Frank Murphy and family have an unexpected guest, Frank’s father, ‘Big Bill’ Murphy. While the family welcomes Bill with open arms, Frank is cold and bitter, remembering his father’s humiliating put-downs and abuse over the years and angered that his dad is now acting like a loving grandfather despite everything he ever did.
Obviously, the relationship between Frank and his father is the driving force of the season, his father innocently claiming to not know what Frank is talking about when Frank brings up the abuse causing Frank to become angrier and more exasperated, casting Frank as an unreliable narrator… which is actually quite brilliant as gaslighting is a common tool of the abuser. At certain points, even we in the audience question Frank’s recollection of events.
This makes the season more poignant as the relationship between Frank and his father evolves. Eventually, even Frank becomes entangled in Big Bill’s net, even as Big Bill’s true personality shines through to other members of the family. It’s insideous.
I’m not going to sit here and say that Big Bill is a monster, because despite everything he did and continues to do in season four, I don’t think he is. If the season proves anything, he’s a victim of the abuse cycle: It was done to him, he did it to Frank and Frank does it to his kids. They will probably do it to theirs. The cycle of abuse is real and you see it on this show. You see the anger and the resentment in all three generations, spreading like an infection.
Who would have ever thought that F is for Family would end up being one of the most subversively sad and tragic television series I’ve ever seen.
It is fitting that, in a season where a new baby joins the household, F is for Family would examine the passing of legacies and the consequences of words and violence and the erosion of trust. They’re all very heavy themes that the show, to its credit, handles beautifully at every turn. Even the season’s sidequests: Vic grooming Kevin and his band, Bill’s hockey team, and Maureen’s friendship with the psychotic Bridget, examine this theme.
Where Frank struggles to make the conscious choice to deal with his anger, his children ultimately choose the road of nurturing their friends and putting their needs above themselves. To me, this gives the season an air of hope… that the cycle can be broken.
I’ve loved this show in the past for being darkly humorous, but this level of depth and introspection is something that I was not expecting. You really get a sense that a chapter has turned when the season is over with and are left with a question of whether Frank gets the closure he needed or even is that closure was necessary.
I guess we’ll have to wait until the nest season to see if that cycle remains or if Frank has the power and the strength to end it.