Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Why is that guy called Limpy?": Brotherhood

In the fourth episode of its second season, Brotherhood continued to settle into a pattern that seems likely to dominate its run -- family scenes good, political scenes middling, mob scenes kind of boring. Fortunately, the show has placed a stronger influence on these family stories. Unfortunately, most of the series' plot is being borne on the back of the mob storyline. The first season showed that this show could do a really interesting portrayal of state politics, but this season seems less interested in that, eschewing the political machinations of season one for an election campaign that's frustratingly similar to every other election campaign you've seen on TV.

Fortunately, the family scenes are very good indeed. That final scene of the episode (or close to final -- I can't recall if it actually was the final) set around the dinner table was nice and moody and positively Rockwellian, even as Michael sat at the head of the table, taking the position of power he so desperately craves in his work and longs to ditch in his personal life. (Sidebar: I love the way they do the sound mix on this show so that the scenes where people eat -- of which they are many -- prominently feature the sounds of silverware scraping against plates and clacking against teeth; something about it increases the immersiveness of the show for me and makes me really hungry.)

I also liked the bonding of Eileen and Kath, who launched a complicated scheme involving Ma Caffee's car (which somehow improbably worked out and actually inspired some laughs -- a rarity on this oft-gloomy show). The women of the Caffee family really came to the forefront in this episode, and I think that was a good thing. The cast is uniformly strong, but Fionnula Flanagan and Annabeth Gish are probably the two strongest cast members, so it's always nice to see them get some material with some real meat on its bones. Heck, even the young Mary Rose continued her spiral into teenage hoodlumism. Brotherhood's cast is its best asset, so it's nice to see it playing to more of its actors like this, as opposed to last season, when it could become the Brothers Caffee show.

Tommy, meanwhile, has embarked on an affair with a woman named Dana (which is one vowel too close to Donna -- the character Janel Moloney played on The West Wing). It's interesting to see Tommy try to work out his issues with his marriage with another woman (and I'm mostly relieved he didn't hook up with that awful actress from last week and instead hooked up with Dana -- I knew Moloney was joining the cast for a handful of episodes, but not as this), and Moloney proved to be a fairly good foil for the character. I was less interested in the political intrigue surrounding her, but that seems to be par for the course for the political stories this season.

The mob stories continue to feel a bit forced, though I did like the intersection of Michael's mental health issues and his life of crime. It's also fascinating to see Declan drawn into this world, on the order of his bosses, and get the sense that it's a world he may never emerge from. Ethan Embry didn't really impress me in season one, but he's been just great in season two, playing a man with increasingly little room to stand on a sandbar that's being rapidly washed away.

From the "next week on" previews, it looks as if some big events in Brotherhood land will happen next week. This is good. I'm still enjoying the show (well, I don't know if enjoying is the right word, but I never feel sorry that I've watched it), but it would be nice to have a few of those big, meaty scenes happen and have them advance the plot.

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