Modern Family recap: Death in the family not quite what we expected

After weeks of speculation, Modern Family used it’s Halloween episode to reveal the death in the family. A reveal that left many fans disappointed.

Last night’s episode of Modern Family saw the Dunphy’s and Pritchett’s deal with death in the family for the first time in their 10 seasons. The creators said that this was something they wanted to tackle before the season began and left fans wondering if a main cast member would be killed off. We finally got our answer.


As Phil and Claire are setting up for Halloween, they get a call. We see Claire, Mitch, then Jay reacting. Dede (Claire and Mitch’s mother, Jay’s ex-wife) has died. They don’t immediately reveal how but it happened while she was away on a women’s retreat.

In the initial aftermath, the family comes over to Claire and Phil’s house to be together. Claire and Mitch had a somewhat difficult relationships with their mother, so Cam and Phil prepare to have a hard time consoling them. In doing so, they are way too sentimental and are pushed away by their spouses.

Issues arise

As Mitch and Claire look to process their grief together, Mitch reveals that he had a great last phone call with their mother that felt like “the perfect goodbye.” That’s when the issues come forward for Claire because she didn’t get that moment.

MODERN FAMILY – “Good Grief” (ABC/Tony Rivetti)

With the kids, the grief manifests itself in different ways. Haley starts eating (which somehow makes her smarter suddenly), while Luke can’t stop cracking jokes. Initially, Alex seems to be processing the grief normally before Jimmy Tatro’s character (her firefighter boyfriend) shows up and she throws herself at him.

Gloria, as we know, also had a difficult relationship with Dede. Being Jay’s new wife she held in a lot of feelings about her. Luke reveals early in the episode that Dede had dolls of herself made, and throughout the episode Gloria keeps running into them around the house. Eventually she breaks down and lets out all of the things she’s been holding in. She thanks Dede for raising amazing kids and for making Jay the man she married and apologizes for never telling her these things.



Claire finally snaps on Mitch about him having a great relationship with their mother while hers was horrible and reveals that their last conversation was an argument about a Facebook post. Mitch reveals that he talked to their mother about it and that she said she was going to call to apologize. Claire then realizes she has a voicemail from her mother and it is that apology. This makes everyone emotional, but quickly shifts to Dede calling Claire out for another post before Claire hangs up to hold onto the good feeling.

Jay also heard the voicemail and, after struggling to say something nice about Dede early on, he finds a nice story to share in the end. We then find out that it’s Lily who was planting the dolls around the house to mess with Gloria. Saying it’s what Dede would have wanted.

MODERN FAMILY – “Mother!” (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Was that it???

All season, we’ve been speculating about Jay (Ed O’Neill) dying since the creators teased that the death would be “significant.” Needless to say, for those of us who are invested in the show, having Dede (Shelley Long) die was a letdown. It’s definitely not a death that we needed to be pre-warned about.

As one twitter user pointed out, she’s only been in 7 of over 200 episodes of the show. Black-ish similarly had a grandparent die just last season and used it as a plot point to bring its two main characters closer together. There was no discussion of the death beyond that. Show creator Steve Levitan addressed the choice to have Dede die in an interview with EW.

The show was better off not making it sound like the death would be a major loss. Simply saying that there would be an episode where the family has to deal with death would have been enough of a warning to avoid complete shock. Instead, those of us who were expecting the worst were unable to properly enjoy the episode because of the letdown that the reveal created. We’ll see how the loss affects the characters going forward as we were also told it would affect the characters for several episodes.

Modern Family will return next Wednesday at 9/8 Central on ABC.