A strange thing has happened during this season of Vanderpump Rules, an infomercial for the Shake Weight that never ends. The multiheaded rage hydra of Kristen, Stassi, and Katie has taken a back seat in the action and there is now a considerable void to fill. Yes, we still get Sandoval being ridiculous and shaving his forehead, Ariana being uppity, and DJ James Kennedy being delusional, but we haven’t had any relationship explosions between Schwartz and Katie since their wedding, and since Stassi has a job and a somewhat stable relationship, she is not the walking land mine that she used to be.
What do we have to fill in all of this camera time? Three things: Jax, Lala, and nostalgia. The one that I noticed the most in this episode was the last one. Most of the time the cast spent together involved imagining, reimagining, or struggling to remember the past. They’ve all been together so long that they can’t go on a trip without reliving all of the past trips. Jax can’t have a new business idea without us being reminded of his ill-fated sweater line or his never-launched fitness app that synced with Sonja Morgan’s never-launched line of toaster ovens. We can’t talk about Jax’s current relationship without remembering that almost every single one of his exes is currently a member of the cast.
My favorite moment of the entire episode is when the girls are sitting around at dinner and criticizing the way that Jax treats Brittany. “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. You don’t know what happens in my relationship,” he says to a table that includes Stassi and Kristen, who both know what goes on behind closed doors because they were once behind those doors as well. The shitty way that Jax treats Brittany is the exact same way that he treated them.
Which brings us to Jax, who has been carrying an unfair share of the narrative burden this season, especially since he slept with a former co-worker next to a comatose 93-year-old woman and licked her feet when he achieved climax. I’m not sure that’s exactly what happened, but when the Wall-E people from the future comb through the wreckage of our internet looking to divine just where our culture went wrong, I hope that’s how they remember it.
What is interesting about Jax is that he really does seem like he’s ready to change. He’s seeing his hot reiki teacher Kelsey, who you can tell Brittany hates but won’t say it out loud. He’s trying to get a new job and find a career outside of bartending. He’s realizing the future looks sad and he wants to do something to change course. However, he’s also completely incapable of making that change. Before Jax was always just doing Jax. Now Jax wants to do something other than being Jax, but he can’t figure out a way out of this illusionary life that he’s created for himself. That friction is fascinating to watch.
It all comes out when Kelsey asks him why he’s so anxious about the cast’s upcoming Mexico trip. “What are you fighting at the core?” she asks him. What he wants to say, but can’t, is that he doesn’t want to be on the show anymore. He doesn’t want the screaming, the incriminations, and the meaningless fame. But that is what he based his life on, so he can’t see how he would not want it, either. Kelsey does an expert job diagnosing Jax, but just when I think she’s going to get something accomplished, she says, “So, I brought some rocks for you,” and it all goes out the window like a day-old green juice that has been sitting in your car’s cup holder in the sun.
Watching Jax, while fascinating, can also be exhausting. Take when he’s sitting on the couch, explaining the entry-level social-media job that he’s been offered at a Tampa hockey team. He tells Brittany that he wants to stop living his “Peter Pan lifestyle.” She agrees that she wants him to grow up too and he snaps at her. “I just want you to say, ‘Okay,’” he tells her. Um, Jax does not want to be in a relationship with a person, he just wants an object there that will listen to him and sexually gratify him. He doesn’t need a girlfriend; he needs one of those high-end Japanese sex dolls.
The same thing happens when he and Brittany talk about the job again in Mexico. Jax thinks that by telling Brittany about the job, she has agreed that he should take it. She points out that this should be a discussion between the two of them and that they should come to a decision together. Jax, of course, does not believe that. He is living in a kingdom of one and it will always be that way. Stassi knows it, Lisa knows it, and Scheana knows it. That’s why they’re all counseling Brittany to get out of there because all of Jax’s talk of actually wanting to change is merely platitudes to boost his ever-shriveling ego.
When everyone is at dinner in Mexico and Lala reminds Jax that his girlfriend is a person who has feelings and deserves a voice of her own, Jax tells Lala not to talk to him like that. “I will talk to you however I damn well please,” she spits right back. And that brings us to Lala, the unexpected gem of this season. Last season, I absolutely loathed her and her constant whining about how everyone was mean to her and how she had so much anxiety because she was dating a rich man and she couldn’t talk about it. She has made one of the most miraculous turnarounds in reality-television history.
I don’t know if Lala has changed so much, or if my perspective on her has changed. She’s still loudmouthed, bellicose, and wearing what appears to be a year’s supply of Anastasia Beverly Hills cosmetics on any given day, but now she’s using it not to defend herself but to defend all of the other women on the show from these awful men that seem to be accosting them at every turn. Somehow, Lala turned into a feminist icon in a halter top and it is a look that I love.
The problem with Lala is that she is only interesting in opposition to something else. Sure, her music producer is Sean Too, Alene Too’s younger brother, but I don’t really care about her creative endeavors. We only like Lala when she’s fighting against something or someone — especially something or someone we hate. That might be a long-term problem for her viability as a practitioner of the reality-television arts and sciences.
Of course, other things happen in this episode too. Scheana and Rob work on their e-commerce idea, which is called the Divorce Closet. It is a site where you can sell your ex’s stuff after they leave. Sorry, but that site already exists and it is called Craigslist, or maybe eBay depending on how fancy your ex is. She also finalized her divorce from Shay and told Rob, “The next time I get married, it’s going to be to you.” The whole world let out a collective “Eeek!” as Rob smiled and looked down at his Ultrasuede sectional and wondered how many more times he can bang her before finally breaking up with her.
We also learn a bit more about Adam, the superhot new barback at SUR who Lisa isn’t sure she should promote to being a bartender. “You have to have more talent than being a beautiful specimen to be a good bartender,” Lisa says, but that’s not really true. Yes, bartending takes a certain skill. However, it is a skill that is easily taught and very easily mastered. Being beautiful is not something that one can pick up on the fly. Either you are or you aren’t. It’s one part luck and one part hard work, training, exercise, and diet. If we could, we would all look like the cover of a fitness magazine or at least a Kardashian without any makeup on. But let us not pretend like there is a higher prerequisite for bartending than looking sexy.
Speaking of sexy bartenders, after dinner, Peter and DJ James Kennedy suddenly remembered the private hot tub on Jax and Brittany’s balcony. While everyone squabbled over shots of chilled tequila, they made their way up to the room to check it out. They stripped down to their trunks and were about to get in. Then James whipped off his trunks entirely. “Mexico rules means no bottoms,” he said, walking over to plunge into the pool.
“You sure?” Peter asked, a bit nervous of getting caught.
“Come on, man!” James yelled, ruffling his hand along the surface of the water, sending a wave in Peter’s direction.
“Fuck it,” Peter said, baring all and easing in the water next to James. It all felt natural, but also incredibly awkward. Peter didn’t know what to do, what to say, but something was drawing him toward James, something about the water pulling the mass of their bodies into each other. Before he even knew it, the pair were mostly submerged with just their kissing heads propped out of the water. Peter scooped James up, weightless in the pool, and held his ass to his crotch, James’ legs wrapping around Peter’s firm body as if they were trying to meld into one.
Suddenly, there was a noise next to them and they broke their embrace to look over. Toms Schwartz and Sandoval were standing there naked, looking excited. “Two’s company, but four’s a party,” Tom Sandoval said as they both got into the hot tub and the water exploded over the sides with an excited swoosh.