It’s great to be back in the deliciously privileged, glossy, nasty, ne’er-do-well world of the Darlings and Dirty Sexy Money. And in typical DSM style, we jump right back into a scene whose roots we have to backtrack to understand. And it’s on a yacht — a grand birthday party thrown for Nick by his patron/real family.

Non-toxic, clean-burning spoilers ahead…

And right away we know something’s up. Nick arrives solo, and is exchanging some very meaningful looks with Tripp, Patrick, and Karen, and he ends up meeting Tripp’s friend, Hal Mattheson (John Bennett Perry), who has no other scene in the whole hour, but I’m guessing he surfaces again in the coming weeks. Nick finds Lisa, and they seem to put aside their conflict, when Tripp decides to make a little speech in honor of the "birthday boy," which includes handing over the keys to the enormous yacht. Then the dock is flooded with light from an NYPD helicopter, and the partygoers are warned that the boat will be boarded. "Nick, what the hell did you do?" Patrick screeches.

Flash back to 48 hours earlier — Nick and Lisa agree to meet for dinner to celebrate his birthday in advance of the Darling party, which Nick feels obligated to attend because it represents six months of his work trying to get the estranged Patrick and Tripp back together.

But all isn’t well yet. At Tripp’s office, Nick is refereeing a fight between them. Tripp tells Patrick that if he doesn’t want him involved in the campaign, he should just say so. "Of course I want you involved, dad — but you don’t know how to be involved without creating an air of constant judgment and pervasive meddling," Patrick says. Tripp accuses him of getting his ideas from Simon Elder, but Patrick swears they’ve severed ties. Patrick’s still ahead in the polls, but Tripp warns that if his wife, Ellen, keeps showing up at campaign events drunk, that will change. Patrick’s still in love with the banished Carmelita, and it seems that Ellen has turned to the bottle to help her cope. Patrick and Tripp fight bitterly, and Patrick stalks out, renouncing his father.

Back at Nick’s, as Lisa leaves the house, Jeremy tools up on a red Vespa, speaking Italian in what can only be described in an accent that sounds somwhat similar to Borat. He’s still carrying a torch for Lisa from their kiss six months before, but she turns him down.

After an … intimate moment, Simon asks Karen to go to a fundraiser with him. While he’s fixing her a drink, she scrolls through his blackberry and fondles a little crystal duck on the coffee table. It’s a reminder of simpler times before he’d made his fortunes, Simon tells her — a reminder that he could go from being an ugly duckling to a swan. Then he tells her he loves her. Stopped in her tracks, Karen can only stammer, "Wow. Thank you. I think you’re really neat too." Which, as I recall, is not that different from the response Blair Underwood’s character on Sex and the City got when he told Miranda he loved her (on a cookie). Poor guy.

Karen meets Nick at his office, where she celebrates his birthday by giving him a bottle of grappa and showing him her birthday suit. But what starts as kind of an over-the-top scene turns out to be the first of a couple of interesting conversations between Karen and Nick. They have great chemistry, and they seem to understand one another in a far more meaningful way than simply being foils. She confesses that Simon told her he loved her, and that that’s freaking her out a little. "You’re my exit ramp, Nick," she says. He replies that he’s just the old boyfriend she runs to when she starts having feelings for someone, and that she has the choice to not do the same thing she always does and run.

Back at the Darling house, we learn that Brian has been pulling strings to delay the visas of his ex, Andrea, and their son, Brian Jr., so they can return home to Brazil. They’ve come to visit for a week, and the delays have stretched almost four. Tripp comes in and asks Brian to counsel Ellen, but he protests, saying he left religious life and took a job working for Tripp so he wouldn’t have to smile and pretend he cared about other people’s problems. "When you sent me to Munich to close down that factory and fire all those people — that was fun," he says.

Patrick has hired a private detective to look for Carmelita, who’s disappeared, and explains to the guy that his lovely wife is a belligerent drunk who calls him names in front of their kids adn takes swings at him in public when she’s not ordering single-barrel bourbon by the case. At home, a drunk Ellen alternately insults and pleads with Patrick. When he heads into the shower, she discovers pictures of Carmelita in his briefcase, and goes off the deep end. She takes a fireplace poker and smashes the shower doors, screaming that she had Carmelita taken care of. Then she slips on the slippery bathroom floor, falls backward, smashes her head on the sink and hits the floor, a puddle of blood spreading out from her head. Panicked, Patrick calls Tripp.

Nick, waylaid from his dinner with Lisa, is summoned to Patrick’s, where he’s met by father and son. He believes that it was an accident, and moves to call the police when he’s stopped by Tripp, who’s worried not only about the effect on Patrick’s Senate campaign but also on the family. Did you seriously expect me to show up here and get rid of the body? Nick asks. That’s what Dutch would have done, Patrick responds. And look where it got him, Nick retorts angrily. Call the police, he tells them. This is a moral decision, and its yours to make. When it becomes legal, call me, he says, then turns on his heel and leaves.

Lisa, meanwhile, is waiting by herself at the restaurant. Jeremy, fueled by the confidence he got from a conversation in a bar with Lucy Liu (we don’t know who she is yet, but she’s sexy and counsels him not to take no for an answer), shows up and invites himself to sit with her. Later, they stumble out of the restaurant, drunk, and begin kissing in the street when Nick sees them. Uh oh. Then it hits the proverbial fan.

Back at Simon’s, Karen begins her getaway dance, but Simon calls her bluff. He likes being with her, but he knows she’s only seeing him because she’s spying on him for her father. He goes to the wall safe and pulls out a vial of liquid, which he says is a non-toxic, clean-burning fuel that will make them all very rich. He gives it to her, and tells her to give it to her father.

Back at his office, Nick seethes, refusing to take Lisa’s calls. "Maybe your family and my family are just a bad combination, you know?" he says. It seems as though he’s talking to himself, but then we see Karen, and they’re drinking the grappa she brought him. Maybe we don’t have choices, he says. Maybe it’s all about chemistry. You want what you want and you can’t stop. Their dynamic is fascinating, loaded with more nuance than heat and actually conveying a kind of meeting of the minds. They lean in for a kiss a couple of times, but end up going for a kiss on the cheek. "You and I are not a bad combination, Nick," Karen says. "It’s just that it’s bad timing."

The next morning, Brian discovers that the visas for his ex and his son have been cleared, and they’re gone — and he blames Tripp for doing it as a way to retaliate for him refusing to talk to Ellen. Nick comes in to see Tripp, who asks him to become part of the Darling family, to let them love him. Jeremy comes in to tell Tripp that he won’t be coming to Nick’s birthday party, sees Nick, and immediately gets twitchy. When Nick proceeds to punch him in the face, he’s certainly got it coming. Tripp gets Brian to agree to say he’s been fishing in the Hamptons with Patrick.

Which is a good alibi, because Clark the driver takes Ellen’s body to Valhalla, the country house, and pulls out a lighter. I think he’s just going to dispose of the body, but later on the Darling maids, watching TV, see Valhalla burning to the ground in a scene that looks straight out of last season’s Weeds.

At home, Lisa confronts Nick, warning him that he’s heading down the same path as his father, and that his involvement with the Darlings is making them lose what they have together. Incredulous, he picks a fight over her kissing Jeremy, and she points out his hypocrisy since he kissed Karen.

While Nick and Lisa fight it out, Jeremy heads back to the bar, and ends up lured — well, not really; suggested? — into the back of the limo by Lucy Liu, where they, ah, get to know one another.

Karen goes back to Simon’s, and confesses that she didn’t give the vial of fuel to her father, and she’s not going to. She likes him and she likes being with him, she says. She thinks he’s amazing. After she leaves for Nick’s party, Simon calls someone and says they’ve got her. When the party scene plays again, we get to see what was obscured at the top of the show — as Karen leans in to greet Tripp with a kiss at the party, she hands him something — which turns out to be the crystal duck. I don’t know if that’s what she meant to give him, or whether she’s double-crossing either her father by not giving him the fuel, or Simon because the duck represents something we don’t totally get yet. But DSM being what it is, there’s definitely a double-cross in the works. 

Finally, we’re back where we started. On the boat at Nick’s party, with Nick getting the yacht keys and the shindig being interrupted by the NYPD. This time, though, the detective comes up the gangplank and apologizes to Patrick, the Attorney General, for interrupting. Just as we think it’s curtains for Patrick on the Ellen situation, the cop announces he’s making an arrest, charging Letitia with the first-degree murder of Nick’s father, Dutch George.

What did you think? Triumphant return for the Darlings, or not quite up to last season? Are you intrigued by Simon’s fuel solution? Do you think Nick and Lisa will be OK? What do you think Karen’s got cooking? And are you deeply thankful your parents aren’t as controlling as Tripp?

Posted by:Lisa Todorovich