The other day, I was talking to the brilliant Danny Pellegrino, host of the Real Housewives-related podcast Everything Iconic, and he told me the ladies are at their best when there are layers. Just look at this season of Real Housewives of Atlanta: One minute you could be supporting Eva in her fight against Marlo, then supporting Marlo in her fight against Kenya, then supporting Kenya in her fight against NeNe. Your allegiances are constantly shifting and making the dynamic electric.
When a Housewives show becomes stale is when there are #Teams. We’re at that place with OC. You either have to be #TeamKelly or #TeamTresAmigas. Or maybe you’re team #OhPleaseNeitherOfThemMakeItStop. But there’s no interplay. There is no spider’s web of affinity and hatred going back and forth and connecting them all in a lovely net that will keep you tangled on your sofa for hours. It’s just this or that. Black or white. “You’re an ugly pig” or “You threw your mother down the stairs.” Those are our choices, and, well, all of them are a little bleak.
The one thing that has really emerged from this for me is a newfound love of Emily “Queen of the One-Piece” Simpson. She has finally settled into her own and started to show some spice that we haven’t seen with her before. When she referred to Vicki, Tamra, and Shannon as the “Tres Amoebas,” I nearly shot lemon-flavored seltzer out of my nose. Then she turned right around and said, “This is just like being in high school, but instead of the senior girls hating me, the senior citizens hate me.” Going for an age joke is a low blow, but because of its cleverness and accuracy, I will let it slide.
The real moment that made me fall in love with Emily was when she goes jet skiing with Kelly and Gina. First of all, Kelly and Gina dared to wear one-pieces around Emily, which is sort of like going to karaoke with Ariana Grande. Second, they’re wearing the same swimsuit, as if Emily snatched up all the good ones in Orange County and the only ones left are weird, long-sleeved, zip-up ones with cutouts all along the arms like they have leprosy.
Other than the swimsuit competition, what sticks out is when Emily explains why she is so good at Jet Skiing. She says, “I used to date a drug dealer who had a boat and a lot of Jet Skis.” Um, excuse me? I want every single detail of this story right now. There is no way I’d think Emily, who is married to a margarine sculpture of a glass of whole milk, would be badass enough to be in a relationship with a drug dealer. Was she like Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, living a life of luxury with some dangerous man? How did she even get there? How did she get out? Does the American Bar Association know this lawyer was willingly engaged with someone leading a life of crime? Could she end up in prison with Teresa Giudice and Luann de Lesseps? The last time I had this many questions, Katie Maloney had just fallen through a skylight playing Monopoly during a photo shoot.
The rest of the trip is a total wash. Kelly, Emily, and Braunwyn go to the Ernest Hemingway house to see the six-toed cats and talk about the author’s best works. (Kelly’s favorite is For Whom the Bell Tolls.) The Tres Amigas sit in their hotel room going, “Alexa, who is Ernest Hemingway? Is he an author? Does a bear shit in the woods? Is the pope Catholic? Can I find my asshole with two hands and a flashlight? When will Universal reboot the Dark Universe?” I mean, seriously. I don’t know all sorts of things, but how did Shannon graduate from USC and not know one of the foundational writers of the last century?
Finally, everyone goes on a sunset cruise around Key West. It’s always bad news when the Real Housewives get on a boat, but it’s even worse when they get on a shared boat. Seriously, who the hell planned this trip? I could afford the $30 to join a bunch of other drinkers to go on a sunset cruise. This is supposed to be aspirational? Why aren’t they on their own yacht? That way, they could fight with one another with abandon and then a mermaid army could rise out of the sea and smother them all with huge blankets of kelp. Instead, they have to pose for selfies with all the other bachelorette parties on a shared boat. Some production assistant got so fired over this trip.
While they’re on the boat, Vicki hands out glitter hats to everyone; they say things like “Single AF” for Gina and “Wild AF” for Braunwyn. The hat Vicki made for Kelly says “Krazy AF,” which is an insult, but she says she spelled it with a K to “make it more fun.” Kelly won’t wear the hat, because she knows when she’s being insulted. Also, don’t be the kind of person who wears group hats on a trip. You can all have fun and show your group unity without dressing like 10-year-olds going to an art museum. (Imagine telling this to a house full of gays about to go to Carnival in P-Town. They’d cast me out of town, steal my poppers, and ask if I had any GHB.)
Also on the boat: Tamra and Kelly make up for, like, the third time. Tamra says maybe Kelly and Vicki will make up, but they are too far gone. Vicki says Kelly just does things to her and she doesn’t do anything back. Thanks to the editors for rattling through all the awful things Vicki has said about Kelly just this season.
The Vicki-vs.-Kelly thing is getting so lame. Tamra, Braunwyn, and Shannon talk about it while out to dinner with their beaus, and Tamra says things have just gotten too ugly with the both of them; they have just gone too low. That is entirely true, and it has become the black hole that swallows the rest of the season. In space, no one can hear you scream about not being a con woman.
With all the women back in the OC, Tamra’s sons Goth-y Ken Doll and Skinny Alex Jones try to get over their political animus while discussing their shared love of regrettable tattoos, while Gina is across town with cute short hair telling her mom that she and Matt aren’t getting divorced after all, which, well, spoiler alert.
Kelly is at the beach with Emily and a therapist, Mike Dow, LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist). This is their anger-management class so that Kelly won’t snap at Vicki, and Emily will be nicer to her husband, Shane, a tube of Preparation H on The Price Is Right. Shannon Beador makes fun of this exercise, as if one day of anger management is really going to fix Hurricane Kelly, and I don’t disagree with her. But at least Kelly is admitting she has a problem and she might want to fix it. In Vicki’s mind, she hasn’t done anything wrong at all and is perfectly fine. Which is more delusional?
This session is all sorts of insane, though, starting with its setting. Who can even pay attention to therapy when there’s a beach-volleyball game in the background and you’re worried about sand getting into your nooks and crannies? Mike Dow asks them why they’re so angry and Emily talks about her bad childhood and Kelly talks about her bad mother and then he says, “Okay, let’s go deeper.” Yes, that is what they both need. They both need therapy to work out where their anger comes from and get rid of it. How does Mike Dow want to go deeper? By doing a loving meditation in which they wish their enemies love and light. Okay, sure.
Mike Dow does make some good points. He instructs Kelly that when she is confronted with Vicki she should just think of her daughter Jolie and how she wants to be an example for her. He tells her to cultivate that calmness, because winning when someone attacks is not about attacking them harder but showing them that their attack can’t possibly hurt her. He asks Kelly to see Vicki in her mind’s eye, and some editor who is not getting paid nearly enough cuts to a sepia-toned, slo-mo image of Vicki shouting, “Fuck you, Kelly Dodd,” and it is one of the best tricks they have ever played on us. That was like some art-movie shit. Thank God for the UCLA film-school grad who had to get a job working in the reality-television arts and sciences to pay off his oppressive student loans.
Mike Dow asks Kelly if she’s going to go to Vicki’s engagement party, which will be the tentpole event the season wraps on. Kelly says she doesn’t want to bother because she knows she’ll pop off. “We change through our experiences,” Mike Dow says, using the metaphor of a person who is afraid of a snake needing to confront that snake and see that she can survive. It’s a little on the nose. “Having an experience and being with her and not reacting to her and have her not get your goat, that is the experience that is like, ‘Oh, I guess I can deal with her,’” he says. Kelly agrees to go to the party.
And Mike Dow, LMFT, gets up from his beach blanket and shakes it out, sending little particles of sand and Kelly’s resistance skittering out into the wind. As the sun is setting, he hears the call of the birds and the slap of the volleyball, like a rope hitting the mast in high winds. He walks toward his car and puts the blanket in the trunk, closing it with a muffled thud. Just then, someone with a headset around his neck chugs up toward him. “Thanks for getting Kelly to come to the party,” one of the producers from the show says. “Here’s your check. And we’ll let you know next time we need an on-air therapist. We go through them like tampons.”