is swiftly brought back to the present, inside her newly bought house in LA, with no sign of her mother. She takes a bath to ease her pains, which are still fresh on her back when the police arrive at her door after multiple complaints from the neighbors. Dana informs her aunt that she is back and also manages the situation with the police, convincing them that nothing is wrong inside her house. Denise comes over the next morning, and she finally agrees to believe her niece. After listening to all of it, Denise suggested that Dana go through their family Bible to know exactly when the next ancestor would be born so that she could plan accordingly and break the loop. Dana goes through the records of all her ancestors on her father’s side of the family and realizes that it was not Carrie who was related to her. It was instead Alice, who had gone on to have a child with Rufus, and this bloodline had led down to Dana.
“Kindred” season 1 ends at this very crucial juncture, almost making it certain that a second season would be in the works. As Dana tries to prepare for her next pullback to the past in a frenzied state, Kevin is shown still living in the past. The man had been left behind by Dana unwillingly, and he was informed about it by Thomas himself, who arrived at Hagar’s house and questioned him about Dana and Olivia’s disappearance. Although only hours pass in the present, many years seem to have passed in the 1800s, as Kevin is seen again, this time with white hair, but he has not taken on any role as a racist slave owner. Alice, who is in her teenage years, is seen in his company as the two ride their horses together. At the very end, back in the present timeline, Denise’s husband Alan also calls her up to inform her that Dana’s mother, Olivia, had indeed been found by the police in her house. This proves that the whole time-travel shenanigan was, after all, very real. How Dana might rejoin Kevin and how she would ensure that Alice and Rufus would meet and have a child are matters kept away for a possible second season.
“Kindred” is a 2022 Drama Science Fiction series created by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.