Welcome back to The Bethenny Show! And just like last week’s episode (and the episode before that and the episode before that), I’m fully anticipating that this week’s installment will be rife with the kind of sinisterly bitter conflict and emotional mayhem we’ve come to expect when a show that’s supposed to be about the lives of seven women has been permitted to transform into a series about six of those people reacting to the constant verbal eviscerations and machinations inflicted by one very slender lady.
Look, I certainly recognize that there are some ramifications that come with Bethenny Frankel hijacking this show. I know some viewers are irritated – furious even – that this season is panning out in such a way that Bethenny has managed to dictate the temperature of any room she enters, and that includes closets and outhouses and bars located inside of sheds. I too find her borderline impossible much of the time and I will happily go on the record and say I probably would not want to be anywhere near her in real life. Still, I do not hate Bethenny’s presence on my television screen. Yes, she is undeniably the single coldest human being I’ve maybe ever seen – and I watched all of The Jinx and stared at Robert Durst’s face for many hours. There’s a hardness that emanates from Bethenny – a blistering chilly steel – and it is blatantly obvious every time she spits out her words in a flurry. She enunciates each syllable so methodically that it’s like she’s biting and snacking on her own vocabulary, a form of organic trail mix made out of sarcasm and strychnine.
There is simply no denying at this point that this season of The Real Housewives of New York City revolves around one lone person. It’s Bethenny’s World – and we’re all just feeling hungover in it. I do hope, however, that nobody’s hangover came from ingesting Skinnygirl since that stuff tastes like garbage that’s been sitting outside on a hot and humid day at the bottom of a heap in a crowded landfill where rats who all have their period went scurrying across it and decided to go build their castle elsewhere because even they know margaritas should not taste like what I’m certain low-calorie evil tastes like. The thing is, though, people can’t really be angry with Bethenny for taking over so completely. Ever watch The Bachelor? There’s always that one woman who decides to take advantage of the fact that the rest of the contestants are willing to sit back and wait for things to happen by plunging forward and making those things happen for herself. Sure, that chick always turns into the villain while the others whine about her blatant sexuality and her bold nature, but who cares? She will often walk away getting exactly what she wanted, which on reality television is undiluted attention. The other Housewives might be irritated at the iron fist Bethenny has been wielding like she’s fucking Vladimir Putin – who in my mind is a walking James Bond villain come to life – but it’s not like they’re doing anything to wrestle that power back. In the past, my money would have been on Ramona to behave in some hideous and inhumane fashion that would be far too bizarre for the cameras to avoid, thus limiting the way Bethenny is driving the action for at least a second or two, but Ramona is lucid this season and seems unlikely to cause too many real problems. Luann’s trying to take control and the evidence of her manipulations doesn’t get any more obvious than showing up at a party in the single most grotesque jumpsuit ever fashioned by human hands – and I’m including the suit made out of skins Buffalo Bill was working on in The Silence of the Lambs. No joke: I’d rather put the lotion on the skin than ever walk outside wearing that red lace monstrosity. I digress, though. Luann is working her tight ass off to stay on camera, as is evidenced by pretending to move in with Sonja. Unfortunately for her, not even this generation of sexually-free Laverne and Shirley can take the attention away from Bethenny at this point.
Still, let’s give the Countess props for her attempt, and she appears not at all willing to give up, especially this week. See, Luann is now bellowing to anyone who is forced to sit beside her on camera that she is in love – hopelessly, blissfully, drunk-with-stupidity love – with the guy she met about six weeks ago and she is certain that she and her soulmate will stay together forever. Maybe they will, but that doesn’t quell the unintentional hilarity that ensues when she lets her dear friends in on the news and then ignores the quiet horror seeping out of their corneas because half of them have slept with him – and it wasn’t in the deep dark past when Tom was in their deep dark lady-parts.
But before we get to Sonja’s reaction, can we just discuss how bizarre it is that the editors or the participants here want us to believe that it has been three weeks since Ramona’s holiday party and Luann has yet to discuss the wretched evening with the woman she’s pretending she’s living with? Wouldn’t they have had ample time to maybe debrief about the entire thing before this moment in Sonja’s kitchen? It’s not like either one has a job besides behaving like a heathen in public and then rehashing everything, right? But fine – let’s pretend this delayed conversation is real and instead focus on how joyful Luann is that she has found The One and the ways she is able to ignore that the shock emanating out of the pores of her friends either doesn’t really exist or that they are reacting in such a way due to their all-consuming jealousy. (Quick but relevant aside: I had a friend once who had a boyfriend and her boyfriend’s friend started dating someone else we all knew. One night, this girl saw my friend’s boyfriend go into his bedroom with another girl and heard them moaning through the walls all night long. When she finally told our friend the sad news, the girl blamed her friend for trying to hurt her needlessly while the philandering boyfriend walked away unscathed. To this day, my best friend and I laugh when one of us feels the need to tell the other blunt and often difficult news and we say, “Why are you just trying to hurt me?” with total sarcasm oozing through every word because it’s a real friend who actually tells you the truth. It’s a fucking lunatic who thinks the truth spoken by a true friend is laced with envy or deceit.)
At any rate, Sonja slept with Tom about a day and a half before he pledged his forever-love to Luann, but Luann could care less. Nothing will break this joy of hers, not even accurate details! And Sonja, who is newly sober just so she can prove to the people who refuse to be around her that she is capable of not gulping down a case of prosecco each and every night, sort of smiles at Luann and keeps some of the Tom details to herself. I have said this about Sonja before and I’ll say it again right now: she appears to be a genuinely good person and she wants the best for her friends and sometimes she knows when to not say anything. I give her credit for that.
What’s harder to get behind, unfortunately, is that Sonja still maintains that she should have been invited to Dorinda’s party so she could have been stuck in the mountains while Bethenny ripped Luann limb from lanky limb. It doesn’t seem to matter to Sonja in the least that the party in the Berkshires will undoubtedly one day be the basis for a grisly horror film in which women massacre one another out of boredom while a few play Twister in the other room before meeting their bloody fates, too. Sonja just can’t move beyond that she needs to speak to Bethenny and it would be best to do it on camera while there’s an audience of people who have been incredibly critical of her in the past. The entire thing makes zero sense, but maybe according to Luann’s logic, this just means I’m jealous of Sonja.
Speaking of Bethenny, she is putting together a trip to Mexico to test out tequila for a new drink she’s releasing and she has chosen to invite some of the women along for a little vacation. Jules, Carole, Ramona, and Dorinda make the cut, but she cannot be around Sonja and Carole refuses to be around Luann and that means two of the castmates will not be joining them for their tropical fiesta. Everyone unanimously agrees that Sonja shouldn’t come because the entire excursion is all but being sponsored by alcohol and they believe Sonja should not be in that environment. It can’t just be me here – who else believes something major and unsettling went down with Sonja prior to filming that has left the rest of them so cautious and horrified about being in her presence? I have no idea what the incident could have been, but I’m pretty certain there’s something nobody is saying and I’ll be shocked if all of them carry this secret to the grave. Hell, I’m actually impressed whatever it was hasn’t come out yet – and that’s why I think it must have been seriously bad.
Ramona doesn’t say much when the vote goes down to exclude Sonja from Mexico, and I’m still mildly flabbergasted by this calm, serene version of the formerly-manic Ms. Singer. I’m curious to find out how long her Zen lasts. As for Jules, she’s had it tough lately. Her father has been very sick and she’s been working like crazy to be a good daughter and a present mother and a caring wife and she’s just about had it and that means she could care less about voting friends in or out of Mexico. The woman just wants sleep and for her douchebag of a husband to bring their kid milk at one in the morning after she’s been at a hospital all day.
The next day, Carole arrives at Bethenny’s and they have the kind of deep and honest talk that reminds me why they are probably so good for one another. I know many feel that Carole is Bethenny’s nasty sidekick – and maybe she is – but I can get behind their friendship because their interactions feel genuine. Carole tells Bethenny that she had to give up the cat she was fostering suddenly and she never got a chance to say goodbye to him. The experience gutted her in ways she didn’t expect and it’s dawned on her that perhaps she has constructed her entire life out of what is temporary so she never has to get hurt. It’s this kind of self-awareness that makes me like Carole and I appreciated her candor in this scene, just as I appreciated Bethenny’s probing questions to get at the heart of the matter. It’s funny: I told my best friend recently that she needs to start watching this show again, that it’s gotten really good. “Why?” she asked – and it was a fair question, seeing as the last time she tuned in, Aviva detached her leg and flung it across a dining establishment as a Hail Mary to remain somewhat relevant. “Because it’s become a show about intelligent people talking or fighting articulately,” I responded. “And you can finally actually believe that some of them are actually friends when the cameras are off. There’s a warmth there that seemed purely ornamental before and it’s not like that anymore.”
She still refuses to watch. And I’m quite certain she’s just doing this to hurt me.
Across town, Dorinda meets up with Sonja so she can get a manicure and listen to Sonja explain why she still cannot comprehend why Bethenny is so offended by the business she’s pretending to start that’s called Tipsy Girl. She would also like Dorinda to know that things would have been fine had she joined them in the Berkshires. Wise as an owl when she’s not fall-over-drunk, Dorinda maintains that she was right about not bringing her to the Berkshires, but Sonja refuses to listen to logic in a way that’s frankly becoming sadder by the day.
Meanwhile, Carole pops by Adam’s apartment holding a terrarium and is soon put to work in the kitchen. Adam is trying out a vegan version of a chocolate cake that might end up in the cookbook they’re working on together while Carole reads a portion of the proposal she’s written to him. The two are nice together – easy – and when Adam brings out his guitar and starts strumming it, his long hair tied back in a stubby ponytail, I’m almost able to forget how disgusting a vegan chocolate cake undoubtedly will taste.
And now it’s time for the next ridiculous event to be trotted out on camera! Ramona’s having a hair extensions party as a way to promote what might be her next business and she invites Luann over to play Beauty Parlor. Luann is wearing a white suit and a plastered-across-her-face smile of love and she sits at a table with Ramona and Avery and tells them that she is sure she got through to Carole and Bethenny and that things will be smooth sailing from this point forward. Seems she’s willing to forgive Carole for cohabitating with her niece’s former love – and as for Bethenny calling her a gigantic harlot? That’s all just sludge-filled water under the bridge! Sure, neither has responded to her recent texts, but they’re probably both just busy. Newly sane Ramona decides to allow Luann to continue to live in the dark about her beliefs and doesn’t regal her with the information that she has already been banned from a trip to Mexico, but she cannot keep her mouth jammed shut when Luann announces that she and Tom are in love and will soon be engaged. This time, Ramona speaks. She informs Luann that Tom still contacts his ex all the time and bought her a bracelet for Christmas – and Luann’s response is exactly what you think it will be. She cannot understand why Ramona wants to destroy her happiness, but she doesn’t dwell on it too much because love has made her blind and she reaches over and kisses Ramona when Ramona tells her that she just wants her to be in a good place. So in case anyone is keeping score, the man Luann adores has bought his ex a gift, slept with Sonja, and dated Ramona – and all of that has gone down during the weeks he and the Countess have decided to be in love. I’m just gonna toss out a suggestion here that she and Tom elope because otherwise there’s an excellent chance that her beloved will have gone down on half of the bridal party.
I would rather stay on a close-up of Luann’s face while she justifies how kind it was of Tom to buy a piece of jewelry for a woman he used to love rather than go where we go next because John is where we go next and it’s been such a pleasure not having to look at him for a while. He and Dorinda are meeting Michael and Jules for dinner and just once glance at his fleshy lips as he toasts to a brand new year makes me long for a fucking time machine. Luckily, Jules and Michael come in next and the recent news about their upcoming divorce suddenly makes a world of sense. Michael appears to be a rather selfish prick, doesn’t he? He was late coming home and then took a shower that made them even later. He flirted with the coat check girl and makes a completely unfunny joke about wanting to hire a smoking hot nanny – and all of this is said while his wife’s father is in the hospital. To make matters even worse, he suggests that Jules’ mother come help with the kids even though her husband is about to get surgery. Not enough evidence that Michael should be castrated? How’s this: he was avidly texting someone on their way to the restaurant and gets up from the table midway through the meal to text some more. Since the news broke that their divorce is due to infidelity on his part, it’s hard not to make assumptions that he was showering off that other woman’s scent and then texting her in the car. The entire miserable scene here makes me feel terribly for Jules and I hope a giant comes down from the sky and crushes Michael the next time he asks someone to get his kid some milk.
Bethenny has been off-screen for far too long, so she appears near the end to meet up with Luann. It’s been a terrible day for Bethenny. She’s suffering from some kind of profuse bleeding that is not normal and she has a doctor’s appointment to find out if something is truly wrong, but at her first pause for breath, Luann busts in to announce to yet another person that she has met her soulmate and is deliriously happy. Bethenny looks vaguely stunned by the swiftness of this relationship, but she attempts to be happy for the giddy woman preening before her. Unfortunately, when Luann informs her of the news Ramona broke about Tom shopping for his ex, she doesn’t exactly get the reaction she was clearly hoping for. It’s pretty apparent that she wanted Bethenny to huff that Ramona telling her such information was callous and cruel, but Bethenny thinks it’s all kinds of fucked up that Tom would do such a thing and all she can do here is nod blankly as Luann explains that all this action illustrates is how kind of a person Tom is and the reason Bethenny cannot recognize such a thing is because none of her exes have ever wanted to stay part of her life, let alone buy her a wildly expensive gold bangle.
“I’m happy for you, I really am,” Bethenny tells her – and she sounds like she’s being honest. But she would also like to get the hell out of there for two reasons. 1) She is hemorrhaging and she would like to be in bed. 2) Luann is fucking out of her mind and it’s exhausting to pretend that she’s not. However, Luann will not allow Bethenny to leave that restaurant until she has a firm commitment that she will be invited to Mexico. The irony is that Bethenny showed up that night specifically so she could invite Luann to come along and now, after dealing with her smugness, she no longer wants to be in the same time zone as the woman. She attempts to flee but Luann stops her, even though holding Bethenny captive in the chair she’s probably bleeding on might make her late to see Tommy Tune. Bethenny tries to explain that she’d actually rather Luann not join them because Carole is not too excited to be around the person who talked shit about her for the better part of a year and Bethenny is loyal to Carole and that loyalty outweighs anything she feels for Luann. Some could read Bethenny’s comment as rude or wrong; I read it as honest and commendable and I’m willing to stand by that judgment – at least until I decide that I hate Bethenny again. But for now she makes sense in the way the woman swathed in white Armani sitting before her – the woman who will not allow a bleeding “friend” to leave without a guarantee that she can go where the cameras are – does not. And yet, somehow Luann manages to end the conversation by announcing that she’d love to join them in Mexico. She thanks Bethenny for an invitation that was never actually offered before running off into the dusky night without paying for a blessed thing.
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.