The first of four episodes details an alleged pattern of behavior by Woody Allen toward his daughter Dylan Farrow.

By Tyler Aquilina
February 21, 2021 at 10:00 PM EST
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HBO's Allen v. Farrow is not an exposé, per se. The majority of the information presented in the docuseries, and the allegation of abuse at the center of it, has been previously reported and extensively discussed. What it is is a meticulous examination of that allegation — Dylan Farrow's accusation that her adopted father Woody Allen sexually molested her in 1992, when she was 7 years old — its context, and its aftermath. (Allen denies any wrongdoing and was never charged with a crime.)

As EW's Kristen Baldwin wrote in her review of the docuseries, "What makes Allen v. Farrow all the more devastating is that it isn't packed with explosive revelations — it just puts all the evidence together and lays it at our feet." Indeed, seeing all of that evidence laid out in one place is a powerful experience, as directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering build the case against Allen in great detail.

After Sunday night's premiere on HBO, a spokesperson for Allen and his wife Soon-Yi Previn released a statement to press calling the docuseries a "hatchet job riddled with falsehoods." They also accused Ziering and Dick of "collaborating with the Farrows and their enablers," while only giving Allen and Previn a "matter of days 'to respond,'" which they declined to do.

Much of the four-part series' first episode is devoted to background information. The premiere touches Allen's filmmaking career, and his well-established persona of, as film critic Miriam Bale puts it, "the small, weak man" who "makes neuroses hilarious." "There's a lot of mortifying self-disclosures that make you feel warmly towards him and root for him," Slate writer Lili Loofbourow notes in the episode. "Showing your underbelly to the audience — apparently — is a great way to earn their allegiance forever."

The episode also recaps and examines Allen's long-term romantic relationship with actress Mia Farrow and establishes their large family, which included Dylan and Satchel (now known as Ronan) Farrow, as well as Allen's now-wife Soon-Yi Previn, whom Mia adopted with her ex-husband André Previn. At first, as Mia Farrow recalls, Allen had "no interest" in parenting, even when she suggested they have a child together. Allen himself says, via an audiobook excerpt from his 2020 memoir Apropos of Nothing, "Mia assured me I could participate in rearing a new child to any extent I cared to. If I wanted to be a hands-on father, great. If not, she'd raise it, and I would be the same free soul I'd always been."

They soon agreed to adopt a child instead, but Mia Farrow relates that Allen had a request: rather than another baby from Asia, as Mia's children Moses, Lark, Daisy, and Soon-Yi had been, he "might be more kindly disposed if it was a little blond girl," Farrow recalls. "I thought, 'If he cares about that, I should try to find a little girl like that, and then maybe he'll love her.'"

Credit: HBO

That girl was baby Dylan, who, Allen says in another audiobook excerpt, he "quickly found... adorable, and found myself more and more holding her, playing with her, and completely falling in love with her, delighted to be her father."

It escalated from there. After establishing this backdrop, the episode lays out a pattern of inappropriate behavior from Allen, who Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, and other eyewitnesses claim was possessive of the young girl. "I remember him taking me out of the room away from [Mia] a lot, even when I wanted to stay, and very slowly instilling the idea in my head that she was more Satchel's parent, he was more my parent," Dylan Farrow recalls. "Like I was daddy's girl."

Interviewees recall Allen following Dylan relentlessly and taking her away from the other kids (their accounts are accompanied by home video footage of Allen holding or looming over the young Dylan), which they say began to provoke a fearful and "withdrawn" response. "He would come, she would run away from the door and say, 'Hide me,'" Farrow family friend Priscilla Gilman says. "At first, I thought it was a game, but then I realized that she actually sensed this kind of smothering energy from him."

"She started locking herself in bathrooms," Mia Farrow says. "She wasn't like that when he wasn't there. She was fully conversant, and then the minute he would walk in, she would become an animal."

"I was always in his clutches," adds Dylan. "He was always hunting me."

There are allegations of more clearly inappropriate incidents as well. Dylan Farrow recalls being in bed with Allen while he was in his underwear, which Mia Farrow and Gilman corroborate. ("He would wrap his body around me very intimately," Dylan says.) Mia's sister Tisa Farrow remembers an instance where Allen was putting sunscreen on Dylan and "his hand went down between her buttocks and kind of lingered there." Dylan also remembers Allen "directing" her on how to suck his thumb — "telling me what to do with my tongue," she says. (Gilman recounts seeing Dylan suck Allen's thumb as well.) Allen denies all of these incidents, according to a postscript in the episode.

Mia Farrow says Allen began seeing a psychologist to address his behavior. According to Mia, the psychologist said she saw Allen being "inappropriately intense" with Dylan, but that the behavior "wasn't sexual." Meanwhile, Dylan began seeing a therapist "for being 'shy, withdrawn, and very fearful,'" and told the therapist twice that she had "a secret," per onscreen text.

All of this, of course, will be brought to bear in later episodes as the docuseries delves into the sexual abuse allegation and its fallout. (The premiere leaves off in January 1992, when Mia Farrow discovered nude photos of then-21-year-old college student Soon-Yi in Allen's apartment.) It should be emphasized, again, that much of this information was already available; Mia Farrow shared the same account of Allen's behavior toward Dylan during the custody trial that followed their breakup. By including it here, Dick and Ziering begin to craft a portrait of Allen that lends credibility to the allegation, pushing back against both his onscreen persona and the version of events he spun in the media at the time.

The relationship between Soon-Yi, Mia, and Allen will also be explored further in later episodes, but the nude photo incident puts an unnerving button on this installment: When Mia told her about Allen and Soon-Yi (at the direction of Dylan's therapist, Mia says), Dylan remembers, "That was the first instance that I thought, 'Oh, it's not just me.'"

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