The family that brawls together stays together. Yes, I’m quite certain I heard a holy man whisper those words once. (Full disclosure: it’s a definite possibility I hallucinated that it was a holy man speaking when actually it was a Real Housewife from New Jersey.) But whoever it was who uttered that plastic philosophy, one thing I know is it’s now fully applicable to the world of our Floribama Shore friends who have bonded like Super Glue after collectively throwing punches outside a bar to protect whatever is left of Nilsa’s honor. Kortni and Aimee swung their fists. Gus tried to block even more violence from going down. Kirk, Codi, and Candace barged right into the thick of it. Jeremiah watched the proceedings from a safe distance so he wouldn’t harm his dabbing arm. And Nilsa? She was stunned that strangers got in her face for seemingly no reason whatsoever. But what nobody here is saying is there is a reason random people approached and then provoked her. The girl is SURROUNDED BY A CAMERA CREW and a vast – and very sad – majority of our society is drawn to whatever instant and forever gratification a camera can offer and if that means throwing down on a weekday night during the height of summer, so fucking be it.
Back at the house, the fight just a hair-torn-directly-from-the-root memory, the roommates realize they feel closer to one another than ever before. They have stared into the bullshit abyss of what’s waiting for them and they realize the future involves countless dive bars populated by wannabe MTV stars, so they swear a loyalty oath that whatever nonsense may transpire between them, they are still a unit when it comes to dealing with the outside world. But now that the lovey dovey shit is done, Jeremiah has a very fair question about why Nilsa was impacted by what a drunken stranger said to her at a bar. “Does it matter what other people think?” he asks. “Does it really?” Now, a normal person would listen to what Jeremiah is saying and perhaps contemplate why the opinion of a nobody impacted her on an emotional level, but since Nilsa is not a fully normal person and she’s sometimes as allergic to self-reflection as I am to whatever the fuck is in the hair of cats, she decides Jeremiah’s home schooling must really have robbed him of social graces. That said, she does reflect later about how she cakes on makeup and gets procedures so she will finally feel beautiful and I can only hope that she will eventually realize her worth, even if it doesn’t happen until she finally limps to the terribly tragic age of twenty-six.
The next day, Kortni calls her mother and tells her that she’d love to bring everyone over to meet her and the absolute sickest part of my brain stood up and cheered because who at this point isn’t dying to meet the person who birthed Kortni? Will her mother also be an everywhere-pisser or will she be the most sedate woman on the planet and therefore cause conspiracy theorists around the world to debate how easy it must be to quickly switch babies from hospitals near the border of Florida and Alabama? What we learn from Kortni is she tells her mother “absolutely everything,” and so however this woman turns out, we should give her props simply for the fact that her head has not yet spun off and landed clear across the county after listening to the drunken and violent moments her daughter must recount for her in a typical bonding session. If I was the religious sort, there’s a chance in Hell I’d start praying for the woman.
Downstairs, everyone is once again reliving the excitement from the fight. As they chew over each minute again and again, Kirk realizes Jeremiah would never take a bullet for him – and that’s a nugget of information he will not lose sight of anytime soon. I’d mention how I find it distressing that the one person who remained calm and nonviolent in a crisis is now the one who is seen as suspect, but since this is all going down in the context of a reality TV show where you get cast because you’re belligerent and reactionary, I suppose Jeremiah should be classified as the weird one here. And if he doesn’t much care for that distinction, I’d suggest he slither away from the reel world and come out and play in the real world. I’d also suggest he torch the shirt adorned with printed pineapples, but that’s really another matter altogether.
The plan for the evening is to go to the Cajun Cafe so Jeremiah alerts Kayla Jo of his plans because not only is a “mature woman” – you guys, she is twenty-fucking-six – fun in bed, but she’s also someone he can talk to just in case all his roomies jump knuckle-first into another fight. It’s so boring to sit on the sidelines alone! They sit down to dinner and share their wonderment about how they haven’t fought with each other all day – and I have to wonder if it’s just me who hears the creepy studio scoring in the distance because it just seems way too early in the night to already congratulate one another on not calling someone at the table a desperate-attention-seeking-psychotic-asshole. I mean, the sun has barely fucking set. And right at that moment, Kayla Jo enters. In Nilsa’s mind, Kayla Jo is like a rash or that bout with herpes Kortni will eventually tell her mother about – she will not go away – and just like that, the possibility of a drama-free night goes up in Cajun-flavored flames.
It’s completely hilarious (you know, in a totally pathetic way) when Nilsa tells us her plan for the night is to get to know Kayla Jo and “kill her with kindness” because we all know that the demon who rents out space inside of Nilsa’s ego really wanted to end the sentence after the word “her.” I get that listening to some hanger-on chide you for the wrinkles you’ll one day accumulate due to smoking or taking just one measly bite of the pizza you made her before leaving it uneaten next to your shoes can make you want to toss her lank hair into a cauldron, but Nilsa is on the warpath for this person and it seems sort of unwarranted. Oh, and speaking of cauldrons, it’ll eventually come out that Kayla Jo is a practicing Wiccan and the information will be all Nilsa believes she needs to prove to the universe at large that Kayla Jo is evil and witches should be trusted way less than a unicorn-onesie-wearing girl who foolishly thinks her passive aggression is slick as can be even though it’s so blatant that just watching it through a screen legitimately makes me embarrassed for her.
We’ll have to return later to what I expect will be Nilsa screaming, “I saw Goody Kayla Jo with the devil!” because now it’s time for everyone to head to Kortni’s house. Nilsa tells those in her car about the dastardly moment when Kayla Jo DID NOT FINISH THE PIZZA and she makes this insignificant story seem so devious that Aimee hears it and instantly agrees that the bitch is dead to her. Her job to make Jeremiah’s lady a leper complete, Nilsa and the rest of the gang pull up to Kortni’s mother’s house where they meet a woman who has not appeared several hundred times on The Maury Povich Show, but instead a soft-spoken blonde who likes to hang crucifixes on her wall. “Where the real momma at?” wonders Candace – and the girl seriously has a point. As some of the group gets comfortable inside, Aimee, Codi, and Nilsa chill outside with Kortni’s pet parrot. Aimee gets it to agree she’s pretty, Codi stands back so the thing can’t smell his abject fear of birds, and Nilsa tries to get it to repeat after her “Kayla Jo is a ho” because that’s just the sort of thing a very rational person does on a Tuesday afternoon.
Also: It’s incredibly sweet when Kortni’s mom whips out albums filled with her baby pictures.
Also: Kortni’s mother swears she potty-trained her child, but she does apologize if her teachings didn’t quite take and her saying such a thing really makes me wonder if perhaps Kortni is known city-wide for her proclivity to pee in, shall we say, unconventional locations.
When Kortni’s mom asks to hear some interesting things about the people her daughter is bunking with for the summer, she learns Aimee dropped out of high school and Gus has been out of his house since the age of seventeen and a broken arm kept him out of the military. Realizing they have had it rough, she tells them she hopes they can serve as sources of strength for one another. It’s a lovely moment and she’s a kind woman and I hope one of her daughter’s friends can provide her with a large handful of Valium when the time comes for her to watch her daughter’s antics on this show.
Away from parental goodness, Nilsa is still dealing with the self-created trauma of Kayla Jo having the audacity to not eat the piece of frozen pizza she so tirelessly stuck inside of an oven. It’s around this time that Kortni informs her that The Pizza Abandoner practices witchcraft and that pronouncement immediately causes Nilsa to run around the house like a banshee searching for her Jesus candle (I’m guessing Bath and Body Works came up with that scent exclusively for the holidays), and she declares she was correct about the girl all along. A true master of stirring up suspicion as long as the people she’s surrounded by are morons, she tells the rest of the group that she knew – she just knew – something was off with that girl and Codi leaps right into the idiocy and decides that next time Kayla Jo flies her broom over to the house, he’s going to make her hold his rosary beads, toss some holy water on her, and stand back to see if her skin melts off. “We need to burn her at the stake,” declares Nilsa. Then she proclaims to Jesus himself that she is his girl, so if you’re wondering, that rumble you suddenly felt beneath your feet was clearly caused by Jesus shaking his head back and forth in pure fucking terror.
Gus overhears what his roommates are saying and informs Jeremiah that they are being really judgmental about Kayla Jo, a fact that doesn’t surprise him in the least. Still, he’s finally come to the conclusion that Nilsa is a bonafide asshole and it’s time to confront her in a Family Meeting. (This little gathering seems like it’ll go even worse than the Thanksgiving my family had after the Presidential election when half of us voted for Clinton and half of us voted for Trump and I shuddered whenever someone touched a carving knife.) Once everyone gathers in the living room, Jeremiah asks why there’s chatter about a girl he likes and Nilsa responds that she heard his beloved is a witch and it freaks her out. The Wiccan thing weirds Candace out, too. See, she doesn’t truck with witches. She also will not get on board with mythical creatures, and though I think it’s cruel for these people to rip apart something they don’t actually understand, I will say that I also live in deathly fear of mythical creatures for reasons my psyche will not allow me to understand and I do want to support Kayla Jo and her beliefs, but should she come riding into the house on a fucking Pegasus, I see no good reason why she shouldn’t be immediately lynched with a curling iron. At any rate, Jeremiah is sick of all of it and he directs his anger towards Nilsa because she’s the one who has been consistently terrible to Kayla Jo and when she bursts in to justify her actions, he interrupts her.
“Be quiet. I’m talking,” she retorts.
And to that Jeremiah responds, “You can talk to me like an adult. Alright, woman?”
Kortni’s mouth falls open at his words. Mine does, too. Because here’s the thing: this guy could very easily get his point across without tacking the word “woman” onto the end of his sentence in a manner that is meant to be both derogatory and misogynistic. That word alone – which is clearly stated as an insult – makes him lose an argument he never should have lost. Then he continues his diatribe and tells Nilsa to kiss his ass when she suggests he get the tacit agreement of the entire house before Kayla Jo stays over again. Her response is to tell him he’d better not speak disrespectfully to women in her presence and somewhere a few miles away, I think Kayla Jo just performed some spell and it caused Hell to freeze over because suddenly I am firmly on Nilsa’s side.
The argument then somehow gets directed at Gus and when he’s accused of being disrespectful to women also, he breaks. He grew up in a house where women weren’t treated well and he will not have that accusation pointed his way. He is so hurt that he begins to tear up and it causes Codi to also tear up and embrace him and tell him everything is okay and suddenly we’re at the heartwarming portion of Floribama Shore and the whole thing feels almost nice so there had better be a major bar fight in the immediate future to balance these emotions out but quick.
We’re in luck! Miserable Family Meeting over, they head out to a bar to meet up with some of Gus’ friends. Candace ends up seeing the guy she met a few weeks ago, Nilsa apologizes to Jeremiah, and the night is going swimmingly until yet another asshole sees a fleet of cameras and realizes he can quickly snag his four minutes of revolting infamy by calling Gus a disgusting name. Gus confronts the guy – and that confrontation is this dickhead’s wet dream come true because now he can get into a fight in front of cameras and nothing would make him happier, but security steps in. They tell Gus to leave it to them and he’s wise enough to know that taking a swing at a troglodyte in a trucker hat could land him in jail, so he goes to the other side of the bar and tries to calm down. But when Candace hears that someone she lives with was called a fag, she is not having it. She walks over and listens as this disgusting specimen says about Gus, “He don’t need to come up in this bar shaking his dick around.” Let’s for a second remember that Gus was playing a rollicking game of Jenga when this guy felt the need to use a gay slur against him – and then let’s all sit back and applaud for about an hour for the way Candace knocked this guy’s hat clear off his head.
It should have ended there. The guy should have apologized. The roommates should have left. But the thing is, we just don’t live in that kind of civilized world anymore. Of course the guy walks up to the table to further provoke everyone. Of course yet another huge fight breaks out to end this episode.
Listen, I know Nilsa considers her Wiccan-non-grata and all, but is anyone else wondering if maybe Kayla Jo can perform a Calm Spell? And while she’s at it, think there’s a chance one of her incantations can cause that horrible guy’s dick to shrivel up and fall off at Candace’s feet so she can kick it into the gutter where it belongs? I’ll provide the sage.
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