Brotherhood was an excellent
political/crime drama that ran for three seasons on Showtime ending
in December, 2008. The show chronicles the rising and falling
fortunes of the Caffee family in Providence, Rhode Island.
Tommy (Jason Clarke) is an
ambitious member of the state legislature, representing "The Hill,"
a fictional Irish neighborhood where Tommy grew up and a stronghold
of New England's Irish mob. (The Hill is an amalgamation of
two real Providence neighborhoods: predominately Italian Federal Hill,
and the more Irish Smith Hill.) Tommy's only brother is Michael
Caffee (Jason Isaacs), who returns to Providence in the series pilot
after a seven-year absence during which he was presumed dead by all
who knew him. Michael is a career criminal; he returns to Providence
and begins methodically amassing power almost immediately, leading to
numerous overlaps and conflicts with Tommy's political career.
Rose Caffee (Fionnula Flanagan) is the boys' mother - they also
have a sister, Mary Kate (Kerry O'Malley). Tommy's wife, Eileen
(Annabeth Gish) is silently tortured by loneliness and depression, which
has taken her down a number of dark avenues including adultery and drug
addiction. Add in a number of politicians, gangsters, law enforcement
officers, extended family members, and local business owners, and you've
got a wide-ranging cast of characters that represents a broad cross-section
of Providence society.
More than just sprinkled with
local flavor, Brotherhood utilizes Providence as the show's
main character. The Caffee brothers are not just Cain and Abel
types; they are the specific products of the city they grew up in, and
you can feel that. Brotherhood isn't just about utilizing
the names of streets, schools, and restaurants in order to draw applause
from Rhode Island viewers - it's firmly rooted in the city's history,
politics, and culture. I lived in Providence from June 2008 to
May 2009, and did not watch the series until recently, after I left.
The show is engaged with its setting on a startlingly deep level.
Clarke is Australian, and Isaacs is English, yet they both embody these
Federal Hill boys with a conviction whose substance emerges from the
excellent scripts, almost all of which are written by series creators
Blake Masters and Henry Bromell. The looming threat of real estate
development on the Hill; the parallel eradication of gangster-controlled
neighborhoods and ward politics; the embedded, almost organic corruption
- these are the realities of present-day Providence and they are depicted
with great immediacy as faced by the Caffee brothers. Perhaps
my personal experience offers a certain bias, but I could not avoid
the sense that the series' creators and writing team had invested
great attention toward gaining an understanding of the day-to-day reality
of living and working in contemporary Providence.
Masters, I've learned, is
a New England native, which helps explain the fluidly integrated setting
and themes. Although drawing parallels between Brotherhood
and that other contemporary northeastern crime drama, The Sopranos,
is unavoidable, Brotherhood's approach is more journalistic,
rawer, and more immediate. That vital sense of place, and the
plotlines that echo well-known contemporary people and incidents -
both political and otherwise - lend great authenticity, whereas
The Sopranos is more polished and operates on a scale of grand drama.
In many ways the Soprano family inhabits the well-established mythos
of 20th century American gangsterism - for all its originality
and storytelling excellence, it still owes its roots to The Godfather
and GoodFellas. Brotherhood feels fresher, more
contemporary, and more real.
Regrettably, this two-disc
set represents the third and final season of this complex family saga.
Over eight episodes (as opposed to eleven in Season One and ten in Season
Two), Michael and Tommy's separate yet intertwined careers continue
to mature. As each brother fortifies his position and demonstrates
a different kind of power, the confluence of their trajectories becomes
more obvious - and the parallels lead to increasingly higher stakes
as they pursue their ambitions. In addition to the political and
criminal machinations of the brothers, there are new family conflicts
and crises to attend to. Rose begins to suffer from a strange
illness. Eileen becomes pregnant with her fourth child.
Mary Rose continues to demonstrate a predilection for petty crime.
Although the Third Season does
not exactly raise the tension level to new heights (I gather that the
producers did not know the time of its production that this would be
the show's final season), it firmly continues and extends the program's
dramatic reach. From beginning to end, Brotherhood depends
upon its writers and actors. In the Third Season, the writing
maintains its crisp, swift, and psychologically astute edges.
It feels organic on both local and universal levels. The deep
roots in Providence politics, crime, and culture are reflected in the
show's specificity toward both place and people. Locations continue
to be used realistically - this is not one of those programs where
a local restaurant is re-dressed as a nightclub; it's usually still
a restaurant, and hasn't been re-dressed at all.
The actors all give accomplished
performances. Jason Clarke's Tommy is invested with a calm,
deliberate political intelligence. His lines are delivered with
a smooth, convincing confidence only occasionally betrayed by "normal"
emotive behavior. Clarke manages to portray the political wheels
at work inside Tommy's head through measured silences and controlled
body language. Isaacs is no slouch, either. Michael is a
criminal, through and through, yet his intentions are often honorable,
even when committing the most heinous acts. His old-world attitude
is continually frustrated by contemporary changes like real estate development
(Michael's side business), technology, and the delinquent behavior
of his eldest niece.
Although these two performances
are nearly flawless, Annabeth Gish is nothing short of a revelation
as Tommy's wife, Eileen. A woman jam-packed with pent up frustrations,
but without the ability to express or exorcise them, Eileen is an absolute
tinder box waiting to go up in flames. Although she mellowed slightly
during Season Two, her problems were never fully resolved and they remain
in the background, providing all manner of tension throughout Season
Three - to say nothing of her pregnancy and desire to escape The Hill
for good. Gish plays Eileen with stiff, edgy body language, arched
eyebrows, and a pursed sour-lemon mouth. Her haunted expressions
are shadowed by visions of doom; although much of her behavior - especially
at the beginning of the series - is reprehensible, there is no other
character in the show for whom we wish so dearly that things to work
Living up to its own standards, Brotherhood: The Final Season continues to develop its characters, taking them in interesting yet consistent new directions, grown from the plotlines of the two preceding seasons. Michael is both more powerful and more respected as a criminal, and Tommy's actions as a politician become more aggressively desperate and corrupt. Although the ultimate fate of the brothers remains unknown, the three seasons of Brotherhood will last, with a reputation that deserves to grow over time as viewers discover this outstanding show on DVD. Despite the lack of bonus features, the quality of the series - and the excellent technical presentation - make this highly recommended.