The biggest episode of Brotherhood's second season is episode seven. It's election day, and when things don't go smoothly, Tommy is forced to take desperate measures to secure his position. On the other side of the equation, Michael shoots a hitman point-blank in the head. It's not a docile episode by any means.
While everyone's out trying to get Tommy reelected, Michael is asked by the Italian mobster Alphonse Nozzoli to escort an incoming hitman to and from his job. When Michael asks what the intended target did to deserve being murdered, he gets the vaguest of vague answers. This is going to become a trend.
Things aren't going so well on the home front, either. After Michael's decision that he can't go through with raising their baby, Kath is on her way to an abortion clinic, with the help of Michael's cousin Colin (that's FlashForward's Brian O'Byrne, looking a lot different). It's obvious that his feelings for her are making him uncomfortable with the situation.
Declan tells Ellis Franklin that he's been asked by Freddie to help people turn out the vote on Tommy's behalf. Franklin couldn't be less interested if he tried. Declan's plan involves hanging out at the bar and bribing his fellow patrons with alcohol. Well, if it works... But it's worth noting that he votes against his old friend, and then lies about it when Cassie asks.
The relationship between Tommy and Eileen is still fairly nonexistent. As they leave after casting their own votes, his mind is entirely on what he has to do next. That's not surprising, but she's surprised that he doesn't want her with him, rather working the phones elsewhere. (Well, I wonder why...no, I don't.) Even when he tells her that he loves her, it's obvious that she's still not so sure. She does stop him to adjust the corsage that his sister put on him, which will be hugely important in a little bit. It's a small moment that one could easily dismiss, especially since we're focused on the awkwardness of the relationship between Tommy and Eileen, which makes it a great time to sneak a clue in there. But we'll get back to that at the appropriate time.
Meanwhile, the mayor has turned out to support Tommy's opposition, and they're using Michael to slander Tommy's reputation, much to Rose's disgust. She brings this to her son's attention, so Tommy has Alex call the mayor to register their opposition and see how big of a push he's making on the other candidate's behalf.
Michael picks up the hitman from his hotel. We are not talking about the standard "guy who slinks around in all black with one gun" type of hitman. This guy has a bulletproof vest and half an arsenal in the back of his car. As they arrive at their destination, he's so unruffled that he's taking a call from his wife. Michael is not impressed with all of this nonsense. The two of them sneak into the house, but their target isn't there. Whoops.
Kath and Colin are sitting in an incredibly awkward silence at the abortion clinic. I mean, what are you supposed to talk about at a time like that? Finally, Colin tells Kath she should do what she wants with the baby, but she doesn't know if she can support three kids on her own. She goes through with the abortion.
Alex is having a fight with his now ex-boyfriend over the phone (it says something about how well this show's supporting characters are developed that I'm actually sad over this), but said ex-boyfriend is calling with a warning: there's a huge Latino turnout in support of the opposition, as opposed to a lower turnout in the Irish wards. Translation: Tommy is in serious trouble.
As Alex gets off the phone, Dana Chase leaves a hotel room down the hall, with Tommy's corsage pinned to her. No, that's not obvious at all. Tommy walks out a moment later.
I'm going to get on my soapbox a moment. I said in my recap of the season premiere that when it came around, I'd talk about why I am not a fan of this particular subplot. I regard my favorite characters like I see my friends, and personally, I pride myself on my loyalty. Cheating is something I absolutely do not condone. Beyond that, from a story standpoint, it doesn't sit well with me. I was equally opposed to Eileen's infidelities in season one, but as the season went on, I grew to understand why she did it; that didn't make it okay, but it did make it make sense. I don't have that understanding this time around. There's something hypocritical in Tommy being so outraged at his wife cheating on him, and then having an affair of his own. Maybe he's just trying to get back at her, but I'd thought he'd be above such a petty motivation. This subplot was the only time in the whole series run I honestly disliked him, which broke my heart just a little bit; then again, maybe I have his character up on a pedestal of my own.
Moving on. Alex breaks the news to Tommy, and the two go down to see the turnout for themselves. It's for real. This motivates him to visit the Speaker and ask if he knew this was going to happen. He explains what he saw and asks for the caging lists. When Donatello asks if he's sure about going that far, he tells him "They're the ones came gunning for me." Armed with the paperwork, he dispatches Mary Kate to go down to where the Latinos are voting, telling her that if anyone on the list shows up, she needs to make a challenge to their residency and their right to legally vote. She also thinks he's going a bit too far, but she does it anyway because he's family.
Back at the house, Michael asks the hitman what their target did, and he claims not to know. Michael's further unsettled when the target's wife makes the innocent mistake of coming home and the hitman decides to go after her instead. He tries to ask the woman what her husband did, but she has no idea either, and then she flips out on him, which seals her fate. And when the poor guy comes home, he gets a bullet in the back before he can get out more than one word.
Tommy's campaign pushes into another gear to save his behind, and the drastic measures don't go over well with everyone. Eileen doesn't like the new attack script she's given. Rose is dispatched to tell people she's from the Board of Elections and that they should vote the following day (when, of course, they can't). Mary Kate does her best to challenge every single vote she has to, and hates every minute of it. Kerry O'Malley really does a lot with a little in this episode.
Tommy himself has a quiet meeting with the mayor to express his displeasure at the opposition. "I'm gonna remember who did what today," he warns. Despite that, the two negotiate the political equivalent of a cease fire - the mayor agrees to pull his support and cut off Latino voting, and in exchange, The Hill becomes "a very quiet place." Of course, as this is politics, one wonders how long that deal will last in practice.
As the election results roll in, Tommy is still very much on edge. He can hear the whispers from others at campaign headquarters who thought he'd be an easy winner. Mary Kate is there alone, as her treatment of Jimmy the whole day didn't go over well with her husband. Rose tells her that she did what she had to do, but she doesn't believe it. Eileen is playing the loyal wife. "It just wasn't your finest day," she admits, and he responds with by throwing her affair back in her face again. I consider slapping him upside the head. Really, he has no room to talk.
When he's being dropped off, the hitman tells Michael that he's not going to give him the answer he wants, because it's too much fun watching him squirm over it. Michael responds by shooting him in the side of the head and blowing his brains onto the window. Alas, it's just a figment of Michael's imagination; the hitman gets out of the car alive and well. Michael will never get the 'why' of the situation and neither will we. It reminds me of a line from David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, where he says the 'why' of a crime doesn't matter as long as the right person is caught.
It's also an interesting plot for Michael, who is completely out of his element and doesn't adjust well. The way the hitman does business is not at all the way Michael goes about things. Michael wouldn't bother with all the equipment; he'd just get a gun and go shoot somebody. He wouldn't go after an innocent victim, and he wouldn't go killing somebody without being damn sure they're supposed to be dead. It makes him - and us - wonder if he's getting passed by, per se. And more importantly, do we want him to? It's an ugly question, but put in the same position, wouldn't we favor Michael's point of view? Jason Isaacs does a great job this episode as Michael is completely out of his element and not sure how to react.
Once that nightmare is over, Michael drives to check in on Tommy, and also expresses concern for his brother's political future, but Tommy would rather focus on his kids. It's a nice little scene that reminds us of the love these two have for one another even if they disagree more often than not. After Michael leaves, however, Tommy goes to get a drink and runs into the leader of the Latin Council, whom he knows he just screwed over. Edgar warns him that in two years, they're coming after him again. With that in the back of his mind, Tommy is a little subdued as he celebrates his victory just minutes later. It's a scene that really encapsulates the whole show. Times are changing. The neighborhood is changing. And in two years, things will be a lot different.
He and Eileen leave the party not long after, and are only holding hands as long as anyone can actually notice. They arrive at the elevators, and Dana Chase is there. Eileen spots Tommy's corsage on the other woman and instantly knows that her husband is having an affair with her. She doesn't even try to contain her laughter at the situation. I should say that as much as I disliked Eileen in season one at times, and as much as I loved Janel Moloney (who plays Dana) as Donna Moss on The West Wing, in that moment I was absolutely hoping for Eileen to beat the daylights out of Dana. I suppose that would've been too easy, but it would've felt great.
Our last shot is a seemingly throwaway one of Tommy's re-election signs ending up in the garbage by the end of the evening. The campaign is over and it's back to everyday life on The Hill...not to mention, it's a subtle reminder of the fact that our hero may very well be on his way out.
This episode is probably bigger, in terms of crucial plot developments, than any other in the second season. But it also highlights what made this show work so well. There's not an episode in the entire series run where something isn't happening. It might be in the form of something big like the election or something small like two people talking, but there's always something. I never came away from any episode thinking, "I could have missed that one and it wouldn't have made a difference." In fact, I remember watching the fourth episode and thinking, "If I hadn't seen the three before this, I wouldn't completely appreciate this one." I think it's a case of how the shorter season model really suits a show; while I wouldn't have complained if Brotherhood had more episodes, I'm impressed by how the smaller number of episodes allowed the creative team to put together episodes that didn't string plot out too long, but also didn't do too much. This show really found just the right balance.
In fact, much of TV is about balance. We want our characters to grow and change, but not so much that we no longer recognize who they are. There can't be too much drama without some comedy and vice versa. We want plots that are complex but not so complex that we get lost. It's a balancing act and that can be very difficult; after all, no series is perfect. I'd say that most of the time, however, Brotherhood got its balance right. The only thing I'd trouble with is the same thing which the brains behind it did - there was room for humor that went relatively overlooked - but the show was pretty consistent over the course of three seasons. I'd rather watch a show that's consistently good than one that's great one week and middling the next three.
This is the episode that brought everything from the ones before it to a head - and that marked the beginning of the conclusion to season two. Stay tuned next week as we dig into the end of the second season. Does it hold up to the fantastic first year? Come back and find out.