What if Jersey Shore Family Vacation’s heavy season premiere was just a bad dream? Would we wake up hungover, curled up in a dressing room at the Shore Store, having soaked the three pairs of custom-bedazzled Situation booty shorts we’d balled up into a makeshift pillow with pickleback-infused drool? Sadly, this was not to be.
Ronnie is in the midst of a meltdown over his profoundly unhappy relationship with Jen, who will apparently deny him access to their baby as a manipulation tactic. The rest of the gang, to their credit, could not be more supportive in Ronnie’s heartrending hour of need, rolling up their sleeves for what seems like a universally exhausting evening of emotional labor. They remind him that he’s a good person and a good father, but implore him to seek legal counsel and formally establish joint custody.
“You get up in shitty relationships, but you’re not a bad guy,” Jenni reassures him, likening Ron in an interview to someone with “battered wife syndrome.” (I hate to ruin the mood here, but I’d be curious to see what the Jersey Shore cast’s evolved 2018 selves would have had to say about Ron and Sammi’s relationship — particularly when, say, he trashed her room and broke her glasses.) Pauly concludes with an impassioned speech about parenthood by saying, “Fight for your rights as a father,” an unintentionally Beastie Boys-esque line that makes his friends giggle despite themselves.
In the bathroom, Ron phones Jen. “No one wants to hear your fucking psychobabble shit …” she says, per the captions. “You’re not going to see her. Stop calling me.” He reaches his breaking point and walks right out of the suite, effectively breaking the fourth wall (to the extent that reality TV has a fourth wall, which, yep, it does) as executive producer SallyAnn Salsano and other crew members approach him. “Dude, you’re overloading yourself,” she says, gently. “Where are you running to?” He breaks down sobbing.
Ronnie, Pauly, and SallyAnn find themselves sitting on the hallway floor — imagine leaving your room at Planet Hollywood and stumbling over two Jersey Shore cast members, one of whom is in tears, right outside your door. Ron says he had to fight just to convince Jen to bring the baby to the hotel to meet everyone; now he’s panicked about the prospect of losing Ariana for months at a time. “This is going to be a disaster for 18 years if you keep doing this,” says Pauly, who knows from firsthand experience what it’s like to withstand a custody battle and come out co-parenting on the other side. SallyAnn’s advice: “Do not wait until [the baby’s] old enough to understand.”
The next morning, the shaken-up roomies (minus Ron, who’s taking some alone time) try to recover from their “emotional hangover” on the casino floor, where Jenni’s fanny pack does go a ways toward cheering me, personally, up. Nicole proves to be extremely bad at blackjack, and I say this as someone who once spent ten desperate minutes Googling “blackjack rules strategy emergency help me please” in a smoky corner of one of the shittier casinos in Atlantic City — ever been to the Old West–themed one on the boardwalk? Anyway, I lost $50. Back upstairs, thanks to a bathroom door left ajar, Vinny witnesses Mike pee by pulling his penis down through a leg of his shorts, a landmark moment for urinary anthropology.
I wish we could sit right here and talk about pee until the end of time (I have said this before, but bodily fluids are what Jersey Shore is all about), but we have a toxic relationship to get back to. The roommates are delighted to hear Ronnie has decided to see a lawyer, though significantly less delighted to hear him float the possibility of a future reconciliation with Jen. “Why would you want to be with somebody who would hold a baby from you?” Pauly asks, not doing much to disguise his disgust. “You’re way better than that.”
MVPJN (look, just go with it) are happily chatting about their dinner plans when they’re interrupted by a knock on the door. “Angelina?!” Nicole says, and hoo boy, are they going to wish it was Angelina. An angry Jen and a friend have arrived to confront Ronnie. Unsurprisingly, the cast closes ranks, revealing zero information about his whereabouts (he’s off meeting his attorney) until a producer assures Jen that Ron will be back later that evening. They can talk then. On her way out, she tears her mic off, shouting, “You guys are fucked up! You guys are fucking liars!” So I wouldn’t say that went great, no.
While the rest of the roommates flee, eating their feelings and toasting to Ron’s lawyer at an Italian restaurant, Ron stays behind and waits to have his reckoning with Jen. Every scene that came before feels like it was treading water in anticipation of this very ugly fight.
After storming in without knocking, a Jerry Springer–worthy entrance if I’ve ever seen one, Jen accuses her baby’s father, as she did earlier, of incessantly texting her insults like whore and bitch. (For the record, Ronnie does not deny this, at least not that we see. That hardly excuses Jen’s own unacceptable, abusive behavior, but it’s clear that this relationship is multifaceted in its toxicity, fucked-up even on a molecular level.) After some mutual yelling, she calls him a “fucking psychopath,” a “loser,” and a “piece of shit,” then spits on him.
There has been no shortage of fisticuffs and screaming matches, and miscellaneous beachside Sturm und Drang on Jersey Shore over the years (such things are, arguably, the point of Jersey Shore), but this feels different. It’s certainly not enjoyable to watch. What’s happening between Ron and Jen is deeply upsetting, especially given that a child is involved.
Security tries to hold Jen back before she seemingly strikes Ron. The picture abruptly goes dark — echoing the Snooki punch, the second-most-famous cut-to-black moment in Italian-American-centric pop culture.
“I don’t give a fuck, I’ll go to jail,” Jen’s voice is heard saying. Will she?