Last month, we cracked season one of Brotherhood. Welcome to season two.
The near-perfect conclusion to season one is a tough act to follow. In fact, the entirety of season one is one of the best self-contained stories I've ever seen told on television; if the creative team had wanted to quit while they were ahead I would have understood. Thankfully, they didn't.
It's a few months after season one. Tommy (Jason Clarke) has a lot of anger to deal with over wife Eileen's (Annabeth Gish) infidelities, so he decides to take it out on a wall with a sledgehammer. Though he and Eileen try to keep up the appearance of a happy marriage for their kids, and she's trying to engage with him, he'd rather have as little to do with her as possible. We can't blame him - he didn't do anything wrong, at least not intentionally, to destroy the most important thing in his life. Eileen is waiting for him to stop the silent treatment and have it out with her so they can move forward, but he'd rather seethe over it. We know he's very, very good at holding things in.
Declan (Ethan Embry) has been kicked to the curb by wife Cassie (Georgia Lyman) and is coping in a much worse way - with alcohol and pills. This hasn't gone unnoticed by those around him, and results in him being left in the dark at work. When even Moe Riley thinks you're in trouble, you're seriously screwed - although Moe is just looking for leverage, since he's the only one who knows what Declan did the night of the wedding.
And Michael (Jason Isaacs) is recovering from the head injury he suffered at the hands of Declan. Except for that he has no memory of it whatsoever - not to mention a whole host of other side effects. That's right, a main character on television actually has a major health problem. I can only think of one other time I've ever seen that happen - on Homicide: Life on the Street, when the character of Frank Pembleton suffered a stroke in "Work Related." It's a very gutsy decision from the creative team, when we not only assume but pretty much expect that our protagonists will come through unscathed. (More on that later on.) Does that stop Michael from trying to carry on business as usual? Of course not.
Tommy gives the deposition against his brother that U.S. Attorney Ellis Franklin wanted from him at the end of season one, but takes obvious care not to say anything actually useful against Michael. He's still close to Judd (Len Cariou), who's still not completely there but there enough to tell him there's a problem with one of his Representatives. They need Carvalho to back off his support of the Governor's candidate for Senate. Tommy, still concerned about Judd's mental state, is nonetheless inclined to heed his advice, if only because who else would he turn to?
Michael goes to Freddie (Kevin Chapman), not enjoying being handled, and wanting to go back to work. Freddie tells him that his liquor store's been closed and doesn't want him back until he's healthy. But Michael is there when Freddie gets into an argument with a guy named Herbie who owes him a large amount of money. Still frustrated, he asks Declan to look into what happened to him - not knowing that he's talking to the guy that did it. Unsurprisingly, Declan refuses to help him, fearing the consequences, but then relents so Michael doesn't go elsewhere. At least if he appears to be helpful, he's in control of the situation...which is good because he's not in control of much else.
Lila is believed to have ADD after assaulting a classmate with a pencil, and it's recommended that she be put on medication. Yet that's the least of Eileen's problems. Leaving the school, she runs into Jordana, Carl's fiancee, who confides in Eileen that her now deceased husband-to-be was definitely seeing someone else.
Back at the State House, Tommy has to deal with the most unsubtle bribery ever, when an out of state contractor comes to him regarding the awarding of a state contract. It could only have been more obvious if the guy had a sign over his head. He's not fooled for a second. That night, after an incredibly awkward dinner, he asks Declan if the situation may have been set up by Ellis Franklin to entrap him, since he didn't give up anything in his deposition. Declan says he doesn't know anything about it, and even if he did, he wouldn't tell. He continues to get wasted and wake up on the floor, while Tommy steers his newfound buddy in the direction of Representative Carvalho. In turn, he approaches Franklin as a concerned colleague, getting Carvalho arrested and burning Franklin simultaneously. Well played, Tommy, you genius.
Eileen and Tommy later meet with the school guidance counselor, where they swear everything is fine, lying through their teeth. In the school parking lot, he finally explodes - inasmuch as he's going to - tearing into her for being friends with Jordana while knowing she stole the other woman's fiancee. On the level of explosions we've seen Tommy have, this is a relatively minor one, and a lot less than expected, but it's perfectly played. As I mentioned earlier, we know that it takes a lot to push him to nuclear, and he's certainly not going to have a huge outburst in public, with an image to uphold. Instead, his rage is more precise, the remarks no less cutting. It might not be the most entertaining option, but it's the option that is truest to his character, and that is much more important than being entertaining.
Michael decides that he's going to take care of Herbie for Freddie, and prove that he's capable of getting back to business. The situation quickly turns violent, with him shooting both Herbie and his bodyguard, and disposing of their bodies. Freddie is none the wiser when Michael turns up with the money he's owed. Michael believes he's in the clear, especially when Declan lies to him about the identity of his attacker. It's a false sense of security, however. At the end of the day, Freddie pays a visit to Tommy, warning that while he can't keep Michael out of the business, he won't hesitate to put him down if something goes wrong - which we already know it has. In that respect, the final scene bothers us a lot more than it bothers anyone in it, because we're privy to more than they are.
And so it all begins again...
There's a lot to tear into with this episode, because it not only has to deal with the unresolved elements from the end of season one, but also give us a clear idea of where season two is headed. What there isn't is a lot of fireworks. Like the season finale, it lacks the kind of big, buzz-induced moments that we've come to expect from most TV shows. I have a lot of respect for the creative team for not pandering to the existing idea of what they're supposed to put out, and just delivering the best story that they possibly can, even if it's not a huge event. I got tired of hearing that every episode of every show was the best ever a long, long time ago.
As a Jason Clarke fan, I still enjoy watching Tommy more than anyone else, and he never fails me. I understand perfectly what he's going through emotionally, and more importantly, why he doesn't react in the way that you or I might. I'd be the one exploding, but I don't have a marriage and kids and a public image to uphold. Also, I haven't been previously established as someone who internalizes their emotions. Tommy's reaction to the status of his marriage - and in turn, the bigger picture, as we know that his family is the crux of his life - is perfectly in line with who we know he is. I will admit that I don't like where it leads him (that'd be probably my least favorite storyline of the entire series), but that's a discussion for another recap. Right now, I get him, just like I also understand Eileen's frustrations with what she perceives as his lack of reaction. If I were her, I'd rather get it all over with, too. The show doesn't tell me whose side I should be on. The situation just is what it is, and we're allowed to make up our own minds.
Then we get to Michael. I said that I was going to come back to his health storyline. I've read comments from readers as I've been going over this series, and some people honestly dislike this subplot. Interestingly, though, all the negative feedback has come from Jason Isaacs fans. I think it's a case of being too close to the forest to see the trees. It's perfectly understandable how, being fans of the actor, they dislike the idea of his character suffering permanent injury; I get upset when my favorite characters are in peril, too. What I don't think they realize is that the development not only allows Jason Isaacs to give an even better performance, but story-wise, it works in the grand scheme of things. As Blake Masters discussed in our interview last week, Michael came into the show with this perception that he was pretty much indestructible. He was feared, and we saw why as he ruthlessly cut his way back into the picture. But invulnerable heroes are boring. Michael getting attacked at the end of season one proved that he could be destroyed just like everyone else - it leveled the playing field. He was never written as being any better than anyone else, and the show wasn't going to treat him that way.
Why did there have to be permanent effects? It's not so much about the physical damage as it is about what his condition allows the writers to do with his character. Just like we're used to Michael being top dog, he's used to being that way, too. Now he's in a vulnerable spot, and it's new to him. He doesn't take it well professionally; he feels like he has to prove himself. Personally, it changes his relationships with those around him, especially Kath (Tina Benko), who's there to support him. They're not just sleeping together anymore; she's there for him when he needs her. Michael develops a meaningful connection in his life through adversity. It also changes his relationships with all the other characters, allowing those to grow along the way. I'll go more in depth with this as we move through season two, but for purposes of this episode, the decision is an incredibly gutsy one that most creative teams wouldn't have the courage to make, and one that viewers have to fully consider before they judge.
Then there's Declan, who's pretty much lost everything, plus he has the albatross of Michael's beating around his neck. It's a sad fate for the guy who was pretty much collateral damage in season one, and especially as the season goes on, it's not pretty to watch. But again, it serves a higher purpose in the story. He has nothing left to lose. He has no loyalty to anyone except himself. And those people are the most dangerous. At the same time, you can't help but root for him to pull things back together, if only for his sake.
As a whole this episode of Brotherhood upholds a theme that's been going through - and continues through - the whole show. Everything may look relatively normal on the surface, things may seem like business as usual (certainly, there's plenty of political scheming and some unsavory business to be had), but once you get behind closed doors and into the heads of our characters, you know that a lot has changed. The Hill may look like the same average working-class neighborhood we left at the end of season one, but things aren't idyllic. They'll always be complicated. And that's just the way I like them.