During the years that our television screens – and our very lives – have been graced with the presence of The Real Housewives of New York, we have witnessed some truly batshit stuff. Off the top of my head? Well, we’ve watched Luann decide she’s a singer and then embrace her very own catchphrase, one she ironically doesn’t seem to realize has made her exponentially less cool. We’ve watched Ramona doll herself up in a silk teddy to give her philandering husband a massage while Avery probably sat in another room and filled out papers that might lead to her emancipation. We have seen Alex literally break out in a scarlet torrent of neck, chest, and face hives due to a confrontation she volunteered to have with Jill in an effort to spare a pregnant Bethenny from having to do it herself. We’ve witnessed Dorinda mentally swerve from seemingly calm to downright maniacal in two drinks flat and we have, of course, watched Sonja claim the following is all true:
She used to be exceptionally close to John-John Kennedy.
She spent most of her seasons in Gstaad – except for all the time she spent on the private jet that whisked her away to that private island she has recently started to reference in her hallucinatory anecdotes about yesteryear.
She speaks often to the Saudi royal family. (I believe her on this one. Those guys call me every Thursday just to say hello and to tell me they really enjoy my recaps. Such sweet people…)
She has an international lifestyle brand that is hugely successful and the fact that you can’t actually buy any of the clothing just means the demand for it has grown in imaginary leaps and bounds.
She is very happy.
Okay. So on the one hand, I feel absolutely fine making fun of Sonja Morgan and the delusions she spews out along with her breath that I’m guessing smells like wine that’s been left out overnight on the kitchen counter without a cork. She is a reality television star. She has made the choice to live what’s either a genuine life or a somewhat fabricated life while being filmed constantly. She has signed that Bravo contract year after year. She's seen ample evidence that's proved the show's editors probably do not have her very best interests at heart. She’s had viewers, fellow castmates, and Sir Andy Cohen himself directly ask if she really considers herself to be sane. She could have walked away at any time and instead she chose to stay and to make Reality Televisionland her permanent dwelling, one I'm guessing she dolled up by hanging some counterfeit art on the metaphorical walls.
But I also have to say that I don’t always feel good about making such fun of this ridiculous woman. Coming up with clever new ways to insult Sonja is not nearly as enjoyable for me as it is to say that I’ll happily nail Vicki Gunvalson to a cross myself so she can finally fulfill her Jesus fantasies so long as I can put the first rusty nail straight through her larynx. Saying that Sonja is absurd is far less satisfying than it is to explain all of the many materials that could be used (leather, barbed wire, Aviva’s detachable leg, one of the hideous fabrics from her store) to muzzle Jill Zarin and her scrawny little dog, too. Sonja, you see, does not have the same vitriolic verbal bluster as someone like Brandi Glanville and she has not bred a questionable litter of children with a stub-like shlub like Theresa Giudice has chosen to do. She’s not vicious like Kim Richards. Her public preening does not make me feel violent inside like I do when I watch Kyle Richards do the splits. And when Sonja jabbers away about “living the life” even as she resides in a home run by unpaid interns where there’s no hot water pouring out of the faucets, I don’t want to punch her in trachea in much the way I wish I could when LeeAnne over in Dallas yammers away about charity or the drag queen from Potomac crows about the importance of etiquette.
I guess what it comes down to is that a very real part of me just feels sad for Sonja. I think she’s intentionally deluding herself at this point because embracing the truth will really hurt – and she’s gotten so very good at doing so that by now her delusions come naturally. I get it. She wants to believe she’s fabulous at a time when she’s getting older and her daughter has left the townhouse and her businesses are fucking fallacies and every guy she sleeps with has already nailed at least six of her dear friends. Still, empathy aside, how can one not react to this woman’s continuing and faulty behavior in every single area of her life when she’s brandishing all of it on TV, spouting lies with rehearsed conviction?
Let’s be frank, okay? As viewers, there is the crazy Housewife stuff that’s gone down like I mentioned earlier – and then there is the fuck-yes-we-ratcheted-up-the-insanity stuff that almost defies comprehension. That memorable kind of madness includes Jill Zarin redecorating her apartment to look like what I imagine the inside of Donatella Versace’s colon looks like and Bethenny reaming Sonja out in front of her assistants for daring to call her new line of alcohol “Tipsy Girl” because it sounds way too similar to “Skinnygirl” and Bethenny would love to never be even slightly associated with this moron when it comes to business. I don’t think anyone can deny that Bethenny’s got a fair point here, but I can also see that the way she delivered the news (and where she delivered the news, in the least private spot in the whole office) might have rubbed some people the wrong way. Bethenny’s cold and direct fury, though, is not at all what caused me to view that scene as insane. No, it was Sonja’s pure disbelief at Bethenny’s predictable criticism that I found seriously disturbing. It was her proudly mentioning her own website, the one that is no longer up and running. It was her insistence that she has a perfume coming out soon that scared the living shit out of me. And, more than any of it, it was her weepy defiance at the very end when she sniped something about how maybe this all means she’s not allowed to do handbags either because Luann has already delved into that market that made me realize that Sonja Morgan has mentally done a cannonball over the ledge. She has shrouded the truth so completely by drinking until it’s dark inside of her head, surrounding herself with people who earn college credit for agreeing with her, and consistently appearing on television, an act that makes her feel validated. I don’t think she’s got a shot in hell at returning to normal anymore and watching her now feels alarmingly similar to watching a horror movie where you just know the drunk blonde lady is about to get naked and go take a shower right after hearing that strange noise because she swears it’s just the wind.
But we don’t start with Sonja this week and I guess that makes sense. After all, last week’s episode ended with the chaos of Dorinda battling Ramona on the street while the second grossest man roaming the entire stratosphere (John is still in first place!) left to go crawl back to his gutter. Listen, I’m not a religious girl, but I’ll drop to at least one knee to pray we never see Rey again and we can all just agree he was a grotesque collective hallucination we endured, much like I’m imagining Luann tells herself hourly so she can make it through a day. Anyway, we start tonight with the curb-brawler herself, Dorinda, who is in a furniture store with Jules, potentially the only one in the cast she hasn’t yet sufficiently terrified by screaming in her face. Dorinda’s a little bit anxious about Bethenny’s upcoming gift exchange. It’s not the giving that’s the issue; she bought Bethenny a vibrating thigh-master and while I’m not really sure why a thigh-master should vibrate, I do know that I’d like two of them immediately. What’s bringing Dorinda all of her bad feelings (today) is that Ramona will be at the party also and she’s not excited to see the woman who hates the boyfriend that everyone else hates, too. Ramona, you see, has been Dorinda’s real friend for a lot of years and Dorinda believes that history should yield only loyalty and support. That’s actually a very nice hope for a friendship, but I’m just not so sure one can have that kind of relationship on a reality show – and I’m basing that judgment call on over a decade of televised precedent where former friends gleefully rip one another’s hair out in quarter sized patches.
As for Jules, she has Ramona for her Secret Santa, but she shuns Dorinda’s attempts to get her to buy Ramona a giant jar that’s labeled for her pills. This might be Dorinda’s not so subtle way of claiming Ramona’s the one with the substance problem, not her slimeball of a boyfriend, but that tactic will backfire for one simple reason: everybody already knows Ramona is fucked up and if pills are the reason, so be it. Hell, I’d love to have a concrete answer as to why Ramona herks and jerks her way across the screen like she’s trying to break into German Expressionism! Pills, you say? Awesome. Who cares? Let’s move on instead to how Jules was so afraid of Rey that she left the party so she could “protect her facial.” That’s right, my friends. Every time Jules finds herself in a setting that is rife with conflict, she goes running from the premises lest anything hurt her face. You know how last week I said I might like Jules? Let’s make that declaration temporary for now.
Also: Dorinda compares losing Ramona’s friendship to a balance sheet. Oh, and she wonders if maybe Ramona’s animosity about her relationship is because her friend harbors a secret and crushing desire to sleep with John – and, yes, I’d of course like to add that last sentence to my list of fuck-yes-we-ratcheted-up-the-insanity stuff because holy shit, what kind of craziness has invaded Dorinda’s mind?
Bethenny’s party is in its setting-up stage and her assistants are working tirelessly because that’s what good assistants do. They will help set up the chairs to their boss’ liking and they will also tell the Caviar Girl to perhaps change into an outfit that doesn’t make her look like she’s in a porn parody of Frozen. Carole and Jules show up and mingle like normal people with some of Bethenny’s other friends – and then Ramona walks in. She requests a margarita, a glass of water, and a glass of pinot before she even takes off her coat. I can’t help but hope that’s she’s about to perform a magic trick, but it turns out she just needs three drinks so she can tell the entire room her story.
Before we can hear the story from Ramona’s side, we cut over to a lounge where Luann and Sonja are getting together for a drink because neither made the cut to attend Bethenny’s party and that’s sad because we all know how much Sonja would have enjoyed feeling up the Caviar Girl. Sonja’s excited to get together with her roommate. She never sees her because Luann and the four men she fucks in a rotation are always so busy! Now that they have a chance to sit down together, Luann explains that she and that sweaty guy Rey went out a few times and she broke it off and he’s been texting her for months and that’s why she ran fleeing into the night to escape him. But the relationship was nothing! After hearing Sonja call Rey Luann’s “lover” (and I thankfully was able to manage my gag reflex), Luann insists they only went out twice. What’s that? Those two dates occurred when the two of them jetted off to Ibiza? And they had sex and she called him after they returned from their vacation? Minor details. Still, Luann would like to request that nobody call Rey a lover, okay? In fact, let’s not call anyone that.
“He’s a hot mess. I can’t deal with hot messes,” Luann trills, and it’s only funny because she is saying this to Sonja.
Back at Bethenny’s, Ramona tells the group that she was talking to a guy Luann used to date the night before and, out of nowhere, John came up and told the guy to leave. When the others inquire as to why the guy was booted from the least enticing party ever thrown outside of Nuremberg, Ramona claims she has no idea. Um, might the guy’s total inebriation have contributed to such a request? If so, Ramona just glosses over all of that and instead chooses to tell only that John shoved his hand into her face in anger and she uses Carole as a visual aid to make her point.
“But why would he want this guy to leave?” asks Bethenny, a woman bright enough to know that Ramona only tells 50% of any story because she’s usually both too drunk and lacking too much self-awareness to remember what actually happened.
“I have a different story,” mumbles Jules, who after all was at that shitty party, too. Jules, sweetheart? I’d start contemplating entering the Witness Protection Program now because Ramona hates being disagreed with as much as I hate listening to Kanye West proclaim his own brilliance and she will destroy you and then wear Ramona Red to your funeral and Ramona Blue to the Shiva call. At any rate, Jules explains how badly Rey was behaving while back at the bar where Luann and Sonja have been banished, Sonja tells Luann much the same story about the mess of a man Luann dated one, two, or thirty-seven times, depending on which version of Luann’s story you believe.
When Dorinda and her sparkly sweatshirt arrive at Bethenny’s, Ramona shuts Jules down mid-sentence, explaining gruffly that the new girl may not finish her story because she needs to go make up with Dorinda right now and the truth will just screw everything up. But Dorinda’s not feeling a reconciliation. No, she’s having anxiety attacks about having to be in a room with Ramona and she feels more lost than she has in four years. It’s a sad thing we’re watching here. According to everyone – even some people I know who knew the guy – Dorinda’s late husband was a delightful man. Losing him had to have been horrific and we all make questionable choices when we’re weak. John is the walking manifestation of a questionable choice and that nobody in Dorinda’s life cares for him all that much is probably a sign that the guy sucks. Still, John’s not her only issue. She’s afraid, too. “What are you afraid of?” asks Bethenny – and that question right there, one delivered in a calm and rational and curious tone, is why this season has been so fucking good because it’s not just about bullshit toaster ovens and galas thrown because it’s a Tuesday. This season has allowed us to see these women for who they might really be and, more often than not, it’s far more satisfying than it is to watch them brawl over nothing on some tropical beach.
Dorinda’s just having a hard time juggling all of her responsibilities and Bethenny’s advice is for her to take some time for some solitude so she can center herself. Meanwhile, Ramona’s digging into the caviar and offers to make Dorinda a plate, but Dorinda doesn’t even want to look at the woman. Just so we’re clear, Dorinda doesn’t plan to be anything but mildly cordial to the lady she feels has betrayed her and the lady who did the betraying is choosing to pretend none of it even happened in the first place. I think we have the subject for Parts 1-7 of the Reunion playing as we speak.
Here’s a great idea! Since hardly anyone likes anybody anymore, why don’t they all go spend some time in the Berkshires where there are steep mountains and tons of woodsy places to bury a body? Dorinda’s making lasagna! And Sonja’s not invited because there’s so much tension now between her and Bethenny and Dorinda doesn’t want to be around any tension, which is why she’s throwing a party for her friends to attend while cameras roll. Unfortunately, Carole is not really on board with the itinerary, to say nothing about the guest list. She does not feel comfortable staying in a house with Luann due to their estrangement and since Carole is not Ramona, she’s not okay with pretending nothing happened between them.
When Dorinda sits down at the table, Ramona immediately kisses her on the cheek and apologizes again and tells her she’s not going anywhere so they will just have to figure out how to repair their friendship. It’s actually all kind of sweet to watch, as is the opening of presents because Ramona gets glasses that have a straw attached so she can always drink Pinot and I finally know what a vibrating thigh-master looks like and now I need three of them.
The next day, Sonja shows us the dirty thong she tossed on her bathroom floor the night (or pre-dawn) before and then asks Luann all about her new mystery man. “I really like him,” croaks Luann about Tom. Dorinda introduced them, but she’s keeping him from the rest of her friends for now, though it’s really too late for that because the guy’s already slept with Sonja. That little nugget of not-at-all-shocking information will be dealt with eventually, but first we get to watch two women who claim to be wildly wealthy putter around together in the kitchen of a townhouse while each wears a fur coat because it’s so fucking freezing in there because the heat has not been turned on since the day Sonja returned from her private island. While they make breakfast, Luann reads aloud the story about the showdown at John’s party. As they giggle, John gets hard without the help of Viagra over in Queens because his name is in the paper.
Man, I am really testing that gag reflex tonight.
Also: Luann has sex with her new guy three times a night. Think she squirts all three times?
Later that day, Dorinda and Sonja meet up to take a walk and the two then sit down to discuss all the tension that’s surrounding their circle of paid friends. Sonja’s biggest issue is that Ramona runs hot and cold with her and goes from saying “I love you” to telling her that she has a real problem. Dorinda’s issue has nothing to do with any of that. What she has to deal with is how to tell Sonja that she’s not invited to the Berkshires, but she does it rather nicely by saying that she doesn’t want to expose Sonja to the rest of the women while she’s feeling vulnerable. And not only that! She’d like to spend some one on one time with Sonja at some point in the very distant future! Sonja nods and keeps her composure but later says how shocked she is that Ramona – who has been terrible to Dorinda, at least according to Dorinda – gets an invite and the Tipsy Girl with the dirty thong on the floor does not.
“The girls love me at parties,” muses Sonja. “I’m the one making out with everybody.” Oh, Sonja.
Later on, Dorinda and John show up for a dinner where everyone will finally get to meet the man we know turns out to be Luann’s new fiancé. Jules is there also, but the rest of the Housewives aren’t invited because Luann only wants people around who are supportive of her. In other words, she only wants people there who have not yet gone down on Tom. Luann reveals that Tom used to go out with Ramona – but he only saw her as a friend and nothing happened, which is exactly the same way I described some guy to my boyfriend the night after I slept with that other guy when I was twenty. As for how Luann and this Housewife-banger met, Luann launches into the story with the words, “I was in my garden in Sag Harbor…” and I started laughing and didn’t hear the end of the story, though I’m sure a Disney movie will be made about their courtship and Luann will be in charge of the score so all of my questions will eventually be answered.
Also: Tom’s version of the story includes “Palm Beach” and “Madison Avenue” and now I’m pretty sure these two will be together for ever and ever – or until the money runs out.
When there’s a pause in the adorable recounting of true love, John decides now would be a good time to ask if the phone receiver Tom first spoke into when he met Luann was moist – and there it is: my least favorite televised human uttered my least favorite word in the entire English language and I’m so disturbed right now that I immediately need a margarita, a glass of water, and two glasses of wine.
It’s a new day and we’re at Dorinda’s Berkshires home when Ramona walks in with her dog. (Side note: I love friends who allow you to bring your dog when you stay at their house.) The two of them sit down and play nice and eat some lunch and Ramona tries to get some information out of Dorinda about the guy Luann is dating. The thing is, Ramona already knows because she listens to gossip and she thinks it’s very uncool that Luann hasn’t mentioned that she’s dating some guy Ramona used to paw after three glasses of wine. Speaking of the Countess, she shows up with Jules and Ramona doesn’t even get up to say hello. Maybe Luann should have told Jules, “I’ll sing and you can play the piano” a second earlier, because that probably would have been sufficiently threatening enough for Ramona not just to stand up, but to go barreling out of that house and never return, not even for happy hour.
As for Jules, she’s having a shit week. Her dad is in the hospital, her nanny quit, she had to bribe a homeless woman to wait on line for her at a sample sale – ugh, life is so difficult! Luckily, she’s just entered a calm environment where people will only fight every twenty minutes like someone set a fucking egg timer. I only pray she protects her facial when the brawling commences. But Luann would like to steal the crown for Worst Week Ever and FedEx it to Sonja because Sonja feels very excluded and sad that she’s not also in the Berkshires getting screamed at for not making any sense and her ruminations to Luann a day ago kind of perfectly capture Sonja’s lack of understanding about how she is perceived: “I’m always the life of the party. Now suddenly that’s my downfall?” Yes, you sad idiot, your boozy shtick isn’t charming most people anymore, including the people who claim to care about you. And Sonja? It cannot possibly be that everyone else is wrong.
“Let’s look at the big picture. She needs to work on herself,” declares Ramona in a moment of true lucidity that she then loses by explaining how Sonja should work on her spiriualation.
That’s about when Bethenny shows up. She tells them that Sonja has texted her eight thousand times and then asks Luann if the guy she’s dating is the same one who used to date Ramona, a question Luann completely glosses over. But Luann is not so willing to glide beyond Bethenny’s comment about how Luann staying with Sonja so she can keep an eye on her is anything short of preposterous since the biggest charges against Sonja are the same ones often leveled against Luann: they both drink more than they should and they both sleep with a lot of men. Hearing this, Luann is pissed at Bethenny’s words and her derisive laugh so she decides to start acting like an eighth grader. She brings up the Tipsy Girl thing and claims that Bethenny is now suing Sonja over the name. That Countess will go low when she fights. She will pull hair and she will do all of those little arm pinches that hurt like a motherfucker and she will announce to everyone assembled that you are suing some poor, sweet woman for absolutely no reason at all – and then she will also claim that she is responsible for your multi-million dollar business and all of your success.
That Tom is one lucky guy.
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.