Grief is one of the hardest things in human existence to deal with. It's also one of the most universal. Brotherhood's ninth episode tackles it head-on, weaving an emotionally moving story without shying away from the more suspect undertones that have always colored the series.
The episode starts with a horrific bang, when Freddie Cork's son Ricky jumps from an overpass, causing a vicious traffic accident that claims several lives, including those of Marty Trio's wife and Carl Hobbs, the mailman with whom Eileen had been cheating on Tommy. As far as huge accident scenes go, I don't think anything is going to top the utterly terrifying sequence at the beginning of The State Within (ironically starring Brotherhood's own Jason Isaacs), but this is a pretty gut-wrenching sight. If you need further convincing, check out Jason Clarke's face when Tommy gets the news from his assistant during a charity event. It is the definition of the shocked expression.
Everyone comes together in the wake of the incident, and yet everyone is affected by it differently. It's one of the great ironies of life; the things that bring us all together, we often handle in the most different of ways. Freddie (Kevin Chapman, giving his best performance of the season) finds out his son is dead during another business meeting and collapses at the news. Declan (Ethan Embry, who's looking more and more underused on Fairly Legal with how well he performs here) is tasked with identifying the bodies of people from his own neighborhood. And Tommy finds that his sister Mary Kate has been injured in the accident. Everyone has some stake in the tragedy, which means the situation is ripe for discontent and opportunism.
That duality is the thing I most appreciate and yet loathe about this episode. It seems perverse to think that anyone would take advantage of such a horrible situation for their own ends, and yet the cynic in me sees where that makes perfect sense. There's an early scene where the mayor meets up with Tommy and Eileen as they are making the rounds amongst the families of the deceased, obviously there for the PR. I was so incensed watching it that I wanted to punch him in the face myself. This, though, also helps to highlight what makes Tommy different from the politicians we've come to loathe; you never get the sense that he's being disingenuous. Yes, he might be doing it in part because he has to, but this is his neighborhood. These are his people. I'm aware that he's no saint, but I think that's why I love his character so much. He's not an angel, but I believe that he's got a good heart.
That said, this is one of those episodes where he ends up doing something questionable for the right reasons. Ricky's suicide does not go over well with the church, and that keeps him from a proper funeral. Freddie goes to Tommy for help, armed with $50,000 dollars to buy peace for his son. It's a vulnerable side to the gangster; all he cares about is preserving his son's memory. Tommy is loathe to even go near Freddie, but Eileen points out that this isn't about Freddie, it's about his son. Armed with the money, Tommy starts working on the situation, eventually recruiting his mother to talk to Judd Fitzgerald (Len Cariou) in order to set things right. At that point, however, $15,000 has gone missing. Where has it ended up? Well, that's up to us to figure out. But how much does it matter when the right thing gets done in the end? Later on, Tommy goes and sits with Freddie's wife Fiona during the memorial service, when her husband can't bring himself to attend, and it's a genuine gesture.
I'm particularly touched by a scene between Tommy and his openly gay assistant Alex. When Alex brings up that Ricky was gay, Tommy's response is a disaffected "So?" To him, it doesn't matter. I wish there was that kind of tolerance in the real world. Even to Freddie, it doesn't seem too concerning. "I just want him back," he tells his son's boyfriend. (Then again, he has a random fit of rage and strangles the kid soon after, so I'm not sure he takes it as well as he says.)
Unfortunately, there's still machinations at work through all this, too. Under pressure from the newly-installed Speaker to help him pass the House budget, Tommy must use his good deed as leverage against Freddie, whom he maneuvers to gain a much-needed vote. It's a crime of opportunity at best. Meanwhile, brother Michael takes advantage of Freddie's moment of weakness to sow discontent around him. Like the mayor, he's looking out for himself in a sea of confusion. It's audacious behavior, but if you're that ruthless, it's the perfect opportunity. The fact that I'm both disgusted and yet understanding only proves the show's overarching point that good and evil are not as far apart as we'd like to think they are.
Then there's the just plain painful. Eileen (Annabeth Gish, whom I think I finally might be forgiving for Season 9 of The X-Files after watching this) not only finds out that Carl is dead, but she's stuck comforting his ex-fiancee, Jordana. When Jordana tells Eileen that "I loved him more than he loved me," we all know why and it's just as stinging to us as it is to Eileen. It's only after his death that she can confront the feelings Carl had for her, and whatever she really felt for him, or the idea of him. It's certainly something I can attest to; I lost a childhood friend of mine, and though I cared for him deeply when he was alive, I never realized how much he impacted my life until he was gone.
Declan, meanwhile, does not cope very well at all, because he can't find solace in anything that the other characters do. He can't wrap his brain around what's happened. "Is it Marty with the cancer that dies?" he says to his partner. "No. It's his perfectly healthy wife." He battles with all the logical questions we ask ourselves in the face of a bad situation. On top of that, he's asked to help out Marty, who's locked in depression after losing his wife. Blaming Freddie's son for killing his wife, Marty in turn tells Declan that he's ready to turn on the gangster. Declan looks at the situation from what I suppose you could call the atheist perspective (though I think that's bringing religion into it more than the episode does), and that drives a wedge between him and everyone else - something that continues through the rest of season one.
This episode is, in a sense, a microcosm for why Brotherhood works as a series. On one hand, it's telling a story that is no longer about genre or a particular plotline, but about people in general. Like many of the best series, it's transcended its specifics to tell stories driven by characters, regardless of what they are. We see all our characters come together here, and everyone deals with grief and pain, never mind what they do. The story and lessons learned apply to everyone equally. On the other hand, we still see people maneuvering, some of them forced to, others choosing to, because their world doesn't stop even in the face of such a tragic situation. There's what we see publicly and what goes on behind closed doors, what's self-contained and what's ongoing. While at this point in the series I'm now invested in the lives of these characters, I'm also presented with the reminder that they can never escape what they are. This is a successful episode because it doesn't flinch from either part of the equation.
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