Almost every serial show on television uses drop-in episodes.  The dramatic potential of dropping a new character into the mix opens up possibilities for writers, and is a useful shortcut to bring a shot of energy.  However, the problem with them is that they often wind up feeling forced, as we the audience usually have no prior knowledge of this character’s existence let alone their relationships with the core cast.  Brothers & Sisters did a classic drop-in episode this week, which was probably well-times as three of the regulars didn’t appear: Kitty, Uncle Saul and Holly were all missing in action, and their replacement was Luc’s mother Gabriela played by the wonderful Sonia Braga (aka Samantha’s lesbian lover on Sex and the City, aka Elena Derevko on Alias).

It turns out that an easy way to make me forgive a pointless episode is to cast Sonia Braga.  With her Brazilian purr, she made comic gold out of numerous lines that couldn’t have seemed too sharp on the page.

“You’re loooovers!”

“It would be stupid…because you love him.”

“Do you know the secret of my absinthe tea?  There’s no tea!”

In fact, Braga was entertaining enough that I hope we have a return performance.  For one thing, the introduction added some nice back-story to Luc, who was languishing in UndevelopedCharacterville.  For another, having anyone in a room that is more self-centered and over-dramatic than the Walker family at large is a fantastically fun dynamic to see.  Every time she yanks focus from one of them, you can almost see them think “Hey, that’s my line!”.  And, as stated above, she hasn’t met the whole clan yet.  Uncle Saul would clearly adore her, as she’s a foreign film actress and deeply fabulous.  Kitty would have fun being flabbergasted at her antics, and then trying to one-up her.  Holly could despise her, as it seems Gabriela enjoyed a much more successful acting career than ole Harper ever did.  Even Kevin and Scotty didn’t get to meet her; in fact, her antics could only have been improved if one of the local homosexuals wound up dancing on the coffee table with her in the middle of Nora’s living room that she had decorated to “look like a bedouin tent.”

In any case, as is clear at this point, the main plot of this episode was the introduction of Luc’s estranged mother to the Walkers.  Sarah is bewildered as to why Luc doesn’t want his mother to visit.  Here’s a tip…if you’re dating someone and they are actively trying to keep their parents away from you, it’s not because they think that you’re going to get along famously.  Before the credits roll, Gabriela has shown up on the doorstep and Sarah has invited her to stay.  Luc demands that she go to a hotel, so naturally she winds up at Nora’s house which has had so many visitors at this point she should just start renting the rooms.  Gabriela spends much of the time trying to play match-maker for Nora and her work crush, Dr. Karl, going so far as to invite him over to Nora’s to watch a Leonard Bernstein concert (he’s a really panty-dropper, that Bernstein).  Gabriela also plans to spend the evening re-connecting with her son; unfortunately, Luc is in a big French huff and refuses to attend the party, leaving a rather odd guest list of Nora, Gabriela, Sarah and Dr. Karl.  Oh, and everyone starts to drink absinthe.

Before you can say “hallucinogenic”, Nora is jealous that Dr. Karl appears to be smitten with Gabriela, Gabriela is dancing with and almost kissing Justin, Sarah has realized that her mother has a crush on the doctor and Luc takes the time to show up and scream at his mother for interfering with his new family.  The whole arc didn’t have even one surprise twist, but I found it funny enough that I didn’t really mind.  This whole episode was quite clearly meant to be a lark, made for entertainment and it was reasonably successful at that.  Ultimately, in the hung-over light of day, Nora finds out that Dr. Karl has been interested in her the whole time and the two make out on the couch.  Luc, meanwhile, has an off-stage shouting match with his mother, but winds up in a tearful embrace with her.  And Sarah is staring at the heavens wondering how in the hell ALL of her siblings missed this fiasco.

In other news, Justin’s become the guy in the Axe Body Spray ads that no woman can resist.  He’s making out in the walk-in fridge with a waitress, he’s macking on the sous-chef in the pantry, he almost goes to cougar town with Luc’s mom and he claims he has no power over it.  I’m not entirely certain what the point of this arc was, other than to establish that…um…nope, I have no idea.  And it didn’t have Sonia Braga vamping it up to save it, so this was really a non-starter; note to the writing staff, it’s not fun to watch Dave Annable make out with different girls for no reason.  I am glad, however, that Nurse Anne from last week didn’t make a reappearance.  That relationship was a snooze.

The show did sneak in that Kevin and Scotty are still working through their problems, but it was nice to have a week off of the high drama for them.  Also, we find out that Walkers are not meant to work in food service, as Scotty winds up firing his husband and his brother-in-law so they don’t ruin his restaurant through incompetence or health-code violations.  The episode was the second place-holder in a row.  Literally, the progression of Nora nd Dr. Karl’s relationship was the only new development…hopefully next time we get some movement forward on the story-lines.  Or a Walker phone-tree!  I need my phone tree!

And the last bit of the green fairy:

– This episode was directed by Matthew Rhys…I think that was his first time behind the camera.

– I’m deeply gratified that the show acknowledged that Sonia Braga is not French.  I was really afraid they were going to go for the whole “one accent is as good as another” approach.

– The Walker boys named their penises: Justin’s is Captain Happy, Kevin’s is The Little Big Man and Tommy’s is The Magnificent Seven.  I hate that Tommy got the cleverest one.

– “Oh boy, that sounds like fun!  No.”

– “Little lamb died.  No good reason.”  Nora went from tipsy to sloshed in the space of about five minutes in this show.

– When I was waiting tables in TriBeCa, Sonia Braga was a regular in my restaurant, so my review of her may have been colored by the fact that she was awesome and fun.

– No new episode next week: make way for the AMA’s!

Culture Brothers & Sisters Recap: The Rhapsody of the Flesh