Since this is our last recap and I’m feeling sort of wistful, let’s hold hands. Then allow me to drag you towards a collection of very stable geniuses who are attempting to beat the shit out of one another in a house they don’t pay to live in because they all forgot the “Use your words!” lesson they were taught back when they were cranky toddlers. And when the emphasis on language goes missing and is replaced by vast quantities of cheap draft beer, the result is that MTV is gifted with a slew of people willing to brawl over just about nothing on camera and we are left with questions about what will eventually happen to them since it’s not like they can all become President.
“I’ll knock that bitch out!” Aimee shouts about Kirk. See, she will not be disrespected by any other man like she was for a decade by the ex she just rang up on a crocodile phone, and if that means she will have to knock Kirk clear across a coffee table, so fucking be it. Kirk is pissed. He only spoke the truth, slurred though it was. And though he’d never put his hands on a female or a mermaid-goddess-princess, he heard on FOX News that doors have officially been classified as male by the current administration so Kirk pounds into a particularly virile one on his way up the stairs. “She’s lucky that wasn’t her face,” he announces as his fist turns purple. This provocation does exactly what it’s supposed to: it provokes Aimee to charge. While Kirk stands in his room smiling, Gus takes the brunt of Aimee’s wrath and fights her off while never letting go of his toothbrush because he knows it’s not only foot-high hair that brings in the ladies. What’s so disturbing about this entire situation is what Aimee is yelling in the throes of her hysteria. She’s announcing to the world that she used to be beaten every day and I believe her. Such a history is so stunningly sad, but what’s also horrifying is how immediately abusive she gets when she’s angry. There seem to be very few – if any – beats of self-reflection about whether responding physically is the wisest course of action. She’s like an illustration of the cycles of abuse come to life.
Her rage finally sated, Aimee bursts into tears. “Nobody knows how I’ve suffered,” she sobs, and I think there’s no doubt this girl has suffered savagely at the hands of her ex. At no point, however, does she make the rather easy connection that, though his delivery was for absolute shit, Kirk was attempting to get her to see that calling the man who harmed her was a foolish move. She can’t see logic right now. She can only see the misery of her past and the fleetingness of her present and a future full of question marks and so she sits in the bathroom while Gus and Nilsa rub her back and she bawls her eyes out. I feel sad for Aimee and I hope she eventually gets whatever she wants in life, whether that be riches or fins, and I hope she never has to lay eyes on her ex again. I also hope his girlfriend’s baby comes out looking exactly like Aimee.
Away from the carnage, Codi is with his family as they prepare for his grandfather’s funeral. The whole thing is sweet – and it’s brief as hell because we’re almost immediately brought back to the shore house so people who like to fight and hate to clean can get ready for Parents’ Day! There are dishes to wash and questionable stains to be removed from a shag rug and floors to mop and vengeances to be settled, so they have to get an early start. Gus’ first priority is taking Aimee aside and letting her know that they can still have a happy last few days in spite of what went down the night before. “Nope,” Aimee responds, and even Gus’ tattoos look dismayed by her quick and total refusal to play nice. There’s very little time to try to change her mind because the parents start arriving. Gus hugs his mother tightly and cries a little. Aimee’s mother watches her twerk in the confessional room. Kortni’s mother arrives with mini cupcakes and a buttload of pride that Kortni can now cook and use the potty. Jeremiah entertains Kirk’s parents by making his pecs dance. (Really. That happened.) And Candace’s parents? They show up in cute little hats that they don’t take off and they remark on how messy the place is and how short Candace’s shorts are and I do not know what is happening to me right now, but I suddenly want to shimmy on my tiniest skirt and walk in front of them so they can ground me. They just seem like no-bullshit people and I kind of love them for being slightly scared as their eyes scan the house lined with cameras where their lovely daughter just spent the summer.
Also: Candace’s dad learns how to shotgun a beer.
Also: There’s a really good chance Candace’s mother will leave her husband for Jeremiah.
Once the food is ready, Aimee brings her mother outside to eat. Across the patio are Kirk and his parents and even the ketchup bottle on the table can feel the tension. “Some people are not nice people,” Aimee announces, and Kirk immediately gets up and takes his parents inside. He explains to his mother – who nods quietly while rocking pearls – what happened with Aimee and then listens when his stepfather tells him that it’s not about what you say, it’s how you say it. Besides, getting involved in someone else’s romantic craziness will not lead to anything positive. It’s good advice and it makes me wonder if maybe the living room couch pulls out into a bed. If it does, I think Kirk’s levelheaded stepdad should move in for the last bunch of days. And if he’s up for building a fort, he should totally ask Aimee’s mom to stay as well.
Also: Candace’s father has started taking shots.
Also: If you can’t find Candace’s mother, perhaps look in a broom closet where she will probably be counting Jeremiah’s stomach muscles with her tongue. She will still be wearing her fedora.
As Josh joins his brother outside near the barbeque because he once heard propane fumes have a steroid-like effect, Nilsa points him out to her parents. “That’s the guy I like,” she says. Silence. “He already hurt me,” she continues. Silence. Seriously, her parents just stare at her as she recounts how someone in their eyeline hurt her. Maybe they have been rendered dumbfounded by Josh’s hair or maybe they’re used to hearing their daughter complain, but the whole thing just comes off as weird. Eventually they prove able to speak and they sit on Nilsa’s bed with her and listen as she reveals her deepest fear that she is already twenty-three and divorced and nobody will possibly want her because that means she’s damaged. Um, Nilsa? Sweetheart, we are all fucking damaged. And count yourself fortunate that you will not have to spend holidays with a guy who has a tail, though I admit that it would be kind of fun to double-date with Jeremiah and Candace’s mom.
The parents eventually leave and now it’s just the roommates and a shitload of tension. Kirk finally asks Aimee if they can talk and he tells her he had no bad intentions and he loves her and he’s sorry if he said what he did in a mean way, but she really needs to stop contacting that douchebag. She accepts his apology and tells him she was wrong for tossing both the mayonnaise and his body around the ground floor of the house, but since everything is perfect again, he just congratulates her on her upper body strength. With the fractured family finally healed, it’s time to welcome Codi back so Nilsa slips on her unicorn onesie and her thigh-high boots for the grand occasion. (It sounds like I’m making fun of her, but as someone who’s pulled on a latex tube dress and six-inch stilettos to welcome someone home on a Thursday, I really don’t have the right to say anything.) She and Aimee hide behind the couch and then flash Codi when he walks into the room because nothing says, “We missed you!” like ripping open a plush pair of pajamas.
Also: Is the tattoo on Aimee’s heiny a Simpsons character or just an illustration of a jaundiced family member?
Codi arrives with a bottle of homemade wine and now would probably be a good time to tell you about the time my boyfriend hurled homemade wine all over my entryway, but that’s actually the entirety of that messy little story. Codi’s wine ends up not killing anyone, so they are able to be alive as they prepare for their last night. They’re having some sort of seafood boil thing for dinner – it looks all sorts of messy and all kinds of yummy – and after taunting Candace with one of the crawfish before making it go for a scalding swim, they sit down for the final dinner. Jeremiah says a prayer before the meal and they dive in while sharing their favorite moments from the summer – you know, like when Kortni pissed on Candace’s bed and Jeremiah danced in a club and thought he looked good doing it. But the biggest revelations over dinner are about how much they all profess to care about one another and they prove it in two ways: 1) By having a group hug right then and there and 2) Nobody’s teeth get knocked out over a bevy of crab legs. Instead they decide to drag their mattresses into the upstairs common area so they can literally be close on their last night and they are subsequently entertained by Codi doing a striptease that ends with him wearing just American flag briefs, an image that could very well lead to me pretending I’m Canadian for the rest of my life.
The final morning of summer is overcast and depressing and the instrumental music that scores the scene is all but shrieking that we must feel SAD because this on-camera experiment is OVER and now these people must go back into the harsh world ALONE and there will be NO CRAWFISH spread across newspapers in the future. “Exactly how it looks outside is how I feel,” says Gus as he neatly packs his clothing into suitcases, and it’s a sentiment that is shared. Nobody wants to leave reel life and return to real life. Luckily for them, not only was this show just renewed for a second (TWENTY episode!) season, but my guess a bunch will also end up on one of those Challenge things, so fear not, Floribama Shorers! Being terrified of reality when your life is “reality” is probably a fear not worth harboring. Still, my New Year’s resolution list includes being less cynical (don’t get excited; that list of resolutions also includes the goals to stop swallowing gum and to be nicer to my sister) so I’m buying the authenticity that these people are sad to say goodbye. Dysfunctional or not, they became a family for the summer. They felt safe when they were together and now they’re headed back into a cold world where beer costs more than a dollar and Wiccans will leave the pizza you made for them just about anywhere and there’s no guarantee that anyone will be around to hold back your hair after a long night as you crouch over a toilet. It all feels scary, but they can leave feeling grateful – for the time they shared, for all they have learned, and for the endorsement deals that will hopefully soon follow.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Her Twitter is @nell_kalter