Praising restraint on Nip/Tuck is like complimenting the Incredible Hulk for not turning green — it’s denying the nature of the beast. Yet last night’s final-season premiere was, by Nip/Tuck standards, relatively tame. Oh, sure, you got one of the series’ standard “shocking” patients, a man who compulsively chews his own lips off.

The hour was more concerned, however, with exploring the roots of Christian and Sean’s relationship, complete with flashbacks using younger actors. The two men’s traits were fully in place when they joined up in college, with Christian always urging Sean to loosen up and have decadent fun.

One line last night stood out for me: It was when Christian said to Sean, “You are never gonna guilt or change me — don’t you know that by now?” This was a small nod to the fact that we’re coming to the end of the series, and that Sean should have learned this lesson by now.

But the larger implication of that line underscored the limitations of this series: After the first two seasons, Nip/Tuck pretty much stuck to that characterization of Christian, while introducing more and more bizarre characters and situations. The result has been character-development stuck in a rut, with flashes of mordant humor and wit.

The whole smashing of the underhandedly-won award subplot was just another example of Sean being betrayed by Christian. Yet I found the scene — largely on the strength of the acting by both Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon — to be moving nonetheless.

I’m going to keep following Nip/Tuck‘s final season, and not just out of critic’s duty: I’m genuinely curious to see if creator Ryan Murphy and his crew can, with all the guest stars it has slated (including Melanie Griffith, Joan Rivers, Frances Conroy, and the mini-Knots Landing reunion of Donna Mills and Joan Van Ark), invest the show with a final burst of drama we can care about.

Did you watch the season premiere? What did you think?

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