After the "what happened last week" montage at the top of this week’s Filthy Trampy Lucre came a Peter Krause voice-over about the Darlings: "I said I’d never work for them. But I will for now. Because I think one of them may have murdered my dad."
Yeah, it kind of made me cringe too. But as the episode wore on, Dirty Sexy Money’s campy, soapy fun of last week took an unexpected turn: in the midst of the exposition, it actually showed some shades of gray, creating slightly more complicated characters than we might have expected. My initial reaction to a lot of things this week was, "Really?" But by show’s end, I bought in.
By now, I think we all get the point that the rich are not like the rest of us. The scenes comparing the morning toilettes of Our Hero Nick George (Peter Krause) and Our Not-Quite-Anti-Hero Tripp Darling (Donald Sutherland), complete with Tripp getting a straight-razor shave while Nick cuts his neck with his Schick disposable, and Nick burning his hand on a Pop Tart while Tripp orders poached salmon with "a soupcon of hollandaise" (How great is that, by the way?) is hardly subtle.
At home, Nick’s trying to justify to himself and his wife (Zoe McLellan) why he’s keeping the job. At work, he’s becoming slightly more adept at coping with the family’s madness, and he’s starting to uncover some clues about his father’s fate, including the fact that the mechanic who worked on his father’s plane had blackmailed the Reverend Brian about his "love baby." Suddenly it looks as though Brian may have had a motive to kill Dutch, and Tripp may have as well, given the fact that Dutch had an affair with Letitia (Jill Clayburgh) for 40 years.
Meanwhile, Nick’s stealing Tripp’s journal to see if he knew about the affair and to find any info about his dad (he’s an absurdly bad liar and easy mark when the maid catches him), tries to get Brian to acknowledge his son — and helps "set the tone" for a family shoot designed to "rebrand" the family as "fresh…hip." That branding evidently includes lions. Live lions. As in, "I guess we should get some lion insurance."
- The ring-tone gag, in which each Darling family member has his or her own theme song courtesy of Nick’s assistant, never gets old. This week, Karen’s went from "Pretty Woman" to "Here Comes the Bride." But where did it go when she called him at the end?
- Billy Baldwin toned it down this week — very capably. I no longer have visions of Alec dancing in my head when I close my eyes and listen to him.
- Donald Sutherland speaking Swedish. ‘Nuff said.
- The really beautiful moment between Tripp and Nick, when Tripp suggests that the numbers "712" — signifying Tish’s birthdate — might be the combination to Dutch’s briefcase. When the lock snapped open, the flinch and look of resigned hurt on Sutherland’s face, and the heaviness of recognition that settled over Krause’s, was for me the high point of the whole hour.
- Based on the papers in Dutch’s briefcase, the delicious Blair Underwood is soon to make an appearance as rich businessman/Darling family nemesis Simon Elder. Can’t wait.
Even with its sly sense of humor, which seemed a little more reticent this week, DSM‘s over-the-top dialogue is teetering on a very fine line between camp and schmaltz. "You are the scion of the Darling family tree," Tripp tells his son Patrick (William Baldwin) as he’s trying to talk him into running for the Senate. "Make me proud. Make yourself proud." Tripp and Tish’s argument about Patrick’s decision, centering around family destiny vs. individual choice — was straight out of a miniseries. I even know which one: Kennedy (1983), starring Martin Sheen as JFK and Blair Brown as Jackie. I mean really. This stuff couldn’t fly in the hands of any actors less capable than Sutherland and Clayburgh — and it barely works with them.
The show hasn’t quite settled into its rhythm yet — and only two episodes in, that’s fine. This week felt a little bit like a kid learning to ride a bike — wobbly, but getting there. These characters aren’t archetypes, though; every one of them has some humanity and depth (Who’d have guessed that the cartoonish Brian could be guilted into doing the right thing?), and watching how those bits play out, even when they’re at war with narcissism, drunken loutishness, and ambition run amok, keeps this in a different league than your average nighttime soap.
What’d you think? Did Patrick make the right call? If you were to "rebrand" your family, would you use cheetahs or zebras in the photo shoot instead? Do you have an early guess about whether any Darling was involved in Dutch’s death?