Review: FX’s ‘Kindred’ is a Modern Day Masterpiece

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It’s not every day that a show leaves me completely speechless, so when one comes around, it always strikes me as something special. FX’s Kindred happens to be one of those shows that from the moment I started it, the sheer power of it overwhelmed me. Based on the 1979 book by Octavia E. Butler, Kindred follows the journey of Dana, an African-American writer who keeps traveling back in time to the Antebellum South. The story explores plenty of difficult subjects, but in a way that is engaging and jaw-dropping. For a more detailed exploration of the novel, check out Luna Gauthier’s review

The eight-part miniseries begins the journey set up in the book, however it only covers about a third of the material in Butler’s novel. Part of that is probably by design, in hopes of more than one season for Kindred. This also leaves plenty of room across the eight episodes to expand upon themes and stories from the source material, diving deeper into Dana’s situation and family history. The goal is to create a more enriching world for viewers to get lost in. And for this viewer, that goal was a success. So let’s explore what Kindred brought to the table. 

[Warning: Spoilers from Kindred on Hulu are below!]

A twisted adventure through time

For the most part, FX’s Kindred follows a similar premise as the novel that inspired it, however, there are some changes along the way. The mini-series begins with a flash forward to the end, where audiences see a panicked and bleeding Dana (Mallori Johnson) gathering supplies. It’s unclear what is happening, but this first scene sets the tone for the rest of the series. Flashing back, we meet a less anxious and bruised Dana, who has recently sold her inherited brownstone to buy a house closer to her aunt and uncle.

Dana is seeking a closer relationship with her only living relatives, having lost her parents in a car crash when she was younger. Her aunt and uncle are not happy about the move, annoyed with the selling of Dana’s grandmother’s home. Alone and lonely in a new house that is entirely too big for her, Dana experiences the first of many life-changing moments, a sensation of slipping away. Dana finds herself in a dark room with a crying baby, though she’s unsure of what is happening or how she arrived.

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Dana (Mallori Johnson) from Kindred (FX/Hulu).

Just as quickly as she arrived in this different place, she disappears, though not without saving the baby who needed to be flipped onto its stomach. She arrives back at her home, even more, confused than when she left. Hoping this was just an anomaly, Dana attempts to go on with her life, but this wasn’t just a one-off. Instead, time traveling becomes standard practice in her life.

Throughout the season, audiences see Dana go back quite a few times, with the bigger picture slowly coming into focus with each instance. Every time she’s called back, it’s to save the same individual when he believes his life to be in danger. At first, it’s when he’s a baby, but the rest of the series focuses on his time as a child and adolescent. He fears for his life and she has to come back to save him.

While this may be stressful enough of a situation, it doesn’t help that Rufus (David Alexander Kaplan) is a white boy and Dana is black, which with being in the Antebellum South, Dana is at a severe disadvantage.

Family connections in FX’s Kindred

The pattern of why Dana is getting called back appears rather quickly, the connection takes a bit of time to become clear. Eventually, she discovers that Rufus is a relative of some sort, meaning that keeping him alive is in turn keeping herself and her lineage alive as well. This complicates feelings just a bit, as Rufus comes from a slave-owning plantation father, Thomas (Ryan Kwanten), and a horrid mother, Margaret (Gayle Rankin). Both are definitely a product of their time.

Dana struggles to come to terms with this, however, eventually embraces it as much as someone from the 2000s could. She learns that saving Rufus is important and therefore she doesn’t have much choice but to continue. Adding to the drama is that during her time in the Antebellum South, Dana learns more about her immediate family, specifically her mother who isn’t dead. Nope, instead, Olivia (Sheria Irving) is alive, having become stuck in the past after a similar trip.

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Margaret (Gayle Rankin) and Thomas (Ryan Kwanten). Kindred (FX/Hulu).

Our protagonist takes it upon herself to take on the challenge of finding a way to bring her mother back to the present, although there are a few hiccups to that journey as well. While she knows that she can travel with others, having brought her hook-up turn boyfriend Kevin (Micah Stock) a few times to the past for emotional and physical support, she isn’t sure she can return her mother to the present without repercussions. 

The good and the bad

The story and writing of FX’s Kindred are exceptional. The story moves quickly, making great use of every second of screen time. Part of this series reads as a period piece, which can be slow and boring if done incorrectly. However, there was never a moment I was bored, even in the episodes that focused heavily on the Antebellum South.

Part of that I attributed to the heightened sense of anxiety that as the audience, we’re in on the secret with Dana, Kevin, and Olivia. These individuals don’t truly belong in this time and therefore may find themselves in big trouble.

Part is also because of the power dynamics and racial issues that are apparent in the time period that Dana keeps going back to. It instantaneously creates a dangerous environment for Dana, which ups the intensity of the show. I think Kindred does an excellent job of discussing some uncomfortable realities of our country’s past, however with a character ripped from our times. It allows for a deeper exploration of the science fiction elements. 

Mallori Johnson is exceptional as Dana, I cannot praise her performance enough. Dana is a character that has so many harsh realities coming at her from all directions, but she handles them well. She’s a completely formed three-dimensional character who is thrust into a new world of dangers, but she does it with such intelligence and poise. There are plenty of times I could feel myself heating up on her behalf, but she learns how to keep it together for herself and everyone else involved. I haven’t seen Johnson in any other project to date, but from the first episode, it felt like the perfect and only choice for Dana. 

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Kevin (Micah Stock) in Kindred. (FX/Hulu).

Kevin was also a stand-out character to me and Micah Stock is fantastic in the role. At first, it seemed that Kevin was the wise-cracking comedic relief hook-up, bringing some levity to a deep and powerful show. However, that all changes when he is taken, on accident, back in time with Dana. He’s then confronted with many harsh truths from America’s past, such as having to pretend to be Dana’s owner to survive. His growing love for Dana only puts him and her more at risk, which causes even more drama in this jammed-pack series. 

The only annoyance I had with Kindred was that it was labeled as a mini-series, however only covered a third of the novel. To me, a mini-series should tell an entire story, from start to finish, which this did not. Yes, it ended in a way that could be a proper ending, but there were quite a few storylines and ideas introduced late in the series that need following up on to feel completely satisfied. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if a new season is announced relatively soon.

Final thoughts on FX’s Kindred

Kindred is a fantastic series for those who enjoy entertainment that makes you think. This isn’t just a show you can passively enjoy, it’s one that is meant to be consumed and digested. The story of Dana is difficult to watch at times, but that is the exact reason it’s important to watch it.

I will say that I haven’t read the book yet, though the series definitely makes me want to check it out. So it’s possible that those who enjoyed the book may not like the series, however, Kindred is one I strongly suggest everyone checks out.

FX’s Kindred is currently streaming on Hulu. Have you watched it yet? What are your thoughts on the series? And if you haven’t already, check out our review of Octavia E. Butler’s novel on which this series is based!

Book Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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