There’s something rather devastating about watching people who are just so completely devastated. It’s a different kind of thing than looking at cruel people acting like heathens or reckless adults behaving like toddlers whose parents have negated the advice of professionals and instead decided to see what might happen if they stopped administering the Ritalin for a couple of days. No, watching pure sadness as it unfolds across the airwaves feels morose, uncomfortable – and that was before the fake funeral transpired.
Shannon and David, both in their second season on The Real Housewives of Orange County, are stuck in the muck-filled middle of attempting to recover from David’s adultery, a terribly unfortunate outcome of a marriage that has only been presented to viewers as conflicted at it’s very best and utterly barren at it’s very worst. These are two people who earned themselves an awful lot of screen time during their inaugural season and never once exhibited a union that felt anything but scarily fraught with tension. It was David who made me feel the kind of panging anxiety that caused me to want to figure out a way to unzip my skin and then wash it a few times before pulling it back on while I was locked away in some private room, far away from his glaring eyes and impenetrable demeanor – and it was Shannon who made me wonder why she was airing her anguish to the world, especially since it seemed to consume her.
The thing is, I kind of like Shannon. She came off as pretty unstable last year, but there is a decency at her core that you can almost see if she turns sideways. She seems different than someone like Tamra, a woman who has shown off a core made up mostly of anger and the kind of bitterness that I believe is comprised of a stinging form of green bile. Shannon looked damaged, dazed, and desperate, but I still couldn’t help but wish her well.
The biggest problem currently threatening her marriage is that David had an affair and left the house for a while to be with the other woman. He’s back now and the two are fighting to save what once was or what they hope could possibly be. Shannon explains, “This country has a divorce rate of 50%...the divorce rate in Orange County is 70%,” and she doesn’t want to be a part of that and I’ll go ahead and root for the woman because she seems so positive that there’s something to save and the two of them have children, but I’ll also say that I speak from experience and there issomething worse for a child than divorce: watching two people who cannot communicate with one another either scream across a kitchen like banshees or talk to one another with an inflection that makes it seem as though something unflinching and powerful is strangling each one of them from within.
I’ll return to the couple’s retreat in just a moment so we can talk about the tombstone props and how David, pretending to be dead, held his hands in the pose of a corpse like he’s had some practice, but first let’s lighten the mood (this is supposed to be aspirational escapism after all – or at least that’s how the show was intended back in the days before Andy Cohen became far more famous than any of the people who actually appear on his programs) and talk about cake.
It’s time for Heather to throw another party, and besides a $7,000 salon sink, there’s very little Heather loves more than party planning. She’s a girl after my own heart. She appreciates themes and she considers favors and she understands that no celebration is complete without the perfect cake which she will cut into with finesse at the exact perfect time and, to prove her devotion to such social decrees, we get a flashback to the time when an uninvited guest ate part of the bow on the cake that was at the party thrown because Heather took her husband’s last name, and I don’t care what anybody says; that is so a good reason to throw a party and it wasn’t like Arbor Day was rolling around any time soon. But when that interloper nibbled on the cake’s bow that had been lovingly and perfectly constructed out of carnation pink fondant, Heather threw her the fuck out of her house.
I admired Heather’s restraint in that moment. I would have just stabbed the woman.
Heather’s party this time around is to launch her sparkling wine line, because really, what kind of Housewife would she be if she didn’t have an endorsement deal for some sort of liquor-based product? The party will be held in Napa and she’s flying there on a private plane and the baker will drop off the cake that will be shaped like a wine bottle right to her on the tarmac and it’s so nice to see a Housewife behave like an average person, huh? A bunch of friends will be attending the event – including people who truly hate one another – but Heather is ignoring that and only focusing on that which is fabulous and for that I kind of applaud her. In fact, Heather? Please adopt me. I will live in a wing of your home that is in close proximity to the dessert room – I’m just assuming there will be one because that place is fucking enormous – and I will spend my weekdays there and then I will jaunt off to Beverly Hills to wile away my weekends at Lisa Vanderpump’s house in Beverly Hills where I will tend to her swans and try on her shoes and count how many shades of pink can actually exist within one closet because back in the day I appealed for her to adopt me too and custody battles are just plain awkward and unpleasant for everybody so I shall alleviate the conflict and split my time. And should you need bail money after the certain carnage goes down in Napa, you can reach me at Chez Vanderpump because we all know that the shit Housewives get up to when they are on vacation is far more terrifying than the nonsense they usually pull when they are home.
One of the people invited to Napa – which, again, will be why I will be luxuriating in the Vanderpump manse in Beverly Hills – is Tamra, and though she fought with Heather last year, right now Heather is the only one Tamra feels like she can trust. At a juice bar where they sip blended beverages that look like a melted-down version of a Gumby doll, Tamra’s eyes fill with tears when she hears that Lizzie will be coming to the wine launch and so will Shannon because they are both people Tamra fought with terribly last season and she doesn’t quite seem to want to face any of it. I get that. But know what’s a good way to avoid having to deal with people you truly feel have wronged you, especially when they are not individuals you must engage with on a normal day to day basis? Stay off the reality show where you are all contractually mandated to interact. I understand that being a Housewife includes a salary and CUT Gym will not run itself and baby showers held at CUT Gym will not pay for themselves and I also understand that Tamra enjoys the attention that comes with being a reality star and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is a very real way to not have to deal with people who you feel have caused you pain. The truth, if I remember correctly – it’s so hard to remember all the variables of all of the fights because there have been so many fights – is that Tamra caused a lot of people a lot of heartache that wasn’t all that necessary, but if I’m reading her wet and hardened eyes correctly, it’s she who feels as though only she has been wronged.
As some (but sadly, not all) adults eventually learn, it’s almost impossible to come to a neat resolution when you’re unwilling to take any sort of personal accountability for what caused the initial conflict. My point here is that perhaps if Tamra takes some accountability for her pastconflicts, they will cease to be present conflicts. I’m not so sure that she’s ready to do that because she keeps mumbling things about being able to forgive but not forget, but Heather wants to be there for her and she doesn’t like watching her friend appear defeated. It’s hard to imagine Tamra buoying Heather up with the same levels of kindness, but perhaps there’s hope that Tamra will change – especially since changing every facet of your personality and how you react to things is such a simple process. Still, rumor has it that she’s recently embraced religion so maybe that means that at some point soon she might also embrace Lizzie.
Who wants to play bets that the embrace will occur before the Rapture? And should the Rapture roll around during the time of March Madness, I’m also betting that Duke will win.
I’d rather stay on that scene with Heather and Tamra and drink the backwash from their disgusting green juice while braiding Tamra’s hair and whispering to her, “You are the hottest woman in all of Orange County and the rest of them are just jealous,” than return to the couple’s retreat with Shannon and David, but off we go into that room filled with conflicted relationships, therapists, and tombstones made of cardboard. Yes, it’s the portion of the retreat where it’s time for each spouse to compose the eulogy each wishes the other would write and then read at his or her funeral. I’m guessing this is an exercise in acknowledgment and appreciation, but it’s more than a little bit creepy to watch David – who I really felt wanted to maul Shannon a few times last year – as he hovers above her while she lies on a black sheet with a tombstone behind her and he reads the things she wants him to say about her after she’s dead. David looks sad and shaky doing this practice activity and he says a line like, “I put up with her issues to the best of my abilities,” and the whole thing feels so wrong, like I’m actually violating something scared by just watching it, so instead of giving it my full attention, I went online to see if the dress I ordered from Revolve Clothing had shipped yet (it’s on its way!) and when I looked back at my TV, David was pretending to be the corpse and Shannon was weeping above him and saying that she had no idea what she was going to do without him.
My honest take on this is that these two people desperately want to be happy but they simply don’t make one another – even at the very best of times – all that happy. They’ve been married for a long time now. Neither wants to be alone. Neither really wants to cause harm to the other, but I can’t recall a single moment of easy laughter between the two of them and I really hope a pile of that footage exists somewhere on a cutting room floor because otherwise it’s hard to see what these two people are fighting for. The scene ends with Shannon sitting as instructed on David’s knee and the two of them embrace and I hope that they make it, but holy shit – I think we should hold onto our tranquilizers, because I’m thinking it’s going to be a very bumpy season.
Here’s the truth: I’m more than happy to root for pretty much all of these women. I want them to end up happy. Part of it is that I don’t particularly care enough to wish them any ill will because that shit takes way more energy, but I also can’t really go out of my way to send them frequent positive vibes because I’ve run out of my collection of Sonja Morgan Abundance Candles and I seem to have misplaced my voodoo doll and I have no fucking idea about how to hang cleansed crystals in a proper feng shui pattern. Still, I hope they all find peace – and by that I mean real peace, not this-crystal-has-brought-me-some-peace peace.
Moving on to a relationship that we know just about nothing about, we join Meghan and Jim while they shop for furniture. Meghan is thrilled that they’re buying new things so that she will finally get to live in a house where Jim’s ex-wife didn’t once lick the flatware. It’s an odd little dynamic these two have, no? She comes off as a peppy optimist and he comes off like a strict father who was once told that the best parenting strategy is to be constantly dismissive and to say “no” a lot. Now look, these two people were clearly filmed for hundreds of hours and the editors and the producers of this show are out to compile the footage into storylines – and the story of a grumpy man married to a happy woman is a story. It’s not a great story and it’s probably not the whole story, but so far Meghan’s husband’s two narratives seem to be “unemotional husband” and “baseball legend who held Heather and Terry’s kids when they were babies.” I’m not saying those stories are not absolutely scintillating, but I hope we get something else from these people pretty soon because after a while I just stopped listening to them speak and focused instead on how I liked Meghan’s ponytail.
Back home after the couple’s retreat, Shannon and David – who have wisely left their cardboard tombstones behind and didn’t bring them home as favors – sit their daughters down and explain that they should have no worries about the family breaking up and then David asks each daughter for forgiveness individually. It’s an emotional little scene and you can see how nervous David looks and how comforted Shannon appears and their kids seem lovely. That said, there are those scenes within these shows that just seem like they cross the line of what should be private, and a father apologizing for abandoning his family screams that it should be one of them.
Over at Tamra’s, Vicki calls from Mexico. The look on Eddie’s face when Tamra answers the phone probably matched the look on a lot of viewers’ faces too. Not having spoken in months and months, Vicki has decided that she misses Tamra, especially since she is dancing drunk on top of a bar all alone and has been pretending for hours that her shadow was Tamra, but she couldn’t quite get her shadow to make those mean, glaring stares like her former best friend can. Anyway, clearly drunk off her ass, Vicki invites Tamra to the party she’s having when she gets back and they both sort of threaten one another that each better be nice to the other and it’s almost heartwarming when Tamra tells Vicki that she better be nice to her or Tamra will punch Vicki in the throat.
These two. How can anybody not root for them?
Because of something awesome called editing, Vicki’s party shows up right away. The guests will dine outside and try to clobber a piñata that’s filled with mini bottles of alcohol and just maybe they won’t also clobber one another. But the guests who are showing up all have a palpable air of apprehension about them. Meghan say that she feels weird that she’s going to the party of someone she doesn’t know, but I think it’s fair that we translate that into that she’s terrified to meet Vicki because she’s watched this show for years and Vicki is often nice and then, just as often, she is out of her fucking mind and that kind of combination is the stuff that nightmares populated by piñatas are made of. Tamra is nervous because she hasn’t seen Vicki in forever and because both Shannon and Lizzie will be there and they both hate her and that’s all their faults, not Tamra’s, because Tamra is evolving. Lizzie is not looking forward to seeing Tamra and Heather, who is not nervous at all, brings another baseball player’s wife with her because the woman has sworn up and down that she will not eat the cake without receiving a cue that doing so is acceptable.
The only ones – besides Heather – who seem calm are Shannon and David, but their calmness is almost eerie. They get ready at home and Shannon gives him a kiss and both of their voices (especially David’s) have gone down about twelve octaves and they even seem to be moving more slowly. They are clearly trying to be kind and patient with one another, and maybe it’s that viewers have never seen these two behave in such a manner, but it’s jarring and not in a surprising or good way. Instead, it just looks like an act that can’t properly be executed for too long before one of them explodes.
At the party, Brooks opens the door for Tamra and Eddie and they ask him about how he is feeling and everyone is being exceedingly polite. Lizzie and Tamra greet one another warily, but the old anger dissipates over dinner when they talk about anal sex, because nothing brings women together like anal sex can. Shannon arrives and immediately requests vodka and then we all learn that Vicki’s backyard exists in a wormhole that whirls us without warning right into the past because in walks Jeana, the Housewife from the first few seasons, she of the Cheshire cat smug grin, the gorgeous children, and the tendency to take the sides of the men over that of the women. Last time I remember seeing Jeana, she had a drink thrown into her face by Tamra and she was rather heavy. Now she is teeny weeny skinny and she and Tamra greet each other with a warm embrace and just as I was considering the possibility that perhaps I’d imagined the flying red wine and the damaged corneas and all those extra pounds Jeana once carried, Tamra informs us that Jeana reached out to her during her recent custody dispute and was very kind and then Jeana shows off her incredibly shrunken ass and I’m relieved that I haven’t hallucinated Housewife moments and happy for Jeana that she appears blissfully content. I’ve heard that she’s going to be appearing on this show a lot this season and my guess is that she won’t stay this calm and supportive, so we should enjoy the silence right fucking now.
Speaking of silence, David is not saying a word at the party. No, even as Vicki is saying to him that he should look at her while she’s talking to him, he cannot pull his gaze from Shannon. He is staring at her as though he has been lobotomized and it’s insanely creepy that this is his version of complete devotion because it won’t last and also? The guy hasn’t blinked in three full minutes. I’m concerned for his retinas!
Shannon reveals that she has told Vicki some details of David’s affair, but nobody else knows anything because she wanted to keep it private – which, again, she says to a camera. Might she believe that she’s the only person she knows who owns that weird thing called a television? I mean, everybody will know about the affair because you are telling them and allowing them to watch your husband to perform your fake eulogy and anybody tuning in to Bravo will see how your children react to their father asking them for forgiveness. It’s all just very strange, but I read somewhere that Shannon and David agreed to put this all on camera to hopefully help other struggling couples. If that’s actually true, good for them – but I’d caution those struggling couples that they should flip to another channel in just a moment when Shannon, the Zen goddess, flips out when Meghan walks through the backyard. Might I suggest you conflicted couples turn to ABC and watch The Bachelorette so you can see images of a love that’s real and lasting? But come back to Bravo soon or you’ll miss the charming interlude during which Tamra and Brooks discuss how big a fan Eddie is of the Dutch Oven.
Okay, so I’ve spent the last two episodes really rooting for Shannon. She doesn’t come across as an incendiary-for-no-reason asshole like Brandi on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and she’s not completely delusional and outwardly nasty like Kim, who is Brandi’s best friend on that series. No, Shannon just appears sad, and it’s hard not to wish her well when she appears so broken and then reiterates just how very broken she feels. If you’re not a total asshole who was born without decency, you have to feel just a wee bit of compassion for a woman like Shannon – at least until Shannon illustrates that she’s not just broken, but that she’s kind of meanly crazy too.
It’s Meghan’s presence that moves vodka-sipping Shannon into vodka-glugging-and-eyes-flashing Shannon. See, at Heather’s party (that took place about a year ago), Meghan walked up to the bar where David was standing with Vicki and introduced herself. I know. What a bitch! Anyway, Shannon immediately viewed Meghan as a flirty threat and she and David argued about the blonde stranger right there at the bar and now, like a boomerang flung by Satan himself, that blonde is in another backyard with Shannon and David and Shannon looks like she’s about to go catatonic. She recovers when Meghan walks over and reintroduces herself to both of them, but you should also know that in this case “recover” means that Shannon flashes her teeth to Meghan like my dog does when I try to clean the goop from her eyes and then Shannon also doesn’t blink for a good long while and the woman legitimately looks like she has been stun-gunned and I’m nervous here because if Shannon is this threatened by Meghan – a woman who met David once and has just shown up at a party with her very own husband who just happens to be a professional baseball player – the future does not bode well for Shannon and David because there might be some real threats out there and she’d better save up that energy so she can harness it when it’s actually necessary.
As they all sit down to dinner, Brooks suggests that Vicki say the prayer before they eat, but Vicki tells him that he should do it since he is “the leader of the house,” which would be a very sweet thing to say in kind of a fifties housewife kind of way had she not already announced to the masses that Brooks has absolutely zero equity in this house and that she could basically toss him out onto the front lawn if she so chooses. Still, they all bow their heads and Brooks says grace and I almost cannot stand how excited I am for the day when Tamra leads the prayer session since now she’s found God.
Sitting at the end of the table, Shannon feels uncomfortable. First of all, that homewrecker Meghan is there, laughing with her own husband. Then she has to watch as Tamra and Vicki, former friends and then enemies and then friends again and then enemies six more times, begin to enjoy one another’s company and Shannon is seriously not amused. And now she must go on a trip to Napa with Tamra and Heather – her foes? She is really not looking forward to it and to that I say this: don’t go. Say you’re busy. Pretend to be sick. How difficult could it possibly be to fake gout?
Before the party can actually end, it’s piñata time! I’m not so sure I’d hand too many of those women a stick and give them the instructions to beat something, but it all goes well and Meghan crushes the thing and alcohol explodes from the inner cavity of the pink papier-mâché donkey. Drunk as can be, Vicki and Tamra have moved beyond punching each other in the throat and are now holding hands and Shannon is repulsed and confronts Vicki about it and Vicki tells her calmly that she just wants peace but she will never forget the things Tamra has said about her man.
Yes, it’s on to the portion of the episode I shall call Brooks: Vicki’s Man – Part VII, Tamra’s Apology Tour. During this installment of a relationship that refuses to just die, Tamra and Vicki sit together and tell one another about how badly they want to be friends again. They each blame the other for what happened and we see petrifying flashbacks to the time Vicki screamed into Tamra’s face in a manner so high-pitched and hysterical that only a dead Yorkie might have understood the meaning behind the shrieks. But face screaming aside, Vicki will forgive Tamra as long as Tamra “shuts her mouth” and doesn’t talk about her man and Tamra agrees to those terms.
As for Vicki’s Man, here’s what I want to say: I wish Vicki’s Man a speedy and complete recovery from cancer because it is a truly hellish disease that nobody deserves. I hope Vicki’s Man never again recommends beating the shit out of a woman to keep her in line, especially if the woman in question is his girlfriend’s daughter. I’d prefer if Vicki’s Man kept both Vicki and Tamra inside as much as possible so we are only able to hear the faint strains of the whoo hoos coming through the walls during cocktail hour. And should there be a procedure available that allows a surgeon to extract the almost tangible veil of smarminess from his countenance, I’d like to offer to pay for that procedure for Vicki’s Man.
And so, the episode ends on the reincarnated friendship between Vicki and Tamra. In my own life, I have never had a friendship so fraught with discord and I have never had a relationship with anybody that has required as many apologies as this televised one, but they have once again declared that they have one another’s back.
I guess we shall see what ends up happening with those two. As a cynic who has just gotten more cynical from watching these reality shows, my guess is that the resurrected friendship will eventually implode in a rather spectacular fashion and I’d like to put a thousand bucks down that it will happen late in the season when the women are on yet another vacation.
And I’d like to bet another thousand that it’ll be either the University of Michigan or UNC who Duke slaughters in the final round.