I’ve been thinking a great deal about Sonja Morgan lately. And what I’ve realized through countless hours of pondering the motivations of a rather loony woman is that she’s now fully bypassed the time in her life when she could just be classified as being amusingly batty. Those days are dead. She has since entered a new phase in which she spends her late afternoons and all those drunken evenings teetering on the precipice of total and complete clinical insanity. Now, that’s a bold charge for a recapper to toss one’s way, so allow me for an instant to share with you the definition Psychology Today offers to explain the variables of such a sickness: Clinical insanity is a mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. Sound about right?
When she first appeared on this show, Sonja was a (somewhat) different person and it was a very different time. Bethenny hadn’t yet achieved gazillionaire status. Jill Zarin still believed she’d be relevant forever and enjoyed passing her days recording grievances against friends on index cards and posing for covers of books she deep down believed people would pay full price to read. Alex and Simon pretended they did not decorate their home to resemble a cheap bordello that housed hookers recovering from chlamydia. (They also enjoyed pretending that Alex could legitimately become a model and that Simon was legitimately heterosexual.) And Kelly Bensimon gnawed dreamily on gummy bears she was convinced had been grown organically on trees in a meadow where a sunny ball of LSD glowed majestically in the sky when she wasn’t running clear through oncoming traffic for her daily dose of cardio. She also lost her sanity so completely that anyone who so much as stood in the same airspace appeared nothing but fully lucid in comparison. Into that tumultuous environment did Sonja Morgan enter our lives. She was vivacious. She was funny. She had a way of turning every third sentence she uttered into the kind of sexual innuendo only a real dame can spew out without appearing completely ridiculous. She giggled and rooted for the best for everybody and appeared to not take herself all that seriously.
I’m not quite sure where that loopy though mildly lucid version of Sonja has gone. I can only guess that she hocked that part of herself in order to pay delinquent electricity bills or something, but the Sonja Morgan left in its place actually concerns me. This devolved version of Sonja that appears (with her staunch consent) on our television screens is a Sonja who legitimately does not appear able to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fantasy anymore. There have, of course, been hints that this form of psychosis was upon us. Remember when Sonja tried to insist that Madonna came to support her at her fashion show but nobody saw the illustrious Ms. Ciccone because she wasn’t able to get through security? Recall the evening when Sonja screamed in Kristen’s face that Kristen should have known to tell a reporter some version of, “Sonja Morgan is far too important a human being to concentrate on a mere toaster when she is clearly blowing the international lifestyle brand game to smithereens with her business acumen that is both impressive and absolutely invisible to the naked eye.”
How about we actually explore how it has come to pass that this woman, who is mostly famous for being sexually free and never completing a business endeavor, is permitted to have interns work for her in exchange for college credit? Should we maybe consider the thousands of hours of therapy her daughter will potentially have to immerse herself in so she can come to terms with having a mother who so brazenly embarrasses both of them? Is it time yet to start worrying that what appears on television every week while the season airs is a woman who only speaks Fantasy with an accent she claims to have picked up in Gstaad?
What really scares me – and sort of saddens me, too – is that Sonja no longer appears to recognize that she’s coming off as a joke. I get it; she still has a contract with Bravo and she is invited to appear on talk shows like Watch What Happens where she’s asked lightweight questions from people who call into the show. She frequents bullshit establishments where even an H-level proximity to fame will get you a table and she cavorts with men who are barely beyond post-pubescence and therefore believe she’s as worldly as she claims to be. Besides, standing beside her while she paws them gets them on television.
But Sonja and her antics are not all that funny anymore. Tales of her total inebriation are told too often by too many people to be ignored. The businesses she touts never fully come to fruition. Her relentless name-dropping reeks of tragedy. Her unwillingness to look inward and recognize that she's become a poorly drawn caricature is not even slightly charming. And her insistence that Bethenny (who once clutched her by the forearms and screamed into her face to shut the fuck up and just say things that are real) will be thrilled she’s now shilling a new product whose name is terribly close to the name of Bethenny's brand is insane. It's delusional that Sonja could possibly believe that Bethenny will be anything but horrified by such a thing and perhaps the reason Sonja cannot see this very obvious outcome – one that will include a televised verbal lashing – just proves that she can no longer differentiate between reality and the alcohol-drenched world of make-believe anymore.
I don't have too much faith that Sonja will want to change or even be able to change at this point. I think she very genuinely believes that she's beloved by the same people who actually find her sad. She cannot listen to criticism and she doesn't really have to, not when she has unpaid interns whose job requirements include not fleeing from her home in horror, not asking why people cannot actually purchase an item from her expansive and wildly successful international lifestyle brand, and always smiling whenever the boss says something about all she has achieved it even though there's no tangible evidence that any sort of achievement has actually taken place. I think all of this enforced fantasy has become real in her mind and I'm not quite sure anymore where Sonja can go from here.
That said, I still find myself rooting for Sonja. Look, I'm not betting she'll recover and become normal because, well, I hate losing bets, but I hope that's what happens. The reason? Because just as it's obvious that she is the walking and drinking manifestation of the above definition, it's just as clear that Sonja appears to be a nice person. I think she really wants her friends to succeed and she categorically believes what she's doing makes sense. I don't think she's actively out to hurt anybody and I don't think she actually has the power to hurt anybody – except herself, and we're all watching it go down in Dolby.
Luckily, we have a new roommate dynamic to take our minds off the fact that Sonja is now so far gone that she has actually chosen to advertise herself with the line, “If being Sonja is so wrong, why does it feel so right?” And if anyone can understand a life that feels so right, it’s Luann! Yes, Luann arrives to move into Chateau Morgan and she’s very excited to be there. After all, the amenities include an elevator, a bidet countless visitors from Dubai have used, and a condom dispensary on the wall of the annex. Sadly, the establishment is currently out of both hot water and heat, but at least Luann’s enormous necklaces will provide her neck with warmth.
Luann doesn’t expect to be there long, though. She’s convinced she’s on the cusp of meeting The One, and since she dates more men than I’ve ever met in my life – even during what I’ll call my more “free” days – she’s got a great shot of making her dream come true. Of course, it sort of feels like we’re watching a flashback here since we all already know The Countess is currently engaged to a man who used to bang Sonja. I think we all realized long ago that there are very few men Sonja has not banged, so let’s not judge the situation, especially when there is way more to judge, like the Tipsy Girl thing Luann brings up next. First Sonja tells Luann the origin story of her alcohol line and it’s just mildly short of scintillating. Then Luann asks how she thinks Bethenny will respond to the alarming similarities in the names of the brands, but Sonja waves her concern off. There are a million restaurants with “Tipsy” in the title! Bethenny is going to be thrilled for her! Besides, it’s not she who trademarked the brand name. No, she got her partners to do it and since she was not the one in charge, it actually got done.
But Bethenny is not thrilled. She is pissed off and she arrives for dinner with friends annoyed by a press war she found out she was fighting with Sonja without her knowledge. Fortunately, if there’s one thing that can get a woman out of a psychological funk, it’s Ramona Singer! And Ramona will be right there to provide aid to Bethenny as soon as she has the bartender weave her a brand new chair that will not dwarf her, as she is incredibly petite. Carole pretends not to know the new chair designer as Bethenny walks towards the table and they dive immediately into the Tipsy Girl thing that has already been discussed in all the New York papers. Bethenny is furious but she’s also rational enough to appear perplexed by the whole thing. Why would Sonja be so shady?
“Do you think she even knows what she’s doing?” asks Ramona in perhaps the Question of the Episode. Carole and Bethenny are both entirely certain that Sonja has to know that it’s fucked up to ride Bethenny’s brand’s coattails. Me? I’m just not so sure anymore.
“She doesn’t support anyone else,” says Carole.
“She’s narcissistic,” adds Bethenny.
“She is narcissistic,” chimes in Ramona – and when Ramona fucking Singer points a finger at you and calls you a narcissist, it’s time to move to a desert island and become one with nature – and then stay there because you’re a lost fucking cause.
The next day, Dorinda meets up with Ramona, who this episode we have only seen at meals. They’re happily strolling down memory lane, both wanting to make their present friendship work. Still, there are other things they must talk about. “What do you think of this Tipsy Girl thing?” Dorinda ask Ramona. Dorinda feels like Sonja is in a weak space right now and she’s just not growing. Dorinda is a little worried about her. Dorinda also tries to give Ramona advice about her friendship with Sonja, even as she knows that she’s really trying to get Ramona to see that if she is so often in problematic friendships, maybe it’s Ramona who is the problem. She would also like Ramona to be cordial with the stubby piece of slime she claims to be in love with. I suppose it’s nice that we all have dreams.
As for Bethenny, she was out until four in the morning the night before and she’s really excited about the guy she was with, but she does have a little anxiety about having to talk to Sonja. The woman has had six fake businesses and being associated with her in any way is giving Bethenny diarrhea. Right about then is when the about-to-be-banished lady of the hour arrives and she is as unaware as ever about the tenor of the room or about the long minutes Bethenny spent contemplating just hiring a hitman and being done with it. To sum up, Sonja’s excited to be there, Bethenny looks like she might vomit, and her voice comes out like an absolute machete when Sonja compares the color of Bethenny’s office to the clothing on her site. “Which site?” asks Bethenny – and all of a sudden I realized we were about to watch a very unfair fight because one of the contestants has all of the power and all of the brains and all of the sanity and the other contestant is Sonja.
The meeting they eventually have is held smack dab in the middle of the office where the assistants watch and all but record the thing so they can Snapchat it later. Bethenny tears in:
1. Peter (the guy I think looks like a rodent) is shady. According to a ton of people she’s personally spoken with, the guy is all show and no go.
2. Peter also doesn’t know Mickey Mouse. (Any chance Bethenny picked Mickey because she also thinks he looks like a founding member of the rodent species?)
3. The fact that Sonja doesn’t know who the brand’s distributor will be just further proves that Sonja is a moron.
4. The fashion line Sonja designed is available nowhere that Ambien or mescaline cannot take you.
Sonja is stunned to hear all of this. She has done nothing wrong! All she did was ask her dear friends to try her prosecco! But when the woman who doesn’t want to be her friend (or her mentor) tells her that when a brand rides on another brand’s coattails, it’s called a cheater brand, Sonja waves away the charge. “That is just silly,” Sonja declares. It’s just a fluke that the names sound similar. Why would she ever steal from her mentor/idol/fairy godmother with an acid tongue?
“Here’s the situation,” Bethenny says – and it’s the mean fairy godmother who takes one for the team here. “I’m personally hurt. I’m completely insulted and I don’t want anything to do with you.” Sonja’s eyes fill with tears, especially when Bethenny tells her she’s a fraud with fake businesses, but she will not sit back and allow Bethenny to say her businesses aren’t real. What about the perfume that’s getting ready to go? (Also, if anyone buys me a bottle of Sonja, that person will forever be dead to me.)
“I thought it would be a great way for me to get ahead,” Sonja sobs. “I thought I could have my prosecco at my Sonja in the City parties.” (First, are those really a thing? Second, anyone who throws me a Sonja in the City party will also be dead to me and you and the perfume person can go be roommates in hell. Don’t worry – there will be heat there.)
“I just need to get back to where I was,” cries Sonja, and Bethenny feels just guilty enough to send her away with well wishes before throwing her out of the room. And as she stands humiliated in the elevator, Sonja mutters loudly, “Does that mean I can’t do pocketbooks because Luann does pocketbooks?” Oh, Sonja. You can totally do pocketbooks! But call them Countess Clutches and she how long it takes for Luann to ram a boot clear up your rectum.
Over at Jules’ apartment, she and Michael are getting ready to meet a new nanny because the last nanny quit after collecting her Christmas bonus. Jules can’t really function without a nanny so she greets Shyma with enthusiasm. They’ll get to whether or not the caregiver has committed any felonies in a second, but first they want to be sure she’s bilingual and that she’s adept at waiting on lines at sample sales because Jules will do a lot of things (like dine with her children four days a week) but she will not wait on a motherfucking line and I guess all that old money means she can just employ someone to do it for her. I hope she uses this anecdote on her speaking tour where she plans to empower women.
There are tests one must pass to become Jules’ nanny. She tasks Shyma with picking out a baby outfit because testing her CPR skills would just be too weird. Shyma does well with the challenge but she loses the job because she started a sentence in Spanish and finished it in English and Jules cannot abide by such a travesty.
In an apartment with way less stress sits Carole. Adam is home, she’s sprawled on her tiger print sofa, and she adopted a kitten to foster. Adam ties on an apron and gets ready to make radishes out of watermelons. (By the way, that kitten’s never leaving and I wouldn’t either. I mean, I don’t know what watermelon radishes are, but I’d like six of them right now.) The two of them are working on a cookbook proposal for a vegan cookbook whose tagline is, “Love your food. Love yourself. Love your life.” Carole is working on this project instead of her book of essays and she and her editor have parted ways. I think there’s maybe more of a story there and I’d focus on the intricacies of the author/editor conflict, but I’m too distracted by the adorable way that Adam writes on her plates with food. I might need to marry Adam. Wait: is chocolate permitted on a vegan diet?
Later that night – or later some other night – Luann, Ramona, and Sonja show up on a small red carpet for a sushi restaurant. (See, it doesn’t matter how small that red carpet is. If there’s a photographer, our Housewives will make it there, even if they have to crawl.) The conversation topics include how Sonja might get vaginal rejuvenation and that Luann is a squirter. I’m (no joke) mildly dumbfounded by this information and I can’t lie: I kind of think I require some proof. There’s gotta be a Countess sex tape out there somewhere, right? Might the Pirate have shot a little footage?
And now it’s time for The Disgusting John to make his first appearance of the episode at a party he’s throwing for his business that deals with soiled clothing. Jules and Michael arrive, which I guess means their dog indeed became a nanny and is at home bathing the children and picking out outfits for upcoming playdates. They actually have to give their names to some chick holding a list like this is a party people would kill or die to get into. Inside this fabulous event, John gives a speech and makes sure to point out the stain on the bosom of the garment his sweet baby is wearing and then declares that he can get that stain out in perhaps the oddest show of virility I have ever seen. Hey, John? Can you remove puke from velvet? Because I’m about to get sick all over my couch.
Then Ramona shows up and Dorinda is pretty surprised to see her there since she didn’t send her an invitation and she can’t quite figure out why Ramona would want to be in the same room as the man she loathes. “Maybe she’s going to make peace with John,” ponders Dorinda, and it turns out that Dorinda might be good at a lot of things, but picking boyfriends and accurately reading situations do not seem to be part of her repertoire of expertise. I can’t (and won’t) fault her for her optimism. But I can (and will) judge her for wanting to be optimistic and choosing to be a Real Housewife where good things don’t often happen when the cameras are turned on.
Across the party, Luann sees a man she once dated. They have a chat we only see in subtitles, but from that we are able to learn that he’s not high, he’s currently having a mental breakdown, and he is desperately in love with Luann. (Sadly he says nothing that confirms or refutes that Luann squirts.) Freaked out by this lunatic, Luann takes off and then – bizarrely – Rey, the guy she was talking to, appears on camera. He looks drunkety drunk drunk – like, fully-wasted-and-will-sleep-in-a-gutter-tonight drunk – but Ramona is happy to engage him in conversation because he’s a guy Luann used to fuck and if she can get some good gossip on a co-worker, what kind of fool would she be to turn away? Turns out Rey is quite the close-talker and he’s getting more inebriated and louder by the second and John walks over and asks him to leave. For absolutely no good reason at all, Ramona declares that if the drunken guy with dirt on the Countess leaves, they will all leave. I think she thought she was making a threat, but John is not playing around. He throws his hand straight into her face and tells her to leave as she looks right at Dorinda and asks, “This is what you’re with?”
Now listen: Ramona’s full-on in the wrong here because she chose to defend a doofus. That said, Dorinda coming outside to berate her for not being gracious or kind seems unnecessary, as does the screaming that commences.
“This is my party!” screams Dorinda.
“I don’t know what happened!” Ramona screams back.
Finally hoarse, Ramona and her boots hightail it out of there and Dorinda hails a cab, even as John pleads with her not to leave.
“Goodbye,” Dorinda says to John in a rather dramatic fashion, but not a bit of it matters because they will be back together tomorrow.
Next time, Ramona tells Sonja that she has “major problems” and Bethenny suggests Sonja just go ahead and call her brand “Stupid Girl” so things will finally make some sense. In the meantime, let’s all look out for Sonja’s perfume next time we’re at Barneys or Sephora. First to spot the invisible bottle gets a prize. And hint: first prize is an evening with Rey! Meet him in the gutter outside Beautique – and call me if he has footage of Luann turning into a fountain. I can be there in an hour.
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.