You know I love this show, right? But this episode, “The Watch,” really underwhelmed me. Maybe it was the script, which seemed to have fewer zingers than usual. Or maybe it was the Velveeta-rich flashback sequences in which we finally meet Nick’s late dad, Dutch (Peter Strauss, the veteran of late ’70s made-for-TV movies like Jericho Mile and Rich Man, Poor Man, is forced to utter such clichés as “I wasn’t there for him”). Come to think of it, those flashbacks were definite low points, underwritten sequences that even came primed with tinkly piano music on the soundtrack. It all seemed very…daytime soap.
And let’s talk about the daytime plot points. First and foremost, there’s the revelation that Brian is the product of Tish’s adulterous affair with Dutch. (Yes, some of us have suspected as much for some time.) Tish fesses up to Nick and then to Brian, who are both pretty shaken–though they end up forging a stained-glass-lit reconciliation that was better scripted than most of the episode and yet still rather puzzling. “This is what church is for,” Brian tells Nick, “dragging the ruined past through the messy present into the perfect future, and ruining it. Together.” Sure, it sounds lofty and poetic. But what the heck does it mean? (I was half-expecting him to start talking about his coon hounds, à la Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, the book whose ending he spoiled for Nick as a kid. Either that or singing that Sonic Youth song.) Still, I appreciate that Brian has softened a bit since we first met him, even if his hyperactive immature side continues to get the best of him from time to time.
Like last week, when he tried to bribe the arbitrator in the custody case over Brian Jr. The fallout from that stunt comes early this week, as he loses custody of his son and gets arrested for what Nick reminds Tripp and Tish is a “class C felony.” Tripp wants him to do jail time, to teach him a lesson, I guess (out of spite for not being his son, one supposes), but Tish goes behind everyone’s back to get the charges dropped. Oddly, the supposedly Darling-obsessed press never catches a whiff of this news–though the arrest came in a public courtroom! And you’d think that Attorney General Patrick Darling would have something to say about this, right?
Acutally, Patrick is still a little out of it, hopped up on morphine in the hospital as he recovers from being shot by his wife, the newly feisty Ellen (“I was aiming for higher,” she says of the gunshot wound in his leg). Yes, she threatens to leave him–and ruin his campaign for Senate–if he doesn’t drop Carmelita, his paramour with a little more than usual. And yes, Carmelita offers Patrick an out if that’s what he wants. (She even has a deliciously twisted line: “She must really love you, you know, to shoot you like that.”) But Patrick, a true politician, is only as good as the word he gives to the last person he meets. He’s going to keep juggling both gals. One plot point that will doubtless come into play later: Karen gets Patrick to sign, or quasi-sign, some mysterious papers (“tax stuff for the foundation,” she claims) while he’s down on the pharma. Any guesses on what that might be all about?
Karen, meanwhile, decides to postpone her pursuit of one-true-love Nick for a dalliance with Darling-family archenemy Simon Elder for reasons that are as inexplicable as most of what Karen does. I realize she’s fickle, but wasn’t she just (and I mean just last episode) scheming with her mom to get into Nick’s pants? Sure, Blair Underwood is cute and all–but, let’s be honest, he’s not quite a natural at maintaining the witty banter at the dinner table. (After describing his now-ex-wife as a princess, he kind of flubs the punchline: “No, seriously she’s a princess. From Ghana.”) Still, she does go to bed with Simon and even ponders his offer of a second date in Mombasa (she thinks it’s in Mozambique, not Kenya, but at least she gets the continent right. So Bono is having some impact on raising awareness of the continent). But she also extracts a promise that Simon won’t do to her dad, or to her, what he did to Darling Plaza. I’m pretty sure his fingers were crossed at the time, don’t you?
The most pleasant surprise of the evening is that I actually kind of liked Mrs. Nick George tonight. She becomes an unlikely confidant of Jeremy in his quest to be a regular guy worthy of his regular-guy-seeking hottie, Sofia. First, he hopes to borrow the freshly flan-walled George pad to make it his own personal low-rent “sty.” Then he buys a Bronx studio and hires a Broadway designer to “make it look all ratty.” When Sofia asks that her regular-guy beau have a few aspirations in life and he decides to become a starving artist, he goes art-shopping with Lisa for paintings that he can pass off as his own. Too bad he wouldn’t take those darned ant paintings. Instead, he chooses nudes (or, as he prefers to call them, “naked people”), which leads to Sofia’s inevitable request that he paint her. Seth Gabel is so charming as Jeremy (he has mad ska-zills as a comic actor) that I didn’t mind this small canvass of nonsense, though the writers seem to be dragging out this romance for no particular reason (perhaps the writers struggled to work around mostly MIA Samaire Armstrong as naughty twin Juliet, who might have provided some welcome complications to this plot). And Jeremy’s interactions with Lisa have more spark than she’s ever shown with Nick. Hubby’s reaction is priceless when he realizes that his ordinarily Darling-leary wife is actually aiding and abetting a Darling scheme, but he wouldn’t look so smugly pleased with himself if he had caught the preview of next week’s episode suggesting a mistletoe moment between Lisa and Jeremy.
The other reason Lisa surprised me tonight: She actually had something to say to Nick that was worth him hearing. And not just consoling him on learning that Brian is his half-brother with the line any PopWatcher could’ve written: “It could have been Karen.” She confronts him on just why he’s working for the Darlings: It’s the money, of course, not for Nick himself, but for big-ticket philanthropic projects he’d never get to be involved with otherwise. That makes sense. Of course, this is also a guy with clear daddy issues, as demonstrated in his rather melodramatic outburst with Tripp (“I lost my whole childhood to your family”) and with Dutch in flashback (he awkwardly shakes off his dad’s hands on his arms before he begrudgingly accepts the George family watch, which soon passes to Brian, then Brian Jr.). And that’s the problem with this episode: This show is very good on witty banter, on quirky characters, on presenting familiar soap scenarios in a slightly askew manner. But perhaps because of its willful unconventionality, this is one soap that doesn’t handle traditional melodrama very well. What do y’all think, PopWatchers? Am I just being cranky? Or did the injection of Dutch’s backstory leave you cold as well?