I Know This Much Is True S1E2: Life’s a Big Joke, Get It?

Dominick and Lisa Sheffer talk over a desk I Know This Much is True S1E2
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima

I Know This Much Is True S1E2 carries forward a lot of the questions I raised already with regard to S1E1, the biggest being whether it makes sense to lock Thomas up in Hatch on the basis of what he’s done.

On the one hand, the argument does make sense. Dominick chafes when Lisa Sheffer (Rosie O’Donnell)—the social worker at Hatch—tells him that Thomas has committed a serious crime, and I’m with him in that. But it is the case that Thomas cut his hand off at a public library, and the crime is not just that he disturbed others, but what he did to himself. As Sheffer says, “he counts.”

But things get a bit difficult when we start thinking about crimes perpetrated against oneself. Suicide may be illegal, for example, but that tends to cut in more in terms of us having the right to prevent people from doing it than punishing them for having done so. And do we punish the attempted suicide? Probably not, though this also raises the question about where the line is between punishment and treating someone against their expressed will.

Thomas didn’t attempt suicide, of course, but what he did do in cutting off his hand is something that would certainly strike most all of us as an extreme act of self-harm. The justification for what they are doing to him, then, would be along these lines—to protect him from himself, and so on.

So again we get the question about our right to do such a thing, which I Know This Much Is True presents at two levels, in tension with one another—the rights of the family (Dominick) and the rights of the State. Those aren’t always going to be in tension with one another in every case, but what does run through whatever situations we might think about here is the thought that we are justified in doing something for someone’s own good. That would be the justification for locking Thomas up in Hatch. Dominick, with his decades of experience dealing with his brother, knows better. But it would probably be a mistake to leave things to the family in all cases, as in some they might be too indulgent with regard to their loved one’s mental illness rather than doing what they need to do to help them.

Or one might ask to what extent we have the right to do such things to people at all when the only threat they present is to themselves. The justification relies on some thought that they are being driven by a mental illness or addiction and that this isn’t really what they want. Let’s focus on Thomas’s hand and the way the doctors want to reattach it. Surely he couldn’t truly want to live without his right hand? Surely this is irrational?

It may well be, but this structure seems to imply that we think someone like Thomas is going to thank us for it later, and it’s not at all clear that this is the case with the hand or with the treatment he is now being subjected to at Hatch.

If only our understanding of psychology were perfect; if only we could cure things like schizophrenia; if only we could be confident that what we’re doing isn’t like giving the patient a lobotomy; then maybe we could feel comfortable in imposing medication or other things. But the whole system is cut through with humanity’s uncertainty about all of these things. We may have gotten a lot better—no longer thinking that the mentally ill are possessed by demons and so on—but when it comes to the cases of severe mental illness we’re still at a bit of a loss. Perhaps we’ve made progress even since 1990, but I can’t help but think that is largely with regard to issues that are less severe.

The goal should be to help people. Judge Schreber remains an interesting example because if you read his memoir he seems pretty batshit, but part of the reason he wrote it was to try to prove that he could manage to live in the world. He could be a schizophrenic out on a walk—not a threat to others, but just a weird guy. And so we have to think about the extent to which we are imposing our own ideas of what it means to be normal on someone like Thomas, and to what extent his best life may not look like that.

We can’t cure schizophrenia; it’s always a question of how to manage it. And while we might think that cutting off your hand is beyond the pale, what we should be thinking about is what will help someone like Thomas to live and manage his mental illness.

Well, It’s Not Gonna Be on Me, but Thanks for Saying That

Sheffer sits at her desk
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

Dominick seems to get that, though of course this doesn’t mean that it’s easy for him. On the contrary, it’s torture for him to live his life constantly with this brother he loves, who is suffering, and who he struggles to help.

Being his identical twin just makes things more difficult, as we see in the opening scene of I Know This Much Is True S1E2 when Thomas gets locked in a bus bathroom on the way to the Statue of Liberty. All of the other kids associate Dominick with Thomas, and how could you not when the two look exactly the same? But to feel that must be something else, and to be forced to stay with Thomas because he is too nervous to take the ferry to Liberty Island just brings home how much Dominick’s life has been determined by Thomas’s.

He tells Dr. Patel (Archie Panjabi) that he thought he’d be able to cut the cord at some point, but he can’t. This is his brother, and as much as he might hate it he can’t help but subvert his life to his twin’s needs, because he loves him.

Dominick’s girlfriend, Joy (Imogen Poots), doesn’t quite seem to get that. And while it is easy enough to understand her position—wanting him to take care of her like he does Thomas, wanting to live her life not constantly under the shadow of all of this, and so on—I can’t see this relationship surviving. She wants to hang out with Thad (Christopher J. Hanke) and for Dominick to talk to Connie Chung from TV. She doesn’t understand his problems with these things. I can understand where she is coming from, but it seems like what she doesn’t get is that it is Dominick who needs support right now given the situation he has found himself in.

None of It Meant a F*cking Thing

Dessa and Dominick in group
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

In I Know This Much Is True S1E2, we get more backstory about what happened between Dominick and Dessa. Their baby daughter died. That’s gut-wrenching, and so is the scene where Dominick discovers the fact of her death. So their marriage fell apart. They didn’t argue, because that would take too much energy, but they couldn’t get over this thing together. And that makes sense. I don’t know if they’ve gotten over it apart (probably not, really), but I could see how the other could serve as a kind of constant reminder of the loss. And it seems they each coped differently.

Dessa wanted to go to grief meetings, but Dominick couldn’t stomach the “dead babies club.” She thought they should take a trip to distract them from the anniversary of their daughter’s death, but he said, “no,” and she went away on her own. Apparently he had his own plan for coping, but the story cuts off as Dr. Patel wakes him up in his car. I expect we’ll get more on that later.

Regardless, it makes sense that their marriage fell apart. Their grief just went in different directions. And then there was Thomas, ranting about how it was a plot on the part of his enemies. I’d want to throttle him, too.

There Are Two Young Men Lost in the Woods

Dr. Patel comes to Dominick's car window
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima

The scenes in I Know This Much Is True S1E2 where Dominick talks to Lisa Sheffer and Dr. Patel are both really powerful. He’s enraged, or like you might be yelling at some customer service rep on the phone, but each of them is calm. They aren’t the enemy, but this is part of the problem—the real enemy is faceless, hidden behind a wall of bureaucracy. These two women are the only entry points Dominick gets. He tells Sheffer she’s the first human being he has encountered at Hatch, and I find the phrasing striking.

But the thing is neither Sheffer nor Patel can do anything either. Each says she is an advocate for Thomas, and maybe it is a bit strong to say they can do nothing, but they can’t get him out of there any more than Dominick can. It seems like there is no person who could do that. It’s all caught up in the system at this point. Dominick is looking for that person who could cut through it, but she’s not there. It’s all going to be down to how this bureaucracy plays out.

Patel plays him the tape of her conversation with Thomas, but Dominick can’t handle it at the point where his brother starts talking about Ray raping him with a screwdriver and such. He insists that didn’t happen. Did it happen? I don’t know. I think it would be a mistake to just take Dominick’s word for it.

Regardless, this opens a new dimension to I Know This Much Is True moving forward. It would seem that Dr. Patel is starting to think of Dominick as her patient as well, which is fair, but I’m interested to see where this is all going.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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