A few weeks ago, I was given the mindless task of proctoring a History exam during midterms and the test took place in a classroom I've never been inside of before. See, my room's on the top floor of the school and my heels are simply way too high for any aimless wandering to take place so the truth is that there are probably a lot of places in my school I've never been. On the day of the test, I did what I needed to do: I passed out booklets and paper to kids I'd never met so they could write some essays and then the time officially started and I realized that I was expected to stare at these strangers unflinchingly for the next two hours. I got tired of looking at them after five minutes; all they were doing was writing and stopping every few minutes to shake out hands that already appeared to be cramping. It was 7:30 in the morning and they were writing essays about Colonialism and, well, I just felt too badly for them to continue to stare. Instead, I started really looking around the room for the first time. Tests during midterms are held in random classrooms and I knew I wasn't in the room of a History teacher, but I wasn't actually sure just whose classroom I was in until I saw the person's name written in what looked like wite-out across a stapler. My first reaction was to roll my eyes and wonder who in the world would write her name on a stapler. My second reaction was to feel a wave of an understanding as to why my staplers always disappear.
What I liked immediately about the room were these gauzy curtains the teacher had draped near the windows along with a bunch of colorful paper lanterns that dangled down from the ceiling. The touches made the room feel homey and they managed to accomplish what I think they were meant to accomplish: to make every student in that room forget they were really there to learn math. Still, the curtain look was working for me and I started to contemplate that maybe I should hang some flowy curtains up in my own classroom and I started to seriously consider which color would best highlight the Taxi Driver, Fight Club, and Pulp Fiction posters on my wall. What hue of curtain goes best with the spatter of cinematic blood?
My minutes-long curtain fantasy faded once I realized that the chances were sky high that I'd never take them down to wash them and they'd probably just wind up gathering mountains of dust, causing students who sat near them to sneeze, blow their noses, and then toss those germ-filled wads of Kleenex into the garbage can that sits right beside my desk. Since I've decided that I'm allergic to other peoples' germs, I officially put the mental kibosh on the Curtain Plan and decided to pass the time instead by checking out the quotations emblazoned on every wall of the room. I'd been in a lot of classrooms that testing week; I'd become pretty accustomed to seeing breezy and optimistic proclamations decorating barren walls. It all made me realize at some point that I don't have any quotations on the walls of my own room and I was almost sure I should quickly scrawl, "And don't call me Shirley" on some construction paper, but I still wasn't a hundred percent sure because maybe I should use a quote from Primal Fear instead and, by the way, does anyone know where I can find some construction paper?
None of the quotes on this Math teacher's wall came from excellent movies, but they were all sweetly uplifting, especially the one by Plato: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Plato has a very good point, I thought to myself – and I swear that I could almost feel a steel hardness inside of me instantly begin to grow soft as I began to consider how the paths we're all on are unfamiliar and difficult. But just when I was about to become someone my yoga teacher would be very proud of, my eyes flicked over to the next quote and my burgeoning kindness began to melt.
The other quote actually said, "Life without geometry is pointless." Now, I'm somewhat positive that there's an adorable mathematical pun hidden in that quotation, but fuck if I get the joke. I've never been all that big on math humor and along with biblical allusions, those are the connections I probably understand the least. I did try for a moment to imagine what kind of roads I would have had to have taken in my life for that sign to ever hang anywhere on one of my walls, but just the symbolic journey got me immediately lost so I decided to start wondering instead about which Vanderpumper could most associate with the quotation’s meaning. (It's very worth explaining that I don't have these people invading my thoughts because they're fascinating. The reason I think about these people at all is because I write recaps and I've never been one to just bang out a "this happened and then this happened" kind of post since it's more fun for me to weave a little narrative. Also: proctoring is mind numbing and you've gotta think about something.) Anyway, the (maybe) hilarious geometry quote wasn't attributed to anybody – because that person is embarrassed – so I began to wonder if maybe James could have written it. Can't you just see it happening? Imagine James – obviously wearing a low-cut tank top – surveying the crowds of people dancing blandly to the beats he's created as the hemisphere's greatest living DJ and he has a moment of total clarity where he realizes that he's pathetic and maybe he should quit music and go to college for math. Or maybe it was Kristen who thought up the math message. Perhaps she was out on one of her frequent "walks" – the ones she goes on wearing all black creepy crawling clothing like she's a Manson Girl. Maybe one evening she was tucked in some nice shrubbery while she separated the bills she'd stolen from Sandoval's garbage cans and she was calculating how costly Ariana's life is and she decided right there in that bush that Ariana, like geometry, is pointless. Of course, it could have also been Jax who came up with the quotation, but I'm pretty sure he can't read or write.
Finding no answers (yet again) to a math problem, I decided to keep the first quote in the forefront of my mind. Maybe, I thought to myself, I should be less snarky about people willing to compromise every aspect of their lives on television in exchange for a little bit of money and a whole lot of infamy. Maybe these are their battles and I shouldn't judge. And maybe it's possible that I'll make it five whole minutes before saying, “fuck it” and bellowing from the hills that these people are monsters who are both sadistic and masochistic and they will tear apart the very fabric of society if we let them. I mean, for how many years did we all shrug off Donald Trump as harmless?
So as we head into this new recap, please just know that I tried to watch this show as I believe Plato would have – and I even considered inviting the spirit of Socrates to join us, but then I remembered Socrates was blind and he's already suffered enough.
We begin tonight at Kristen's apartment, which means being blind makes Socrates one lucky bastard. Kristen's not home but Stassi is and she loves living there because Kristen rarely shows up because she often forgets her own address. When she does manage to stumble home somewhere around dawn, Kristen finds that she enjoys cleaning as her buzz wears off. Sure, it's nice having her very own drunk maid, but Stassi's feeling down. She's come to realize that many people still hate her – and they really fucking hate her, even more than they hate the dudes who stuff razorblades into Milky Ways on Halloween. It's beyond her, this voracious hatred. She just cannot understand why telling all these people to go fuck themselves over the years has led to them not caring if she's breathing or not and now we know for sure that you do massively decline in intellect the moment you cross Kristen's rickety threshold.
And speaking of a person who wants to force-feed Stassi a candy bar sweetened with cyanide, Katie is in her apartment when her new best friend Scheana arrives. Katie's in a great mood! She's ready to have a launch party for her blog Pucker & Pout and she's invited her friends over to help her brainstorm, a sentence that concerns me greatly because the group she's gathered doesn't exactly make up a think-tank. She's got a good goal, though. She wants to get her blog some exposure and I'm gonna go ahead and applaud Katie for having this kind of ambition. Unfortunately, my positive reaction is tempered quickly when she announces that she's inviting Kristen to the party. Anyone else hear the sound of ominous horns blaring in the distance?
Across town, Max has arrived at a dentist to get his mouth checked out and the images thrown across the screen of his mangled teeth are made exponentially worse by James also being in the frame. Why is James at the dentist with Max and Lisa? Are we not supposed to ask that kind of question and instead try to just focus on asking about the meaning of life, because I swear, I'm not sure I can ask one of those questions without first having to ask the other. At any rate, James is predictably in a tank top and he tells Lisa that her son enjoys banging the older ladies and also that he drunk-texted Kristen last night because he misses her since their relationship was just so awesome.
As for Lala – the recent object of James' terrifying affection – she's apparently feeling just desperate and isolated enough to decide to confide in Scheana, a girl who was clearly a town crier who was murdered by the annoyed townspeople in a former life. Lala tells Scheana that she's furious at James because he sent her a mile-long text in which he called her a whore while she was spending time with a guy she's been on and off with for a while and Lala shouldn't have to be confronted by this asshole's bullshit while she's busy getting freaky with a guy she actually likes. But James could give a shit what Lala thinks or how she feels. The guy is positively glowing with sweaty pride as he shares the texts he sent her with Max and Max's mother – the one who is James' boss – while informing them that Lala might have gone to town on someone's ass the other night. Between this reveal and the one about how Kanye West maybe enjoys some digital penetration, I've heard far too much about other peoples' asses recently.
Scheana tries to explain to sweet, dumb Lala that James is an immature little twat who sucks so badly that he should never be looked at directly, lest the gazer begin to suck too. Even Lisa thinks the guy is a joke and the guy's presence on this show has become so over the top ridiculous that it's gotta be an act. Right?
(Also: James insists that his imaginary devoted following is waiting with a hyperventilating bated breath for the CD he'll never actually release.)
At SUR, Katie approaches James and Faith to let them know that they're not puckered or pouty enough to come to her party and they both just sort of nod and shrug. But Lala has also conveniently been left off the guest list and she wants to be sure her lack of invitation doesn't mean that Katie doesn't like her. Of course Katie likes Lala! She just knows that drama and misery and yelling tend to follow her like drunken sheep and she doesn't want that energy on her big night! Lala appears really impacted at being left out and we find that her fears all stem back to a pivotal moment she experienced in elementary school when she was banished to a curb during a birthday party and the incident has scarred her soul and informed her entire life, much like how the death of my father impacted mine. Now look: I'm not about measuring or weighing pain and I made that comparison obviously as a perverse joke, but I do think maybe it's time to try to move beyond the hurt you experienced in the third fucking grade or at least stop using it as an excuse while you undress on camera and cavort with a slimy English moron every time you get lonely.
Experiencing his pain as an adult is Jax, who is spending a leisurely unemployed afternoon reclining on his front stoop with Brittany. He hasn't heard much from his lawyers recently about the pesky felony charge that's looming, but he's hoping for just a slap on the wrist because that’s what he always gets. In the meantime, Brittany will continue to support him through her job at Hooters and if I haven't recently stated that she's the luckiest girl in the world it’s because I'm starting to feel badly about mocking someone who is obviously just really stupid.
And now it's time to spend some time with Kristen! She's hanging out with a guy named Aleks, someone she describes as "a man" who "has his shit together" and now I'm confused about why he's sitting next to her. The two guzzle drinks like they’re alcoholics and Kristen volunteers to sleep on his couch before the appetizers even arrive because she is a woman who has not been alone for a straight minute and a half since she was fifteen years old and she'd like to secure the notion that solitude will never even be an option for her.
Away from Kristen and tucked inside of SUR, Lisa tells Katie that Stassi came by but Katie proclaims that she is done with Stassi. She has moved on and she is stronger and happier without her former best friend anywhere near her and had I not recently seen a picture of them online where they were smiling gummily together at Sundance, I'd applaud Katie for her staunch convictions about friendship.
Back in the kitchen, Lala confronts James about all of his texts and she tells him that it's not okay for him to speak to her the way he does – and the next time he does it, she will remind him once again that he can't speak to her that way. James' response is that what's less okay than sending her those texts is that she "tossed some guy's salad" and then had him in her bed the next day. Lala doesn't understand this guy's anger! Doesn't James remember the agreement they signed into law at their photo shoot, the one that stated that they are friends who make out and that's it and feelings are not allowed to get hurt? Were those boundaries really not clear? In any case, what's a certainty is that Lala knows that James is a total douchebag – and I'm sure she'll let him writhe around on top of her later in the week.
The preparations for the Pucker & Pout launch are going great, especially because Stassi won't be there. The banned one has been looking for apartments so she can finally get away from Kristen and have a shot in hell at ending up sane. Until she packs up her stuff though, Stassi gets to listen to the text James sent Kristen recently at 4:07 AM that she got because she unblocked his number. (See, her therapist told her that she should ignore the negative triggers in her life but Kristen heard her wrong because she wasn't listening.) As for the text, James wants to know why she doesn't still love him and maybe the only one more miserable than James is Stassi because she hasn't been invited to celebrate the latest milestone in Katie's life. But Stassi has a plan! To get through to Katie, she will reach out to Schwartz! Kristen supports that idea, which means that Stassi should go bounce it off sixteen other people to attempt to get a Normal Person reaction.
Meanwhile, the man who has decided that Kristen is not a cunt and might actually be the one is James. He informs Max that he misses Kristen and she took such good care of him and he hasn't met anyone like her, which means we can all let out a great big sigh that there aren't two of her. James wants to try to make it work with her and you know what? Those two belong together – and they should go live together forever in the next subterranean biosphere so their craniums can grow. But until their underground home is ready for their cohabitational bliss, James will accost Kristen at Katie's launch party, otherwise known as the party to which he expressly wasn't invited.
Katie's party is up and running. It's an interactive experience, you see. You can get your hair braided or your eyebrows threaded or you can avoid a twerpy Englishman who sneaks upon the premises! There's some press at the event and Lisa and Ken stop by to show their support. Walking in, the first thing they actually see is Kristen's ass, as her romper was made for a kindergarten student and therefore doesn't cover her body. There are way bigger things to focus on besides a bare ass, however. Let's focus on James! The guy is finally covered up – but he's traded in the ugly tank top for an even more tragic hoodie that he insists on wearing with the hood up – and he rubs his hand under his nose, but I'm sure he just had an itch and that's all it was and how dare you for thinking that his nostril play could be about anything else? He's defiant about showing up somewhere he wasn’t wanted and really, why shouldn't he be? Pulling this little stunt will get him immediately signed on for next season and what that means is that we're getting farther and farther away from the likelihood of deportation and that makes me feel very sad inside.
Since he looks so awesome and sober in his hoodie, James approaches Kristen and Aleks and he asks to speak with her and she has never felt more desired in her entire life. If only Sandoval was watching! She gets to tongue a new guy (who I'm taking out insurance for, that's how worried I am about him) and she gets to repeat her favorite quotation ("Suck a dick," which I'm not sure is one that Plato ever said) and then she gets to go outside with the loser who crashed a party while wasted because he has just decided that he still loves her and that's why he spit on her front door that one time. In thirty seconds flat, the two are screaming at one another and James tells her to shut up and that he's a man and that she has fucked up more than anyone else ever has (in civilization?) and I'm not sure he thought this reconciliation through because it didn't really end up very well.
With everybody she knows happily attending Katie's party, Stassi is feeling rather alone. She texts Schwartz and asks to see him and he and Sandoval discuss how everything Stassi does is about Stassi and that she’s the most selfish person they know. The way the others speak of her makes her sound like absolute poison, but she correctly reached out to the right person because Schwartz is probably the only one who won't be brave enough to tell her to just fuck off. Knowing he's heading into the lair of the devil, Katie just wants to be sure that he won't mess up her message, which is that Stassi is dead to her.
Stassi gets dressed up to go meet Schwartz. She's dying to be friends with any of them again so she can stop waking up with the knowledge that she lives in Kristen's apartment. Schwartz sits down and smiles wanly at her and then launches into his eloquently stated attack. He tells her that she is venomous and that quality used to be kind of endearing but then it became completely lacking in charm. He told her that she behaved smugly and that she left Katie behind in a manner rife with brazen cruelty. He asserted that her ego overinflated and she's the cause of all of her own suffering and oh my God, Schwartz comes out fucking swinging and I don't care anymore if he's been practicing celibacy lately for no good reason at all. I want to jump on top of that guy because he's finally showing that he's tough and he's never been yummier to me. As for Stassi, she's gobsmacked that the guy she thought she could walk all over is letting her hear the stone cold truth. She gets emotional, especially when Schwartz tells her that Katie is not being strategic in keeping Stassi out of her life. No, he says, it's more like indifference – and hearing that she just doesn't matter in the slightest hits Stassi hard and her sadness looks genuine, but this is what happens when you cut someone out of your life. After a while, that person just stops missing you.
I'm sorry, Plato. I really tried to be compassionate and empathetic. I tried to remember that the battles we all face are often dictated by the pain of the past. But before you judge me, watch just one episode of this fucking show and remember that you also once said this: People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.
The guy’s got a point.
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.