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The Real Housewives of New Jersey Recap: Anatomy of a Brawl

Note: The Subtext Translator is currently on break after the last exhausting Housewives run. Not to worry, because judging by the season premiere of Real Housewives of New Jersey, all subtext has taken a break too!

The season opens with the Giudices arriving at a reception venue called the Manor, florid signage and all. Baby Audriana has so many feathers on her headpiece, it’s like somebody told that poor kid she was going to the royal wedding instead of her cousin Joey’s Christening. For the first time, we meet Melissa Gorga, mother of Joey and Teresa’s estranged sister-in-law, and I totally respect her for squeezing in her baby’s baptism before a huge night at the slots, which is the only logical explanation for her wearing a hot-pink mini-toga with bedazzled neckline and chainwork to this event.

Teresa comes over to her brother Joe’s table to congratulate him on this holiest of days, and you can already see trouble brewing in Joe Gorga’s eyes. And by trouble, I mean a lot of alcohol. It’s like his eyeballs are submarine windows and you can actually see them lowering into an ocean of alcohol. When Joe hears the word “congratulations,” it’s as if Teresa has hit upon a deep Clockwork Orange trigger that someone implanted in his subconscious, and immediately he’s shaking as he orders Teresa to “just walk away. Go.” She doesn’t back off, so he takes that Gorga intensity up a notch by growling at her that she’s “garbage,” and when even that doesn’t do the job, he goes ahead and violently pounds the table with both fists. I’m bracing for a full-on table flipping when Teresa’s husband, Joe Giudice, decides that he wants to get up in the mix. And then it’s Joe (!!) on Joe (!!) as …

the show cuts to a title card reading “One Week Earlier.”
I’m guessing this 500 Days of Summer approach is supposed to create procedural suspense by taking us back through the clues of what Teresa did to bring on Joe’s double-fisted game of Whac-A-Mole, but it also makes the rest of the story lines feel completely inconsequential. Once I’ve seen the baptism party, I’ve just got to get back there. And it doesn’t help that the other women’s story lines are extremely quiet this week, so let’s get them out of the way.

Caroline Manzo’s grown boys, Albie and Chris, are finally moving out into their own apartment, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see cheap carpeting and vertical blinds on this show, because the eye needs a rest every once in a while from marble and gilding. Caroline starts to cry about Chris being “her baby,” and those words are like my own “congratulations” trigger because I also have a mom who thinks I’m 12-months-old, but just weirdly articulate and mobile for my age. I love Caroline and she’s looking fantastic, but it’s time to let your grown men go and masturbate into their own towels, you know?

Back at the Manzo mansion, the whole family’s making a southern dinner, dissing southerners by accusing them of doing pasta sauce from the jar, but I didn’t see anyone around that kitchen island hand-cutting lard for those biscuits! Chris decides to really turn the knife in his mom’s back about his future absence by pulling out a “Cajun” accent that totally slays her, but the accent is pretty much just a bad Popeye crossed with Sling Blade. Caroline brings up Chris’s “wit” as evidence that he’s going to do great in the world, and that right there is a portrait of a mother’s love: It’s blinder and deafer than the family’s aging dog.

Over dinner, Caroline decides to press her daughter Lauren’s boyfriend Vito about when he’s going to Zales, and Vito is about as romantic as an Excel spreadsheet because he “has a timeframe.” It must make Lauren swoon to know that Vito’s kind of like a toaster and someday he’s just going to ding with a proposal. Jacqueline and Caroline’s brother Christopher are also at this dinner, and their whole story line this week is about how Jacqueline’s daughter Ashley continues to be clueless and entitled, except now she’s got Lizzie Grubman to mentor her.

Earlier in the episode, Jacqueline went to visit Ashley at her Grubman internship and gave her a public dressing-down because Ashley suggested that her mom should fund a move to Manhattan, even though Ashley is making a little under zero dollars per hour. I say a “little under” because Lizzie is chemical peeling her way to subcutaneous tissue, and having to see that every morning is like a wage deduction. When Ashley starts crying, Lizzie rushes to hug her while squealing, “Why are you crying? Noooooo,” which tells me that there is no chance for Ashley to undergo any amount of personal growth at that company. The best thing anybody could do for her at this point would be to laugh in her face every time she demands something without earning it. Jacqueline is starting to understand this, but there’s also the sense that it’s just too late — that instead of giving Ashley an SUV for doing kiiiiiind of average in summer school, they should have tried to get her cast on Survivor.

And now, at last, we can get back to Teresa Giudice and the satellite players in the Saga of the Christening Congratulations. Before returning to the big-ticket action, the show brings us up to date on what’s been going on with Teresa during the hiatus (bankruptcy) and gives a more lengthy introduction to Melissa Gorga and cousin Kathy. All you need to know is that Juicy Joe’s been working at the pizza shop while Teresa makes bank selling her Skinny Italian books. Gia shows up to her mom’s signing with a fresh blowout, and walks around the table smiling and cheating out like Vanna White going to turn a letter. Joe’s there wearing a shirt with denim side panels like he came over from an apparel class at Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts.

We meet Melissa next, and she’s wearing a purple-fur jacket, which is not the last of purple that you’re going to see from her over the course of this season, I can promise you that. Homegirl loves purple. You can tell she’s one of those people who thinks purple means something. She’s married to Teresa’s brother Joe and they live in a Hugh Hefner–esque 15,000-square-foot home, and I realize that they’re perfect for each other when she describes his “work ethnic” and he, in a totally separate interview, describes her “worth ethic.” Melissa has a habit of making a super-bouncy sign of the cross and throwing kisses to heaven, but she also likes to give regular shout-outs to Jesus, whose name she says like he’s a baby up in heaven. Like she’s just saying, “Jesus,” but somehow there’s a silent coochy-coo in her pronunciation.

There’s also cousin Kathy, but the most notable things about her so far are that she can open her eyes wider than Teresa and she’s married to a Lebanese Jon Lovitz. Honestly, I’m more interested in her teenage kids, who both have mysterious whispers of danger about them. Sixteen-year-old Victoria has glamour shots on her wall in which she’s wearing, alternately, leather and a masquerade mask, and her mom casually remarks that you “don’t mess with her.” Then there’s cute little Joseph, who has “so many friends” and “is such a sweetheart,” but we meet him unsheathing a knife as he relaxes in bed.

In preparation for a return to the baptism reception, the following is my CSI “assembling the clues” montage about why there’s bad blood between the Giudice’s and the Gorgas:

1. Teresa and her brother Joe used to be close, but she feels that his marriage to Melissa pushed her away. He feels that she stopped making an effort to be there for family.
2. (Because both men are Joe G’s, I’m going to go with “Teresa’s Joe” and “Melissa’s Joe” to keep them straight.) Melissa’s Joe is under the belief that Teresa’s Joe has curried the Gorga father’s favor and somehow torn down that relationship.
3. Teresa didn’t invite Melissa and Joe to some book reading/signing. (Believe me, Melissa and Joe, this was a gift. Do you understand how boring book readings are?? I spend so much effort trying to get out of them!)
4. Teresa didn’t tell Melissa that her home was beautiful.
5. Teresa didn’t come to the hospital when baby Joey was born.
6. Teresa threw away some Christmas cookies that Melissa brought over.

These preexisting bad feelings get amplified the day of the Christening when Teresa shows up late to the church and Joe’s not with her. He’s home with a case of diarrhea, and later at the reception, when Melissa’s Joe gets insulted that Teresa’s Joe doesn’t want to slam back shots with him, I’m saying to myself, “Just tell him you had diarrhea! This will all be resolved if you just tell him you had diarrhea!” In my life, I’ve found that people are incredibly sympathetic when you tell them you’ve been on the toilet all morning, and I feel like this would have been the perfect ice breaker for the two Joes. But Teresa’s Joe just keeps that stiff, sweaty upper lip, and everything goes downhill from there.

The kids are in purple vests, purple outfits. There’s so much purple eyeshadow. Melissa’s Joe has got on a purple-silk shirt. There are a lot of purple dresses. Melissa’s in the aforementioned hot-pink number, but I’m guessing it has more lilac in it than what’s reading on-camera. You’ve got your cross ice sculpture, standard. You’ve got your translucent crosses hanging from the branches in the centerpieces like cross-shaped dew. You’ve got the huge diamond cross dangling from Melissa-Joe’s neck.

As previously mentioned, Melissa’s Joe is getting wasted. He has just welcomed his son to God’s kingdom, and you’ve got to wash that down with something. Teresa and her Joe have the nerve to slow dance with Baby Joey (thank God in his kingdom for that "y"), and once they do that, there is no turning back. Some lady comes and rips that baby out of their arms like she’s from Child Services and they were injecting Joey with Botox, but the damage is done. It’s all coming together, like Memento. I just wait to catch up in time.

And then I am back at the pounding of the table, and there’s Teresa’s weakened dad, who is doing his very, very best to ignore the situation and eat his dinner, but his plate is jumping beneath his fork. Melissa’s sister begins screaming “One side! One side!” indicating that even though she and Teresa have done some phone chatting in the past, she is now drawing the line, and Teresa is out there on her own. Except she isn’t. There’s Juicy Joe coming in, swinging at Teresa’s brother for calling his wife a piece of garbage, and he’s got a lot of fight in him for someone who’s probably extremely dehydrated from diarrhea! Once Joe’s got a punch in, suddenly there’s a huge crowd of guys in suits rushing forward in a circle. Being a Jew, the only party reference I have for this is that it looks like the Hora, minus the people up on chairs.

Everybody’s going nuts. Some guy in a blue shirt whom I’ve never seen before is flailing and convulsing with anger while other guys hold him back, and I have no clue what his problem is, but boy, is he scrappy. Women are kicking. Kids are crying. A guttural screech goes up through the Manor ballroom like in Clue: The Movie. The fight has at least three lives because the uproar keeps waxing and waning, and it’s almost comedic, except it’s also psychotic. One of the Bravo cameramen does a spectacular job, continuing to film even after he’s apparently knocked to the floor, and I also appreciate the fine touch of the Bravo editor who inter-cuts a shot of a cross sparkling in a centerpiece.

The episode closes on Melissa’s Joe, his head tipping like a boxer in the last round after a devastating head injury, as he wails at his sick father in Italian out in the lobby. He wants approval. He wants his father to favor him over Teresa’s Joe. He wants love, and he wants to believe in the utmost importance of blood. “You’re my father!” he cries. “My father!” He wails from the bottom of his soul, and the pathos of this scene holds its own against anything that The Sopranos ever submitted for Emmy consideration.

My dog just threw up on the bed next to me, so with that, I’ll see you next week.

Photo: Bravo