Was the inaugural season of The Real Housewives of Orange County really only four years ago? It seems like so much longer. Thinking about it makes us hearken back to another time, a simpler time, when superficiality, shallowness, fame-whoring, and greed could still come across as clueless and un-self-aware, and therefore somewhat innocent. We said "somewhat."
But those days are gone, and in their stead, on shows like on The Real Housewives of D.C., you will find people like the Salahis and that crazy Cat lady. It’s hard to know what to make of them. Why did they come here from their distant planets and what do they hope to gain? Have they come for our brains? Our souls? Our capacity for love and human empathy? Because we fear them, we really do. And it's not like we don’t realize that we’re talking about a docu-soap ring-mastered by the irrepressibly intoxicated Andy Cohen, in a docu-soap franchise that long ago jumped the shark. But back when we were getting that thrilling first glimpse of “life behind the gates” at “Coto” — well, at least it was like someone had lifted an actual rock and found a fascinating swarm of tiny, spineless, brainless, label-obsessed cannibals. It was believable. And, like we said, innocent. Ish.
Now, though, it’s like every Thursday night we turn on the light and the roaches rush in from the far corners of the room, gather in the middle of the floor, and start stabbing each other in the back between air kisses and lunch invitations. It’s disgusting. Anyway, at first we didn’t get the vibe, and then we started to get all clammy and worried, and it dawned on us that the RHODC is starting to play like some kind of Bush-era parody, what with all the double-crossing, and the double-dealing, and the blatant denials of reality and the paranoia.
Holy Ping-Pong balls, the paranoia! The seeping dread! The relentless subterfuge! At one point, Mary (the Botoxy one with delusions of hotness), mentions the saying about D.C. being Hollywood for ugly people (a problem she would remedy by de-uglifying the people via more “celebrity” hair salons). Not only does she miss the point of the criticism entirely, but she gets the saying backwards. Hollywood is D.C. for pretty people who are also open, trusting, secure, and sincere.
Tonight’s episode was pure stealth, too, kicking off as it did with a bacon breakfast at the home of the diminutive Mary and her lover Ebong and her passel of adorable adolescents in toddler suits. Okay, there is a closeness there, a recognizable humanity that dissipates almost instantly, first during the weird roundtable Stacie holds with her sorority sisters, who gather to quietly freak out that Stacie’s mom — quel scandale! — is a Caucasian immigrant “from Germany and Finland” and her father is Nigerian. Does it make her Obama-esque in her friends’ eyes at least? Nope.
But who cares. In the next scene, Michaele Salahi is bounding into Ted’s salon, opening and wrapping herself around the celebrity hair comber like a piece of string in a hurricane hitting a tree. “I love you!” she croaks. “D.C. loves you! We needed you! We needed you!” This doesn’t sit well with Mary, who demands that her influence be acknowledged early and often. “I love you so much,” she murmurs as Ted the celebrity bang trimmer brings her in for a bear hug. The guy is sweating it. We have to say, we’re really starting to feel bad for these poor D.C. celebrity groomers. Their lady clients are so needy and insecure and high-maintenance it’s exhausting just watching them have to dance on command. They're living in the emotional equivalent of dating Alanis Morissette without the sexual light at the end of the tunnel.
But on the bright side, we think we’re starting to get how this all works. It’s all about influence, are we right? RHODC is D.C. for stupid people (who are also D.C.-hot)! So let’s see if we can find our bearings:
ACT ONE: In which the foundation gets laid, bitches.
Mary loves Ted the hairdresser, at least as long as he makes it clear that she’s his favorite client. “I just want to make sure that you know that I know,” she says. “I would never forget,” he replies. Clearly, there’s a dossier involved somewhere, and at the moment it’s wrapped around his balls. “Who is No. 1 here?”
Lynda and Michaele greet each other fondly at the salon kickoff party. (These people really like to party with their “service providers,” it’s like an obsession.*) They proclaim their love. They proclaim their admiration for one another’s hotness. Lynda savages Michaele behind her back the minute she gets a chance.
Mary hates Michaele for stealing Ted’s attention. She tells the Cat lady, “I hate people who do charity events just to promote themselves! It’s one of my biggest pet peeves in this town Social climbers!” The Cat lady rabidly laps it up. Her eyes go wide as twirling saucers. She is out of her mind with malicious glee. “I despise social climbing!” she says, forgetting all about last week, when she immediately rappelled away from Stacie’s aunt’s dinner party.
“In D.C., there’s a certain standard of integrity,” Mary says, and we really start to worry about our children’s future.
Michaele calls Lynda to invite her to a grape stomp at Oasis winery. Maybe it’s an oasis from the sixteen lawsuits the Salahis are named in. They talk about the weather until this just gets too one-uppy and competitive. Lynda can’t make it because her son has a football game. Also, she really hates Michaele. She tells Michaele she’s sweet. They make a date for lunch and declare their love. Lynda doesn’t bother to come up with the grape-stomping equivalent for “goat rodeo,” which is our loss.
The Cat lady has already accepted the invite by then, but only if she can bring her celebrity hair painter friend, Jason. Then Jason and Cat accompany Mary to her “best friend’s” design store, where she tells them that she plans to paint her dining room high-gloss black. Cat tears her to shreds. Mary asks her to remember that they are in her “best friend’s store,” and some respect is in order. Later, at the Salahis winery, Mary will avow she has no “best friend,” only “dearest friends,” including of course her various style providers.
ACT TWO: In which the claws are bared and waved around menacingly.
At the store, Jason finally gets to share his story about how the Salahis invited him and Ted to the Congressional Black Caucus dinner, and then had them sneak in through a side door. He tells them about how Michaele worked the room until five or six secret service guys come over to escort her and Tareq out, and how they continue to schmooze even as they are being escorted out. “Seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jason says. “Brazen. Fascinating!” Then he says they sneaked back in again and ended up in the VIP area. Where the president is, apparently.**
Next day, Stacie, Cat, and the two Jasons pile into a limo with Mary. They crack open a bottle of wine and proceed to whip each other into a tizzy of contempt and paranoia. It’s like a tea party on wheels.
Michaele announces that it’s a special day for a grape stomp, the first “since [their] victory” over Tareq’s mother, who sued her son for control of the winery. (She declines to say that Tareq sued his mother first, and the case was dismissed, then the mother sued Tareq, and the case went to trial and she lost.) It’s such a special day that Tareq’s mother has called a reporter to stake the place out, and Tareq and Michaele have hired a security detail.
Tareq calls his incoming guests to warn that there will be security present. No cause for alarm. His incoming guests freak out. Jason fills Stacie and Jason in on the Black Caucus dinner; they all freak out again. They exit the limo on a toxic cloud of Salahi contempt. Soon Cat is yelling “bollocks” all over the place. Mary, who has been privy to the table grapes and the security detail and the Congressional Black Caucus dinner and the party crashing and the using of the wine as a bartering chip, turns on Cat. She believes that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should say it behind the person’s back, with the rolling cameras and the flattering light. Mary snaps at Cat, and Cat leaves early, yelling “bollocks” on her way out.
ACT THREE: Showdown, bitches.
Tareq launches into another sales pitch as Mary sits next to Michaele and starts talking smack about Cat. “My position is I don’t judge,” she says. Stacie and Jason try to change the subject. Mary drinks to “staying in the moment.” Then she brings up the party crashing, and things start to get really hard to follow.
Mary, who was aligned with Cat against the Salahis is now aligned with the Salahis against Cat until Michaele starts talking about Lynda, which leads Mary to attack Michaele for talking about her. At first, Michaele waxes libertarian on the subject: “It’s good when people talk about you, it means you’re out there.” Stacie does a spit take: “Oh, you’re out there!”
“Remember,” Michaele continues, unflapped, “at the party I threw for Paul?”
She doesn’t live in the reality-based community, see? She also says, “I don’t know Lynda very at all,” and Mary says, “I don’t know her well at all either,” and we think what? We thought they loved each other. They went way back to the makeup counter. What about dearest friendom? What about integrity? What about slowing down so we can follow? Then it’s a few more rounds through Lynda having the “best intentions for everyone” and “adoring” Michaele, and it goes on like this for some time. We start to feel like we’re in the Housewife version of Guantanamo.
It gets uglier. “You have no idea what is going on in someone’s life,” Mary says to Michaele. “You can’t just bash them ” Michaele smiles a smile that’s so sweet and open and fake it’s actually sinister. Dick Cheney has nothing — nothing — on this woman. She would shoot you in the face for a ticket to a luncheon. “Who bashed you, love?” she says, and ice courses through our veins. Meanwhile, Tareq chews in silence. He drinks. He thinks. Michaele is now in fully passive-aggressive mode, all sweetness and sarcasm. Then Tareq drops a bomb to be revealed next week ... and by the looks of the preview, it's going to be dirty.
*Later, at the winery, one of Tareq’s “service providers” will call Cat a bitch, thus offending Stacie’s husband, Jason, who hates Cat and agrees she’s a bitch.
**Does this mean we can expect to see the president on RHODC at some point? Because after seeing Nancy Pelosi and Leon Panetta on Top Chef, we don’t know what to think.