‘Allen v. Farrow’ Episode 1 Recap: ‘Inappropriately Intense’ Behavior
The first episode of the four-part HBO docuseries “Allen v. Farrow” debuted on Sunday night, providing a fresh examination of Dylan Farrow’s decades-old sexual abuse allegations against the filmmaker Woody Allen, her adoptive father.
When Ms. Farrow was 7 years old, she accused Mr. Allen of sexually assaulting her at the family’s Connecticut country house on Aug. 4, 1992. Mr. Allen has long denied the allegations, which were front and center in a bitter custody battle between Mr. Allen and Mia Farrow, the Hollywood power couple who made 13 films together.
Mr. Allen’s relationship with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, is also central to the series. About seven months before the day that Dylan Farrow says her father assaulted her, Mia Farrow discovered nude photographs of Ms. Previn, then a first-year college student, in Mr. Allen’s apartment.
Starting in 1992, there were several years of concentrated media attention on the family amid the custody battle and investigations by the authorities in response to Dylan Farrow’s account. Mr. Allen has long argued that Mia Farrow had coached Dylan to make the allegations after learning about his relationship with Ms. Previn, whom he married in 1997. Although a state’s attorney in Connecticut declined to prosecute Mr. Allen, saying that he wanted to spare Dylan the trauma of a trial, he said he believed she had been molested.
Nearly three decades have passed since the accusations surfaced, but the complicated saga has returned repeatedly and become the subject of debate — most recently during the #MeToo movement.
This series, created by the documentary filmmakers Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy, includes extensive interviews with Dylan and Mia Farrow, as well as Dylan’s siblings and family friends. It includes footage of Dylan Farrow at age 7 recounting to her mother, who is behind the camera, what she says her father did to her in August 1992 — videotape that has never before been released publicly. Letty Aronson, Mr. Allen’s sister, who is currently handling publicity requests for him, declined to comment on the documentary.
That footage does not appear in the first episode, which explores the beginnings of Ms. Farrow’s relationship with Mr. Allen and observations about how Dylan became the subject of her father’s “intense affection.”
Here is a recap of what we saw on Sunday night.
‘Idyllic, most of the time’
The series opens at a 1992 news conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York, during which Mr. Allen defends himself against the abuse allegations and accuses Mia Farrow of instigating them.
But the episode quickly veers away from the account of Mr. Allen, who did not participate in the series but whose perspective is often captured through audio snippets of his recent memoir “Apropos of Nothing.” It turns to an adult Dylan Farrow, now 35, who is seen flipping through a family photo album.
Dylan Farrow, who was born in Texas and adopted as a baby, recounts a childhood that was “idyllic, most of the time,” describing what it was like to be the child of a famous Hollywood actress and director: memories of stumbling around film sets as a child, being on private planes for family vacations, swimming at “posh” hotel pools — all of it illustrated by home-video footage shot by Ms. Farrow as her children were growing up.
But below the surface of this bustling, unconventional family — nine children, taken care of by unmarried movie-star parents — things were complicated.
The Hollywood power couple
The episode rewinds to the early romance between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, starting when they first met at Elaine’s, the Manhattan restaurant, in 1979. Ms. Farrow recalls how the couple would flash their lights at each other from their apartment windows, which were visible to each other from across Central Park. The signal was a way of saying “I love you,” she said. Hanging a red towel out the window meant, “Love you huge.”
Despite the fact that Ms. Farrow already had seven children — three biologically with her husband at the time, André Previn, and four of them adopted — she said she accepted that Mr. Allen told her that he had “zero interest in kids.”
But gradually, Mr. Allen began to spend more time with the children at the home in Connecticut and at his apartment in the city, establishing a particularly strong bond with Moses Farrow, whom Ms. Farrow adopted after her divorce from Mr. Previn.
Growing the family
When Ms. Farrow wanted to expand the family even further, she said, Mr. Allen told her that he still didn’t want any responsibility for a child of his own but that he “might be more kindly disposed if it was a little blond girl.” Ms. Farrow ended up adopting Dylan, who quickly became the subject of Mr. Allen’s affections. Two years later, Ms. Farrow had a son, Ronan Farrow, who was initially called Satchel. (Ms. Farrow later suggested in a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair that Ronan may have been the child of Frank Sinatra, not Mr. Allen.)
In 1991, Ms. Farrow agreed to a family dynamic that would shape the legal conflict in the years to come: Mr. Allen adopted Dylan Farrow and Moses Farrow.
An ‘inappropriately intense’ relationship
The heart of the first episode is a series of interviews with members of the Farrow family and friends, some of whom have never spoken publicly, who say that they witnessed behavior by Mr. Allen toward Dylan Farrow that seemed inappropriate or made them uncomfortable.
Dylan Farrow said that she has memories of getting into bed with her father — both of them in their underwear — and he would wrap his body around her “very intimately.” A friend of the family, Priscilla Gilman, who became close with the family while dating Matthew Previn, one of Mia Farrow’s eldest sons, recalled that she witnessed Mr. Allen in that situation, getting out of the bed in his underwear. Ms. Gilman, who often spent time with the children, said that she also saw Dylan Farrow sucking Mr. Allen’s thumb. (Ms. Gilman said Mr. Allen told her that sucking his thumb calmed his daughter, but an adult Dylan Farrow now sees it as a violation, recalling that her father had directed her specifically on how to do so.)
Mia Farrow’s sister Tisa Farrow said in an interview that she once saw Mr. Allen’s hand linger “suggestively” between Dylan Farrow’s buttocks when applying sunscreen.
Mia Farrow, who recalled seeing Mr. Allen kneeling in front of their daughter or sitting next to her with his face in her lap, said that she had at one point confronted him about what she had been witnessing, saying that she was not “comfortable with the way that you’re handling her and looking at her.” She said that Mr. Allen became angry and that she ended up apologizing profusely. But then a respected psychiatrist in Ms. Farrow’s apartment building, Ethel Person, called to tell her that there was something “off” about the way Mr. Allen greeted Dylan Farrow. Mr. Allen then agreed to see a psychologist.
The psychologist said she saw Mr. Allen being “inappropriately intense” with Dylan Farrow. But, Ms. Farrow tells the filmmakers, the therapist did not believe the behavior was sexual — even if onlookers or the child herself might perceive it as sexual.
Dylan’s changing behavior
In an interview with the filmmakers, Dylan Farrow says that she had loved her father but that she received “intense affection all the time”; the people around her, including Ms. Gilman and her brother Ronan, noticed that she would often scramble away or try to hide when Mr. Allen called her over or entered the room.
“Over time, Dylan went from being outgoing and effervescent and talkative to her having this sadness and this withdrawn quality,” Mr. Farrow said in an interview with the filmmakers.
Mr. Allen has denied having ever been sexually inappropriate or abusive toward Dylan Farrow, instead portraying himself in his own writing as an initially reluctant father who surprisingly became enamored with his daughter and enjoyed showering her with affection. In part of his memoir that was included in the episode, Mr. Allen wrote: “I adored Dylan and spent as much time with her as possible from her infancy on. I played with her, bought her endless toys, dolls, stuffed animals, My Little Ponies.”
The turning point
Then, in January 1992, came the discovery that changed everything. Ms. Farrow said that she visited Mr. Allen’s apartment to retrieve a coat and discovered, next to the phone, racy Polaroid photos of her college-age daughter, Ms. Previn.
Ms. Farrow said she remembered putting the photos in her pocket and leaving, in shock. When she returned home, she said that she confronted Ms. Previn. (Ms. Previn did not participate in this documentary.)
Dylan Farrow’s therapist advised her mother to tell the children about the photos, Mia Farrow said. She was reluctant, but she did, and Dylan Farrow said it was the first time she realized that she was perhaps not the only one at the receiving end of her father’s behavior, saying that she thought to herself, “Oh, it’s not just me.”