The stakes just got higher. Literally. And it’s not about the Benjamins — it’s about real estate. An unbelievably high-stakes poker game was the centerpiece of tonight’s Dirty Sexy Money — along with tantalizing clues about everything from Dutch’s death to the inner nature of virtually everyone in the Darling family. Oh, and there were hotties too.

Some big-money spoilers ahead …

First: the poker game. Tripp plays in an insanely high-rolling game with several other megamoguls — and that Dutch had gotten Simon Elder invited to join. Elder tells Nick that he and Dutch had a plan — a vision for a new Manhattan, with cleaner air and better public transportation. At some point in the game, Elder says, real estate will become the currency — and he needs Nick to convince Tripp to put Darling Plaza into the pot. As a special sweetener, Elder tells Nick that the NTSB report the police gave him that finds Dutch’s plane crash an accident was doctored, and that he’ll get Nick the real report if Darling Plaza is wagered.

Given how much the clean NTSB report threw him, Nick goes to Tripp to talk about what he can bring with him to bet in the game — and suggests Darling Plaza as an option. Tripp won’t hear of it; Darling Plaza was his and Tish’s first home in Manhattan, and he wouldn’t sell it, much less put it up in a poker game. Meanwhile, Tish asks Nick to keep an eye on her husband in the game, warning him that Tripp is unable to walk away from a bet. This is the second episode where Jill Clayburgh hasn’t been wandering around with a drink in her hand, and her lucid Tish is surprisingly sympathetic and interesting.

As predicted, there comes a point in the game when the $80 million bet goes to Elder, and he starts pulling out leases on multimillion-dollar properties. Nick steps in and urges Tripp to put up Darling Plaza, even though Tripp asked him not to bring the deed at all. Tripp tells him, in French, not to confuse the price with the value of a thing. Ultimately, with Nick needling him just enough, Tripp puts up the building — and loses the hand. Infuriated, he tells Nick he doesn’t want to see him for a few days. The tension in the poker scene, with Nick and Elder scheming, even though Nick doesn’t really understand what Elder’s up to, and Nick pushing Tripp, is expertly played. Blair Underwood looks as though he’s having a blast, and the quiet, ever-ratcheting tension between Peter Krause and Donald Sutherland is beautiful to watch. Each week I look forward to the dance that is their scenes together more and more — and I’m never disappointed.

The scene between Krause and Clayburgh, when she learns that the building has been lost, is short and dynamite as well. Your father would never have let Tripp bet the building, she says — only to have Nick remind her that (a) he’s not his father, and (b) Dutch was no saint. Granted, but "he protected me. He protected all of us from Tripp’s whims," Tish spits bitterly. These glimpses into everyone’s psyches — the baggage that they carry and the way that they think — let the plot both unfold and hang together in a way that’s incredibly intelligent and telling. I love this storytelling because it assumes that viewers are savvy, and keeps it entertaining.

But who has the last laugh? Nick meets Tripp at Darling Plaza, and in the midst of a conversation about how much Tripp will miss the building, Tripp asks Nick when he’ll get the real NTSB report from Simon Elder. Flash back to the whole conversation that Nick and Tripp had about betting Darling Plaza. Nick lets Tripp in on Elder’s scheme, and convinces him not only to put up the building but to help him make Elder think that they’re at odds. "I love you, Nicky," Tripp says. "I want to find out who killed Dutch just as much as you do — maybe more. I told you I would do everything it took." When Nick goes to see Elder, we learn that Elder rigged the game (his assistant was the dealer), and that the NTSB report implicates mechanic Norman Exley, who’d denied to Nick that he had anything to do with the plane crash. Nick takes the report to the police, who agree it implicates Exley — but Exley was found dead in his apartment.

Patrick: Pressured by his girlfriend, Carmelita, Patrick takes their relationship out of the back of the limo and onto the street for a kiss, only to be photographed by paparazzi — who we find out later were hired by Tripp, who uses them both to try to scare Patrick straight, as it were, and to buy off Carmelita, who refuses to be bought. Patrick finds out, and their confrontation brings on some more genuinely unfortunate dialogue for Sutherland: "Patrick, when your uncle Kenneth was taken from us, your destiny was sealed. It is my deepest, most heartfelt belief that a moment is coming in history And you, Patrick — you — will play an important role in the unfolding mystery of human freedom. That’s what politics is. That’s what you need to be a part of. Freedom — not license."

Is it me, or can you hear the Darth Vader respirator breathing over that? Patrick, furious, stalks out of his father’s office, and we later see him meeting with Simon Elder. Oh, Patrick — what are you up to now?

Karen: My adoration of all things Karen continues. She and Freddy go to City Hall to claim their marriage license, and find out that she’s still married to husband #3, Sebastian Fleet (Eddie Cibrian) — world-renowned anthropologist and one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive. Karen goes to see him to finalize their divorce, and finds out in a funny exchange that Dutch never filed the papers. Hmm. More puzzle pieces. Of course, Sebastian Fleet is gorgeous and sexy and answers the door in a towel (surely he’s meant to draw a comparison to journalist Sebastian Junger — and bravo), and the two spend what seems to be a lovely couple of hours together. Theirs is a nice, easy chemistry, and we get another of those little gem insight moments when Sebastian explains that the real reason their marriage didn’t work is that he’s not Nick. Later, Karen gets into a wicked yet somewhat touching fight with her mother, as Tish warns her not to have three people (one being Nick) in her marriage.

Separately — forgive me but I have to take note. The DSM cast is uniformly beautiful. But the combined effect of Krause, Underwood, and the betoweled Cibrian prompted the man in my house to observe, quite rightly, that "This is a show heavy on the man candy." Yes indeedy. I appreciate the relative even-handedness of the objectification — producers, thank you for giving the ladies in the audience a little something extra to admire.

Other highlights:

  • We find out that Tripp wants Nick to run Darling Enterprises, and that he had Nick walk Jeremy through the family’s holdings to get a better sense of the empire.
  • Brilliant stuff this week with Brian and Brian Jr. Hats off to Glenn Fitzgerald — from his conversation with his son about cupcakes to his tutorial on pouring syrup on pancakes, I believed every word and was thrilled to see something more than the Harpy Brian of the first couple of episodes. Juliet has been spending time with Brian Jr. — again, another of those unexpected details that added depth to Juliet’s character, particularly when she chews her brother out for not spending time with the kid.
  • Loved the male bonding of Jeremy, Patrick, and Brian over video games in Brian’s room — the smack-talking, the woe-is-me whining, and the obvious joy on Brian Jr.’s face when he joins the gang. All that was missing was the smell of sweatsocks.

What do you think? Is Nick getting pulled into a web he doesn’t know how to navigate? Do you buy the surrogate father-son relationship that Nick and Tripp seem to be building? Should an 8-year-old be asking a president-elect to restore dignity to the White House?

Posted by:Lisa Todorovich