Two Young Men Lost In The Woods
Time is finite. There’s 1440 minutes in a day and for some, those minutes melt away like the clocks in Salvador Dali’s The Persistence Of Memory painting. For others, each minute can feel like a lifetime of suffering and pain as demons from the past threaten to consume you at any moment.
In the case of Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, both characters are intrinsically linked through this idea of time and how our past can shape our present, clouding the future for what may lay ahead. Following the shocking climax to last week’s episode, HBO’s latest drama sees the entire hour dominated by Dom and his bubbling mental state as the rift between him and his mentally challenged brother threatens to drift them apart forever.
Episode 2 of I Know This Much Is True begins with Dom and Thomas in the past on a field-trip on the way to the Statue Of Liberty. Unfortunately Thomas gets stuck in the toilet on the coach, throwing more fuel on the proverbial fire as his mishap almost derails the entire trip and prompts Dom to begin resenting him.
Thankfully one of the other boys manages to help him but the ordeal renders Thomas too nervous to continue on and the brothers are forced to watch the ferry depart while they wait with the coach driver.
Back in the present, after the incident with the guards in prison Dom sports a nasty groin injury. He discusses Thomas with his girlfriend Joy who encourages him to talk to a reporter named Conny. He pushes back on this idea though, deciding that getting the media involved is not the way to go. The two come to blows over his need to look after Thomas above everyone else and it leaves things on an awkward note.
After she leaves, Dom returns to the ward desperate to visit Thomas. Instead, he finds himself face to face with his newly assigned social worker, Lisa Sheffer. It turns out Thomas is there on probation for at least 15 days but Dom is having none of it, demanding to see his brother.
Sheffer matches him blow for blow and as the conversation steers toward the incident in the library, Sheffer admits he’s there on a maximum security detail meaning Dom won’t be able to see him for 2 weeks at least. Struggling to control his emotions, Dom agrees to a further meeting at 5pm and leaves.
Dom visits his childhood home not long after where his resentment for step-father Ray is plain to see, partly thanks to the somber, chilling tone his narration takes as he mentions wanting to kill him as a child. Speaking of children, fragments of the past soon flash up of Dom and his wife looking at a baby photo lovingly; a grim foreshadowed segment for what follows later in the episode.
Before we get there however, Dom visits the doctors about his groin injury and while he’s being examined, the doctor talks about the fun he and his brother have together. It’s such a small scene but a really significant one, driving home that rift growing between Thomas and Dom while other siblings are getting along much better.
Driving on to a mini-mart, Dom sees a little girl cross the road and in his mind’s eye imagines his daughter Angela. It’s here we see the shocking, poignant and distressing moments he lost her when she was a baby. He and Dessa attend the funeral but Thomas exacerbates their grief, with him telling everyone afterwards that it was an act of murder. It’s one step too far for Dom who snaps and lashes out at his brother.
The aftermath of this sees Dessa and Dom start to drift apart as he attends a group session, or the “Dead babies club” as Dom inhumanely refers to it. In the wake of this, Dessa pleads with him to open up but it’s too much; Dom remains a closed book and unable to express his grief which ultimately sees him lose Dessa as she heads off on a retreat on her own.
Back in the present, Dom meets Dr Patel and as they sit and drink tea together, they discuss the issues befalling Thomas. She mentions an incident involving throwing food at the security cameras and an upturned table earlier in the day which resulted in Thomas being restrained.
The conversation then turns to Dom himself and they discuss the pair’s bond as twins. She decides to play him a recording from her session with Thomas earlier in the day and it’s here we see the extent of Thomas’ mental issues. He discusses Ray beating him down and how he always picked on Thomas (referring to himself in the third person here).
Things take a turn for the shocking when Thomas mentions his father raping his mother and a horrific incident involving a screwdriver, which proves to be too much for Dom who pleads with her to shut the tape off. Unable to listen any more, Dom lashes out and eventually leaves, heading home where he and Joy end up fighting. As he closes the door on her, he holds his head in exasperation, which is where the episode ends.
With another powerful hour of drama, Rosie O’Donnell deserves some praise here for her role as Thomas’ social worker Lisa Sheffer. Seeing her match Dom blow for blow during their mental sparring is certainly one of the highlights and their conversation helps to reinforce the consistent motif and idea surrounding time that dominates this episode.
All the way through this hour of drama we see shots of clocks and whether it be an alarm clock buzzing, the clock at the mini-mart looming over Dom’s car or even Dom himself staring at the clock in the waiting room as it ticks by at an agonizingly slow pace, there’s a consistent message around wounds and time that are interwoven together through the various different scenes.
There’s some gorgeous scene composition right the way through the episode and seeing Thomas’ startling confessions through the final act of this episode while the camera bounces between Dom and Dr Patel’s facial expression is a great example of this. While the first episode lay the foundations for the story to follow, this is ultimately the chapter that dives deeper into Dom’s psyche and ironically explores his mental fragility in the wake of Thomas being locked up.
What’s particularly interesting here though is the dissection of Dr Patel’s story about the two young men lost in the woods.With her mentioning only one finding his way out, is she referring to Thomas or Dom? It’s certainly food for thought but one thing’s for sure, I Know This Much Is True is shaping up to be one of the must-watch dramas of 2020.