I Know This Much Is True series premiere recap: Mark Ruffalo delivers the goods

I Know This Much Is True kicks off with a gripping yet devastating hour of television with Mark Ruffalo delivering an incredible performance as twin brothers.

I Know This Much Is True is HBO‘s latest limited series adapted from the best-selling 900-page 1998 novel of the same name by Wally Lamb. Mark Ruffalo delivers a tour de force performance as identical twin brothers Dominick and Thomas in the opening hour of this devastating and riveting television show.

The catalyst setting off the chain events followed in the show is an incident of self-mutilation performed by Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic, at the Three Rivers Library in the year 1990. Thomas cuts off his hand, terrifying everyone in the vicinity as he cries out biblical verses.

As a passionate anti-war protestor, Thomas seems to believe that God is punishing humanity, and he makes a sacrifice in the form of his own hand.

That is how the first episode begins, and the ending is nearly as harrowing, if not more so.

But before we can understand what motivated Thomas to do something so dramatic and horrifying, the series takes us back to Thomas and Dominick’s childhood with Dominick narrating the story.

The twins were born on opposite sides of the New Year, which is why their deaths became the talk of the town and were highlighted in the newspaper.

They were raised by their mother, who they call Ma (Melissa Leo) and their emotionally abusive stepfather Ray Birdsey (John Procaccino).

The twins never knew who their father was, which was a considerable burden for Dominick in particular. He begged his mom to tell him something, anything, about their dad, but she never relented. He would instead fantasize about the man their dad could be, and even dream of him one day coming to visit.

Three years before the incident at Three Rivers, Ma gets cancer. She isn’t given very long to live. Ray, Dom, and Thomas all come up with their own ways of giving her gifts before she dies, but Ma has a special gift for Dom. She gives him a manuscript written by her father, all in Italian. She’s never read it before, and Dom decides to get it translated for her before she dies.

Mark Ruffalo and Juliette Lewis in Episode 1 of I Know This Much Is True

Pictured: Mark Ruffalo and Juliette Lewis in Episode 1 of I Know This Much Is True – Courtesy of WarnerMedia – Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

He meets Nedra Frank (Juliette Lewis), a kooky scholar who overcharges Dom for the translation and seems completely enamored by him. Something is off about Nedra, from the way she can’t give a straight answer to her constant ping-ponging thoughts.

She procrastinates on the translation, to the point we’re left wondering if she’s a swindler. Eventually, Dominick asks her to give him something, to give him a  taste of what his grandfather is like. According to Nedra, he’s a bitter misogynist, and she doesn’t think  Dom should ever let his mother read the manuscript.

All of this culminates in a weird evening spent together at Dominick’s house as Nedra shows up unexpectedly.  They get drunk and eat pizza, and she becomes increasingly unhinged before throwing herself at Dom. At first, it looks like maybe they’ll sleep together, but Dom starts laughing. He still has feelings for his ex-wife Dessa (Kathryn Hahn).

Nedra misinterprets pretty much e everything. She thinks Dom led her on, and she bursts into tears when he appears reluctant to sleep with her and then locks herself in the bathroom to cry. Afterward, she leaves and drives off drunk, although Dom tries hard to prevent that from happening.

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Juliette Lewis was the perfect casting for Nedra, her performance in that scene alone should be enough to cement herself an Emmy nomination.

Dominick tries to track Nedra down at her office the next day, and she’s nowhere to be found. Her office partner tells him that she withdrew from the program and seemingly vanished. Dom can’t even get his manuscript back and throws a fit in the office. It’s easy to see why since he invested time and money into a project that didn’t even get completed before his mother’s death.

Not only that, but Dom has always been desperate to find out where he came from, that manuscript would have told him something about his mother’s family, and now it’s gone, and there’s nothing left.

Speaking of Ma’s death, it hits Dominick hard. It becomes even more difficult for him when he doesn’t get the reaction he wants out of his brother, who doesn’t appear to know how to grapple with his mother’s declining health and avoids visiting her on her deathbed despite her pleas.

Mark Ruffalo in I Know This Much Is True

Pictured: Mark Ruffalo in I Know This Much Is True – Courtesy of WarnerMedia – Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

At one point, Dom gets so angry at Thomas that he screams at him, causing Thomas to run across a busy highway to get away from him. I think Dominick sometimes forgets or gets frustrated that he can’t control the way Thomas thinks and feels.

He apologizes to Thomas after Ma dies, and Thomas says it’s not his fault, “it’s God’s.”

Back in the present, Dominick is dealing with the fallout surrounding the incident at the library. He visits his brother at the hospital afterward, and the doctor tells him that his brother is refusing to allow the surgeons to reattach his hand. They want Dominick to sign the consent form to allow them to proceed with the surgery against his brother’s wishes. Dom considers it at first, but Thomas begs him not to.

Finally, Dominick says he won’t sign it. He feels that it is Thomas’s hand, and it should be his choice since he’s never gotten to choose for himself before, and he obviously felt passionately about this particular decision, enough to saw his hand off with a knife in a public place. Who is  Dominick to tell him what to do with his body?

But Dominick is racked with guilt by his decision. His mother’s dying wish was for Dominick to take care of his brother. Did he do the right thing? Should he have forced him to get his hand reattached? What if he regrets it later and resents Dominick? What if something happens to him without his hand?

Ray asks him why he wouldn’t sign the form, and Dominick gets defensive. Part of him believes he did the right thing, but it is battling with a part that isn’t so sure.

He visits his ex-wife, and it is obvious he still cares very deeply for her.

Mark Ruffalo and Melissa Leo in Episode 1 of I Know This Much Is True

Pictured: Mark Ruffalo and Melissa Leo in Episode 1 of I Know This Much Is True – Courtesy of WarnerMedia – Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

He tries to kiss her in the middle of an emotionally vulnerable moment. It’s wrong and weird, Dessa even says, “I don’t know why you would do that right now.” But it’s evident that when Dominick lashes out in grief and seeks emotional support in the only places he has available to him.

To make matters worse, when Dominick returns to the hospital to accompany his brother back to the Settle Building, where he usually lives, the cops suddenly bypass the building and take Thomas to Hatch Forensics Institute where he’ll be forced into a maximum-security prison.

It’s a sign of the times that the law enforcement thought it wise to abruptly dump this decision in the brothers’ laps while trapped inside a  police car with nowhere to go.

Things get even worse in the final scene of the episode, a single-take, well-acted, and extremely nerve-wracking scene of Dominick desperately trying to get answers from cops who could care less. At the same time, Thomas yells in the background and wets himself in his hospital gown.

It’s tough to watch and had me stressed out, worse than Uncut Gems. It’s a  terrifying way to end the first hour, gripping, but left me clawing my face. I mean, where is the show going from here?!

As a reviewer from Collider who has seen the entire six-episode miniseries points out, I Know This Much Is True might be gripping, but it also seems to be an exercise in misery. I’m already firmly invested in the series, but I think we should all brace ourselves for what will come next.

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What did you think about the series premiere of I Know This Much Is True?  Are you planning to keep watching the show? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

New episodes of I Know This Much Is True air Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO.

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