On the snowy twilight of my Sweet 16, I twirled across a dance floor wearing a red dress that had poofy shoulders and a tight bodice. The neckline showed off my newly burgeoning chest and gave a strong hint that I'd probably need to buy some serious bras with some serious built-in underwire by that summer, but I was too busy that night to pay any attention to the changes taking place beneath my undergarments. See, I was laughing with my friends and singing along to The Cure and dancing with the boy who would be the first one to feel those newly-hatched breasts that upcoming summer while we reclined on some stranger's front lawn. But before any adolescent groping could transpire, I had a Sweet 16 to enjoy and the events of that winter party were entirely innocent and full of real joy, marred only by the white opera gloves I wore for the entire night that made my palms so sweaty that I left little marks on the shoulders of the people I danced with.
Even at sixteen I loved me a touch of the dramatic.
What I'm saying here with this Just Like Heaven-sponsored boogie down memory lane is that I know the meaning of a big day. I know how an outfit can matter and how glorious it feels when people take time out of their lives to celebrate you and that's why I feel able to understand just how big a day it is for Tamra. No, strike that. It's not a big day; it’s a huge day! Today she will be baptized. She will prove her commitment to God and embrace the strength religion has given her to be less of an asshole on a moment’s notice. She will wear white and – based upon her holy decree – so will her guests. And then she will drink wine next to a gorgeous pier because that’s what she thinks Jesus would have done if he’d been born in Orange County.
Tamra is so excited, you guys. She loves the peace this process has brought to her, to say nothing of the relief she feels that soon all of her sins will be washed away in the smoothness of the water of the hotel’s swimming pool. She will be whisked away before her fingers begin to prune and then she will join her dearest friends to celebrate just how much she has pretended to change and they will toast to her divinity while out of the corners of their eyes they will keep a close watch on exactly where those Bravo cameras are pointing because these are women who know which is their good side and whether they look better in profile or straight-on in the dusky moonlight of a fancy party for the baptism of a woman who has the hardened eyes of a Satanic creature.
And let’s not pretend – not even for one single second – that any of us are surprised by the vitriol that’s about to go down at a party thrown for a religious event, okay? None of us is shocked that it’s come to this. Personally, I’m a little bit perplexed that it’s taken this long to tarnish the sanctity of something like a baptism since this franchise has already taken on everything from bullshit vow renewals to fashion shows held in low-rent hotel ballrooms to events for vodka that’s flavored with red velvet and tears. I guess instead of being disgusted, we should really all take a moment to appreciate just how far these women are willing to go in the name of a D-level form of fame that really should have been far more fleeting.
Helping Tamra in her quest to wash away her sins and start over is Pastor Mike, a man I’m sure means well. He’s also a man who has no idea what he’s getting into or that his newest disciple’s friends are not the type to smile and shut their mouths just because it’s Tamra’s day of reckoning. But it all starts out kind of calmly – just like tornadoes and slasher movies begin. In one limo are Terry and Heather and Meghan, the perpetual third wheel because her husband is always away. She says that his absence makes her lonely. My reaction to the same absence is a small but heady wave of euphoria wrapping me up in a big, burly hug because the only thing more scuzzy than talking about Brooks (don’t worry…we’ll get there) or even catching a glimpse of Vicki’s face is an appearance on my television screen by Jim Edmonds, the winner of The Man Who Hates His Wife the Most this season. Seeing that the guy was in competition with a man who left his wife last year and then shoved his wedding ring into the palm of his pre-teen daughter’s hand so she could tell her devastated mommy that he “didn’t want it anymore,” this has been a contentious battle, but Jim Edmonds has walked away victorious. He has shown himself to be nothing but withholding and cold and mildly terrifying during his brief moments onscreen and if nobody in Orange County is currently planning an intervention for Meghan about her marriage and her headbands, those women are slacking.
Over in another limo are David and Shannon and THEY ARE IN LOVE. That’s right: the couple who everybody counted out last season – including the husband in the equation who recently revealed that he started an affair the day Bravo cameras entered his home to capture a blissful family dynamic – is happy and committed. David even plunged his hand right up his wife’s ass earlier that day to fish out what might be left of a colonic and if that doesn’t say devotion, I don’t know what does. Here’s the absolute truth, though: I am genuinely happy for Shannon. I might have called her insane in the past (you know, because she acted like an insane person who might have greatly benefited from ingesting some real drugs while locked in a room with plush and padded walls) and I might have stated in writing that her marriage appeared to be a fucking mess (you know, since every frame of film shown to us illustrated that her marriage was a fucking mess), but I can’t help the fact that I kind of like her. She’s like a holistic version of a zany character from a 1930s screwball comedy. If I believed in shit like reincarnation, I’d bring Claudette Colbert back from the grave this fucking second so she could play Shannon in The Shannon & David Story: Fuck Us Being Part of That 72% Divorce Rate! God, I wish I could make such a thing happen. Do you think Pastor Mike can lead a séance when he’s done with Tamra?
While we’re on the subject of movies, I’d really like to just put it out there that I never want to see a movie about Vicki. I don’t even want to see a movie where I’m randomly sitting in the same theatre as Vicki. I cannot stand Vicki. I now hate everything about the woman and after she has flounced her way across my television screen for this many years, I feel absolutely justified in saying such a thing. Vicki is envious and she is cruel. She has not made it easy for one new woman to enter a group of which she believes she is the figurehead. She has hazed and threatened people into being her friend. She is an overbearing parent, an asshole of a spouse, and the walking embodiment of desperation. If there’s a vote held that allows write-ins, she will not even make it into last place to become the woman who should appear on the upcoming $10 bill. She has fought with every single person she has known over the years before retreating into tears or shrieks that sound like they have been generated by another species. She has chosen to be with a man who advocated physical violence against her daughter. She stands atop bars and does shots and screams for everybody in the vicinity to whoop it up. She had plastic surgery and looks exactly the same as she did during season one, when she proudly announced to the camera (clearly operated by a kind soul who did his very best not to push in too close for a close-up) that she hoped her son’s friends considered her a MILF. She is the absolute worst, an amalgam of qualities I thought would spontaneously combust if combined since it’s all so toxic and terrible. But all that said – and I've left out some of my harsher criticisms because I'm kind and I know how to show some restraint – I don’t believe she knows that Brooks is faking his illness, if he is in fact faking it. I think Vicki – smart and driven in business – is an absolute moron in life. I think she really has no idea that this guy might be deceiving her and so she genuinely believes that her friends are behaving in a collectively horrific manner for even daring to suggest something nefarious about a scenario she’s been convinced to believe is true. Allow me to be clear here: I do not feel badly for Vicki and I could honestly care less if she is happy. In fact, I’d like to toss in my vote that I never even get to find out how she ends up due to the fact that she and her face will finally be thrown off this show for good. However, all that said, I think she’s a fool, not a liar.
But back to the fiesta. Everyone is there! Lynn Curtain from a long-ago season shows up and I can almost smell the weed wafting through my screen just from seeing her face. Vicki’s son Michael is there after having successfully avoided his mother all season long. Ryan and his tattoos and the family I still genuinely fear he will snap and mutilate show up with no smiles on their faces. Vicki stands close to Lizzie, the woman who used to be a Housewife, because none of the current ones Housewives stand her anymore. Some woman named Tammy who appeared on this show long before any of the participants realized they could land some shitty endorsement deals by throwing their privacy to the wind comes by and Vicki holds her hand. It’s a meeting and greeting that is bathed in a gorgeous and heavenly light and I swear I can hear the revving of chainsaws somewhere in the distance.
Then Shannon arrives and she already feels uncomfortable. Maybe it’s from the piece of plastic still lodged in her ass or maybe it’s because she thinks there’s a good chance that her former best friend Vicki will call her “disgusting” again – you know, like friends sometimes do. Still, she walks into that party and hugs Vicki’s brother and his girlfriend and that’s when Tamra appears. She floats out like a well-used angel on the arm of her devoted husband who made sure to wear his beaded choker for the big day. She is greeted by hugs and well-wishes as she explains how drastically she thinks her life will change after the ceremony. She bets that she will be a better person. She bets that she will be a better friend!
She will undoubtedly lose those bets.
Vicki kisses Tamra and tells her how beautiful she looks, which is sweet considering that last week she said that Tamra looked “like crap” in everything she was trying on, but there is no time for such negativity because now a choir is here, singing poolside. As they harmonize about faith, Tamra’s eyes fill with tears and she looks up at the sky. She either really believes in the power of God now or she once saw Julia Roberts make a similar expression in a movie. Listen, I don’t mean to make light of something I think Tamra probably finds a really poignancy in, but when someone appears on this show for so long and conducts herself almost universally deplorably, it’s hard for a viewer like myself to suspend disbelief for a moment and buy that a woman like Tamra can change. That said, I’m willing to hop on the bandwagon – and not just because that bandwagon has a choir and will probably stop at a station with some hors d'oeuvres or because I have a fabulous white dress I’ve only worn once and it has asked very politely to be taken out again. No, I’m really hoping that Tamra gets something real and lasting from this ceremony because then perhaps one asshole will be wiped off the planet for good. Unfortunately, the entire cast of Vanderpump Rules will be back soon to, um, fill her slot – and that’s what (I’m sure) Jax the Bartender has said…twice.
As Tamra is dunked underneath the water, we get a montage of some of her more hideous and tragic moments. That was kind of Bravo, I suppose, to allow the viewer to see a nice contrast here between the sanctity of the moment and the way Tamra used to act – yesterday – but she is brought up from the water and she looks drenched in tranquility. Her husband embraces her and the choir lets loose with a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace and Vicki – oh, Vicki – raises her hand high into the sky as she sings because goddammit, she is devout, and nobody looks better in a white fucking dress than she does and Brooks told her that before she left for the party without him. He told her she is the most beautiful, definitely the fairest of them all, and then he pushed her white-lace-and-Spanx-clad ass out the door so he could do some more research on how to doctor a PET-scan.
While Tamra towels herself off upstairs, the celebration begins in earnest. There’s everything anyone attending a party could possibly hope for: drinks, food, and reprehensible enemies confined in a small space that overlooks a pier where someone can easily be held underwater – and not in the baptismal kind of way. It all starts off without any kind of viciousness, as tends to be the case with the Housewives. These bitches need to pace themselves. Vicki heads upstairs and sticks close to her brother while Heather and Shannon kvell over the twin cakes that Tamra’s got on display. One is an angel food cake and one is decorated to look like the devil because Tamra is so very clever and there are so many (well, two) facets to her personality and maybe I’d make fun of her desserts for a while just to be nasty, but the truth is that I want a slice of that devil cake and I want it now.
Before I can figure out how to create and then patent a television screen that allows viewers to reach in and grab themselves a little something on which to nosh, we get to watch as Lizzie, Heather, and Meghan order some drinks. Vicki hangs back and gravely shares that it’s really her decision right now to not include herself in the celebration alongside the women she pretends are her friends. Those who no longer trust her as far as they can heave her stand beside the bar and toast grandly to friendship and I had myself my first good laugh of the evening while in a private room upstairs, Tamra hears the excellent (and very temporary) news that everybody at her party is getting along swimmingly. Such information makes Tamra really happy because she is walking piousness now and all she wants for her day is calmness and kindness, which are perhaps the two words I’ve used the least often to describe our newly-holy hostess.
Back at the party, it is Meghan who invites Vicki over to join them because she’s standing there alone looking seriously uncomfortable. It’s a kind gesture and it’s not one Vicki would have done for Meghan in a zillion light-years, but Vicki is far too consumed thinking about the ways Shannon has betrayed her to do anything ridiculous like thank some thirty year old. In fact, Vicki is so incensed that she has forgotten how to speak and she phrases her fury thusly: “How dare her do this to me?” What Vicki can’t seem to get through her head – besides the proper use of conventional language – is that her boyfriend is shady as hell and every single story he has told at a party or around a campfire or in the living room that she pays for has holes that an obese person can crawl through. At a certain point, people begin to catch on to lies and deception and it’s actually a true friend who will not turn a blind eye to what’s going down. Vicki doesn’t want to deal with any of it though. She wants to give Tamra, her Warrior Sister, a gift and then she wants to leave and she implores her brother’s girlfriend to get herself together so they can rush for the exit before anyone attempts to ask her about anything that’s real.
Speaking of what’s real and what’s a boldface lie, there’s a new story flying about that Terry was called in the dead of the night to send a colleague over to Brooks’ house to give the ailing guy an IV. Unfortunately (or is it fortunately? Nothing makes sense anymore!), that story is yet another fraudulent yarn spun by a monster of a man who is apparently dumb enough to try to get away with all of these lies while his life is being broadcast on Bravo. I give him credit for almost succeeding, but his deceptions are crashing down now and the only one who seems immune to the fallout is Brooks himself. As the rest of them stand in all white on a dock, he is at home relaxing. As Shannon states that Vicki told her the story about Terry coming to Brooks’ aid, my guess is that Brooks is reclining on a microsuede brown chaise in a house he pays nothing for and surfing porn sites where not a single person he comes across looks like Vicki because God is not so cruel as to create two of them.
“Why is she covering for him?” asks Heather. See, she can’t understand why Vicki might be concealing the truth for this man knowingly. Luckily, Inspector Meghan is here and she’s got the opinion that Brooks is faking his cancer to get out of paying child support because, if he says he’s too sick to work, he would also be too sick to make those payments and he would get some sympathy on top of everything. His alleged cancer would become a duplicitous cherry atop a sundae made entirely out of horseshit. And while I make ice cream analogies so I can find some joy in this shitstorm, Heather and Shannon discuss how uncomfortable they feel being around Vicki while Meghan announces that she doesn’t feel awkward in the slightest. In fact, Meghan needs to speak to Vicki – which might be one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever heard anyone utter. Anything that still must be said can be fired off like a grenade at the Reunion, Meghan! The woman is not about to admit to lying, evading, or even dying her fucking hair and you have already earned your spot on next season’s show by impersonating a cancer patient over the phone in order to get some pertinent information so keep quiet! But then I remembered that this is the finale episode and that means that going quietly into that good night is not really an option for anyone.
Before things can explode, Tamra shows up with dry hair and she’s wearing a tiered dress that makes her look like a pretty cupcake and she wants to take pictures with all of her friends. Vicki’s not there, though. She’s run off because she doesn’t know if the women there are her friends or her enemies and that might be the saddest thing I’ve ever heard a grown woman say. If you cannot differentiate between people who love you and those who actively root against you, go make some new friends. Maybe extend your circle and gravitate towards women who are not paid to interact with you or have to secure their jobs by fighting with you with cameras present. Or maybe instead of any of that, maybe Vicki can stop proclaiming things like, “Satan is the author of confusion,” because she sounds like the dumbest person ever to walk the planet and her allegiance to goodness is something I can’t imagine that anyone believes in anymore. I tell you, there is maybe nothing that makes me angrier than an asshole spouting religion after behaving continuously like a heathen while publicly cavorting with a fucking liar.
While Vicki runs to the bathroom to reapply her lipstick and her Catholicism, her brother takes Tamra aside to say that he hopes Tamra believes Vicki and Brooks and all they have told her. And Tamra? She responds with the most intelligent comment I’ve ever heard her say and I can almost see the purity moving through her pores as she tells Billy that she is not there to judge and that, if Brooks is sick, she hopes he gets better and if he’s not, she hopes he gets better. The level of sanity and compassion she’s illustrating is rather impressive and that means that Pastor Mike might be a genius. Billy also tells Tamra that he has no doubt about Brooks’ cancer. After all, Brooks showed him the same paperwork he showed Tamra – and that’s not creepy at all. Billy is clearly just trying to be a loyal brother to his awful sister here and he informs Tamra, Heather, and Shannon that they should trust Brooks and that Vicki has not lied at all, but Heather can’t quite take it anymore. She explains patiently to Billy that the stories Brooks has weaved are flat-out weird and just as they’re about to get into it, Vicki swoops in to bestow upon Tamra a gift and to gush about just how much she loves her. But you know who she doesn’t love? Shannon! Yes, Vicki can only love one friend at a time and the rest of them can suck it and she is leaving this baptism so she can go someplace where nobody will confront her about being either a liar or sucker.
Before she can leave, Heather takes Vicki aside to ask why Brooks isn’t at Tamra’s party, to which Vicki responds that he doesn’t want to be around toxic people spewing toxic energy. Another way to phrase that might be that “he doesn’t want to be around perceptive people spewing suspicious energy,” but that’s really neither here nor there. (It’s certainly not here.) While Heather is trying to talk a crazy woman into staying at a party that’s held near a cliff, Billy and his girlfriend Ronda chat with Shannon. Shannon is annoyed that she did not see the medical records and I guess it is odd that she hasn’t since Brooks now apparently carries them in his back pocket so he can whip them out for friends, enemies, and any Starbucks barista who would like to take a gander at some documents he might have created himself. Interestingly, the documents Billy tells Shannon he’s seen are different than the ones Tamra saw. The one he perused had shit like punctuation and I guess that means that it’s a brand new document and that Brooks has been getting wiser to the fact that medical records with no spacing leads to disbelief. All of that is compelling, but it’s not nearly as compelling as Heather finally telling Vicki that she’s heard a story about Terry being summoned in the middle of the night to help Brooks, to which Vicki just shakes her head and says she has no idea what Heather is talking about. Maybe she was traveling when such an event never occurred? That’s gotta be the answer, right?
And just when it seems like maybe someone is finally getting someplace by forcing Vicki to confront a direct lie, Ronda the Girlfriend decides to jump headfirst into the mix by informing Shannon about how disgraceful it is that Vicki even needed to ask for Shannon’s support for her boyfriend’s fake illness. I’m thinking that Ronda is gunning for a spot in next season’s cast or at least an opportunity to be the bartender on Watch What Happens and I can only pray that she ends up having to serve Shannon a drink. In any case, Ronda is just getting started. That’s right, Ronda-without-an-‘h’ is ready to throw the fuck down and she does it by calmly tossing out that Shannon does not need to see any of Brooks’ medical records. After all, Vicki never asked to see any records that proved just how often David cheated on Shannon – and right there is when I would have kicked Ronda so hard in the face that not only would she still not have an “h” in her name, but it would also no longer end with an “a.” What kind of verbal retaliation is this stranger spewing? What kind of compelling argument does she think is being made? Why has nobody punched this woman? Where is Ryan and his concealed weapon when you need him?
Shannon is horrified and absolutely certain that it was Vicki who instructed Ronda to publicly mention the affair as a way of deflecting. Maybe she’s right about that, but I don’t fully buy it. I think Vicki gossiped with her brother and Ronda about the affair and Ronda pulled it out of her back pocket like it was a lint-covered wintergreen tic tac that she popped in her mouth because her breath smelled like shit. Frankly, I’d appreciate Vicki more if she were as diabolical as everyone seems to want to believe she is, but I think they’re giving her way too much credit. The woman is a moron; she is not Machiavellian, and I would have to be shot with a tranquilizer dart filled with PCP to give Vicki credit for anything at this point.
Instead of simply walking away from a dipshit, Shannon feels the need to confront one. She stalks over to Vicki while Meghan races along behind her so she won’t miss even a second of the chaos of Operation Fuck Vicki. “Thank you for being such a great friend,” hisses Shannon through clenched teeth while steam pours out of her ears at such an alarming degree that it made my hair frizz instantaneously. “Thank you for telling my secret,” she finishes before stalking away while Meghan stays behind to helpfully explain what just went down. Upon hearing what Ronda said, Vicki looks upset. She just wants to leave the party because apparently the only thing Satan loves more than confusion is when your brother’s girlfriend retaliates against one of your closest confidants at a baptism. Plus, according to Vicki, Shannon kept pushing and pushing for superfluous things like actual answers and Ronda’s response is exactly what Shannon deserved. And that’s the line said by the woman who an hour earlier had her hand raised majestically in the air as she swayed to the choral swells of Amazing Grace.
It seems like maybe everyone should just call it a night, but Tamra’s got a different idea. Maybe Pastor Mike can help! It’s not a terrible idea, but it is a misguided idea because Vicki is too far gone now to deal with anything but trying to suck in her stomach and so she tells the nice Pastor that she is done with Shannon Beador and I am once again reminded that the women on this show use someone’s full name when they’re really pissed off. Besides, Vicki is the one who should be hurt here! Nobody has called to see how she is doing and she’s been having a rough time and that’s when Billy jumps in to say that their mom just passed away and Vicki seems to remember that she can use that fact to garner herself a little sympathy from a well-intentioned Pastor.
Now look: I am incredibly cognizant of the fact that the loss of a parent is searing in its anguish and I don’t doubt for a single second that her pain is real. But to pull it out right then and there and choke out some words that she wishes she could be in heaven with her mommy strikes me as repulsive in its pure and unadulterated manipulation – and it’s shitty and obvious manipulation at that. I think Vicki’s sadness here is contrived. I think her speaking the words “I know Jesus” is insane. I think she is a pathetic woman and I don’t find her to be genuine in the least and I feel sorry for Pastor Mike that he’s been dragged into such nonsense.
“I need a hug,” whimpers a person nobody wants to embrace – except maybe her good friend Satan. After all, Satan loves to cuddle! And Vicki is sick of being nailed to the cross just like Jesus Christ who did nothing wrong – and with that comparison, I am officially over Vicki Gunvalson in whatever incarnation of herself she’d like to present while hoping any one of them will stick. I am done with drunken Vicki. I am done with Grandma Vicki. I want to drown born-again Vicki. And I wouldn’t watch her as the newest hostess of The 700 Club even if the rest of my television stations only broadcast blinding and constant static.
But before Vicki can get into her limo and head off to a party where all of the attendees love Jesus (she actually says that), Shannon approaches her and the two of them scream about who has been a shittier friend and maybe it’s just time to call it a day and a season. Shannon can go back inside where there’s bound to be some vodka and a husband who swears that he loves her and Vicki can go kneel on something and pretend that knowing a hymn makes her something other than a garbage person. Unfortunately for Vicki, Tamra pops her head into the limo to inform her that the women found out that the place Brooks went for his PET-scan is a place that doesn’t actually do PET-scans and so Tamra wants to know if that factor means that Brooks is faking everything? What does Vicki have to say about that? Well, let’s allow Jesus to speak for her, shall we? Here we go:
1. Vicki doesn’t know anything.
2. She was in Oklahoma when those tests were done.
3. She has no answers to offer anyone and everybody should know that her daughter is a shit-stirrer and that’s why she says bad things about Brooks and it’s just a coincidence that Brooks was not permitted to attend her mother’s funeral and it’s not because other members of her family think Brooks is repulsive also.
It’s actually Tamra who comes to the defense of Vicki’s own child and the entire thing is absolutely repulsive to watch and it only gets worse when Vicki says that she is leaving now with her head held high and the feeling that she too has been baptized.
“Guess what?” asks our newest prophet. “When you’re aiming at someone else, you’re not looking at yourself in the mirror.”
Back inside the strangest baptism that ever was, we get some epilogue information:
Brooks and Vicki have broken up and now Satan hates Brooks too.
Meghan enjoys calling people out and wants only the truth to be told. With that decree in mind, I would like to then honestly tell her to burn every fucking one of those headbands and to find a man who manages to gaze at her without a sneer.
Shannon and David? Well, they have discovered forgiveness and they’re trying really hard to be happy and Shannon and Vicki are no longer speaking and that means that I’m getting myself a tee with Shannon’s face emblazoned across the front of it tomorrow and anointing a holiday in her honor. Vodka will be served.
Heather is fine. She has always been fine and she always will be fine and she is excited to move into her new house that’s the size of a continent.
Tamra’s also doing well, and I think I have to give her some credit. She conducted herself remarkably well all season long. She didn’t threaten to slit even one person’s throat and her head didn’t spin around even a tiny bit. So as she nibbles on an edible halo at her party and expounds about having embraced her faith, I hope that she really does find some happiness.
And now the party is over and it’s time to go home and rest up for what’s bound to be an antagonistic Reunion. But before anybody leaves, Tamra has some gift bags to pass out to the friends who made it until the end of her big night. The gift bags weren’t shown on camera, but I’m guessing they were glitzy and stuffed with heaps of hot pink tissue paper and contained a CD of affirmations read by Brooks in the southern drawl I’d bet you anything is fake and a humongous bottle of Resveratrol that’s designed to ward off sniffles, cellulite, and tumors.
Amen, everybody. See you at the Reunion. And if you’re looking for Vicki in the meantime, she’s hanging somewhere on a cross.
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.