Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) Chapter 3

At the end of Chapter 2, Peter Strauss was joyous as the news that his hard-bitten father was giving him money for college as his wastrel brother Nick Nolte was shipped off to family in California to avoid the rap for a fire he started after seeing his brother’s girlfriend, Susan Blakely, in town robber baron Robert Reed’s bed.

The story skips to California, 1947.  Nick is living with his father’s brother, sister-in-law and children, all of them thoroughly bland and ridiculously bourgeois, which means they have a maid they don’t need, quiet Irish lass Fionnula Flanagan.  Luckily for Nick, the family is going on vacation, leaving him in charge of the house and the gas station they run.  It’s during down time at the station that Nick learns to box.

A bunch of rich teenagers come to get gas one day and Nick meets flirty Talia Shire.  The rest of the kids are obnoxious, so Nick lets the air out of a tire just to spite them.  Not only has he made a date with Talia, but Fionnula is hot after him, showing it first by making him a world-class meal, then showing up naked to share a bath with him.  One hell of a leap, no?  When the appointed hour to meet Talia arrives, Nick is hooked in Fionnula’s arms, she being the one who talks about St. Sebastian, sending Nick to the encyclopedia to figure out that reference.

The ever-egalitarian Nick doesn’t understand why Fionnula would want to be a maid, and “wait on my fat uncle,” but she likes her life.  Things get more than a bit gooey with these two, who go riding on horseback to shoot bunnies and pick flowers, not to mention rehash the stories of their lives (well, mostly his).  She stops him from the former, saying, “you’re bigger than he is and he can’t fight back.”  Another miniseries rule can be seen a mile away: when things are too good to be true, watch out!

Back in upstate New York, things are pretty much the same.  Peter is still playing delivery boy for his father while being worshipped by his mother.  Dorothy is full of complaints about her life and Ed growls with the same arguments.

Peter goes fishing on Robert Reed’s land and is invited to lunch.  As always, Robert likes playing savior, getting Peter a job to help pay for college, and mentioning his new boss has some “nubile young daughters.”  That brings the conversation around to Susan, though Robert doesn’t reveal too much

Speaking of Susan, she’s moved to New York City to become an actress.  Waiting in agent Steve Allen’s office, she is introduced to colossal blowhard Bill Bixby.  But, before she can get to know him, she’s called into Steve’s office to read for a one-line part.  She is told to return later “with a bathing suit.”  Bill is waiting to take her out to lunch, where he delights her with pompous stories.  A day of binge drinking by both is interrupted by Susan’s line reading in the suit, which apparently gets her the part.  Champagne loosens her lips about her past, and Bill, claiming to be falling in love with her but acting as gay as all get out, delights in the details.  “I think I’m falling in love with you,” he keeps saying.

Nick and Fionnula have continued their affair even with the return of Nick’s family, though they are very quiet and careful about it.  However, his uncle is suspicious, grilling Nick with the threatening calm of an SS Agent, finally revealing that he heard the sounds coming from Fionnula’s room.  “I want you to say you are sorry for the filthy thing that has taken place under my roof,” his uncle rages.  The uncle threatens to have her deported, so “she will promise me anything I want,” he says triumphantly.  The next morning, not only does Fionnula tell Nick “we are over,” but also that she’s going to finally give in and let her boss have his way with her.  Nick runs from the house in horror.

Categories: Romance Miniseries

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