Welcome to Firefly Lane, a place our protagonists Tully (Katherine Heigl) and Kate (Sarah Chalke) can’t escape no matter how hard they try, or how old they get. The brand new Netflix series, based off the book Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, follows these two best friends from their first meeting through the following 30 years of their lives, and all the ups and downs along the way.
Tully and Kate are complete opposites, even from the very beginning. Kate comes from a loving and happy home, lives with both parents and her older brother. She fits the nerdy teen trope to a T, and doesn’t have a whole lot of friends. Tully, on the other hand, has an absentee drug-addicted mother who frequently forgets to pay the bills, so they’re always running out of food. To cover the truth about her home life, Tully tells everyone that her mother is suffering from cancer. But after the girls meet by happenstance, little do they know they’ve made the only life-long friend they’ll ever need.
If you've read the book, you may think you know where this is all going, but Firefly Lane includes a few twists to give it life beyond a single season. While the actions of Netflix’s Firefly Lane closely mirror the events of the book, they do diverge in a few different spots — for the drama, obviously. So, if you’re hoping that the big mystery is wrapped up by the end, well… maybe quell that hope right now.
If you're new to Tully and Kate's world, everything is told in flashbacks, jumping between the '70s, '80s, '90s, and early 2000s; so it’s got the dramatics of Big Little Lies and the timeline of This Is Us, only way more confusing. It can be a little hard to follow along with every single thread as the narrative weaves back and forth and due to the fact that we learn about some events before we actually see them happen. So, in lieu of a straight episode-by-episode recap, we're breaking down the events of Firefly Lane decade by decade, starting from the very beginning.
Episode 1: “Hello Yellow Brick Road”
In The Very Beginning...
The long and the short of it is this: Tully is having a very rough childhood. Her hippie mom, Cloud a.k.a Dorothy (Beau Garrett), takes her young daughter to a protest and as soon as the two start marching, Tully finds herself lost in a crowd of strangers. Not knowing where to go, let alone what to do, Tully makes her way to a park bench where she curls up and cries. This little moment may seem insignificant at the time — most people remember getting lost in a Target or a grocery store as a kid — but this moment sticks with Tully for the rest of her life.
Seeing that she’s not fit to parent Tully, Cloud leaves the young girl with her grandmother, and things seem to be going fine after that. That is, until a few years later, when Cloud shows up and takes Tully to live on Firefly Lane.
There are new neighbours on Firefly Lane, so that means that Kate’s mom Margie (Chelah Horsdal) wants to send over some Hamburger Helper. Walking across the street, young Kate (played in '70s scenes by Roan Curtis) meets young Tully (Ali Skovbye) and Cloud for the first time. Kate can’t help but notice that Cloud is seemingly out of it, and smoking up a storm. Trying to hide the fact that her mom is completely stoned, Tully explains that she’s got cancer and going through treatment, so that should explain the smell of weed. Kate buys it.
While walking home one night, Tully happens to see Kate’s older brother Sean (Quinn Lord) kissing a neighbour boy, Robbie (Synto D. Misati) — who Kate very clearly has a crush on. Startled, Sean begs Tully not to tell anyone, and Tully implies that she didn’t see anything. This is the start of their deep, 30-plus year friendship, too.
“Women are the future of journalism, and the future is looking bright” or at least that’s what Kate (Chalke, in the '80s and beyond) says to herself again and again in the mirror ahead of her job interview — except it’s not really a job interview. Rather, Tully (Heigl) has decided to ambush her boss, Johnny Ryan (Ben Lawson), demand that Kate get a job at the KPOC TV station, too. Johnny is less than thrilled about this, but Tully makes the case that Kate can do everything Tully can't do. Or more realistically, everything Tully's really supposed to be doing at work, only she's far more focused on getting on air than answering phones and getting coffee. Reluctantly, Johnny agrees.
Kate is fine with taking on the grunt work, since part of her job is bringing Johnny food — everything from sandwiches, to coffees, to even soups. Thanks to a montage of her doing this endlessly, we know that she does this for a while before Johnny finally notices her, and compliments her on how well she’s working out at the station. She’s also a great copy editor though, so before you know it, Kate becomes an indispensable problem solver around the office, slowly but surely becoming someone Johnny can rely on.
Kate and Johnny are now going through a divorce, and it’s taking the biggest toll on their daughter, Marah (Yael Yurman). She starts acting out in school, which means that she’s wound up in the principal’s office yet again. Kate rushes down to bail her out of trouble, which means she misses a job interview — the first one she’s lined up in years. It’s a gig with Seattle Digest, and one Kate is apparently under qualified after having been out of the game for the last decade. But, when she shows up late for the interview, she manages to talk herself into being hired after she promises Kimber, the image-obsessed editor of the magazine, an exclusive interview with her celebrity friend, Tully.
So we should probably mention that at this point in her career, Tully is the mega famous host of The Girlfriend Hour. The title is also tied to Kate, an inside joke and reference to Kate's brother Sean’s wedding, where they and the other women sat around and gossiped for a “girlfriend hour” before the nuptials. The show is a huge success, but Tully does mention at one point in the series that she's not quite at Ellen or Oprah level. In a role reversal, Johnny now works for Tully as her producer.
We meet this era's Tully as she's feeling bored, so she heads to a bar to drink alone. A fellow solo drinker (Jon Ecker) catches her eye and though she brushes him off at first, they eventually end up having sex back at her place. She’s happy for the quick one-night stand, but this guy — who has a name, by the way, Max — isn’t so keen on the idea. The 20-year-old is fresh off a divorce and says he really likes Tully. But then he admits that he used to have a crush on her when he was growing up, and that (quite predictably) does not go over great with Tully.
Speaking of having sex, Kate's daughter Marah is thinking about going on birth control, but she can’t do it without parental consent. She knows asking Kate is a no-go, but what about Aunt Tully? Reluctantly, Tully agrees to sign the forms as long as Marah promises to talk to her mom about it later. Unfortunately, Kate finds the forms that night.
Before that though, Kate has to run a school function, and since her estranged husband is away, she's upset about having to go alone. At the last minute, in swoops Tully to not only be her date, but also to lend Kate a banging (pardon the early aughts slang) silver dress. While Kate is happy to have her best friend by her side, she’s less than thrilled to see Tully out on the dance floor, apparently flirting with another parent, Travis (Brandon Jay Mclaren). A recent widower, Travis and Kate had initially started flirting, but after seeing him with Tully, Kate suddenly has a rush of bad memories of the last time Tully flirted with a man Kate was interested in. In the memory, that man is her soon to be ex husband Johnny. Kate abandons the dance and heads home to Marah.
Tully makes her way home too, where she finds Johnny waiting at her door. I know what you’re probably thinking: oh no.
Megan O’Neill, "Time in a Bottle" — The series opens with this ridiculously melancholy rendition of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle." Those who know the lyrics (If I could save time in a bottle / The first thing that I'd like to do / Is to save every day / Till eternity passes away / Just to spend them with you) will see how closely the song matched up to Kate and Tully's friendship.
Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" — The song plays a few times in the series, in different decades, usually when Tully has abandoned Kate, but it's this episode's namesake.
Episode 2: “Oh! Sweet Something”
Content Warning: The following recap contains references to sexual assault.
While Tully is really fascinated by Kate’s horse, Sweet Pea, she's not fascinated enough to skip a party in the woods. (Sweet Pea should really get more screen time than she does, but in about 30 years we will see that Kate has horse pictures in her adult bedroom, so that's something.) Abandoning Kate, Tully goes off with a popular boy named Pat, who gets Tully drunk and takes her into the woods, far enough away from the rest of the group that no one can hear or notice them. Pat immediately begins groping Tully, who repeatedly begs him to stop and tells him "no," but Pat doesn't acknowledge her pleas and eventually rapes her. The young teen is rendered completely frozen and speechless. She eventually finds the strength to get up, so she walks home and finds Kate still sitting outside.
Tully tells Kate about what happened, and Kate wants to tell someone about it. Tully begs her to let it go because she's concerned no one will believe her because she was drunk. Kate is distraught but instead of pushing, hugs Tully, and in this moment, their friendship bond is born.
Adult Sean (Jack McKinnon) stops at Kate and Tully's news station after returning from service. Tully is eager to throw a big party, and soon everyone is completely drunk. While no one else is around, Tully and Sean talk about life now, and Sean confesses that he’s actually been seeing a man lately, and Tully is eager for details. She’s still the only one who knows he’s gay.
After Tully falls through a glass table, Johnny scoops her up to bandage her bloody leg and they almost kiss — which ends up being a callback moment later in the 2000s.
First, let's get this out of the way: Nothing happens between Johnny and Tully. They end up talking like old friends and Tully tells Johnny that Kate still loves him. (We know.) Unfortunately, the conversation ends with Johnny suggesting they all could have made different choices back in the '80s, alluding to those past hints of a romantic connection with Tully, but she tells him to sleep in the guest room.
Unaware of any of this, Kate is furious with Tully over the consent forms she found in Marah's backpack. At this point, it sure seems like a regular misunderstanding between adult friends, one with kids and one without. But as the season soon begins to make clear, this moment is indicative of Kate and Tully's friendship unravelling as a result of their increasingly different lives.
But Kate still has other problems to deal with, like the fact her boss Kimber (Jenna Rosenow) has given her the demeaning task of expressing her dog's glands. As she's holding the dog over the office toilet, she runs into the new young (attractive) Seattle Digest photographer Gideon (Andres Joseph), who seems charmed by the word vomit that Kate spews when he finds her in this predicament.
Kate is also struggling with the fact that Johnny’s back from his trip to New York City with a shiny, new job offer. He wants to return to his first career as a reporter on the frontlines of international conflicts and war, and he’s planning to accept the job and leave in two months. Kate is clearly upset about it — and not just because he's the father of her child — but she knows there’s nothing she can say to stop him.
Tully’s had a rough day herself, and after having differences with her team at The Girlfriend Hour, she does the thing she never does: She meets up with Max again. He’s still pursuing a relationship with her, and she’s slowly coming around to the idea. Very, very slowly.
That night, after Kate doesn’t return Tully’s calls all day, Tully just shows up at her house, throwing rocks at the window — a move she started back when they were teenagers. The memory of their teenage years convinces Kate to eventually comes down and they sit by the pool. “You’re my soulmate, you bitch,” Tully says, and Kate replies by launching into a monologue about her problems with Marah and Johnny. All seems to be well for now. "You're fucking stuck with me forever," Tully promises.
The Late 2000s
In the first time jump to "Two Years Later," somewhere around the mid-to-late 2000s, Kate and Marah are dressed for a funeral. "I miss her, I know you don't like talking about her," Marah says. Kate misses her too, and it's clear they're talking about Aunt Tully. What's not clear is whether or not they're headed to Tully's funeral, or someone else's.
The Velvet Underground, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”: It's a heartbreaking selection that plays as Tully walks home after her assault. Lou Reed sings "she ain’t got nothing at all” again and again, but we know better: She's got Kate.
Episode 3: “Dancing Queens”
Now that Kate’s mom Mrs. Mularkey has heard so much about Tully’s mom, she decides to head over and talk to Cloud herself. Mrs. Mularkey even has some tea that she just knows will help with Cloud’s chemo-induced nausea. There’s no use trying to talk her out of it, even though Tully desperately tries. Mrs. Mularkey marches across the street and kindly offers to help Cloud out with whatever she needs as she battles cancer. Tully's jig is up: Cloud, clearly stoned, is confused. “Who has cancer?”
Mrs. Mularkey confronts Tully about the lie, though she clearly has sympathy for her daughter’s best friend. Unfortunately, Tully lied to Kate, so Mrs. Mularkey gives her an ultimatum: Either Tully tells Kate about the lie, or Mrs. Mularkey will. Tully later tries to do so, but can’t manage to get all the words out before she’s interrupted. It starts to become clear that the issue Marah's consent form was absolutely not the first major lie Tully has told her best friend.
Later, Kate and Tully decide to crash the high school dance because Kate’s got a little crush on her brother’s friend, Robbie. When they’re both bored with the dance, they head outside and run into Pat and a bunch of his friends. He doesn't seem to understand how he wronged Tully and gives her some line about “meaning to call her." She's so shocked to see him that she can’t even muster a word or two. Kate manages to get her back to the car, and Tully hops behind the driver’s seat. Almost immediately, she drives her VW Van right at Pat and his friends in hopes of scaring him. Or running him off the road. Or maybe killing him? I'm not sure Tully's even clear on her intent. But whatever the reason, it sends a message loud and clear: Don’t mess with her again.
When Carol, the lead on-air talent at the news station, falls sick, Tully sees this as an opportunity to grab the spotlight for herself, if just for a minute. She and Kate beg Johnny for a chance to do a real, hard-hitting story — they pitch something about the mayor stopping the production of nuclear fallout shelters. (We did nearly have a nuclear world war in 1983, so it’s timely, though not exactly the usual local TV news stuff.)
When Johnny’s hard news interests are piqued, Tully and Kate start chasing down the story. This is easier said than done, considering the two have to go undercover — read: ambush the mayor’s assistant at the gym, while dressed in full ‘80s jazzercise gear. The mayor’s assistant is less than thrilled to talk to Tully and Kate, but they do get him to agree to talk to the mayor. Kate sees this as a loss since they didn’t really get anything, but Tully takes it as a win. At least they have an in. Kind of.
Unfortunately by the time they’ve made it back to the station and are ready to go on air, Carol is feeling well enough to go on and swipes her segment back from them. At least this proves that the duo can accomplish big things together.
Later Kate and Tully join cameraman Mutt (Brendan Taylor) and Johnny at the local bar, where they drown their sorrows in some beer and pool. Kate jumps at an opportunity to talk to Johnny alone, but to her dismay the conversation is all about Tully — namely how Tully always seems to get what she wants. This is where it starts to become clear why Johnny didn’t end up with Tully: Kate says Tully just believes in what she’s doing, but Johnny thinks that Tully only believes in herself, everything and everyone else be damned.
Tully also believes in making out. Out of nowhere. In front of everyone. As Kate and Johnny discuss her choices, Tully races across the bar towards a mysterious man and leaps into his arms. As they furiously make out, Johnny and Mutt are stunned. What the hell is going on? Kate, the BFF, fills us in: That’s Chad Wiley (Patrick Sabongui). We haven’t met him yet, but Kate’s tone suggests there’s a lot more to Tully’s new friend.
The ongoing divorce is clearly taking a toll on both Kate and Johnny — but before we deal with all that stress, can we take a moment to talk about their gorgeous, lakeside mansion with a sprawling backyard and a heated pool overlooking the sound? You know it’s heated, because the cameras constantly catch the steam coming off of it on cold days. The luxury. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been stuck inside an 800 square foot apartment for almost a year, or maybe it’s just the majesty of it all, but I just can’t get over their picture-perfect bay windows, the way the light filters dreamily into their living room, and the sprawling master bath with a huge walk-in closet. For me, the house is the real star of the show. Just wait until you see it decorated for Christmas.
Anyway, Kate and Johnny are not busy marvelling at their dream house, and are instead trying to be as civil about the divorce as possible for Marah. So, when Marah comes down with a cold right when Kate was supposed to be enjoying a girls’ trip with Tully, Johnny offers to take care of Marah. It should be pretty standard for a father to take care of his kid and for Kate to go on a harmless girl’s trip, but because she’s a person who gave up her professional life to be a homemaker, Kate feels guilty and uncomfortable with the arrangement.
When she and Tully are out on the town later, they happen to run into one of Kate’s co-workers, Gideon Vega, that new photographer for Seattle Digest who met Kate while she was expressing Kimber’s dog’s glands over a toilet. Eventually, Tully plays the good wingman and leaves, so Gideon and Kate end up making out and he suggests they go to a second location for, you know, sex. Kate is immediately uncomfortable and manages to get out of it by realizing that she’s got Marah’s medication in her purse. She hurries back home. And if you think that Gideon is going to stick around and become a major player through the rest of the episodes, let me adjust those expectations: This was fun, but you can basically forget about him now, just like Kate does.
On the other hand, Tully is at least trying to make it work with her younger love interest Max, and he’s slowly chipping away at her emotional walls. During one of their many makeouts (the episode opens with a full montage), Max insists that he wants to be able to look into Tully's eyes. She fights it and rolls her eyes. She calls their whole thing a “phony romance,” but Max insists that it’s not. He’s actually really into her, but Tully doesn’t have time for this and suggests that he leave. After he’s gone, Tully is alone in her apartment and heads out onto the balcony for a smoke and a sip of wine. Seconds later, she collapses.
Sweet, “Ballroom Blitz”: When Tully tries to run over her rapist this song is blasting, and honestly, it’s great.
Episode 4: “Love is a Battlefield”
Tully borrows some of her mom’s drugs, so she and Kate skip school and get high in one of the nearby fields. It’s all fun and games until Kate has a panic attack and they have to head back home. This probably wasn’t the best time to experiment with mind-altering substances, since they’re also both dealing with crushing personal realizations. Tully thinks she might be pregnant as a result of Pat raping her since she hasn’t had her period in six weeks, though this issue is resolved pretty quickly when Tully gets her period. Kate, however, sees her mother cheating on her father with another man in the family’s living room and can’t shake the awful feeling that comes with that knowledge.
Adding to her problems, Kate finds out the truth about Cloud before Tully can tell her the truth. When she approaches Cloud alone, Cloud makes it known that she doesn’t have cancer. While Tully was using the lie to protect herself from her mother’s mistakes, Kate feels betrayed.
The (Early) ‘80s
Of course Kate and Tully are roommates in college. What TV best friends wouldn’t be? We’ve jumped into the early 1980s, before the KPOC days, when the girls were going to Washington State University together. (If you’re wondering what happened between their early high school years and college, you’re going to have to wait for Firefly Lane season 2!)
While Kate is once again being her bookish self, Tully finds that she’s struggling in her journalism classes, and blames it on the fact that her professor, Chad Wiley, doesn’t like her. Yes, that Chad Wiley — the mysterious bar makeout partner emerges. This appears to be before their relationship began though, because Tully’s only just getting to know him as a hardass professor.
As a means of getting on Professor Wiley’s goodside, Tully wants to convince him that she’s “smart,” so maybe Kate’s glasses will help, if Tully could borrow them? The glasses don’t work, though, and when they talk in his office, Professor Wiley tells a distraught Tully that journalism is a “lifestyle” and that she’s going to need to make sacrifices in order to succeed where others have failed. He offers to “help” her over the weekend, and with dialog like that, it’s not long before they are kissing. He stops their makeout before it goes too far (though making out with one’s student is generally considered to be too far already), but we already know it won’t be the last time.
Making matters worse, this weekend was supposed to be a celebration for Kate’s parents’ anniversary. Tully bails to stay behind with Professor Wiley, which means Kate is heading home alone. After the makeout, Tully ends up crashing the party anyway, and when Kate asks what’s up, Tully teases that there’s more info to come.
Upstairs, Tully and Sean talk about what he’s been up to lately, but somehow they manage not to discuss the atrocious wig production put on Sean to give him that young ‘80s dude vibe. Mr. Mularkey is really pushing for Sean to join the military, and because he doesn’t really see any other option, he’s considering it. Adding to his confusion, his highschool sweetheart, Robbie, is now married to a woman and expecting a baby. He’s feeling pressure from every direction to suppress his queerness and conform to the straight, nuclear family lifestyle.
Kate is also feeling pressure to suppress her secret: Though it’s been years, Kate still hasn’t really let go of the fact that she knows her mother had an affair. This time, she lets her anger show during dinner. Everyone just kinda brushes the moment off, but Kate storms out — it’s not just the affair. When she and Tully talk outside, Kate confesses that she feels like she’s in Tully’s shadow, even when it comes to her own parents. She’s just trying to figure out what to do with her life, and mentions that she’s thinking about a study abroad program in London.
Kate finds Tully passed out and puts her into bed. When Tully wakes up, she shrugs off the fainting episode as a symptom of being over tired. Seeing as she’s just expelled Max from her life and has no use for it herself, Tully then gives Kate some sexy black lingerie. Back home, Kate thinks the house is completely empty and tries it on, only to find Johnny working in the master bathroom under the sink. The tried and true formula does exactly what it’s supposed to and soon, Kate and Johnny are making out on the bed — until Marah interrupts them.
No time to discuss what the hell that whole thing meant, because now it’s time for Marah’s big piano recital, which Kate and Johnny are hosting at their massive mansion. This is also a good time to talk about Travis, the recently widowed father of one of Marah’s friends. You may remember him from the first episode — Tully danced with him and sent Kate into a tailspin. He and Kate have a flirtatious friendship, which rubs Johnny the wrong way and seems to be the reason he and Kate are divorcing. So, when Marah plays Kate and Johnny’s song and Johnny finds Kate taking comfort from Travis outside, Johnny sucker punches Travis in the face. Enter: the love triangle.
After everything has calmed down, Kate and Johnny admit they actually don’t want to break up at all. But there’s one issue: Johnny accepted a position as an Iraq war correspondent and he’s going overseas in a few months. No matter how much they want to try and keep their marriage alive, they’re forced to accept that it’s over.
Tully, however, may be starting something: a family. In the wake of her fainting spell, she feels woozy often and seems to be having hot flashes. Mrs. Malarkey is sure it’s menopause, which is devastating to Tully since she wasn’t ready to accept that she’ll never have kids. Kate suggests that perhaps she’s actually pregnant. And wouldn’t you know it, the test comes back positive.
Two Years Later
Marah and Kate are once again dressed in funeral wear. Marah is now old enough to drive, and she and Kate arrive at a yet-to-be-revealed location. Here, Kate takes a moment to reflect. “We don’t have to go in right away,” Marah tells her mother, and Kate listens to that advice. It’s still not clear who has died, but with Johnny’s dangerous new job, the list of possibilities has now expanded from one person to two.
Karriem, “I Love You” — While the disco songs only plays for a second, it provides the perfect ditching school beat as teenage Kate and Tully take off down the road, away from the school bus.
More episodes to come.