Sunday, October 14, 2007

"You have no idea what to do with me, do you?": Brotherhood

No, I don't, Brotherhood. I have no idea what to do with you at all.

It's not that I'm not liking the show's second season; it's just that it's hard to write about a show this slow-moving on a weekly basis. Even on The Wire, a show Brotherhood clearly admires and emulates, there's a sense that things are cohering, adding up to something. Here, you get that sense as well, but you already know where everything is going, to some degree. The inevitability of the way this world will work is part of why it's effective (and probably part of why every episode has an almost biblical title -- this is a world of fate and predestination). The Wire also has a crushing sense of inevitability, but it will throw in occasional story turns that can be exciting, humorous or devastating. Here, we're just marching to the end. It's what keeps Brotherhood a very good show but prevents it from attaining greatness.

It's also murder on your humble reviewer.

This episode, in some ways, felt like it was all about breaking ties -- Tommy was ready to cheat on his wife (weirdly, to fix his marriage -- I actually think Taxi did this one), Frankie got himself killed, and Michael tried to figure out a way to maneuver these waters (and is it just me or are they mostly backgrounding the material where he's having problems mentally that keep him from bringing his A-game? Too bad. . .that kept his story interesting). We're seeing the long, slow march to the gang war, and the characters can't do anything to stop it. They're simply cogs in some sort of machine.

There's something to be said here about how dramatic inevitability works on television. To some degree, all of television is based on dramatic inevitability -- House will save the day and be cantankerous; the CSIs will use lots of science to solve the case; the Big Love family will come through it in the end to get along. But that's just the basic step of setting up a template for a successful series. More and more shows are using the idea of dramatic inevitability to make some sort of commentary on The Way We Live Today (I think). We know that Patty and Ellen on Damages are going to do Something Awful. We know the Lost-ies (or some of them) are going to make it off the island (and we knew that Charlie would die before he made it in this season). We know that the changes of history are going to sweep the Mad Men aside. In this very real way, television alters the equation from being about WHAT happens to being about WHY it happens to WHOM or HOW the characters we know react to it. It's a tricky dance to pull off. Leave too much ambiguity, and you turn off legions of fans who may eventually decide you didn't have any sense of inevitability in the first place (hi, Lost). Answer too much, and you can effectively kill some of your series' mystique (a fate I fear for Mad Men in its second season, even if I was never the world's biggest fan of the Dick Whitman story). (Side note: How did The Nine become the most influential show on television? I mean, really?)

Brotherhood belongs to a different sort of inevitable drama on TV, which is a rough corollary of the No, This Really Happened school (see: Rome and Deadwood). Brotherhood belongs to the You've Seen This All Before school, which is only as good as the characters residing in it. You can kill a show like this simply by making it TOO similar to everything that's come before (24 struggles with this every year and failed in this last season), so you'd better hope that people really enjoy the characters involved. Fortunately, Brotherhood is full of interesting people I want to get to know a little more, mostly in the Caffee family, though I don't mind Declan and Cassie either (I can take or leave pretty much everyone else). Dramatic inevitability only works if you can tell that the freight train coming around the bend is just going to decimate the ranks. Fortunately, we can hear the whistle here, and we're cringing already.

I know this is a long-winded way of not writing anything about the episode in question, but there you go. I'm glad Brotherhood seems to be adding a LITTLE levity to the proceedings, and I'm happy to see Janel Moloney and Matt Servitto (you may remember him as the FBI dude on The Sopranos) getting work, even if it makes this show feel even MORE like Showtime's riff on Tony and the gang. And I really, really loved that scene between Eileen and Michael at Frankie's funeral, which didn't dare spell out just what she was feeling (after all, we had seen the previously ons).

I'm glad the ratings are looking up now. I can't believe the Dexter fans are staying around for this, but I'm glad they are. I never know quite which strand of the tapestry I'm looking at with Brotherhood, but I want to see how it all comes together. Maybe it'll be disappointing. That's just the risk you take.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Todd,

Are we the only reviewers on here who actually watch this show?

Anyway:

I share your pain with what it might be like to review this show. It aspires to be "The Wire" in that it is novelistic in nature and not that easy to critique in a single episode.

As a comparison, how many single chapters of a book have you read that you can write commentary on? I can only think of a few; "The Grand Inquisitor" from "The Brothers Karamazov" comes to mind.

Although I disagree with the ultimate inevitability of where everything is going. Do you really know? Share with me privately; I have my own ideas -- I don't necessarily think I'm right or am so certain as you though.

You are right in that the most interesting thing is the characters, on a short term basis, because the slow burn of the show is hard to get on like, the third episode.

I kind of resent what they've done to Declan this season; although I guess it isn't unwholly unrealistic.

I think you're not giving it enough credit though; I mean I don't think its a "Sopranos" or a "The Wire" lite -- its interesting on its own terms.

Some notes:

Did you notice that they played that song that was also in "The Departed THREE times?

"Well well well.... oh well!"

I actually own that video game that Freddy Sr. was playing.

My main criticism is the scene with Tommy and the Speaker's girl when she was getting dressed. It felt a tad bit over the top.

But otherwise I like this show. I don't envy you for having to recap it though like I've said.

BTW: I've had brutal hell week with my DVR meltdown and being sick -- I'm hoping to do the last two "Dexter"s tomorrow. Also doubling up on the rest of the stuff.