Yes, this episode is southern, but it is far from charming. The impression most will take after watching it is how awful Ashley is, how awful Shep is, and how upset we all should be that Cameran’s husband Jason finally showed his face onscreen and just … did nothing. I used to have considerable respect for Jason, who refused to participate in his wife’s show, but here he is, putting on his glad rags while Shep brings two 40-year-old flight attendants to a party to humiliate one of his “friends.” Jason, this is exactly why you don’t want to be involved. Stick to your guns, brother. Stick to your guns.
The focal point of the entire episode is Patricia’s “Stag Ball,” which she says is a party for singles, but everyone feels compelled to come with a date, and most of them are in relationships anyway. Patricia should have just said, “They told me I needed a theme for this season-capping party and I choose stags because I am House Baratheon. Hashtag Ours Is the Fury.”
Shep goes to get his hair cut in preparation for the party and tells Chelsea that his date is Chelsea Scott, one of the two girls Madison caught Austen with in the Instagram Story three-way that we have watched multiple times in every episode like it’s Bravo’s version of the Zapruder Film. He convinces Craig to take Michelle, a Stormy Daniels lookalike, as his date. He thinks that this is going to piss off Austen and Madison and, boy, is he right.
While he’s in Chelsea’s chair, she tries to get to the heart of the mystery that is behind this entire episode: Just what exactly is Shep’s problem with Madison? Chelsea asks if he tried to get with her in the past and Shep says, “I remember vaguely talking to her because I thought I could bang her,” with that calm disregard with which Shep approaches all women. Chelsea is implying that maybe the reason Shep hates her so much is that he can’t have her and Austen can, much like when he got all pissed a couple of seasons ago when Austen won Chelsea’s hand instead of him.
Cameran tries to get to the bottom of this too at Patricia’s party, asking if he’s upset that Austen is in love. Shep, conditioned by his southern upbringing to treat women like disposable masturbation toys (hmmm, maybe Shep should give up women and just buy some Tenga Eggs instead?), says of course that is not the case. It seems like it is, though. When Madison finally confronts Shep, she says the reason he doesn’t like her is because she is one of the only people who will stand up to him, and she holds her own against a staunch and pampered adversary like Shep.
If it’s not any of those reasons, there is something about Madison — who comes off like a calm, reasonable, and winning person whenever we see her on camera — that has Shep worked up into a lather. Either it’s jealousy, old fashioned misogyny, a potent cocktail of the two, or some sort of curse someone put on Shep, because his loathing of both this girl and Austen’s association with her is completely overblown.
Cameran’s reaction to Shep bringing these two girls as dates is the only appropriate response: “Shep, come on!” Well, maybe the other accurate response is when Craig tells Kathryn that he and Shep brought Austen’s old three-way partners as dates. “You dick,” she says. That’s it. Shep did it to be a dick, and he freely admits it. He hides behind the fact that he and Chelsea Scott have been “hanging out” for years, but he admits to Austen he chose her out of the “several people he could have brought” because he thought it would be funny.
It’s not funny. In fact, it’s gross. Shep hopes to shine some kind of light on Austen and Madison’s relationship. “You two are supposed to be as strong as a tire iron,” he says, using a simile that is as weak as a flat tire. “Is this going to be the final straw?” No, it’s not. It seems to be the final straw in Shep’s relationship with Austen, though. It seems to be the final straw in how so many of the women at the party view Shep. He has woefully miscalculated this tactic, and maybe the pique on his face, like he ate a whole box of Sour Patch Kids at once, is the rapid rotting of his expectations.
There are a lot of cute moments at the party. I loved Cameran and Naomie fawning over each other’s men, even though it made me a little sad that now that Naomie is in a functioning relationship she is a bit boring. Kathryn shows up wearing a heart-shaped shrug and an entirely see-through dress with her new boyfriend Hunter, who looks like he studies comparative literature at a second-tier university. However, the highlight of the whole party is when Austen and Shep are fighting and Craig tries to sit down with them and Austen says, “Craig, can you just fuck off?” and Craig turns right around and leaves the room.
The editing makes it look like Craig then goes to mope on the top stair in the stairwell, drinking a beer and looking sad. See, he now feels bad about bringing the girls as their dates, because it wasn’t because Shep actually liked the girl, it was just to get back at Austen. Yes, poor Craig, it just dawned on him now.
Now we will close out the season talking about my least favorite subject: Ashley. She seems absolutely unhinged when she goes to meet Eliza Doolittle at the hair salon, talking about Patricia and what a crazy bitch she is. Eliza sums it up nicely: “You’re the only one who seems to have a problem with her, so …” It’s not a defense, really, but it seems sort of accurate. You can tell that Eliza wants nothing to do with this either, she just kind of keeps saying, “I’m gonna read you Bible quotes!” and hopes it’s going to go away. That is why Eliza is awful at this show. She can’t even adequately stoke a fire out of a fire lizard made of cinders.
Ashley, of course, shows up to the party and Pat has Mr. Kale, her security guard, waiting. This whole thing was such a set up. Ashley knew when and where the party was, she knew that even though she wasn’t invited she was expected, and she walked right into the trap and made a fool of herself. How much did they pay her for this season? It was both not enough and too much.
When Ashley walks into the party, Mr. Kale is right there waiting for her. Pat doesn’t even turn on her Southern hospitality, she just gives the man a withering nod and he shows up asking her to leave. She goes screaming the whole way as the cast watches on from the balcony, tittering. “That’s the best money I ever spent,” Patricia says as she leads her little broodlings back into the party so that they can toast Ashley’s demise.
Ashley’s downstairs standing in the doorway to shield herself from the rain. “Thomas, they embarrassed me,” she tells her (former?) lover on the phone. No, dear. You embarrassed yourself all on your own. He tells her that she should call 911 and she asks her anonymous friend if that’s a good idea. The friend just glares at her because we all know that’s a bad idea. How would that conversation even go?
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“I am clinically desperate. I am suffering from a severe martyr complex and must be saved from myself immediately. Please send help.”
But Ashley does not call 911. She does nothing. Her final act is to totter off into the rainy night, the moisture sticking to every surface like a wet T-shirt in a Daytona Beach contest. The sound of her heels on the sidewalk is all anyone can hear. The geckos on the pavement run from it, and even the puddles seem to flee from their spiky clacking. It echoes off the beads of humidity falling imperceptibly toward the ground, rattling in the space between those water molecules, the emptiness between them surrounding her, emanating off of her, threatening to infest us all.