Last week’s episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County had a subplot that seemed both weirdly literal and colorfully metaphorical at the same time. A storm was brewing in Oklahoma, one that might be strong enough to sweep Vicki clear to the east coast with just one fierce tornado gust, but (luckily for those of us who reside on the east coast) that was just a hint of the real storm to come. The real bluster comes about at a party thrown by one of our illustrious Housewives – and at this point, I think I might only have disdain for those who continue showing up at events where they are verbally assaulted before being handed a gift bag.
But this is The Real Housewives and what that means is that a party cannot just kick off the hour! First we are invited on kind of a journey where we get to see how all of the relationships are currently lined up so that we know who the teams at the party will be. At this point, Meghan is the captain of one team and she is lobbying to name her team “BROOKS IS A FUCKING LIAR AND I HAVE PROOF” but she’s concerned that the team name won’t fit on their shirts. Brooks, who is either a liar or a man falsely accused of doing something so despicable that it almost defies comprehension, will lead up the other team. Obviously, Vicki will be the star of “TEAM WHOO-HOO,” but the real question is where the other Housewives fall. Prior to this episode, it appeared that Shannon and Tamra would join Vicki and Brooks’ team. They would shut their mouths and gaze at the floor and Shannon would grip some crystals tightly in her palm and chant for Vicki not to yell at her about anything and Tamra would pray directly to God for the same thing because she’s religious now. There was a chance that Heather might have joined Meghan’s team, but I think Heather would be far more likely to quickly jet off to some tropical land so she could avoid the conflict altogether. Still, the lines seem to have changed recently and the teams are no longer so clearly separated and it all becomes clear when Heather meets up with Meghan at a dinner where Shannon will join them a bit later.
How is Meghan doing? She is great! She just returned from a vacation with her husband and it was just the two of them, a dynamic that actually makes me feel cold inside when I think of it because there’s really only two options at this point when it comes to this woman’s husband: he’s either so incredibly shy and inhibited that he is incapable of acting human on camera or he was simply born with no positive human qualities whatsoever. Both choices make me feel serious willies. At any rate, the women immediately order drinks from a waiter that Heather knows so well that she might invite him to serve her flutes of champagne in the south wing of her castle and Meghan tells her that Hayley threw a rager at her mother’s house while all of the adults were out of town and trashed the place. (Anyone want to take a quick moment to stop reading this recap so you can go call your parents real quick and thank them for not broadcasting your teenage missteps to a televised audience of millions? I’ll wait.) Two hundred people came to the party. So did the police. And the kid was grounded for about an hour. Meghan is appalled by the lack of consequence enforced by Hayley’s parents and so is Heather, who claims that if her kid did that, she would ground her, rip her cell phone from her shaking hand, kick her perfectly pedicured foot down the kid’s throat, and then bald the kid for good measure. I officially endorse Heather for Mother of the Year!
Speaking of parents, Tamra’s mother lives with her now (was this a thing I was supposed to know before?) and that’s nice and convenient because it’s so much easier for Tamra to be her pimp when she’s under Tamra’s roof. She’s gotten a makeup artist to gussy her mother up for her first date in a long time and Tamra is there to vet her outfit and second-guess every single choice her mother makes. She’s obviously also there to call her mother “a hooch” and to tell her that she might as well plaster a sign to her forehead that says “Come fuck me” because Tamra’s classiness is at its pinnacle when she is in her own home. It’s right about then when Ryan and his knit beanie walk into the room and all I can think for a second is that he creeps me out something serious and that’s even when he’s not talking about his nana dating. His very presence reads as ominous to me, but there’s no time to look for gun residue on his hands or hair fibers of a victim stuck in his beard because it’s time for his grandmother’s date. She looks pretty and relatively calm in her zebra top and Tamra and Ryan go on the date too so they can chaperone from a nearby table because nobody knows more about true love and morality than Tamra and her bearded offspring.
Across town, Shannon runs into the restaurant to meet up with Heather and Meghan. Shannon hugs them both. Perhaps I missed it, but it appears that she doesn’t even scan the table for a utensil she can maybe stab Meghan with before dessert and that has to mean that a truce between these ridiculous women has been brokered for now. Shannon decides to celebrate this truce with her standard vodka order and I have never seen people drink this regularly in my life. They all actually order food – it must be a Wednesday – and Shannon sticks on her glasses so she can read the menu and there’s something almost endearing about it and the way that her voice sounds like a comedic quacking when she’s not heaving in tears or stirring simmering emotional cauldrons filled with rage. She’s got a fun side, Shannon. Unfortunately, it’s often buried under what I’m gonna go ahead and diagnose as a martyr syndrome coupled with raging insecurity and a very shitty marriage.
Meghan is really pleased that Shannon has been kind to her for the last few weeks and they are in such a good place that Shannon is inviting her to her Aires Party! Could anything (short of having a pap smear while watching a loop of footage of large men getting colonoscopies) be more fun? But will Brooks attend the party? See, that’s the big question, just as it is whenever I throw a party and I worry if I’ll have enough alcohol and whether or not Brooks will show up. The issue seems to be that Vicki has made it very clear that Brooks will not ever show up anywhere Meghan is because Meghan is the devil in a bejeweled headband and Brooks is far too delicate to deal with such a monster. That said, it’s not only Meghan now who is talking about Brooks and his cancer and just how accurate his accounts of having the disease might be. Brooks knows that the population at large is now bandying about how much of what he says about anything is true and he obviously doesn’t want to have to defend himself or be around people who, at best, don’t trust him and, at worst, believe he is faking a deadly disease.
But see, harboring suspicions is one thing. Calling his doctor and saying you also have cancer so you can find out if Brooks is faking his disease is something else entirely – it’s a whole other stratosphere of crazy – and Meghan has piloted her own spaceship to that land and set up camp. Worse than that psychotic move is that she’s telling Shannon all of this, an act that – given their tumultuous history – makes just about no sense and leads me to question just how foolish Meghan is to share this information with a woman who has just barely started to tolerate her and was also the one to tell Vicki that Meghan was the one saying things about Brooks in the first place. But back to Meghan and her investigation. She maintains that the doctor Brooks is claiming to use doesn’t even deal with cancer patients and then it comes out that a while ago Shannon got him an appointment with some amazing oncologist and he never made it to there because of two flat tires. I think his dog might have also eaten his referral slip. As all of this is coming out, Heather doesn’t say too much, but what she does say kind of hits it all on the bleeding head: none of this is their business, but Vicki and Brooks decided to make it their business by confiding in all of them. She’s right, and perhaps nobody said it but what’s also implied here is that it’s our business now too. You’re going to make Brooks’ cancer a story point and allow cameras to follow him as enemas are discussed? Then we get to weigh in and judge now too, but I have to say that doing so feels like no fun at all because it’s all just unbelievably sick or tremendously sad and I should start watching Intervention or commercials for The Humane Society so I can see something more upbeat.
There will be more of a focus on Brooks later, but first it’s time for Tamra’s mother’s date! She might be nervous and all, but I think the camera crew she’s toted with her to the bar must offer her some comfort, as does shaking her breasts from side to side at the table and having her grandson tell her not to fuck on the first date through a little game of charades. Just then Marty, a cute older man, walks in and the two of them sit down together. In under a minute flat, Marty says that he doesn’t have children because “I’m the kid,” which means that Tamra’s mother should strap on a giraffe-printed sports bra and immediately run zebra-like straight for the hills because infantile is only an adorable quality until around the age of four – and that’s only sometimes, like when the infant is sleeping.
At another table, Tamra tells Ryan that Eddie wants the financial assistance she gave to him to be a loan and not a gift. She’s been in this awkward place before, this rock (her kid and his financial issues) and a hard place (whichever husband she’s married to at the time who views her kid as a clear fuck-up). She doesn’t want her relationship with Eddie to be compromised. But first it’s time to compromise her relationship with her son by having a fun little discussion about marriage. Does Ryan want to get married? He’s not sure and it’s because he’s seen her get married a bunch of times and that’s all it takes. All Tamra needs to hear is this tiny bit of truth that maybe she (like everybody else who has ever raised a kid) made some mistakes along the way for tears to shoot into her eyes and make Ryan’s commitment issues all about her even though her kid is making it abundantly clear that he all but committed to a stranger who already had three kids and now they have a child together and the issues are piling up because this is real life and real life presents some issues. Tamra suggests church to solve his issues because it’s church that has made her so kind and happy and easy to deal with and there’s a small chance that a meeting was just spontaneously called by the Pope to figure out how to deal with this issue before it becomes a public relations nightmare from which all organized religions might never recover.
We never really find out what happened on Tamra’s mother’s date, but there’s no time to dwell on whether or not Marty got laid or learned how to tie his own shoelaces because it’s time for Shannon’s Aires Party. The grounds are festooned with elaborate décor and she’s in her cavernous bathroom getting a blowout and just then is when we are launched like a reluctant rocketship into what I like to call The Getting Ready While Talking Shit About the People You’re About to See montage where we cut to all the houses of everybody gearing up for a party the way I gear up to go to a wake. It feels frantic and nobody is terribly excited and there’s a haze of palpable misery in the air. At Vicki’s house, Brooks is putting a bracelet on her wrist and she lets us know that she didn’t tell Brooks about her (latest) fight about him with her daughter because the less he knows the better, though I guess the guy is on his own when the fight airs on Bravo. As for Shannon, she’s anxious. And Meghan tells Jim that she wants to give him “limited information” about what’s in store for the night. She says she’s doing it just so he can stay out of it, though he suggests it’s so he doesn’t yell at her and the chemistry between these people feels more and more desperate daughter/withholding father every time they appear onscreen.
The story Meghan tells him, though, is fairly nuts. She says that she started doing some research as Brooks’ cancer story began to stink like pounds of brussel sprouts that turned rotten. (Listen, I’m really sorry for that kind of scent-filled imagery, but the brussel sprout thing just happened to me the other night and now I think I know what death smells like.) Meghan searched online and found blogs where two of Brooks’ ex-girlfriends claimed he’d faked cancer in the past and so she did some more digging (“Why?” asks Jim – which strikes me as a very fair question) and then she attempted to actually call Brooks’ ex. It wasn’t even that hard! She just called someone she knows who called someone else who called ten other people and before you can say “lunatic,” Meghan was texting a woman Brooks used to sleep with before Vicki became the luckiest woman on the planet as long as it’s opposite day.
(Random aside: there was a commercial during this episode for an upcoming Bravo event called Theresa Checks In about Theresa Giudice, the NJ Housewife who has no forehead, being locked up in prison and how her family is dealing with it. The commercial heavily featured her husband, a man I think is so evil that he surely pisses a cocktail of bile and acid rain and I would have to be strapped down and then maybe shot to watch even a second of that show.)
But back in the esoteric programming land that is the Orange County Housewives, we can see that Shannon’s enormous backyard is fully decorated and there’s even a dragon floating in the pool and what could possibly go wrong when you’re at an event where you can order an “Airestini”? Everyone shows up smiling and they are all wearing either red or black and I figured it was due to Aires being a fire sign. I will talk zero shit about such a thing as I greatly respect people who follow a theme, especially if the theme is fire and that means that the desserts will be served on flaming platters because the only thing better than pie is pie served with some panache. But then Meghan walks in and she’s dressed all in blue so maybe the red/black thing was just a coincidence and I was just about to question the validity of every thought I’ve ever had when Jim scoffed at Meghan, who waved as she walked in, “You’re waving to no one,” and that bit of fluffy verbal abuse comforted me in a way because at least it proved that I’m not wrong about everything and this guy is most definitely a prick. Meghan shows up with a hostess gift of alcohol, as it’s always best to know one’s audience, and Shannon appreciates the gesture, though I think we all know that it’s only a matter of time before these two hate one another again.
Shannon confides in Heather (and a camera crew) that she feels almost queasy about all the information that is coming up about Brooks and into the about-to-be fray walk the other women. Shannon really wants to be loyal to Vicki and not talk about her or her boyfriend, but she’s really wary by now about what is real and so is Heather. For me, Heather is the woman on this show who exhibits the most consistently high levels of mental intelligence and emotional intelligence. And when she begins to doubt something, I feel like I can hear a chorus of incredibly wealthy angels singing a ditty in the distance warning us to heed her melodic warnings.
Meghan tells the others about getting into contact with Brooks’ former girlfriend and the reactions to her story – which she delivers so matter of factly that I actually laughed – is that the women are stunned that Meghan has taken it to this invasive level. Personally, I think Meghan should have stayed out of it because she’s coming off as a girl who wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel when she was a kid but wound up a rich and bored housewife, not someone who is concerned about Vicki or Brooks or cancer patients or truth and the whole thing – from every perspective – just feels gross.
Brooks actually knows about the contact between Meghan and his ex because his ex let Brooks know what happened. She sent him the texts Meghan sent her and Brooks has told Vicki about all of it. As he’s explaining how Meghan has gone searching through his past, I wanted to feel sorry for him, but even if he is telling the truth, he comes off as oddly smarmy and hard to believe. Maybe that’s not his fault, though. Maybe that’s just his face and Brooks suffers from some facial disorder where he always looks like he’s lying in much the way Ray Liotta’s face always reminds you that he is very possibly a man who sleeps with a firearm.
Heather, Meghan, Shannon, Lizzie, and Tamra are in a huddle at the party talking about the latest news in Brooks and how everything he’s ever said now sounds fishy when Vicki walks in. Heather wanders away immediately; she doesn’t want to do the disingenuous hug thing after being in a coven-like circle while talking shit about her. Shannon does hug Vicki hello but seems to lack the ability to hide even an iota of a feeling so she acts weird and withdrawn upon Vicki’s entrance but it’d be hard to spend much time worrying about how Shannon will handle any of it because Tamra is so clearly ready to blow. She is a fuse that’s been wound tight and it’s about to be doused with kerosene and Aqua Net and Brooks will be the match that will get her to explode across the midnight sky in a way that would only make sense at a fiery Aires Party. Tamra is just waiting for Brooks to make the wrong move so she can attack, and since it’s Brooks, that moment will happen relatively quickly.
“If I even question Vicki and ask, ‘Does Brooks have cancer?’ she will freak out so I don’t know what to do,” worries Tamra. Here’s an idea: say nothing or only say something off camera. That’s being a friend, Tamra. Now go share this information with your prayer circle.
During the brief interlude, we see Jim in action at the party. The footage clearly comes from soon after his most recent testosterone injection and he is standing in a circle of worshiping Housewife Husbands who are hanging on his every syllable because the guy will possibly one day be a Hall of Famer and men care about shit like that while on the their side of the party, the cancer summit is still going strong. If I ended up at that party, I think I’d choose to dive into the pool and just tread water beside the dragon.
Brooks is not having the best time at this party. He tells Vicki that he feels out of place and he wants to address the self-appointed private investigator in the room so he walks over to Meghan and Jim and says as he’d like a moment to speak with them as a couple. (I’d pay to watch him say grace before their couples’ meeting.) They all sit down and Brooks takes the lead and asks Meghan what her motivation is for being so vocally distrustful about his illness.
“It breaches my boundaries,” he tells her about how she has reached out to people from his past, and I’m betting that it does breach some boundaries, but it’s hard to begin any sentence that way when you are so willingly a reality television participant and you have already annihilated your boundaries for a hint of fame.
“I never said that you were faking; I said that there were holes,” Meghan responds.
Meghan maintains her composure and so does Brooks during a conversation that should not be happening anywhere ever.
“I lost my mom. My boyfriend has stage three cancer. Can you give us a flipping break?” asks Vicki and I have to say that the woman’s got a motherflipping point and as all of this is going on, Jim is examining his nails and wondering if his assistant or one of his ex-wives can set up a grooming appointment for him.
Brooks is annoyed that Meghan’s information comes from a psychic and an ex-penned blog and that she’s taking those things to be gospel, but Meghan has moved for a moment beyond the cancer and wants to know if something Tamra told her is true. Did Brooks tell Tamra that Jim told him that only two of their four months of marriage have been happy? (I think Meghan is missing the point here. Anyone who has watched them interact would have bet that there have maybe been two happy days, not two happy months. This is really a compliment, not an insult, my dear.) At any rate, Brooks denies saying such a thing and he tells Meghan to “consider the source,” which is a succinct way of saying, “Tamra is a fucking bitch who has never liked or trusted me and I’d have muzzled her by now, but the woman who allows me to live in her house said she wants to be friends with Tamra again because she likes to have allies during production time.” Meghan takes his words as meaning that Tamra has no credibility and Vicki would like Meghan to stay the hell out of their lives and nothing is resolved and everyone looks worse than they did before the conversation even started.
Meghan immediately runs over to tell Tamra what was just said about her and Tamra’s eyes go dark and this is it! It’s time for Tamra to have a practice run at her upcoming exorcism and it will happen at this Aires Party, dammit, even as Jim tells his wife, “You have to stop,” and God, I hate agreeing with that guy about anything, but he’s right. Meghan is out of control.
“Where’s Brooks?” Tamra shouts sarcastically and then tells Vicki that she has been his only supporter (for the last few months at least – before that, she publicly called him terrible names, many of which he perhaps deserved). “You said ‘consider the source.’ What the fuck does that mean?” Tamra asks Brooks, her confrontation mast already fully filled with wind and the kind of confidence that only comes from being a hot grandmother who has already downed three Airestinis.
“It means whatever you want it to mean,” Brooks drawls to her, which is probably a sentence that has worked on desperate or needy women in the past – but Tamra is far more pissed off at the moment than she is desperate or needy for anything besides better friends and she would like a fucking answer stat or Brooks will not be invited to her baptism. Vicki tries to stop the fight by telling Tamra that she’s acting like a fool and as all this goes on, Meghan watches with her arms folded and a smug smile on her lips and Eddie eats clumsily with chopsticks while Vicki begs Tamra to maintain the kind of decorum neither one has ever once exhibited while conscious.
But at least the Airestinis look delicious, so let’s raise a glass and toast to friendship, loyalty, trust, and a cancer diagnosis nobody much buys anymore. Cheers!
Nell Kalter is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.