I Know This Much Is True episode 1 recap – “One”

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 11, 2020 (Last updated: 3 weeks ago)
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I Know This Much Is True (HBO) episode 1 recap - "One"


An unrelentingly bleak and masterfully acted affair that proves Mark Ruffalo one of the finest talents working today.

This recap of I Know This Much Is True (HBO) Episode 1, “One”, contains spoilers.

How do you recommend a television show without actually recommending it? Such is the pickle I find myself in when discussing I Know This Much Is True (HBO), a new drama that is stunningly acted and powerfully moving yet also so unrelentingly bleak as to be worthy of an accompanying warning. You should watch this — which will also be on Sky Atlantic, was directed by Derek Cianfrance and adapted from a 1998 novel by Wally Lamb — on the strength of its performances alone, but you certainly shouldn’t watch it if you’re looking for a pick-me-up or a light-hearted distraction from our current, trying times.

Everything about I Know This Much Is True seems designed to bludgeon you with misery. In it, Mark Ruffalo plays twins Dominick and Thomas. The former is a down-on-his-luck divorcee who has had a relatively tough upbringing with the latter, a paranoid schizophrenic. In the opening scene, Thomas hacks off his own hand in a public library as a sacrifice to God, and Dominick, aware that in the last 20 years his brother has never been allowed to make a decision for himself, convinces the doctors to leave the appendage removed, as per his wishes.

When a show opens in this way, you know you’re in for it. Dominick and Thomas make for a challenging one-two punch that only an actor of Ruffalo’s caliber could take on the chin, and it’s impossible to overstate how good he is here. There are some instances of camera trickery that are perhaps a bit too obvious, but seeing some seams is unavoidable when one character is 20lbs heavier than the other. Ruffalo filmed all of Dominick’s scenes and then put on weight to do Thomas’s, so he’s frequently acting against a past version of himself.

I Know This Much Is True Episode 1 is so bleak that it can feel a bit ridiculous. Each detail that is revealed about Dominick’s background and current predicament just adds more fuel to a fire that burns fiercely with unaddressed traumas. His mother is dying of cancer and won’t tell him the identity of his biological father, and his step-father was, of course, awful. The family’s story is a litany of unpleasant people and actions, a lot of it chronicled in a memoir that Dominick hires Nedra Frank (Juliette Lewis) to translate. Nedra is clearly off her rocker, refuses to be rushed, turns up at Dominick’s apartment, gets drunk, comes onto him, and then accuses him of sexually harassing her.

You can see what I mean. It’s too much for anyone to take, let alone an audience. But it all comes back to Ruffalo since his portrayal of Thomas is so deeply affecting that whenever he’s on-screen you’re riveted by his plight. Dominick’s frustration and affection for his twin are palpable, and whenever developments trouble the pair of them, especially at the same time and in the same scene, the sheer power of the drama comes to the fore. When Thomas is released from hospital after his self-mutilation, he’s for some reason taken to a high-security prison. I haven’t seen a more stressful and upsetting sequence in ages. Thomas is dragged away by guards who are utterly disinterested in Dominick’s protestations that his brother is by no means a danger to anyone; that he shouldn’t even be there; that a mistake has been made. Dominick is helpless, and so are we.

I Know This Much Is True seems to revel in this helplessness, which is what might be off-putting about it for some. I can’t rightly recommend it to everyone, knowing how painful it might be to watch for anyone with even slightly similar experiences of trauma and mental illness. But blimey, it’s a feat of craftsmanship, and Ruffalo is faultless in it. Perhaps that’s recommendation enough.

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