It's fitting that this week's Real Housewives of New Jersey starts with Teresa's post-prison press conference. Just like last week's episode, everything is all about Teresa Giudice. The other women are onscreen only when they find ways to relate to Tre — with the slight exception of Melissa, who is actually related to her, so she gets a small subplot.
I said it last week and I'll say it again … wait, that was something about Jacqueline. I forgot, I'm so bored. No tea, no shade, hunties! I liked Jax in the first couple of seasons, when she played Ethel to Teresa's Lucy, and I even forgave her two-facedness with Danielle. I mean, was she really that two-faced? I think Jacqueline was just, as Neil Diamond would say, "caught between two shores." She just made the mistake of betting on the wrong horse in the Great Teresa–Caroline War of 2013. To those who think I'm some kind of Teresa apologist, let's be clear: I'm not saying anything about who was right. Caroline certainly made a better case for herself on TV, but Jackie chose wrong. I don't see her with an arc on Manzo'd With Children. And from that fateful table turn, Teresa has been good TV.
So Jackie's back, but in the unfortunate position of having no relevance other than as Teresa's foil. Pardon the tasteless reference, but remember when the news showed images of Palestinians celebrating after September 11? (OR WAS IT STOCK FOOTAGE THE SENSATIONALIST MEDIA USED TO STIR UP FEAR AND RATINGS?) That's basically how Jacqueline has been used during the last couple of years: thumbing though People, watching Teresa's press coverage, vacillating between fake sympathy (the tears, the eyeliner, ugh, I can't) and snarky remarks. But maybe Jacqueline isn't that bad? Maybe I'm just having separation anxiety. My father left when I was nine and I'm scared to get attached to Jacqueline, since I don't expect her to last through next season.
It's too early to tell if the new Housewives, Siggy (who gets next to no screen time) and Dolores (who continues to be fun), are here for the duration, but the season still needs to settle in and let the Teresa's out-of-jail dust fall. Once that happens, we can get down to meat and potatoes, or spaghetti and meatballs.
In the perfunctory not-about-Teresa story line, we get the classic "business woman" subplot we've seen for years. (Remember how Ramona liked making her own money?) Now, I don't feel great making light of Melissa's work. As a Caucasian cis-male (sissy notwithstanding), I can only imagine the obstacles women face. Actually, I don't have to imagine — we see it when Joe acts bizarrely chauvinist about his wife's career. It does seem set up, though. (Ya think?) Why didn't he bring up these "I want my wife at home" issues before he built her boutique? There's always been a jovial, jokey (although potentially still damaging) quality to Joe's belittling of Melissa, but in this episode, it veers closer to that Richie-Kathy business from a couple of years ago, which was gross.
Speaking of Kathy, she's notably silent when Jacqueline receives a reach-out-and-touch-make-this-world-a-worser-place call from Teresa. Fan favorite Rosie gets piss-drunk and pissed off that Teresa shut her out, then rages around Jacqueline's kitchen spilling bourbon. It's not fair that Rosie's getting the cold shoulder — she's certainly right to feel hurt — but the Kathy situation was unfortunate. Teresa was cold to Kathy from the start, the same way I am when a gross weirdo moves in next door. Can you really blame Teresa for this? We all have a right to hang out with whom we choose. Still, it was inevitable that Kathy would stop trying and side with Caroline in the war. It's a little ridiculous that Tre is so unforgiving of that choice. I'm not saying she should like it, but the hell-hath-no-fury routine is hard to get behind. Anyway, good on Kathy for laying low and seeing how this all pans out.
Back to Teresa. Her stories get the most screen time, of course, but even Teresa's life is a subplot to the main event: her dramatic return. It's cute to see her welcomed back with open arms at the nail salon, and it's touching when she hugs her dad for the first time in a year. I even fell for the whole Joe and Gia fight about going out on New Year's Eve. (First, I was on Gia's side and liking how progressive Teresa is, then I realized Gia's freaking 14 years old, and wound up Team Joe.) But the big scene is the Teresa-Melissa treaty in the kitchen on Christmas Eve.
Yet again, Teresa maddeningly refuses to own anything. The good news is that peace is still in sight, because Melissa is in a position to make it work. Here's the thing about Teresa that none of these women seem to get: They talk about her being superficial and phony, but that's not really the case. Teresa has a rigid, earthbound view of life. (She's a Taurus, after all.) In her mind, gestures, formal apologies, and declarations of love or sentiment are important. Back at the infamous christening, when she came over to her estranged brother and sister-in-law to say congratulations, they mistook it as some insincere play for the cameras. I think Teresa meant it, though. When she does the right thing, sometimes it's a little graceless — sure, maybe she had to swallow her pride or eat some crow to come say that — but she honestly believed it was an important thing to do. It's an Old World warfare kind of attitude. Even when Tre says to Melissa, "Fine, if that's what you need to hear, I'll admit I was slightly to blame, too," she's considering that an actual concession. What's ridiculous, though, is that she holds Melissa to a higher standard. But maybe Teresa knows it's not fair. Melissa, however understandably, was Team Caroline. Unlike Jacqueline, Melissa can come back to the fold, but her surrender must be unconditional.
Anyway, I think they're in a better place. At dinner, when Melissa has questions about the rules of her house arrest, Teresa is characteristically cagey, but when Melissa asks why Teresa won't be photographed by the paparazzi, she confides quite candidly that she's given an exclusive to another publication. For her, that's opening up. They're finally friends — at least for now. Fingers crossed.