The past few seasons of Southern Charm have started the same way: We see what happens at the end of filming, and then we flash back three months to find out how things got there. This year, we see Kathryn squabbling with Thomas’s new girlfriend Ashley, who is a match of bitchy wits with the streaky-haired harridan of Charleston. She goes so far as to say that Kathryn is nothing but a “baby momma” and an “egg donor.” It’s rough. But it’s not at all as exciting as watching Craig, Austen, and Shep trying to set up a smoker to cook for a barbecue, a comedy of errors that is so rife with meaning and hilarity that it seems like a lost Noël Coward play.
This season is going to be absolutely insane. We catch up with a brief shot of everyone and learn that Cameran is very, very pregnant, Shep is at Chick-Fil-A (because of course), Craig is redoing a house, Patricia has a giant new engagement ring from a mysterious gentleman, Austen is dunking Oreos in milk like an arrested child, and Kathryn is burning sage in her home to cleanse it and “protect her from assholes.” Yes, Landon and her strangling dolphin voice are nowhere to be seen or heard.
Speaking of which, it seems like she has broken up with Thomas after a short-lived romance at the end of last season. In fact, everyone has broken up with absolutely everyone. Shep broke up with the girl he met on his spinoff RelationShep, Craig and Naomie broke up, Austen and Chelsea broke up, even JD and Elizabeth and Danni and her mysterious baby daddy broke up. The only one who didn’t break up is Cameran. Also, Kathryn should break up with whoever keeps giving her those red streaks in her hair. Wait, doesn’t Chelsea do her hair now? Shouldn’t she start preventing this from happening?
Let’s start with Craig and Naomie, whose breakup was as foreseen and inevitable as the Bitcoin bubble bursting. We see all the lowlights, which are basically Naomie being pissed at Craig for being Craig and Craig feeling bad about it and treating her like crap. I’m just shocked that they’re both still on the show after this came to its inevitable conclusion.
Austen and Chelsea is a little bit more complicated. He says it ended because she wanted to pump the breaks and he reacted by dating her friend Victoria. He has since broken up with Victoria and still thinks that the “door is ajar” with Chelsea. The way Chelsea tells it is that Austen quit his job, isn’t working, and would show up all wasted at her house at 3 a.m. looking to get laid when she had to go to work in the morning. So, basically, like we always knew, Austen is Shep Jr.
We don’t hear much from Danni about why she is single, but we get a whole speech from JD about how Elizabeth said he fell out of love with her and he makes it sound like he was the victim in all of this. We never hear Elizabeth’s side of the story, though I bet it’s a bit more nuanced than his. I bet it has a little bit to do with the $163,000 lawsuit for dodging his rent the entire time Gentry Bar was open. Oopsie!
While we don’t hear anything about Thomas and Landon’s breakup, we do learn about his new girlfriend, Ashley. She’s a hospice nurse he met at a bar in California, who saw him, a reality-television star, and beckoned him over to her. They have been dating ever since and she even moved to South Carolina to be on a reality-television program. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant to say she moved there because she is very obviously in love with Thomas and wants nothing but the very best for him, his ex, and their two small children. Yes, that is exactly what I meant to say.
The worst is when she is getting dressed to go to Shep’s barbecue birthday dinner and tries on a very lovely maxi dress, which would have been perfect for the casual backyard occasion. Instead, he tells her she should wear the shortest of short shorts and a silk top that looks like it would be best for an afternoon of day drinking. Not only is it inappropriate, it’s not even chic. When Ashley asks him what he’s excited about at the party he says, “I’m excited to see Kathryn’s reaction to your look when you walk in.” Yes, nothing about this is about Ashley. Even her relationship with Thomas is really about Thomas and Kathryn, two planets orbiting the same sun which are on a constant and recurring collision course.
Shep decides to try to be a bit more grown up for his 38th (ZOINKS! face) birthday, so he’s just going to have a nice barbecue at home. He hires a party planner and decides to get Craig to do “the menu” because he is a self-styled grill master now. What Craig doesn’t know is that he is walking into a trap. Shep is going to get him to do this, he’s going to fuck it up, and then Shep (and everyone else) is going to call him a fuck up. They didn’t hire him so he could succeed, they hired him so that he could order a smoker, not know how to work the smoker, spend hours trying to figure it out, not make any appetizers because that is not on “the menu,” yell at Austen for using tongs that touched raw chicken, and generally make an ass out of himself. As true to form as his ever-gelled hair, Craig does all of that.
Did the party planner not even once ask, “Are you sure you don’t want me to plan some food?” Because that would have been wise. Still, Shep, Austen, and Craig trying to operate a smoker is one of the funniest things I have seen on television. I mean, Craig is just Googling how to cook things in a smoker while he’s there. Couldn’t he have done what most people do, which is watch three YouTube videos the night before?
While the guys are freaking out over the meat, Kathryn, Danni, Chelsea, and Naomie are all at Naomie’s new Craig-free pad, talking shit about their exes and how awful they are. They’re just drinking wine and being a bunch of single ladies who are about to attend a barbecue with their exes and no one else, except for maybe Whitney and whichever floozy he’s dragged along who, for some reason, will probably be wearing a flapper outfit.
That’s why the final editing of the episode is absolute genius. We see slowed-down shots of each woman drinking her wine and shaking her head, followed by a shot of their exes running around like assholes at the barbecue. It’s setting up a girls-versus-boys vibe for this whole season and it’s doing it perfectly. Then all of the girls walk out and get into an SUV one by one, like they’re the criminals in Reservoir Dogs walking toward their big score. As the doors close, we hear that inimitable tune, “Bop-ba-doo, Bop-ba-de-de-doo,” playing slowly and hauntingly in the background, a surprise visitor you always knew was coming, like a will-o’-the-wisp whistle through a magnolia tree making each one of its blossoms wilt the moments the notes touch it.