On the season premiere of ''Brothers & Sisters,'' the family gathers to celebrate Kitty's birthday on the anniversary of William's death, and Nora can't get news of Justin in Iraq
Credit: Scott Garfield

Once, when I was in junior high, my mother, my sister, and I were the only people riding a Tilt-a-Whirl, and the operator played with its speed to give our car maximum spinning action. At first, I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath. Then, I just literally could not breathe. As I sat with my lungs pinned to the back of the car, my mother defied centrifugal force and leaned in to me. ”Breathe!” she yelled. ”Breathe!” There was a look of fear and fight on her face that I’d never seen before. It’s the first moment I felt how much a mother loves a child. Sally Field wears that look on Brothers & Sisters as matriarch Nora Walker, wondering whether her son in Iraq is still breathing — and it’s more affecting than anything Field could’ve said in her Emmy acceptance speech last month.

The season 2 premiere picked up with Nora recording a v-mail to Justin, who left for his second tour of duty in May’s two-hanky first-season finale. The video was a clever way to make sure he (and we) knew what the California-based Walkers did last summer. In brief: Sarah and Joe stayed separated; Kevin worshiped his ”Reverend Boyfriend”; Kitty grew frustrated with her role as First Fiancée; and Tommy, for reasons I don’t quite understand, didn’t tell anyone that Julia hadn’t left the house since they brought their newborn daughter, Lizzie, home. (As Tommy himself said this episode, ”Since when are we not allowed to blab?”)

Let’s deal with the Tommy (Balthazar Getty) story line first. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to give birth to twins and lose one, but I do know that I don’t want to waste valuable screen time showing Julia (Sarah Jane Morris) lying on a bed reading magazines or saying things like ”Tell [Nora] to call me when Justin dies. Then we’ll have something to talk about.” (You’re right, Julia: This woman, who lost her husband and then found out that he’d had a lifetime affair and an illegitimate daughter, couldn’t possibly understand grief.) Apparently the writers agreed with me, because Julia snapped out of it by episode’s end. Let’s keep her happy, and in the background, until the next family dinner, folks.

I am not a fan of Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson), but I will admit that he looked better than ever in this episode. Like well rested or something. The best part about him and Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) having sex on the washing machine was her telling Tommy about it. The worst part: Joe later telling Sarah, ”I was confused.” What does that even mean? Sarah should divorce him and bond with Nora over being suddenly single. Fingers crossed she goes on dates that have her calling Kevin and saying things like ”If you don’t talk to me, I might murder someone.”

Speaking of my favorite Walker, Kevin (Matthew Rhys), I’m so happy that Wicked has become a running joke and that he likes Mexican food. (Because in my mind, we go for margaritas all the time and end up talking dirty about Reverend Boyfriend. Who didn’t have a Thorn Birds thing?) Kevin thought it cruel that RB will be sent to Malaysia for a few months or a year (!) on a mission, and after watching RB exit the shower, I agree with him. Mercy! This means that lovesick Kevin will likely be sexually frustrated and, perhaps, frequently drunk — two scenarios that we, no doubt, will all enjoy. Since Kevin’s own social life is on hold, he may also be free to help Uncle Saul (Ron Rifkin) come out of the closet. As much as I want to know more about his Brokeback backstory, I respect that the writers aren’t rushing into it. Saul has struggled with his identity for at least 20 years; he wouldn’t find himself overnight (or in one episode).

NEXT: What happened to Justin?

Birthday girl Kitty (Calista Flockhart) had the beginnings of her own identity crisis this episode: Why can’t the media see her as the same high-powered professional she was before she got engaged to the senator and presidential hopeful she’s shtupping? Oh, Kitty, I think this show has let you off rather easy if the only paparazzo around you is one guy with a cell phone camera, no? (And didn’t you love that they couldn’t find any bridal gowns that actually fit Flockhart?)

Something I’d like to see footage of is what Rebecca (Emily VanCamp) actually does during the day. It is good that she’s still living with Nora. It distracts Nora from thinking about Justin, and it keeps viewers from having to see Rebecca and Holly (Patricia Wettig) not talk to each other — another waste of screen time. If Holly has to be in our lives, let’s make the most of it, as Nora did by getting in a couple of passive-aggressive jabs when they both showed up at William’s grave. (Did anyone really think that Tom Skerritt could have landed that third woman? I wasn’t worried.)

You may find it odd that I waited until the end of the TV Watch to get into Nora’s story line, but I do have a reason: The discussion involves a SPOILER! If you don’t already know what happens to Justin (Dave Annable) — who hadn’t been heard from in 21 days and whose unit was hit by an IED — skip to the end of this paragraph. If you do know, perhaps from reading our fall TV feature on the show, did it affect how hard the episode hit you? I didn’t read the piece until after watching the premiere, but now I’m wondering if I would’ve had to fight back tears when Nora begged Kitty to let her keep moving, and when Kevin dropped to his knees to pray, had I known for certain that Justin would be okay. I think this cast is good enough that the answer’s yes. And truth be told, was there any way Annable wouldn’t return to the show?

I’ve asked a lot of questions this week, but here are a few more for you to weigh in on below:

1. Would you fault a senator for using his connections to keep tabs on a loved one in a war zone?

2. What story lines do you want to see developed in season 2, and which ones are you hoping will fade gently into a good Sunday night?

3. Which Walker is the most entertaining when drunk? I would’ve said Kevin until he named his autobiography A Lifetime of Endless Disappointments. Lame. Now I’m leaning toward Sarah (”I’m starving already for alcohol”).

4. Is laughter through tears still your favorite emotion? Nora, to the restaurant patrons who refused to vacate the table that the Walkers had reserved in honor of Kitty’s birthday: ”You know why [Justin’s] not here to celebrate? Because he’s off fighting in that stupid war. And one more thing that makes this day special: My cheating husband died a year ago today. So maybe if you could move your drunken asses out of these chairs, then perhaps my family could sit down and eat a damn burrito and end this miserable day.”

Episode Recaps

Brothers and Sisters
Calista Flockhart and Sally Field star in the teary family ensemble drama
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