Blood is thicker than water and in the case of the Birdsey Twins, that quote is seriously put to the test. Across 6 episodes, I Know This Much Is True explores the turbulent relationship between two brothers while presenting big themes about depression, grief and love. There’s some lovely juxtapositions throughout the drama and the flashback sequences work well to add more depth and flesh out what happened in the past to set these two brothers on the path they ultimately choose.
The story begins with an introduction to our two main characters, Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Suffering from serious mental health issues, the series opens with a sombre and shocking moment inside a library as Thomas recites passages from the bible and cuts his own hand off. This ultimately sets the tone and mood for what follows as Dominick struggles with the authorities to prevent his brother from being moved to a more secure and strict psychiatric hospital.
This lays the foundation for the narrative that follows but the underlying issues go deeper than that. Across the 6 episodes, layers are peeled off to reveal a very raw and emotional centre as Dominick’s baggage he’s been carrying all these years is laid bare. I won’t spoil what those issues are, but suffice to say they reinforce Dominick’s hot-headed personality and violent outbursts.
This melodrama really comes into its own though when it comes to the characters. From Mark Ruffalo’s incredible dual performance as both Thomas and Dominick through to Rosie O’Donnell’s excellent portrayal as social worker Sheffer, every character brings their A-game and each of the supporting players help to reinforce the key themes of the show.
With Dominick narrating large parts of the flashback sequences, in many dramas these moments can feel unnecessary and dragged out. Here though, every single historical dive serves to strengthen what’s happening in the present and understand these very different paths the two brothers have taken. Without spoiling too much, familial issues play a huge part in what happens to Thomas and some of the scenes that depict this are pretty difficult to watch.
Those going into this expecting a happy ending will almost certainly be left disappointed. While there is a reflective, almost hopeful edge to the final scenes of the sixth episode, I Know This Much Is True plays out much closer to a realistic melodrama and it’s here the show comes into its own and delivers something incredibly sensitive and emotional.
The show commands your attention and the accurate portrayal of mental health, and it’s impact on everyone else around them, feels incredibly real and there’s a lot of harrowing and difficult scenes to watch here. It’s helped by Mark Ruffalo who does such an amazing job bringing both characters to life and to be honest, I’d be really surprised if he isn’t at least nominated for some awards off the back of this.
The cinematography here is great too and between the solid sound design and grainy feel to a lot of the scenes, I Know This Much Is True’s six chapters match the excellent writing with a visually pleasing aesthetic that fits the tone and mood of what’s being presented.
Overall though, I Know This Much Is True is a wonderful series. It’s difficult to watch at times and the accurate portrayal of trauma – both for Dominick and Thomas – is multifaceted and deep enough to keep you thinking long after the credits have rolled.
The self-contained story is brilliantly paced and the character arcs for almost everyone involved only reinforce that original comment at the start about blood being thicker than water. I Know This Much Is True understands this and the way it leans into – and challenges – that notion of what family really means, makes it one of the best shows this year and a must-watch drama.