Tonight, on the epic finale of RHONJ, Caroline finally proves she’s Manzo enough to stand up to Danielle. Well, okay, not literally stand. Like many a housewife before her, she takes the fight to one of North Jersey’s many fine-dining establishments and stealthily sits on her butt in wait, trying not to think about bread sticks. Also, she never gets around to ordering. Did we say it was epic? Okay, not exactly. As this season of RHONJ progressed, it became painfully clear that the show was nothing more than a premise in search of a plot, with the housewives entertaining altogether different ideas of what kind of dramatic experience they were expected to deliver. Caroline thought she was in the Godfather trilogy, Jacqueline in The Sopranos, Teresa in Goodfellas, Danielle in Scarface, and Dina in a memorable, but ultimately baffling, turn as Dr. Evil in Austin Powers.
The lack of dramatic unity, combined with the housewives’ unwillingness to spend any time examining some of their more compelling, character-based troubles (Teresa turns out to be the Emma Bovary of North Jersey, and the tragedy goes tragically unexploited by Bravo!), resulted in the ladies flogging the same, tired story line as they swanned around their KB Homes Versailles in order to meet their end of the dubious bargain: Bitchy “in” clique gangs up on alienated psycho lady as psycho lady, unhinged by (let’s face it) somewhat justified paranoia, plots her florid revenge. Ultimately, despite an attempt to extract learnings, we learned very little. Tonight, for instance, we learned that “Italian food isn’t fattening,” that Teresa’s house is “not in foreclosure” despite $11 million in debt, and that Ashley’s “on her own little thing,” and we found the education, frankly, lacking.
Meanwhile, Danielle, insatiable succubus of North Jersey, sucker of souls and sapper of life forces, was more than delighted to get the Manzo “mater-riarch’s” text. Because she’s a “mater-riarch,” herself, don’tcha know. Of two increasingly startled and shell-shocked children, to whom she’s now also acting as “mom-ager,” in addition to her duties as their designated scarrer-for-life. (Oh yes. In a move we’re sure was entirely self-motivated, little Jillian is now “pursuing a music career” and forsaking what remained of her Dickensian contemporary childhood to win her mother’s approval.) Will Danielle meet Caroline at a restaurant to discuss whatever? Darn tootin’ she will, even if it upsets little Jillian, who doesn’t like it and doesn’t see the point. Kids are so stupid. Thank God Danny Provenzano can always be counted on to race over whenever Danielle feels a Manzo-inspired bile attack coming on, to help find the locus of her paranoia and massage it until it blooms. He’s such a sweetheart.
“It would have to be their boss, no? I mean, Caroline?” he says, validating Danielle’s persecutory (yet kind of valid) delusion that the other characters are consistently casting her as the villain and intending to take her down, or at least ignore her, which amounts to the same thing. “She’s the strongest. She’s their boss. The puppeteer is Caroline. She’s the ruling party, there’s no question about that. They do what she dictates. I believe that.”
Were that friend Danny were right. (And, seriously, is she ever going to reward Danny P. for his efforts? Maybe with sex tape No. 3? Because we feel the pain just watching him.) Alas, despite some halfway decent concluding moments — Danielle reminding Caroline that she’s not “Carmelo” Soprano, Caroline calling Danielle a clown and the exchange that followed (“You know what you are? You’re a clown, Danielle.” “I’m a clown. Really?” “Your whole life is a joke.” “You’re saying this, sitting there with red hair? I’m the clown?” “Yes, you are.” “Really?” “Yeah.”) — the show’s most intriguing moments actually took place off-camera: the auctioning off of Teresa’s awful stuff; the country club banning the housewives from the premises forever; Ashley’s being sentenced to pay a $189 fine (actually, we take that back: Ashley is never fun, no matter what the circumstances); the wrapping of Joe’s car around three trees and a pole; the actual kicking of Albie out of law school; whatever it was that actually happened with Dina; whatever that hint was Danielle dropped about the Manzos’ friends being under investigation; the firing of Danielle from next season; the extortion of Danielle by another ex-con named Danny; the negotiations surrounding tangential media products like memoirs, cookbooks, and sex tapes; and many more things that we’ve forgotten or haven’t heard about yet. We could have stood for more of those.