The last decade, from the early ’00s to now, have been the Age Of Getting Jiggy With Your Sibling, step-, half-, secret-, or otherwise. It’s not a new taboo, but for some reason, storytellers have been transgressing this particular boundary like crazy—drawing a kind of titillating horror from watching siblings consummate desire. There’s certainly a lot of incestuous tension (from near-screwball comedies like Arrested Development to serial-killer dramas like Dexter) and a lot of precedent for messing with the taboo (from Cain and Abel in the Bible right down to Kathryn and Sebastian in Cruel Intentions). But in the last 10 or so years, it’s been particularly difficult to avoid brothers and sisters getting explicitly, physically intimate, both accidentally and on purpose. And obviously, nowhere is this trend more hilariously mined for instant drama than in teen soap operas. Happyland, an upcoming show from MTV about the kids that work at an amusement park, introduces in the pilot a sudden, absurdly overdramatic final-act plot twist: That guy our protagonist Lucy makes out with? Is totally her secret half-brother. At the Television Critics’ Association summer press tour, star Bianca Santos capped the development with what is, essentially, the perfect clueless enthusiasm: “Incest is hot, and we’re going to have fun!”
Creep factor: 3. Though it’s kind of icky when Lucy’s mom rushes in to stop the two from making out, in response to further questions at TCA the show’s producers owned that the couple might not be secretly related. Nothing like a well thought-out plot device to inspire viewer investment. [SS]
2. Shannon and Boone, Lost, season one (2004-2005)
Boone (Ian Somerhalder) and Shannon (Maggie Grace) arrive on the mysterious island of Lost bickering, though Boone, at least, clearly feels affection for his standoffish traveling companion. In the 2005 first-season episode “Hearts And Minds,” flashbacks reveal more about why these attractive people are sniping at each other: When they were kids, Shannon’s father married Boone’s mother; when Shannon’s father died, his fortune went to Boone’s mom, who refused to support Shannon’s burgeoning ballet career. Shannon eventually uses her upper hand in her relationship with Boone to repeatedly con her smitten step-bro out of money, with the help of numerous dirtbag boyfriends. But the night before they board Oceanic Flight 815, Shannon drunkenly seduces Boone for realsies; the world’s most awkward plane ride then turns into the world’s most awkward extended island vacation for step-siblings who just had sex. The Boone-Shannon revelation was just one of Lost’s many first-season backstory shockers, and given the early exits of both actors from the series, it’s tempting to call it out as merely a shock tactic. But if Boone’s primary claim to fame is his status as the first main character in the show’s ensemble to die, his torch for Shannon is, weirdly, still his most compelling emotional hook.
Creep factor: 2—and that has more to do with Shannon’s manipulation of poor, stupid Boone than the incest itself. They’re just step-siblings, they didn’t spend their entire childhoods together, and come on, admit it: Didn’t the Shannon/Boone pairing make more sense than Shannon/Sayid? [JH]
3. Veronica and Duncan,Veronica Mars, season one (2004-2005)
Veronica Mars’ first season was built around an overarching central mystery—the previous year’s murder of Lilly Kane, Veronica’s best friend and sister of Veronica’s boyfriend Duncan. At some point after the murder, Duncan breaks up with Veronica. Trying to put on a brave face, Veronica goes to a party, where she’s drugged and raped. The identity of the rapist hangs over the season, until Duncan finally tells Veronica the truth: He broke up with her because Veronica’s mother told him she had an affair with Duncan’s father, making Veronica his half-sister. Duncan ended things with Veronica, but still carried a torch. So when he sees Veronica at the party, not realizing she had been drugged, they have what he believes to be consensual sex. But he feels so guilty about sleeping with his half-sister that he hides that information for most of the first season. In the end, Veronica takes a DNA test and learns that Keith Mars, her loving, supportive Dad, is in fact her biological father, and Duncan isn’t her brother.
Creep factor: 0 for incest, as they turn out not to be related. But at least a 7 for Duncan letting Veronica spend a year not knowing the truth of her rape rather than fessing up. [MV]
4. Morgan and Mitchell, Broad City, “Destination Wedding” (2014)
“You know who has a really big dick?” rhetorically asks Abbi’s old friend, Morgan. “My brother, Mitchell.” It’s a running joke in the episode that Morgan keeps over-sharing about her close sibling relationship. She’s so annoying that everyone’s content to leave the subject unaddressed. Morgan gets embarrassed every time, but she can’t help herself. She’s infatuated. The episode is about how friendships wax and wane, so the incest gag is mostly a way to undermine the old friend in favor of the new one. But Broad City also milks it for a quick sketch about incest at the end. When we finally see Mitchell, he’s coming up for air in the bath with Morgan. He kisses her on the lips, lies back, and says, “Mom called. She needs your social.” Suddenly they’re bickering like brother and sister, and the grossness gives way to comedy once again.
Creep factor: 5, because it’s way too funny to be that revolting. [BN]
5. Meg and Chris, Family Guy, “Halloween On Spooner Street” (2010)
Considering that Family Guy has skewered every taboo, it’s unsurprising that at some point the show would have its two teenage siblings hook up (which thankfully is less creepy than the time Peter crawled into Chris’ bed). At a Halloween party, Meg and Chris accidentally spend seven minutes in heaven together, not recognizing each other under their costumes. After being discovered, they both recoil in terror, though eventually agree to a mutually complementary version of the night’s events (they both hooked up with a hottie). While other examples on this list explore incest to show how messed up their characters are, or to be edgy, Family Guy seems to have taken on this topic simply because it was there.
Creep factor: 4. Just another day at the Griffins’. [NC]
6. Ivy and Little Charles, August: Osage County (2007, play; 2013, film)
Just in case the rest of the events in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play (and, more recently, a mediocre John Wells movie) didn’t broadcast that the Weston family was supremely screwed-up enough, the relationship between Ivy and “Little” Charles pushes it over the edge. Sure, all families fight, but do all families conceal a secret about the paternity of one of their own—making an intra-family love affair that much more awkward? Little Charles (played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Wells film) is unemployed and constantly berated by his mother Mattie Fae for being a screw up. (To be fair, he misses his own uncle/dad’s funeral because he overslept.) His cousin, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson, in the movie’s best performance), is similarly the butt of her mother’s ire, constantly criticized for the lack of romance in her life. But Ivy is, in fact seeing Little Charles, who, as his mother reveals, is actually the product of an affair she had with Beverly, the patriarch whose disappearance is the catalyst for the entire story. That makes them not just first cousins but also half-siblings, for those keeping score at home. But, hey, if the reveal of a semi-accidental incestuous affair finally gets you to leave the turf of your verbally abusive, pill-popping mom? Then maybe it’s not so bad, after all.
Creep factor: 5. Ivy and Little Charles already knew they were related—just not that related. But, hey, it makes them happy… [ME]
7. Basically everyone, Game Of Thrones (2011-present)
Incest isn’t just a common occurrence in the world of Game Of Thrones; it’s the reason all these characters are in this mess to begin with. If House Targaryen hadn’t been so prone to keeping their bloodline pure through brother-sister nuptials, Aerys Targaryen probably wouldn’t have been quite so insane. But the Mad King executed Ned Stark’s brother and father, leading directly to Robert’s Rebellion. But that’s just the start: The most famous related couple in the Seven Kingdoms is Jaime and Cersei Lannister. The latter tells Ned, “Jaime and I are more than brother and sister: We shared a womb, came into this world together, we belong together.” A mystifying statement, given one quite infamous scene. But their coupling leads to not only Stannis Baratheon making a play for the Iron Throne after Robert’s death, but the crippling of Bran Stark—which leads to the attempt on his life—which leads to Catelyn Stark going all mama-bear protective—which leads to a lot of other trouble (not to mention Joffrey’s inherent cruelty, as posited by Cersei). Would the Seven Kingdoms be drama-free if brothers and sisters stopped getting it on? Probably not, but there would be considerably less crazy.
Creep factor: 9. So. Much. Incest. [ME]
8. Justin and Iris, Carnivàle, “Day Of The Dead” (2003)
You know you’re in for a good time, incest-wise (ugh), when the father who pimps his daughters out as part of a traveling strip show isn’t the creepiest example of overly familiar family relations that Daniel Knauf’s Depression-era cult show has to offer. No, that title goes to Brother Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown) and his sister Iris (Amy Madigan), who, despite Justin’s demonic role in the show’s vast mythology, begin as nothing more than two loving, if overly codependent, siblings and servants of God. The moment comes after a dire crisis for Justin’s dwindling faith in both his sister and his God, as Iris confesses to burning down a church (killing the children sleeping inside) in order to draw more attention and money to her brother’s ministry. Enraged, Justin grabs his sister by the neck… and forces her into a passionate kiss, before throwing her onto a couch and advancing on her in full Clancy Brown bug-eyed Frankenstein mode. The final shot of the scene is of Iris, staring upward at her looming brother, face unreadable. The show never makes the aftermath of that moment explicit, but the following season sees Iris slowly turn against her brother, while also arranging for a string of maids to be brought to their house to be targets for Justin’s ungodly, sanity-destroying sexual proclivities. Eventually, series regular Sofie (Clea Duvall) finds her way into the Crowe home in such a role and—thanks to the show’s love of convoluted plotting and genealogies—a position to be the victim of incest of a much darker, and less trendy, sort.
Creep factor: 8. The least objectionable thing about Justin and Iris’ increasingly destructive dependence on each other is that one of the pair is a black-eyed harbinger of the apocalypse. [WH]
Incest goes Greek in Dogtooth, the Academy Award-nominated ultra-black comedy from filmmaker and theater director Yorgos Lanthimos. The setup is simple: Insanely overprotective Father and Mother confine their three unnamed teenage children to a stately house that is more enforced compound than home. Dad brings Christina, a security guard from his factory job, home for sex with Son, and that’s when hormones, questions, and the incest begin. Christina trades oral sex for a headband with the eldest daughter, and the Eldest takes this newfound sex-for-trade scenario to her younger sister. The girls innocently lick each other, beginning with shoulders and gradually going south. Once Christina is banned from the compound, Father, in one of the more disturbing instances of abuse in recent memory, offers the two daughters to Son for sex. The squirmiest scene, in a film full of them, features mechanical, unsimulated sex between Son and Older Daughter. They understand bodily pleasure, but have no concept of sex outside of immediate gratification. Having no foundation to understand incest, they don’t see it as wrong, but simply another order from Father. Presenting parental control at its most totalitarian, Lanthimos uses the incest as shock, but also as the end result of repression and the powder-keg that is teenage sexuality.
Creep factor: 10. It really doesn’t get more graphic or creepy. [DF]
10. Lucrezia and Cesare, The Borgias (2011-2013)
The Borgias spent two seasons promising audiences that the intense sibling simpatico between Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia was never going to cross the line into the incestuous relationship that started as a political smear campaign and became an eyebrow-raising fixture of the family legend. No one told Holliday Grainger or Francois Arnaud, though, and they played every scene with the sort of calculated yearning that left little room for doubt. By its third season, when Lucrezia was lounging naked on bed in front of him and Cesare was too jealous of her new husband to even function, the actual wedding-sex between them felt less like a taboo than a relief.
Creep factor: 2. Their mutual devotion was already so all-consuming and twisted that the sex barely changed anything; honestly, it was sort of the least of their family’s problems. [GV]
11. Cathy and Chris, Flowers In The Attic (2014) and Petals In The Wind (2014)
Lifetime must be patting itself on the back for jumping on the incest trend with its adaptations of V.C. Andrew’s Dollanganger series, about a family of siblings locked in an attic for years by a distant mother and abusive grandmother. Of course, the major draw for both the books and the movies is the relationship that develops between the older siblings, who hit adolescence in the attic with no other outlet for their hormones—and have so many trust issues that nobody else would stand much of a chance. (Kiernan Shipka and Mason Dye play the pair in the first film; Rose McIver and Wyatt Nash play the siblings in the second.) Chris and Cathy’s relationship is far from healthy—sometimes coercive and always codependent—and they know it, too. But all the Bible verses in town can’t stop them. Weirdly, this pair ends up being the real thing; their tortured relationship sustain another handful of soapy stories about the Dollangangers and a marriage made out of seriously iffy circumstances.
Creep factor: 5. Their circumstances explain a lot, and their love is true enough to survive several twists and turns, but the fact that they’re the children of an incestuous union themselves casts an additional creepy pall over this family tree. [GV]
12. Morgan and Arthur, Camelot (2011)
The role of Morgan in the Arthurian legend has undergone significant changes over the years. At this point, however, it’s a widely accepted interpretation that Morgan was the architect of her half-brother Arthur’s doom when she seduced him (in the grand Arthurian tradition of pretending to be someone else) and bore Mordred, who would one day slay Arthur on the battlefield. And when Michael Hirst (who also produced The Borgias) took on the legend for the short-lived series Camelot on Starz, he brought that aspect of the legend to the fore, giving Morgan’s (Eva Green) ambitions for the throne and Arthur’s (Jamie Campbell Bower) youthful brashness all the weight of inevitable tragedy. Turns out a mythic pedigree doesn’t make the situation any less creepy; when Morgan heads for Arthur’s bed, her intentions are far from kind, and she’s wearing Guinevere’s face, so Arthur doesn’t even know it’s really her (uncool, mythology). And while it was not the messiest subplot the show ever tackled, the lack of any resolution leaves the awkward scene as a lasting impression, hanging forever in TV suspension.
Creep factor: 9. Everybody needs to know who everybody else is, you guys, that is rule number one for this stuff. [GV]
Nip/Tuck dipped its quill into the incest ink a handful of times fairly early on (Ava/Adrian, Kit/Quentin), but there was just something about perpetual screw-up Matt McNamara (John Hensley) falling into that pattern in the show’s fifth season that made everyone say: “Oh. Okay.” (By the way, the episode description for this plot is “Matt experiences a special bond with one of Christian’s patients.” That is an understatement.) This particular incestuous storyline happened the same season that Matt set himself on fire due to meth (but the season before he became a criminal mime), so it is often considered an afterthought, but Matt really did find himself falling in love at first sight with Christian’s patient Emme (Jeannine Kaspar). She’s the first he has sex with—and then they figure out they’re siblings. That’s when things get tricky, albeit super Nip/Tuck. Even after sibling knowledge, both Matt and Emme continued to declare their love for each other, unable to listen to reason from any of their parents. In a moment of clarity—for maybe the first time ever—Matt eventually decides to let Emme go back home with her mother, but it’s not so much because he realizes it’s wrong to sleep with his sister (and she is still all about them being together) but because it’s honestly the closest thing he’s ever had to a “healthy” relationship. Basically, American Horror Story has nothing on Nip/Tuck.
Creep factor: 8: It’s a solid ranking, but Ryan Murphy would probably be furious, as he was surely going for a higher number. (Like, a 15 out of 10.) But he’d already done incest between Famke Janssen and Seth Gabel, as well as well as between Rhona Mitra and a de-penised Bruno Campos. And? All of them were more fascinating than Matt McNamara and his never again seen half-sister. [LF]
There were a lot of warning signs early on that ABC Family’s Twisted had no idea where it wanted to go, story-wise, but when the show came back from hiatus to close up its first and final season, it was clear that the the writers were just throwing things at the wall to find out what would stick. What it resulted in was absolute insanity. The back half of the season introduced Charlie (Jack Falahee), a character who knew not-so-twisted Danny from their time in juvie and developed an obsession with him and his life. Charlie first tried to date Lacey, Danny’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, but when that failed, he moved on to Jo (Maddie Hasson), the one with the unrequited love for Danny. Dear, sweet Jo! After one date and a couple of pretty passionate kisses, Charlie falls in love with Jo. Full on, Marky Mark-in-Fear in love with her. And as Jo won’t reciprocate his intense feelings, Charlie reaches his breaking point. It all comes to a head in the last scene of the series: a scene where Jo’s mother, who had been looking for the child she’d given up years before, reveals that Charlie is her son. Roll credits, fade to black. What was marketed as a suspenseful thriller turned into the trashiest of nighttime soaps.
Creep factor: 2. Honestly, despite the actual intimacy (as small as it was) between Jo and Charlie, the real subtextual incest vibes were being thrown out by Ivan Sergei’s character, Jack, and his sexually ambiguous daughter, Whitney, all throughout that same finale. Had ABC Family actually gone there, that would be the marquee incest story for this show. It also would have raised quite a few red flags, of course. [LF]
15. Robin and Johnno, Top Of The Lake (2013)
Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss), the beleaguered heroine of this complex miniseries from the mind of writer-director Jane Campion, spends nearly every second processing the trauma of her adolescence while investigating a mysterious crime in a quiet, gray town in New Zealand. Her investigation of the strange pregnancy of a young girl named Tui forces her to play power games with old acquaintances during her small-town investigation while trying to heal from the scars she still bears. Her only relief comes in the form of Johnno Mitcham (Thomas M. Wright), her erstwhile ex and the son of the town druglord, who very quickly enters her orbit and ends up staying, either to save her life or because she feels connected to him, which they both recognize as a rare thing. When they find out she might also be Mitcham’s daughter, it’s gutting for both of them. We never find out definitively one way or the other, and one of Top Of The Lake’s most sympathetic thematic resolutions is that they decide to use uncertainty to their advantage: Robin and Johnno choose to stay together and shake off the last influences of the past.
Creep factor: 2. We aren’t even sure they’re related. Even if they are, without any pre-existing sibling relationship, there’s not the same ick factor as with some others on this list—and frankly, these two have suffered so much that if they can look the other way, we wish them well. [GV]
16. J.R. and Colin, The Color Wheel (2011)
Alex Ross Perry’s aggressively shambolic 16 mm comedy packs a serious wallop into its final 10 minutes. Holed up in their grandparents’ cabin, siblings Colin and J.R. (Perry and co-writer Carlen Altman) briefly stop their bickering; over the course of a single handheld take—a self-contained mini psychodrama, during which the two inch closer and closer to each other while the camera moves in for increasingly tighter close-ups—they reveal all their vulnerabilities. After 80 minutes of increasingly unambiguous sexual tension, the movie’s finale feels like a release.
Creep factor: 5. The Color Wheel’s climax is an audience gasp moment, calculated for maximum discomfort. In hindsight, though, it feels perversely right, not only because Perry and Altman have spent most of the movie foreshadowing it, but because, within the cruel and mean-spirited world of the film, it’s the only expression of sympathy their characters have left. [IV]
17. Rose and Jonathan, Bored To Death, season three (2014)
HBO’s stoner detective comedy Bored To Death always embraced a merrily hedonistic view of the world, encouraging its characters to run with any career paths, intoxicants, or sexual relationships that might deliver them a taste of illusive happiness. In the show’s final season, however, it took that “do what you feel” mindset too far when Jason Schwartzman’s unlicensed P.I. Jonathan discovers that his girlfriend Rose (Isla Fisher) is his half-sister, fathered by the same sperm-bank donor. He weighs breaking the news to her, but in the show’s concluding moments opts against it, a decision that’s condoned by his grandma-fetishist pal Zach Galifianakis, who reassures him, “We all have our thing.”
Creep factor: 9. Consensual incest is upsetting enough to think about, but the idea of one partner withholding the truth of their relationship from the other is particularly reprehensible, and an inexplicably dark choice for a character as benevolent as Schwartzman’s Jonathan. Since it didn’t receive a fourth-season renewal, Bored To Death never got to explore the consequences of Jonathan’s decision. It remains to be seen whether the proposed Bored To Death movie will pick up the plot or, understandably, just pretend the whole mess never happened. [ER]
Rome’s sell to HBO was sort of the pre-Game Of Thrones sell: sword fighting, vaguely historical shit, a bunch of people die, and oh yeah, everyone gets naked. Coming off of cable television’s love for sexually adventurous dramas and whatever version of Roman sexual relations Gladiator put out in 2000, it was only a matter of time before some brother and sister ended up sleeping together on the orgiastic show. Rome makes it happen with Octavia (Kerry Condon) and Octavian (Max Pirkis) of the Julii, part of a calculated move on Octavia’s part to get information out of her younger brother. If it wasn’t weird enough for a sister to seduce a brother, Rome added another level: Octavia sleeps with her brother so she can get information for her lover, Servilia, who herself is Caesar’s lover—and Caesar is rumored to have had some relations with Octavian, his adopted son. So, err, yeah.
Creep factor: 6. It’s not the weirdest sexual pairing on this show, but the fact that Pirkis’ Octavian looks barely 14 does not help things. [SS]
Jeff Smax, a character from Alan Moore’s Top 10, got his own spinoff mini-series in Smax, in part because he was the brooding superhero type with a past in the original series. (He is also large, and blue, and has striking white hair.) Smax explored his past, when Jeff and his cop-partner Robyn returning to his fractured-fantasy homeworld. True to form for a brooding hero, his backstory was pretty fucking dark: Jeff’s father raped Jeff’s mother, and she died giving birth to the resulting twins. Then their father, continuing his generally horrible ways, continued the abuse on Jeff’s twin sister Rexa. In the process of saving themselves, they became intimate, but then separate, because they feel kind of weird about the whole thing. The story follows Jeff returning to his homeworld and coming to terms with his feelings for Rexa—which is to say, they stop caring about being related and just go with it.
Creep factor: 4. The comic makes pains to observe that their relationship isn’t that weird in their already insanely weird home world (illustrated in loopy detail by Zander Cannon). But this panel is terrifying. [SS]
20. Clary and Jace, City Of Bones (2007, book; 2013, film)
Cassandra Clare’s series The Mortal Instruments follows a bunch of hot teenagers running around the shadow-worlds of New York City, hunting demons and messing around with their cool powers. So of course, it’s somewhat inevitable that desperate love triangles would pop up like mushrooms: In this film/book, Clary Fray (Lily Collins) ends up falling for the mysterious and handsome magical guy that is her guide to the world of the Shadowhunters, Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower). And then they kiss, and then they end up being half-siblings. (Or are they?) Clare spent a lot of time developing the complicated genealogies of her characters—the six books of The Mortal Instruments (hilariously abbreviated “TMI”) and the Infernal Devices trilogy all deal with the same few powerful families, relating and interrelating in multiple ways. Given that, and the fact that Clary and Jace think they’re related for two books and steal kisses anyway, it seems likely that Clare was invested in the two being related, and then backed off a tad as the series picked up readers. Why? Well, you know: forbidden love.
Creep factor: 1. Eh, they only kiss. And they don’t end up being related. But kids, calm it down a bit with the “Let’s have a secret weird love!” okay? [SS]
Tracy and Jeremy grew up as next-door neighbors and ran off together when they were 16 to escape Jeremy’s racist alcoholic father. The young married couple arrives at Princeton-Plainsboro after the two are caught up in a botched robbery attempt that leaves Tracy (Jurnee Smollett) in inexplicable respiratory distress. While in the hospital, Jeremy (Raviv Ullman) begins suffering the same symptoms; in true House style, their symptoms escalate quickly, and the climax poses terrible questions about finding your true love and facing death. As House’s team rules out all the possible environmental and viral causes, they are left with one highly unlikely diagnosis: a rare genetic disease that both Jeremy and Tracy share. The disease also explains why Tracy, who is black, has green eyes and lighter skin than the rest of her family, and why Jeremy’s white father went into a racist rage when the two kids started dating—turns out that Jeremy’s dad snuck next door and impregnated Tracy’s mom.
Creep factor: 1. The episode includes a poignant monologue by Foreman pointing out that they’re not really siblings because they didn’t grow up that way. But Tracy is sufficiently creeped out to leave Jeremy before they even leave the hospital. [LMB]
Orphan Black always has to find a way to take it to the next level, and it did just that late in the second season of the show, when Felix (Jordan Gavaris) plays host to Tony (Tatiana Maslany), a trans man who has the exact same genetic code as Felix’s foster-sister, Sarah. On one hand, Tony has no connection to Felix, genetic or otherwise: They’ve never met before their one day together, which starts with hate-flirting and ends with making out in a doorway. On the other hand, though, Tony looks just like Sarah and her clone-sisters Alison, Helena, Cosima, Rachel, and, you know, the list goes on. Felix and Sarah are each other’s family; the other clones have gotten adopted in. So when Tony shows up, he’s sort of a stranger, and sort of an identical copy of Felix’s sister. Plus, Tony’s transition from female-to-male is ongoing in the scene, which means that unlike Maslany’s typically impeccable portrayal of the other clones, Tony comes off a little messy. And he really does look like Sarah wearing a pasted-on beard. Which makes the scene even stickier.
Creep factor: Either 0 or 10. Zero, if we’re going purely by the technical definition of “kissing a sibling.” Ten, if we’re going by audience reaction, which is something like, “My eyes! My eyes!” [SS]