What we learned from the Allen v. Farrow finale: 'Every message of support has been a gift'
The fourth and final installment of HBO's Allen v. Farrow speeds through the nearly 30 years after the conclusion of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's custody battle. It recaps the Farrows' subsequent home life, Allen's later career, and the resurfacing of Dylan Farrow's sexual abuse allegation prior to and amid the #MeToo movement, while also examining the debate over "separating the art from the artist" and the treatment of abusive men in Hollywood. It's a lot of ground to cover, but much of it is likely familiar territory for viewers, even the youngest of whom will recall most of the key events detailed herein.
But first, the cliffhanger from last week's entry needs to be resolved. While Connecticut state prosecutor Frank Maco publicly stated there was probable cause to arrest and charge Allen, he decided in September 1993 not to pursue the case, believing the process would traumatize Dylan. The filmmakers also brought the adult Dylan and Maco together for a new conversation, with the former prosecutor saying the Allen investigation is "the case that's going to be with me for the rest of my days."
"I wish that I had testified or that I had just been put up there anyway," Dylan says. "I wish that I had been stronger, that I hadn't crumpled so much under the pressure. I, to this day, feel like I was given an opportunity to be brave and I turned it down."
Fellow family members say Dylan was "riddled with anxiety," depressed, and "kept to herself" growing up, while no one spoke of Allen or the alleged abuse. The adult Dylan recalls that she "spent a lot of high school feeling like there was something fundamentally wrong" with her, breaking up with her only boyfriend after three weeks and simply not discussing the alleged incident with anyone. Dylan also discusses her later personal life with her husband, Sean, with both of them citing instances of apparent post-traumatic stress disorder. (At one point, Dylan begins visibly shaking on screen while discussing her feelings in the years after the alleged incident.)
At the same time, Ronan Farrow claims, "there was always a lot of incentive to be drawn into Woody Allen's efforts to discredit" Dylan. "He made funding my college education contingent on me speaking out in his support publicly," Ronan says. "The offer always stood that if I were willing to publicly go against my mother and my sister, that he would offer financial support, support for my education, and perhaps a comfortable life with a powerful, influential guy."
Dylan's adopted brother Moses Farrow, however, has claimed that Mia Farrow was abusive toward him and his siblings, which Allen's wife Soon-Yi Previn also alleges but the other Farrow children interviewed in the doc deny. Ronan claims that Moses "told numerous people in his life... that he believed Dylan" (Moses first came forward with his allegations in 2014), while the filmmakers point to evidence disputing several of Moses' claims. For instance, documents from 1992 are displayed on screen, noting "Moses stated that he saw Dylan leave the room" on the day the abuse allegedly took place. (A handwritten Mother's Day card Moses apparently sent to Mia when he was 29 is also displayed.)
Allen's filmmaking career, meanwhile, went on unabated for the next two decades. He appeared on the 2002 Academy Awards to present a tribute to New York City after 9/11, continued to work with A-list actors and receive critical acclaim, and was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Golden Globes.
It was at that point, in 2014, that Ronan and Dylan resurfaced the abuse allegation, with Dylan penning an essay that later ran on the New York Times blog of a Farrow family friend. (Ronan says Dylan "went very far down the editorial process with a major national newspaper" that ultimately didn't publish the piece.)
Allen, of course, pushed back (he continues to deny ever abusing Dylan and has called the docuseries a "hatchet job"), while a pre-#MeToo Hollywood largely defended the filmmaker or shrugged off Dylan's allegations. Ronan argues that Allen's PR team was still controlling the narrative at this time, saying talking points like the Yale-New Haven report (which concluded Dylan was not abused but was heavily criticized by other experts) are "evidence of just how powerful it is when a PR machine plants an idea into the public narrative."
"I, at the time, was in the media and was getting the emails from [Allen's longtime publicist] Leslee Dart," Ronan says. "She basically positioned this as, 'Here's this way you can attack this young woman's credibility.'... When you have Leslee Dart on your payroll, that is someone who can say, 'You better print this, or I'm gonna withhold my clients from you in the future.'"
Adds Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson, by way of explanation, "Leslee Dart reps a lot of really big, important celebrities" — including Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and many others — and is "known for being one of the people who might blackball a journalist for covering something in a way she didn't like." Indeed, Dart barred The Hollywood Reporter from an event for Allen's Café Society at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival after the outlet published an essay by Ronan slamming the media's treatment of Allen. Dart, who is not interviewed in the docuseries, did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment.
It wasn't until the #MeToo movement took off in late 2017 that the tide began to turn, with Ronan's role in breaking the abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein and others renewing attention around Dylan's accusation. Actor Griffin Newman donated his salary from Allen's A Rainy Day in New York, which led to several of his costars, including Timothée Chalamet, doing the same. More and more actors began to come forward to announce their support of Dylan and that they regretted working with Allen.
"I think what they did took a lot of bravery in and of itself," Dylan says. "It's really helped me to reclaim some of my own sense of self-worth. Every message of support I've received has been a gift."
So what have we learned? As we noted in our recap of the docuseries' premiere, and EW's Kristen Baldwin wrote in her review, Allen v. Farrow is not loaded with bombshell revelations, but assembles and presents evidence that has been available for many years (though the filmmakers also consulted previously unavailable documents in the course of their research). Viewers, of course, will make up their own minds about what happened, but the filmmakers have nestled one bit of information in this finale that ought to register with even the most skeptical audiences.
Parental alienation syndrome, the controversial and scientifically dubious term applied to Dylan during the custody battle, has become a frequent tool of accused abusers in court cases, according to experts interviewed in the docuseries. The filmmakers point to studies claiming that family courts generally do not accept child sexual abuse accusations as true when accused fathers cite PAS. The Allen-Farrow case may not make a particularly apt bellwether for cases of abuse, but if any aspect of it deserves a follow-up docuseries, it's that one.