The first season of Brotherhood had a finale that was pretty much perfect. The end of season two couldn't quite meet that high standard, but in a way, that belies the more tumultuous nature of the show's sophomore year.
When last we left Providence, things had gotten kind of ugly. They've only gotten worse since then. The one-time informant Marty Trio is no longer with us thanks to Colin, Freddie Cork is on the run, and everyone else is up in arms. Moe Riley (I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm amazed this guy has a pulse) meets with Michael, who wants to know where Freddie is - being that he now knows Freddie is the one who put the hit out on him at the end of season one.
Meanwhile, Tommy is with Eileen at a get-together when he realizes he's being stalked by his mistress Dana. She's not happy that he hasn't called. (I told you she was insane.) As if that wasn't bad enough, not only does Eileen know, but Speaker Donatello has picked up on the situation as well. After Dana storms off, he offers to talk to her. Worse is that Dana decides she'll take her frustration out in a particularly underhanded way: she calls the Caffee house and has a chat with eldest daughter Mary Rose. So, yeah, it's a pretty nasty situation all the way around. And frankly, as much as I love Tommy, he completely deserves it. What did he think was going to happen?
Declan picks a very drunken late-night fight with his partner, Ralph, accusing him of setting up Marty to be killed. He finds out that their bosses felt the same way and basically took everything his partner had. Ralph warns him to get out before the same thing happens to him.
Speaking of detiorating conditions, in a development that shocks no one but is still saddening anyway, Judd Fitzgerald finally passes away. The writing's been on the wall here since the end of season one, with the only question being what would happen in the aftermath. At his wake, Tommy tries to comfort Colin - revealed as Judd's son a few episodes earlier - while Eileen gets to listen to Peggy vent bitterly, perhaps acting as a harbinger of her possible future. The Speaker and the mayor begin to divide Judd's political responsibilities, and Tommy wants the seat on the committee that Judd was setting him up for. He doesn't realize until after he's made his argument for it that the Speaker had someone else in mind.
Taking Ralph's words to heart, Declan quits the task force and tries again to reconcile with Cassie. Only one of these things has a positive outcome for him; the other leads to his demotion. At least his priorities are in order.
Colin and Rose talk after Judd's wake, and she's incensed that there won't be a memorial service. She tells Colin that he needs to demand one. That conversation is awkward and ends with him swiping a Tiffany lamp that he takes to the bar with him. It's a little bit funny, seeing Colin, Rose and the lamp sharing a few drinks later on.
Freddie meets with Alphonse Nozzoli, and wants Michael killed. What he doesn't know is that the whole thing is on tape, and that tape is getting played in Ellis Franklin's office. It's pretty much the nail in Freddie's proverbial coffin.
Tommy is called to meet with Speaker Donatello, who tells him that he needs a Majority Leader with a "less independent spirit." The incident at Judd's wake was the last straw between them, and now they're throwing down. Our hero threatens to take the Speaker's job, even as his office and parking space have already gone by the wayside. He and the allies he have left talk business that night in his living room, and the numbers aren't great, but Tommy's mind is made up. He's got a stubborn streak in him, if you hadn't already noticed.
Michael hears from a contact who claims to know where Freddie is, but it's just a setup for the latest attempt on his life. A shootout ensues in broad daylight in the middle of the street, with plenty of witnesses. You can't get much more public than that. Michael escapes again, but that's two attempts on his life in two season finales. One figures that his luck will run out eventually.
Tommy finds out about the shooting when he's asked about it by a reporter during an interview. He wisely doesn't comment on the issue, while no doubt thinking, "Here we go again." Later in the day, he confronts one of his colleagues who's turned sides, believing that the shooting makes Tommy too vulnerable to support. Tommy makes another wonderfully eloquent threat of retribution. I love it. Not only is he going to threaten you, he's going to be incredibly well-spoken while doing it.
Mary Rose asks Eileen about Tommy's affair, telling her about the phone call from Dana. This motivates Eileen to pay Dana a visit, and the two have an argument that's much tamer than I would have expected. Had I been in Eileen's position, I would have killed her and dumped the body - but then again, I don't have three kids and my husband's career to worry about. Dana reveals that she was once married and her husband cheated on her. Again, I still don't understand the "someone did it to me and I hated it, so I'm going to go out and do it" reasoning. Then again, as I said previously, this whole subplot never worked for me, except maybe for that it finally got me to really like Eileen.
There's a reference to the Al Pacino/John Cusack film City Hall (1996), which I love since I've never known anyone other than me who saw it, before Michael (who's angrily called up Franklin and now knows about the tape) tips Nozzoli off to the wire in his office. This is enough to get him a face-to-face with the Italian. That's all unbeknownst to Freddie, who's been located by and is spending time with Declan. Declan drops him off for an alleged meeting with Nozzoli. The moment that Freddie tells Declan he's a good guy, my instincts tell me something will go wrong, and it does: the cops are lying in wait and, under Franklin's watchful eye, re-arrest Freddie as Declan drives away.
Tommy has realized that his battle with the Speaker will not end well. Resigned to his fate sits down with the other man and cedes the seat he'd been holding onto. This gets him his office back (but not his parking space). The Speaker tells Tommy that if it weren't for Michael, he might have won. I wonder how many times Tommy's heard that before. We established last season that his brother's reputation has done a lot of unintended harm, and that Michael grew up as the favorite son in the family despite Tommy's accomplishments. It'd probably give me a complex too.
Colin, Peggy, Tommy and Eileen hold a psuedo-memorial for Judd. Peggy accuses Tommy of killing her husband by pushing him out of the spotlight and calls him a "ruthless bastard." We know from previous episodes that was never his intent, but she doesn't know that. Eileen takes the following moment to tell Tommy that his mistress called the house and she "took care of it." He decides to confront Dana himself, but she's already moved on to her next bed partner. If he expected anything else, he's an idiot. And the look on his face as he leaves her place is a clear realization of exactly how he's played and been played by just about everyone. He crossed the line personally and professionally this season and now has to ask himself if it was worth it. I think not.
Michael pays Ralph a visit, so he can strangle him for his part in everything. Declan finds out about Ralph's death and has a meltdown in his new patrol car. Connecting the dots, the dozen of them that there are, makes him realize that he isn't capable of turning away from what's really going on, even if it costs him his relationship with Cassie. Luckily for him, she actually seems to understand that, or at least doesn't chew him out. We saw this season how much worse off he is without her; without question, he needs her.
After all is said and done, Michael arrives at Tommy's house to find his brother sullen over everything that's gone wrong for him. Tommy's also had quite a few drinks, so it's not surprising that he picks a fight - and then tells Michael that he knew Freddie was going to have him killed and kept quiet about it. As you can expect, Michael is stunned by this little tidbit. Thankfully, Rose and Colin show up before any real confrontation can be had. Michael will just sit there and glare a hole in the side of Tommy's head, while Tommy goes back to hating his life. This show is great at showing us the moments just before what should be a huge explosion, and leaving us to imagine the fallout. But this time, after having one dropped on him last season, it's Tommy who's dropping the bombshell.
In a sense, that's a reflection of the season as a whole. Last season, Tommy warned Michael that if he didn't leave town, Michael would destroy him. Well, Michael certainly didn't help, but Tommy pretty much did that to himself, between having an affair and becoming just as ruthless as some of his cohorts. He went off the rails. And as he went, so did the season, which has more conflict, betrayal and moral ambiguity than the first. (As is usually the expectation in television.)
It's not easy to swallow. The season contains my least favorite subplot of the entire series (in Tommy's affair) and kills off a few major characters. When you've become as attached to a story as season one allowed us to get, watching it get screwed up never sits well. I fell in love with Tommy last season, and he really did break my heart a few times this season. There were times when I honestly didn't like him very much. Yet his life was also pretty much a trainwreck at the same time, from finding out about his wife's affairs and drug use, to nearly losing his job, and plenty of political warfare. Not that it excuses his behavior, but I'm not surprised that he cracked, either.
It goes to something I'm very guilty of: audience favoritism. When you have a favorite character on a show, especially if they're played by an actor you like, it's natural not to want to see them in a negative light. Oftentimes, I've found myself making excuses for characters as a result, because I don't want to grow to hate them. Not only do I like the character of Tommy, but I have tremendous admiration for Jason Clarke. I think he's one of the best actors I've ever seen. So seeing Tommy fall so far this season was disappointing, frustrating, and sometimes hard to watch. But Brotherhood didn't give me any excuse that I could make for him. There was no way I could make him look better in my eyes. He just wasn't a very good person, and I had to deal with that. This show doesn't allow for the easy way out or the simple justification.
I can't complain about the other characters. If Michael hadn't caught on to the attempt on his life from the previous season, head injury or not, he would've started to look a little stupid, which he most certainly isn't. And while I've heard complaints about the decision to leave him with lasting effects from said head injury, I have no problem with it - in fact I applaud the writing staff for taking such a bold risk with a main character. It adds even more depth to Michael's existing complex characterization, but it doesn't change him too much from the guy that we are used to. You always want your characters to grow, but never stray too far from who they are fundamentally, and Michael is still Michael. Still the thorn in everyone's side.
It was no shocker to see Declan crawl into a dark hole of his own making either but at least he crawled his way out of it. And while I was wary of the introduction of a new character, Colin actually proved himself to be a good addition - at least for Kath, who saw the shine come off her relationship with Michael in a big way this season. She, too, turned a blind eye to the reality of who she was with.
Season one was really capped perfectly, and that season as a whole was such a great piece of work. It was one of those seasons that stood on its own as a self-contained piece of work, not unlike the first season of 24. Both seasons will always hold a special place in my heart, because they're so good that they feel like you don't need more, even if you want it. As such, it's really hard to top or even match them. I'd take season one over season two, but that's less a reflection on season two and mostly because I loved season one so much. I remember the first time I saw this episode, I went, "Well...I'm not sure how I feel about that."
Not realizing that was the point.
Taken separately, there are marked differences between season one and season two, but taken as a whole, things come into perspective. When we met these characters at the beginning of season one, everything was generally good for them...and things have been unraveling ever since. Season one was the start of that decline and season two is right in the middle of it. Of course the chaos of season two won't be palatable compared to the unease of season one. And season three...well, we'll get into that later.
This finale (and the season as a whole, really) is indicative of something I've learned in my own experience as a writer: how you tell the story is just as important as the story itself, and sometimes you must be willing to change the approach to best service the story. For example, I once wrote a TV episode that had to bring several characters' viewpoints on the same issue together, so I decided to have each portion told from a different character's point of view. It was much harder for me as a writer than a straightforward procedural, but it was the right thing to do, because it allowed me to get into each character's head and present their arguments without a filter. As much as I struggled with writing it, I'm very proud of it today. Likewise, Brotherhood set us up for major fallout with the end of season one, so the creative team gave us much messier and ambiguous storylines. The stories they chose to tell reflected where the characters were in their lives and what was going on in their heads. I might have felt like I didn't know Tommy anymore at points, but I'm pretty sure he felt the same way.
In two seasons, the show has taken us from a relatively safe starting point, exposed the lies and half-truths and moral compromise underneath it, and thrown us all into the chaos that results when some things see the light of day. It's a compelling arc, even when it's not so pleasant to watch unfold. And if anything else, the bitter end to this season only made me want to see these characters get themselves together and get back to being the people I love. Did that happen? Well, that's the next chapter.