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'Brothers & Sisters': The rules of engagement

September 28, 2009 |  7:01 am
"Brothers & Sisters" returned for its fourth season last night and the tension was as thick as the L.A. smog. Did you really expect anything less from the Walker family?

The episode kicked off with the reminder that Justin and Rebecca were engaged (not to mention a big tease that only served as an excuse for a "48 hours earlier" flashback). However, all was not completely well with the happy couple. Justin, who at the end of last season announced he was going back to school to become a doctor, learned his first-term grades weren't up to par and his relation to the senator was the only thing keeping him in the program. This news sends him into a tailspin — he is, after all, the Prodigal Son who has yet to prove he can commit and succeed at something.

It's ironic that the opening scene showed Rebecca driving a car when she's often the one left in the backseat in her relationship with Justin. She's put her foot down before, but I can't say she's very convincing. I understand Rebecca's supposed to be the sweet, sensible rock in the relationship, but she comes off more as a perpetually pouting doormat than as a sensitive person driven by a quiet strength. I definitely sense a breakdown coming for her this season.

On the bright side, Justin and Rebecca's engagement ensures more entertaining showdowns between Nora and Holly. In my opinion, those two have the most fascinating and complex relationship on the show. They're inherent rivals in physicality (blond versus brunette, voluptuous versus petite) and circumstance (scorned wife versus scorned mistress), and, in their numerous conflicts, neither really emerges as the clear winner. Oftentimes, there's an element of spite and competitiveness in their interaction, but you also suspect they hold a bit of respect for each other for surviving this ordeal. Plus, Sally Field and Patricia Wettig know how to perform a good catfight.

The engagement party provided the perfect stage for this week's Nora and Holly Show. Nora agrees to let Holly host, but after a grand piano and termites force the party to the Walker mansion, all the rules go out the window. Throw Justin's med school drama and Marian Ross as Nora's sardonic mother in the mix and the party is pretty much a wrap. Thankfully, there are always comedic elements to the Walker melees; otherwise, we'd have to watch the show with an Excedrin at hand.  

Meanwhile, conflict still exists in Kitty and Robert's marriage. Despite their agreement to work things out last season, there was still a level of uncertainty that continued into this one. Their attempts to give each other equal amounts of attention fall flat, especially as Robert prepares for his gubernatorial campaign. Kitty holds tighter and tighter to baby Evan, which explains why she's been ignoring the nagging sickness she's been experiencing for the last few weeks.

I have mixed feelings about Kitty's illness bomb. Although I have no doubt Calista Flockhart would act her pants off as a character stricken with a life-threatening disease, we've seen this storyline before (most recently with Izzie on "Grey's Anatomy"), and throwing an illness into Kitty's already complicated life feels contrived. It's one thing if it occurred during one of Robert and Kitty's happy periods, but to stack this on top of their mounting issues is overwhelming. Hmm, I wonder who we'll all feel sorry for now?

What are your thoughts on the episode? Do you think Justin and Rebecca will stay engaged? What do you think of Kitty's impending illness?

— Enid Portuguez