It’s a natural to compare Brotherhood to The Sopranos. They are both about organized-crime syndicates, families both criminal and blood, and evoke a real sense of place, made more authentic in Brotherhood by the filming of the show in Providence, RI and surrounding cities. Two regulars from The Sopranos even have parts in Brotherhood: Al Sapienza (Uncle Junior’s soldier, Mickey Palmice) is the Mayor, and Matt Servitto (Agent Harris) is Representative Donatello. But the shows are different enough to stand apart.
The main plot of Brotherhood focuses on two brothers in an Irish neighborhood in Providence. One of them, Tom Caffee, is a politician. The other, Michael Caffee, is a gangster. The show spends a great deal of time delving into the cutthroat world of politics. The dealings of the old-school and new-school political machines are interchangeable. The squabbling and backroom deals are not any different than what goes on with the two main crime syndicates, Irish and Italian.
Continuing from where Season 1 left off, the new season starts off strong and only keeps the momentum building. Season 2’s real focus is Declan Briggs, the State Police officer assigned to monitor the criminal activities of Irish boss Freddie Cork as well as Michael Caffee. His boss is pressuring Briggs to get the dirt on Tom Caffee and the political corruption, as well as the local Mafia family. Declan is caught between a failed relationship with the girl of his dreams, the lingering guilt of his assault on Michael Caffee at the end of Season 1 (as a result Michael suffers through seizures and blackouts), and his spiral into drugs and alcohol.
Relationships are another focal point of the season. Tommy Caffee pushes his wife (played by the excellent Annabeth Gish) away as a result of her drug use and affairs, only to find himself falling into the same extramarital trap with a political “slut”, who makes her way around the corridors of power. At the end of Season 2, it looks like the dirty laundry from both sides has all been aired and the Caffee marriage might be on its way to some sort of redemption.
But other relationships start and stop. The Caffee’s long-lost Irish cousin Colin comes back and reconnects with the father he never knew, while trying to get on the good side of the Caffee matriarch, Rose. After repairing both of those relationships, Colin again loses his father, but at least finds a surrogate brother in Michael; he becomes an important associate in Michael’s criminal plans to take over the Irish Mob from Freddie. Michael is himself working through a relationship complete with an unwanted pregnancy.
The culmination of all the family and relationship issues is the Thanksgiving episode, probably the single strongest of the Season 2 set. It’s filled with humor, violence, and a pivotal plot point.
The byzantine plot actually moves along at a strong pace and is able to weave in and out of storylines and episodes without losing focus. The writing is sharp and crisp, and long monologues are virtually non-existent. The entire cast is excellent, with Ethan Embry’s Briggs taking the prize for best performance of the ensemble. Brotherhood is a strong show, and an urban crime drama that should take its place with The Sopranos and The Wire at the top of the class.