Season 3 of F Is For Family ended on an interesting cliffhanger, as Frank’s abusive father, William, the source of Frank’s famously short fuse, finally arrived at the Murphy household.
Season 4 explores the difficult, complex relationship between the two men, showing how the psychological wounds of childhood will fester, if left untreated.
But Frank’s memories of a towering tyrant don’t quite match with the sweet little old man who has arrived at his house. Annoyingly for Frank, his father has always been very good at keeping up appearances, his terrible temper only erupting in the privacy of his own home.
Frank’s anger isn’t quite as calculated; the man will happily explode at home, at a restaurant, or even his children’s school. It’s not healthy, exactly, but it’s more “honest” than William’s secret temper. But William’s charm contrasts with Frank’s chronic irritability, already at boiling point from the stress of his father’s presence, and soon, the whole family is won over by their new grandfather.
Of course, William can’t hide his abusive side forever, and Frank certainly isn’t going to forget about it. The season sees Frank attempting to reach an understanding with his father, as well as re-examining his own parenting, trying to break the cycle of anger before his children end up inheriting it too.
F is for Family is always great at exploring serious issues that disproportionately affect the working class; the ever-present spectre of mounting debt, the soul-crushing grind of working for a company that couldn’t care less about you, and the way those stressful living conditions escalate tension inside the home, sparking unnecessary conflict and creating cycles of abuse.
William isn’t depicted as a terrible person – he’s a man of his time, unable to discuss, or even understand his own emotions. He’s a failed businessman, who once made a major investment in iron lungs and crutches – hilariously, he rues the day the polio vaccine was invented. Now, he just wants to spend time with his family, and as long as Frank keeps quiet, William is happy to sit back and be a good grandfather. But the past can’t stay buried forever.
William’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge his terrible parenting is a defensive move – he doesn’t want to believe how badly he failed as a parent. Having already failed his family financially, the last thing William wants is another admission of defeat.
Frank, on the other hand, doesn’t really understand that forgiveness takes a lot of work; it’s going to take more than bonding over beers to really dampen the ever-present rage burning inside of him.
While it sounds grim (and sometimes, it is), season 4 of F is for Family balances those heavy moments with plenty of humor, and hints of hope for the future. Frank’s children show signs of healthy development, while a new baby brings promise of a fresh start – and future financial strain.
F is for Family underlines the fact that there are no easy solutions to self-regulation or reconciliation, that parenthood is one long series of mistakes, and family drama can’t be fixed through a single conversation, or a hug.
But perhaps warped family dynamics are more normal than “normal;” Frank and his family are trying their best, and their story is strangely wholesome, despite all the expletive-ridden outbursts.