The Real Housewives of Atlanta
There’s a lot of chatter about “prestige television” and “the Golden Age of television” and hour-long dramas that feel more like novels than television shows, whatever that means. Those hour-long dramas usually star white people in amazing real estate, staring out the window while contemplating their own inadequacies over a Rolling Stones song. But if the definition of “prestige television” doesn’t include The Real Housewives of Atlanta, what are we even doing here? If this wasn’t one of the best single episodes of television you watched all year, what on Earth are you watching? I kept shouting out loud, “THIS IS AMAZING TELEVISION” — half to my boyfriend and half to the universe. I had to thank the universe for rewarding us with this astounding Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion.
I mean, come on. This. Was. High. Quality. Television. The characters! The drama! The pathos! When Porsha broke down. When Kandi blew up. When Kenya said, “I’m not taking it today, Tuesday at four or even Friday at one.” This episode had it all.
This episode wasn’t the conclusion of a novel. It wasn’t just the season finale of a reality TV show. This was a tragedy. There was a unity of time: We watched it unfold in close to real time. There was unity of place: It all took place in one location. There was unity of subject: It was all about Phaedra’s bullshit. She was the tragic figure to be undone by her one tragic flaw — her lies. This is a French Baroque tragedy of the highest order. This is Bravo’s Le Cid or Phèdre. I wish someone could take some credit for the fact that the tragic actor falling from grace in this episode is named “Phaedra,” a Greek tragic heroine. The preview to the episode laid out all the traps that Phaedra has laid for herself and as savvy watchers we knew this would be the episode where it would all fall apart.
Yes, this episode is where it all falls apart. The final part of this reunion starts with Porsha trying to get Phaedra to admit the source of the Kandi drug allegations. Porsha asserts that Phaedra told Porsha that Kandi told Phaedra that Kandi wanted to drug Porsha. Phaedra, in turn, asserts that she “repeated it because [she] heard it.” WAIT. WHAT? That’s the best you got, Phaedra? After all this time? The best defense or explanation for yourself is … that you heard it somewhere. I don’t believe that Porsha would make up the detail that Kandi told Phaedra without Phaedra feeding it to her.
When everyone starts pressing Phaedra more, Porsha can’t handle it and she tries to walk off. Porsha says that Phaedra gave her the same line two days ago. Porsha understands the severity of the accusation after being served a cease-and-desist letter from Kandi and says she wouldn’t repeat it if she didn’t trust Phaedra. So now, Porsha is realizing that Phaedra used her to get back at Kandi. This causes Porsha to explode in tears.
Porsha keeps repeating, “I gotta know a motive behind this,” through tears, while Kandi gets more upset and says that she doesn’t do drugs or even drink. Phaedra has to reckon with the fact that she started a rumor that Kandi is a rapist.
Then Phaedra quietly says to herself, “So now I’m the dang-gone villain,” with a self-righteous shrug. THAT MOMENT IS BETTER THAN ANYTHING THAT HAS NEVER BEEN ON THE WIRE. DON’T @ ME.
Kandi tries to run off and everyone tries to calm her down. Porsha is weeping. Phaedra can’t stop twisting her lips like a little kid who was just caught stuffing her bad grades under her bed. Everyone retreats backstage to just have a moment. The set is empty. Shamea and Porsha sit down and Shamea starts by going, “I’m not here to tell you ‘I told you so.’” Better than Breaking Bad. Do not @ me. Porsha is also upset that Phaedra let everyone think she’s stupid enough to repeat that story and I’m over here like, “Well…”
Everyone is walking around in slippers being trailed by their hair and makeup staff, stunned that Phaedra would go that far. Andy sits down with Phaedra and decides that Porsha needs to apologize to Kandi and find out why Phaedra would do something like that. Phaedra goes to see Porsha backstage and Phaedra keeps repeating, “I shouldn’t have repeated it.” That’s not the issue, Phaedra. Everyone sees through that part, Phaedra. Andy goes to see Kandi in the bathroom and she’s understandably livid.
Back on set, Andy asks Phaedra if she ever thought if what she did was right and if she never thought about what would happen. Phaedra’s response? “I made a rash decision.” That you kept repeating over and over to Porsha? Kandi rightly says that Phaedra never would have owned up to it since she didn’t own up to it in Hawaii. Porsha asks Phaedra if she was ever gonna stop the madness. Then Phaedra takes history’s longest pause and says, “…I’m sorry.” Phaedra even says, “If Porsha says I said it, then I have to say yes.” GIRL. She says it was bad judgement. GIRL. It’s not bad judgement. It’s starting a rumor about someone wanting to commit rape because … fun?
Andy asks Porsha if Phaedra told her the “Marvin” rumors. Porsha turns to Phaedra and says, “Did you tell me that Marvin thing?” Phaedra says yes.
Then there’s an e-mail from some dude named Marvin who claims that the Marvin rumor gets him laid, which is all the evidence we need that those emails are fake. After that, there’s a little package about Phaedra and Kandi’s relationship that feels anticlimactic at this point. Kandi and Phaedra argue about the Johnnie lawsuit, which also feels like small potatoes after everything that’s happened. Meanwhile, Phaedra tries to make up some story about Mama Joyce and Kandi spreading rumors about her having sex. Girl, we do not care if you have sex. Whatever image Phaedra has to keep up for her own self-satisfaction is her business, but no one is buying that you have a girlfriend called “White Chocolate” and that’s whom you were texting. Or that you were texting a man you’ve never met for emotional encouragement.
It’s just so much more interesting if Phaedra is a real person with complexities and contradictions, but her efforts to remain pristine and wholly good are what make her a tragic character. No one is all good. We’re fine if you’re complicated, but everyone hates a fake.
In the end, Porsha still feels betrayed, Kandi feels vindicated but disappointed, Phaedra is alone, and Cynthia is loving her flirty 50s.