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The Ending Of A Friend Of The Family Explained

Actress Jan Broberg has a successful career in film and television, but her early life was marked by trauma. The Peacock original series "A Friend Of The Family" tells the incredible true story of her teenage experiences with Robert Berchtold, a predator who targeted Jan and her family. Berchtold repeatedly abused Jan between the ages of twelve and sixteen and kidnapped her twice. He expertly manipulated her unsuspecting parents into believing he was harmless and friendly, even entrapping them both in sordid affairs with himself. Although Berchtold's toxicity was limitless, the series finale, "Revelation," starts the next chapter of Jan's story.

This episode highlights the true depth of Robert Berchtold's depravity and reveals that Jan wasn't his only victim. However, the finale also brings new awareness, heartbreaking admissions, and the first steps toward healing. Most importantly, the end of "A Friend Of The Family" provides a window into the real-life events that have unfolded since Jan severed ties with Berchtold. In the nearly five decades since the series' events, Jan Broberg has bravely opened up about her experiences and shared her story with a broader audience. 

"A Friend Of The Family" isn't just a show about childhood trauma — it's the origin story of an advocate for childhood sexual assault survivors. Here is the ending of "A Friend Of The Family," explained.

Jan Broberg makes a cameo

Jan Broberg's heavy involvement in the making of "A Friend Of The Family" lends a welcome authenticity to the series. In addition to acting as one of the series' producers, she joins the cast in a series finale cameo. She stars as a therapist who tries to help young Jan (Mckenna Grace) make sense of her experiences with Robert Berchtold (Jake Lacy). She also encourages Jan's father, Bob (Colin Hanks), as he struggles to reconnect with Jan after she returns home. This scene is one of the most touching moments in the finale and demonstrates Bob's desperation to give his daughter what she needs to heal from her ordeal.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Broberg discusses what it was like to film this cameo. She describes an uncanny similarity she uncovered between Colin Hanks and her father. The two men share the catchphrase, "Hello, doctor," which they both use when greeting people. In her interview, Jan says that her father used this greeting whenever a potential suitor came to the door for her, and she was shocked by Colin coincidentally using the same catchphrase. 

However, this wasn't the only time she felt a strong resemblance between Colin Hanks and her father. In the same interview, Jan described meeting Colin at the premiere with her family and remembered, "It felt like we were meeting dad. We couldn't get over that feeling that it was like he has the same kind of heart."

Innocence lost is a recurring theme

The final scenes of the series finale dramatize the real Berchtold's abuse of other girls throughout his life. Audiences see a series of young girls staring blankly at the camera, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. The adults in their lives clearly have no idea what awful secrets the girls are hiding. These troubling scenes echo a recurring theme in "A Friend Of The Family"  — loss of innocence. Jan Broberg is just one of several individuals who were manipulated, blackmailed, and victimized by Robert Berchtold. The title "A Friend Of The Family" is fitting not just because of Berchtold's initial role in the Brobergs' lives but because he targeted the whole family.

At the beginning of the series, Jan's parents Bob and Mary Ann (Anna Paquin) are well-meaning if slightly naive. By the end of the series, they have learned some hard lessons about the existence of evil in the world. Most notably, the scene in which they learn the full scope of Berchtold's crimes against their daughter is painful to watch. 

However, the Broberg family aren't the only ones who lose their innocence in this series. Although audiences don't have much background information on Berchtold's wife, Gail (Lio Tipton), the series does reveal that she was also a young teen when she met her husband. Although Gail initially supports her husband, she arguably loses her innocence a second time when she realizes his interest in her has waned in favor of pursuing Jan.

Bob and Mary Ann reconcile

Infidelity is difficult for any couple to overcome, and the Brobergs' marriage nearly ends in divorce over Mary Ann's affair with Berchtold. In "The Bitter Cup," Bob goes as far as to have Mary Ann declared unfit to be around their children, and she temporarily moves out of the house. Bob and Mary Ann reconcile, but audiences are left to question whether the reconciliation is truly permanent until the finale. Finally, in a minor scene, Mary Ann tells Bob that she misses him, and Bob professes that he will always love her. Audiences are left feeling hopeful that the whole Broberg family is on the road to recovery.

This fictional moment reflects the eventual outcome of the real Brobergs' marriage. Berchtold's actions may have disrupted their lives together in the 1970s, but these events weren't enough to drive the couple apart permanently. Despite Mary Ann's affair, Jan's kidnapping, and all of the other trials they faced, the real Brobergs weathered the storm and remained married. According to The Cinemaholic, Bob and Mary Ann spent 57 years together. Bob was also very supportive of Jan and Mary Ann's efforts to use Jan's story as a tool to raise awareness for abuse victims. Unfortunately, their marriage ended in 2018 when Bob died at 80.

Jan breaks Berchtold's spell

Throughout the series, Jan's 16th birthday looms as a supposed day of reckoning for her and Robert Berchtold's 'mission.' As the day approaches, Jan becomes more confident that she and her sisters will suffer a terrible fate because she has failed to have a child with Berchtold. Even audiences are unsure of what the day will bring since Berchtold has demonstrated a consistent track record of manipulating Jan. However, instead of being a day full of horrors, Jan's birthday ends up being peaceful. Her desperate fear throughout most of the finale demonstrates how effectively Berchtold controls her perspective of their relationship.

Later, when Jan dares to attend a school dance, a vision of Berchtold dancing with her younger self haunts the dance floor. Although this is a short-lived moment, it effectively conveys Jan's complicated feelings about her abuser. Her younger self appears happy in the vision, but present-day Jan looks transfixed with terror. It's clear that these early memories have a new meaning since her 16th birthday and that she no longer sees her relationship with Berchtold as a positive part of her life. 

As the vision fades, Jan reconnects with the present moment — she's a teenage girl dancing with a boy her age amidst a sea of other couples, and Berchtold is nowhere in sight.

Religion plays a major role

The Brobergs are deeply enmeshed in the Mormon church community and instill their religious values in their children. Unfortunately, their participation in this community leads them to Robert Berchtold's doorstep. Religion plays a significant role in nearly every episode, including the finale. Even as Jan misguidedly considers killing herself and her sister, she prays for guidance. She genuinely believes she will save her sister from an even worse fate, but her faith makes this decision even more impossible to contemplate. 

According to Forbes, Jan's faith may have influenced her ability to believe Berchtold's story about extraterrestrials. Aswell explains, "The religion has a view of the universe that involves other populated planets in the universe and a rich celestial world." Stories about alien life would therefore seem perfectly plausible to a young member of the Mormon church. 

Despite his crimes, religion also served as a safe haven for Robert Berchtold. Audiences learn in "The Great Deceiver" that the church sheltered Berchtold after he made unwanted advances toward the bishop's daughter, Nicole Paulsen (Ava Grace Roberts). Instead of taking legal action against him, Bishop Matthew Paulsen (Joe Chrest) refers Berchtold to a non-profit social services organization after the incident. This occurrence is unfortunately common across many religions and isn't unique to the Morman church or the Broberg family.

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)​.

Jan speaks her truth

Although the series hints at the existence of abuse, audiences can't be sure about precisely what Jan has experienced until the finale of "A Friend Of The Family." Among the most heartbreaking scenes in the episode occurs when she finally tells her parents about what she experienced with Berchtold. The family cries together, and Bob and Mary Ann feel the full weight of their mistakes in letting Berchtold get close to their daughter. As difficult as this scene is for the Brobergs, it marks the beginning of their journey toward healing as a family.

In real life, Jan Broberg also struggled to admit that Berchtold had abused her. Kathryn Doherty and Clare Fordham of BBC Radio 5 Live spoke with Jan about her experiences, and the actress explained how difficult it was to open up about Berchtold's abuse. She describes keeping the abuse a secret from her parents despite years of suffering. In time, Jan gained the courage to share her truth with her parents, but some aspects of what happened to her were more challenging to discuss than others. Speaking to BBC, Jan said, "I wasn't able to talk definitively or explicitly about the sexual abuse. It was really hard for me to do."

Berchtold's family falls silent

Though the series focuses on the Brobergs' story, part of their initial interactions with Robert Berchtold also involve his wife and children. The Broberg girls befriend Berchtold's sons, and the two sets of parents socialize frequently. His wife, Gail, even plays a significant role in how the Brobergs handled Jan's first kidnapping. However, as events unfold, Berchtold's family slowly disappears from the series. Once he and Gail divorce mid-series, audiences rarely see glimpses of the Berchtold family again. Although the Brobergs' story comes to a satisfying conclusion in the finale, audiences are still left wondering what became of Gail, who may also have been an early victim.

While the real-life Brobergs adopted a public platform to share their experiences with Berchtold, Gail and her children faded into anonymity. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Jan Broberg explains that after her first kidnapping, the real Gail Berchtold divorced her husband and left town with the couple's children. Jan also notes that Gail never responded to requests from Netflix producers of the documentary "Abducted In Plain Sight," an earlier retelling of the Broberg family's story. To this day, the former Mrs. Berchtold has never spoken out about her ex-husband's crimes, and neither she nor her children have ever contacted Jan.

The Brobergs write a book

The "A Friend Of The Family" finale ends with a brief epilogue detailing the main characters' fates. For Jan Broberg, her path to healing from abuse eventually led to the book, "Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story." Mary Ann Broberg authored the book with Jan's help, launching their strange-but-true family story into the spotlight in 2003. Jan and Mary Ann have used the book's popularity to start a broad dialogue about the realities of childhood sexual abuse and to educate parents about how to spot potentially dangerous people in their child's lives.

According to People, Jan Broberg's inspiration for sharing her story came 14 years before the release of her mother's book, when she once spoke about her abuse at a friend's book club meeting. Broberg explains that she was hesitant to address her painful history in this forum but doesn't regret doing so. People notes that "Broberg credits the book club with helping her look at her ordeal in a clear-eyed way." According to Jan, telling her story to the book club attendees motivated her to be more open about the harrowing experiences of her childhood.

Berchtold evades justice

Despite victimizing an untold number of children, Robert Berchtold managed to avoid serving any significant jail time. According to Newsweek, Berchtold did serve a one-year sentence for assaulting another child, but he never really paid for his crimes against Jan Broberg. The minimal time he spent in a mental institution, as depicted in "A Friend Of The Family," is a relatively accurate portrayal of his punishment. Unfortunately, it also appears that most of his other victims stayed silent about their experiences with this dangerous predator.

Worse, Berchtold's later actions suggest that he probably didn't feel remorse for his crimes. Simons notes that when Jan and Mary Ann released their book in 2003, Berchtold tried to silence them by suing them and publicly refuting the story. Then, two years later, Berchtold's crusade against his former victim took an unexpected turn. After an incident at one of Jan's speaking engagements, Berchtold faced assault charges. While awaiting sentencing, Berchtold took his own life to avoid prison. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jan Broberg describes feeling relieved when she found out about his death but also regretful for all the other people he hurt.

Jan faces her abuser

In the series, Jan hangs up when Berchtold calls for the last time, indicating that she is free of his influence and ready to move on with her life. However, he relentlessly harassed Jan in real life even after she cut ties with him. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jan explains Berchtold's attempts to maintain contact with her over the years. Jan recalled, "He found me at college. He found my apartment and called my apartment. He found me when I lived in Florida, working for Disney World." However, none of his advances deterred Jan from embarking on a national speaking tour and becoming a champion for other childhood abuse survivors.

At the end of the series finale of "A Friend Of The Family," audiences see a small clip of Jan finally facing her abuser in court. However, this court appearance isn't related to Berchtold's 1970s offenses. According to NBC Insider, Jan Broberg filed a restraining order against Berchtold for harassing her at speaking engagements and attempting to discredit her. The article explains that Berchtold asked Jan why she was publicly sharing her story, and the actress gave a perfect summation of her mission. She said, "My goal, Mr. Berchtold, is to educate the public about predators like you." 

When audiences hear Jan utter this line in the courtroom video clip, it's immediately apparent that she no longer fears the man who once terrorized her.

A follow-up documentary continues the story

"A Friend of the Family: True Evil" features Jan and other Broberg family members revisiting their past nearly five decades after the events of "A Friend Of The Family." According to Entertainment Tonight, the documentary sheds new light on the extent of Robert Berchtold's crimes as a previously unknown victim joins Jan to speak about her own experiences at the hands of their abuser. In addition, Jan's mother and son discuss their feelings about their family's journey. Whereas the dramatized Peacock series details the events that occurred in the 1970s, the documentary follows Jan Broberg as she returns to scenes from her past. 

In the film, Jan visits Berchtold's RV and reenters the bedroom where her years of abuse first began. She discusses how Berchtold groomed and abused her in heartbreaking detail, but she also focuses on educating audiences about the importance of community support for abuse survivors. Although it contains some painful moments, the documentary highlights how the Broberg family triumphed over their trauma. In the end, the real Jan Broberg has turned her story into a cautionary, educational tale for others, and "A Friend of the Family" is just one chapter in that story.

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).