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12 Most Troubling Scenes From A Friend Of The Family Ranked

Anyone who watched the 2017 Netflix documentary "Abducted in Plain Sight" knows the deep recesses of horrifying depths they would encounter in the new Peacock series "A Friend of the Family," which dramatizes those events. For those who went in without any prior knowledge of the suavely malevolent crimes of Robert Berchtold (Jake Lacy), neither the opening greeting from the real Jan Broberg nor the TV-MA rating warning us of sexual abuse will prepare them for what is in store. 

Make no mistake, "A Friend of the Family" is a superbly acted, powerfully told, and immensely well-crafted look at one of the most bizarre kidnapping cases in history, but it is alarmingly stressful to watch. Nearly every piece of it is troubling and hard to stomach. We're going to run down the 12 most troubling scenes from the series, but be warned — the content to come talks directly about predatory acts of a sexual nature, as depicted in Peacock's "A Friend of the Family." 

It is both highly upsetting and full of spoilers. Proceed with caution.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

12. B wants to watch Jan sing

When we first meet Robert Berchtold in "A Friend of the Family," it is in a neighborly fashion as his clan meets the family of Bob and Mary Ann Broberg (Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin). Since both patriarchs are called Bob, Berchtold chummily offers up a nickname for himself — B –- and insists everyone call him that, thus establishing himself as a buddy to everyone there. They meet up for dinner and the casual –- even child-like –- frivolity of a picnic in the living room is a big hit, but B only has eyes for Jan (Hendrix Yancey, at this age). 

B zeroes in on her and, in a deceptively informal way, mentions being bowled over by their little theater production. Flattered and glowing from the special attention, Jan agrees to sing for them all. Just before she does, B distances himself from his wife and kids and moves to the center of the floor, in a direct, unbroken line of sight to Jan. He smiles at her, but there's a smile for himself too. 

If that's not enough to send chills down anyone's spine that this grown man is so taken with a preteen girl, the musical transition into Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" should drive it home.

11. B tells Jan they were abducted by aliens

Jan was meant to be going horseback riding in Episode 1 of Peacock's "A Friend of the Family," but after B gives her a so-called allergy pill, she nods off in the car and wakes up in a small room, chained to a bed with restraints. A disembodied, mechanical voice is telling her over and over that she is the supposed female companion. Jan doesn't understand, her screams go unanswered, and she's left like that for an untold amount of time — scared out of her wits and all alone. 

When she comes to again at the start of Episode 2, she's free of her bonds and finds B seemingly passed out with a bloody gash on his head. She shakes him in terror, at which point he pretends to wake up and tells an elaborate tale of alien abduction. Viewers can see B's act as ridiculous, just as the police initially investigating their disappearance can see B's driver's side window was broken from the inside. The audience might laugh incredulously as he stops moving in an apparent communication trance. However, for a 12-year-old girl raised in an insular Mormon community to be told this story by someone of B's stature — someone who was practically family — it has to be true. 

Jan has every reason to believe him, which is what makes the scene so grossly upsetting.

10. B seduces Mary Ann

It's hard to understand how someone can be seduced by a man who just got out of a Mexican jail for absconding with their tween daughter. However, as Jan Broberg discussed in Time, a predator grooms everyone in a child's support system, in addition to the child, gaining confidence and sowing dissension in equal measure to keep them all off-balance. B cultivates a friendship with Bob juxtaposed with adulatory praise and secretive "guy talk" about Mary Ann's legs and long-ago sexual trysts. B is a charming, handsome guy, and by sidling up to Bob in this manner he's essentially inviting him to sit at the cool kids' table. 

With Mary Ann, B presents himself as someone who really sees her and understands her quibbles with daily life, zeroing in on the ways she is perhaps overlooked and taken for granted by her family. He knows Bob, proud to have a wife someone like B considers sexy, will brag to Mary Ann about B complimenting her legs. Moreover, he knows Mary Ann will be seduced a little by that comment because her salt-of-the-earth husband hasn't looked at her lustfully in maybe ever. So when B ramps up his attention on her with whispered confessions about how he wishes he'd met her before Gail, she is primed to accept it.

The abduction becomes an onslaught of cognitive dissonance. Mary Ann doesn't understand what happened — none of it makes sense to her and she can't fathom the possibility of anything nefarious. Reassured by doctors that Jan hasn't been touched, Mary Ann is willing to believe, beyond all rationality, that this was some desperate attempt for B to be with her. It makes sense in a twisted, awful way — which only makes the scene all the creepier.

9. Mary Ann speeds through town looking for Jan

Imagine the series of events up to this point from Mary Ann's perspective. Her daughter Jan is taken and missing for four months by someone they consider an honorary family member. She comes back withdrawn but seemingly fine, still fixated on and adoring of B, who literally asks to marry this 12-year-old girl as a condition of bringing her home. After several tense months, Jan (Mckenna Grace, at this age) starts angling to go to some camp in Wyoming. Her parents don't know that B is behind this scheme, but they still don't want her to leave after what they just went through. 

Eventually, Mary Ann makes a quick run to the store, asking Jan to keep an eye on her sisters. When she returns only minutes later, her youngest has a broken arm and Jan is nowhere in sight. As a viewer, you can almost feel Mary Ann's gut drop to the ground. Overwhelmed with panic, she hurries her two other girls into the car and races through the streets looking for her oldest. 

It's a heart-pounding moment. The girls are wailing while Mary Ann's speed edges higher and higher as she swerves around cars into oncoming traffic. Suddenly, we're left with dead silence as Mary Ann emerges from the now-empty airport, Jan-less and hopeless. Cue the tears.

8. The kids love B the most

When B gives himself his nickname, he insists that even the children call him that, which is obviously a tactic meant to place himself in a position of friend and peer to the children instead parental authority. It works. Repeatedly, B drives the kids to school, building up his rapport and camaraderie with the kids, and always makes a point to ask them who they love the most — aside from their mom and dad, of course. "B!" they all shout back excitedly. Eventually, he drops the exception, and B is still enthusiastically proclaimed the most loved.

As the series hops back and forth along the timeline, showing B's abduction of young Jan followed by all the ways he was able to get himself to that point, the audience watches Berchtold ingratiate himself with the Broberg family in a dozen subtle ways. Driving the kids to school at first seems like a helpful gesture that alleviates some of the stress out of Mary Ann's day, although it becomes clear he's planned this move with time and precision. 

Taking the kids to school endears him to Mary Ann, not just as a favor but by recognizing her needs in a way that her husband can't. Beyond that, it gives him extended, unsupervised bonding time with the children. Suddenly every car ride is creepier than the last, as the subliminal suggestions he makes of himself being their favorite friend (on a level playing field with them, not as an authority figure) is revealed to be a calculated indoctrination into his own personal cult.

7. Mary Ann experiences some nauseating deja vu

When Jan first goes missing in "A Friend of the Family," Bob and Mary Ann spout similar refrains regarding their trust and close bond with B. They explain that he would do anything for their girls and that the Berchtolds are like an extension of their own family. As viewers, it's a pretty upsetting collection of scenes in its own right. However, when Jan runs away after the Jackson Hole fiasco, this time with B controlling things to appear completely blameless, the Brobergs grow desperate. 

After B is spotted in Utah with a girl matching Jan's general age and description, Bob and Mary Ann drive all night to see if they can find her. They don't, of course — B's smarter than that — but when the local police identify the girl and her mother, they ask Mary Ann to come and identify her as the same one spotted with B. She does and overhears the mother of another vulnerable child echo her previous statements about how B is such a wonderful man, such a help, and so trusted — just like a member of the family. 

Anna Paquin's performance shows every inch of the horror that dawns on Mary Ann as she overhears this line of questioning. Moments later, the sound of her pained retching emanating through the door is a moment so earned it would've felt wrong had it not happened. At that moment, it's plain that Mary Ann is consumed with self-loathing, regret, and devastation -– understandably so. It's a stellar moment for the character and the actress, but it's hard to watch that much pain engulf someone at once.

6. Gail threatens Bob on B's behalf

There is ambiguity in "A Friend of the Family" as to Gail Berchtold's role in her husband's crimes, but actress Lio Tipton told Hollywood Life that she thinks Gail is a victim herself. Indeed, some scenes in early episodes appear to back that up. For instance, B says she can't attract him anymore, Gail admits she was around Jan's age when she met B, and B says she used to be his sweet angel, but she's not anymore. It certainly feels like Gail was likely another of B's victims who kept being victimized for years afterward.

We already know that B is a pedophile and strictly controlling, but FBI Agent Welsh (Austin Stowell) explains that B is a sociopath who doesn't experience emotions. He feels no compunction for threatening Gail and willingly entraps her into doing his dirty work. B implores her to make sure he doesn't run into any trouble, just as he rails at Jan for crashing his car. He wouldn't think twice about strong-arming her into spying for him, hence his knowledge of the recording device on their phone. 

The most troubling thing Gail does for B, though, is when she threatens to expose Bob as a homosexual. Now, Bob's probably not gay — and, of course, there would be nothing wrong with Bob if he were gay — though trying to convince a bunch of Idahoans that in the '70s would've been rough. However, Bob's whole existence is his religious community, and his life would all be decimated if people started hearing rumors. B uses that fear and shame as leverage, and he's more than capable of using whatever leverage he has over Gail to exert his influence. The whole twisted mess is enough to make anyone squirm.

5. Jan's responsibilities

In a short scene during the series finale, Jan is shown talking to her therapist (the real Jan Broberg, in a particularly poignant cameo). This is after B is finally sent to jail following his removal of Jan across state lines and placement of her in a private school under an assumed name. Mckenna Grace is phenomenal in this entire episode — which should be submitted fully intact as her Emmy consideration reel — but there's a particular weighty sorrow she manages to convey as she sits there, unwilling to open up yet in desperate need of some connection.

As her therapist explains that Jan is not the one at fault here, that B is the adult and therefore is responsible for his actions in a way that Jan isn't, wasn't, and never could be, Jan's entire face clouds over. She is responsible, she says, and the heavy burden of that supposed responsibility she's now carried for four solid years is apparent in her eyes, voice, and posture. No one should ever have to feel that way. Ever.

4. What it feels like to be vaporized

Blessedly, the producers do not show or even imply any sex acts between B and Jan through much of the series. However, as she approaches her all-important 16th birthday, she sneaks away again and meets B for an evening at the familiar RV after he manages to worm his way out of a mental health facility to visit. He greets her and escorts her inside. 

When we next see them, Jan is retying the belt of her dress and asks B if he thinks this will be successful at getting her pregnant –- still the supposed goal of this fabricated mission. Jake Lacy, who absolutely kills it performance-wise, manages a look that is both confused and impatient. It's like he's forgotten his own lie, and he's tired of having to reassure Jan. He has literally no patience anymore for the emotional needs of a girl he conditioned to be dependent on him. 

It's so narcissistic and crass that it's jaw-dropping, but he doesn't stop there. Not satisfied with just getting her to go and maybe irritated that he's had to expend more time and energy on her than he wanted, he visibly delights in tormenting her with his answer to her question about what it's like to be vaporized. She is taut as a piano wire, paralyzed by fear that the moment she turns 16 she will suffer the wrath of aliens and her baby sister will have to take her place as B's female companion. Tears run down Jan's cheeks as he goes on and on about the fabricated torture of being vaporized. 

It's uncomfortable, awful, infuriating, and cruel. You would be forgiven for wishing she stepped on the gas and ran him over rather than reversing her car and driving home.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

3. B's sexual coercion of Bob

One shocking revelation from the "Abducted in Plain Sight" documentary was that Robert Berchtold had sexual contact with both of Jan's parents, then used those relationships to keep them distanced and distracted from Jan. It was an effective strategy. Dramatizing these events allows the audience more context. 

Here, the manipulation and extortion of Bob Broberg is far more sinister than the unvarnished facts attest to. While Bob participates in manually satisfying B, this is not a consensual act between two partners. B has befriended Bob, confided in him, and urged him to tell the most deviant story Bob can give. Bob, with embarrassment and trepidation, reveals a delicate secret from his early, confusing, and curious puberty, which B exploits. B sits in the driver seat of his car, in complete control, and implores Bob, a man without close male friendships dedicated to a life of religion and service, to help him. B reveals painful secrets of his marriage — or so Bob believes — and insists that this kind of activity is a normal behavior that will save him from committing a greater sin. 

Colin Hanks perfectly reflects Bob's fear of being alone with this man and his unwillingness to participate set against his reluctance to make a scene. These impulses are framed by his overwhelming discomfort at his deepest secret being used as currency minutes after he confessed it. B undoes his pants and grabs Bob's hand, forcing initial contact while maintaining verbal pressure the whole time, not allowing Bob's mind to clear. This is assault via coercion, made evident by the closing title card indicating it took Bob 42 years to detail that encounter to his wife. It's easily one of the most triggering moments of the entire series.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

2. Jan's birthday

Since the start of the imaginary mission, B has been forcing himself on Jan under the guise of having a baby to appease the alien race. B, being the sick puppy he is, isn't interested in an ever-growing, womanly Jan. He gets angry at the sight of her in lipstick and has a hard cut-off date for the mission: Jan's 16th birthday. At this point, she will be too old to meet his desires and he will move on to someone else's daughter. However, he tells Jan that if she fails, her entire family will pay the price. Her parents will be vaporized and possibly even be taken. Her sister Karen (Maggie Sonnier) will go blind, and her youngest sister Susan (Norah Murphy) will take her place as the female companion.

It is a nightmare scenario for anyone, and Jan isn't just anyone. She's been manipulated and brainwashed for four straight years. She's been told not to trust her family or friends and that she can only answer to B, who has been warning and threatening her of imminent danger if she steps out of line. Beyond that, she has been told that the aliens are always watching. No one could be expected to go through that unscathed, so when the morning of her birthday arrives, Jan is about to break. She believes she has failed, and her only way out might be her father's gun — to save herself and young Susan from a fate worse than death. 

The sight of her sobbing in her bed after her party, bracing for the coming pain, is enough to make all the subsequent scenes of her realizations of the truth –- and the copious tears that accompany them -– nothing less than a cathartic release.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

1. Agent Welsh sits down with the bishop

Episode 7 depicts Agent Welsh having a conversation with Bishop Paulsen (Joe Chrest) about the reason for B's referral by the church to a therapist. This scene is so horrifying, so mind-boggling, and so awful it defies any claim that we are a civilized people. They knew –- the Mormon Church knew -– not only what B was, but specifically violations he had already committed against Jan — to say nothing of the other girls they knew about, and they kept it secret for the sake of the church and the man. They paid no mind to the sake of the child. 

There are hardly words to describe how fundamentally twisted that is, and it reveals major failures in the belief systems, structures, and oppressive societies that have allowed this all to be perpetrated against Jan Broberg and countless others. The look of sickened terror spreading across Welsh's face lets us know we are not alone in our shock and disgust — but that doesn't make this scene any easier to watch.