Who the hell are all these people? As we work our way through the slow-motion rosé sloshing of the opening credits, there are all these names I don’t recognize, stubbly faces that are a mystery, and, as always, the distraction of Kristen Doute’s rictus as she tries to keep her boob from popping out of her dress. The standard closing shot in the credits, with the whole staff of SUR crowded around Lisa Vanderpump like it’s a service-industry version of The Last Supper, is so full of people that Ken Todd can’t even clutch onto one of his Pomeranians, the tether that keeps this ghost anchored to our mortal plane.
As the action of the show begins, we are confronted by a Scruffleupagus named Max and some other creature called a Dayna, who we know will become a reality star because her name is spelled with an inexplicable extraneous vowel. Max is the manager of Tom Tom, Dayna is the hostess there, and it seems like they hooked up just the night before. Considering he’s her boss, that is very ill advised in the Me Too era. I wouldn’t even send flirty texts to someone who was my employee three jobs ago, and here these two are having off-camera shenanigans and trying to make any of us care.
After the melodrama between them in the Tom Tom kitchen (which pales in comparison with the SUR back alley), we head over to SUR itself so Scheana can introduce us to Brett, a new SURver. Scheana tells him the rules of working there: “The girls are catty, and everyone here is going to want to sleep with you.” That is just the training one gets at SUR. It has nothing to do with familiarizing oneself with the menu, learning how to use the POSitouch machine, or discovering what side work the position entails. Just be prepared for everyone to want to bang you. Orientation over.
While at SUR, we hear the sad news that Raquel, DJ James Kennedy’s girlfriend and a carousel horse with one hind leg missing, is now a full-time SURver as well. Lisa says, “She asked me so many times to work here I finally caved in.” This has nothing to do with Raquel actually wanting to work there; this has to do with her bald-faced ambition to be a reality star despite having the personality of a deck chair left out in the sun too long. Raquel tells Lisa that every time she puts on her SUR uniform to go to work, James gets all teary-eyed about it, which says everything you need to know about their relationship: Raquel will put her position on the show over her relationship with James any day.
We also find out that Scheana wants to sleep with Brett, the new SURver, and that she was previously hooking up with Max, that guy from the beginning, not to be confused with Max Todd, Lisa and Ken’s son, who is/was/forever will be the manager at SUR. So Max has already hooked up with Scheana and Dayna. What exactly does it take to get on this show? When they hire a new cast member, do they all congregate in the basement of Pump in long velvet robes with hoods and masks and have the new Vanderpump Rules pledge make the sacrifice of having sex with at least two people in attendance so they’ll have a story line coming into the season?
That’s my problem with this whole thing; it seems so contrived. It’s like it’s dying for fresh blood and for that fresh blood to have the complicated backstory and sexual history of the original cast. But you can’t make that happen; it has to be intrinsic. That’s what was so great about Jax and the Toms and Kristen and Stassi and Katie when we first met them: They were actual friends and lovers in L.A., not a bunch of teens trying to get an entry-level job in the reality-TV arts and sciences.
I think Dayna has to be the worst offender. We find out that she’s one of the girls from last season who came up to the hotel room with Tom, Tom, Jax, and Peter when they were partying while the girls were off on their trip to Solvang. She parlayed that one night into a job at Tom Tom, which she then parlayed into a part on the show. This is going to ruin young women for at least a generation thinking they’ll be able to replicate this trajectory like so many Lana Turner wannabes sitting at the soda fountain waiting to get discovered.
In the episode so far, we haven’t even seen Tom and Katie, Tom and Ariana, Brittany, Lala, Stassi, or Billie Lee, who has been sent to a nice farm upstate that needs a transgender hostess to yell at customers all day long. Where are the people we actually tuned in to watch? Jax tells us in a confessional that, in the off-season, Katie, Brittany, and Lala, the only other holdovers at SUR, all left their jobs there. He and Scheana are the only two still forced to work there. Oh, poor Scheana. She can’t move on and grow like the rest of the cast. It’s like she’s frozen in some sort of Bath & Body Works cucumber-melon-scented amber.
The problem with this episode is that it shows why Vanderpump Rules clearly needs to be cleaved in two. One show could continue to be about SUR, the slutty young employees who work there, and the gruff but loving boss who supports them all. I’m sure over time I can learn to care about things called Max, Brett, and Dayna; we can even throw in Scheana, James, and Raquel for good measure.
The other show should be called Valley Village, and it could be about all the people from the first iteration of Vanderpump. Tom and Ariana, Tom and Katie, Jax and Brittany, even Kristen all moved to this one neighborhood that is as far away from SUR as K-pop is from subtlety. They don’t need SUR. They don’t need Lisa. They are in our hearts, and as long as they rend each other limb from limb every year, we will continue to watch them until they get their AARP cards.
The issues they’re dealing with are not the same issues the upstarts have. Tom and Katie are battling giving up on both their bodies and their fashion sense as they swan around in muumuus. Tom and Ariana are dealing with where they’re going to break-dance in their new house. Jax is dealing with the stress of being the only man to ever get married. Well, Sandoval is dealing with that too, since he has been demoted from co–best man with Schwartz to being just one of the groomsmen. But does anyone really want Schwartz as his only best man? That’s like serving Twizzlers as the only dish at a buffet.
The big action of the episode is Tom and Katie’s housewarming party — oh, sorry, their “house chillin’” party, where everyone is supposed to come in comfy clothes because they are all old now and the only one who can still wear heels is Lala and she will wear heels until they put her in the ground (which is where her heels were after standing in Tom and Katie’s backyard for ten minutes).
The sad thing about this party is that it’s like the one party your friends have when they move to the suburbs. They get everyone to trek out there to prove how cool they still are and to introduce you to their new, suburban friends, and you drink all night and crash on one of their many sofas. That is the last good party they ever have. They pop out a kid and then expect you to come over for lunch, but no one wants that. No one wants to pick ground crayons out of the treads on their designer loafers. That’s what this party is: Tom and Katie’s last great party, where they talk about all the great parties they’re going to have in their new house, parties that evaporate like Juul smoke in an open-plan kitchen.
At the party, a fight breaks out between Katie, Kristen, and Lala because everyone hates Kristen. She is, after all, a used tea bag that has been soaking in bile for three decades. Apparently, she broke up with Carter, who everyone thinks is mooching off her but he’s still living with her and not paying any of the bills. I sort of see both sides of this argument. If Katie has to listen to Kristen bitch about Carter all the time but Kristen won’t really do anything about it, that’s very annoying.
However, breaking up may not be what Kristen wants to do, or maybe she’s just doing it differently from everyone else. At one point, she says, “Of course I want to love you and spend time with you and do all the things that we do and wake up feeling your body next to mine and kiss you in the middle of the road blocking traffic and wash your underwear for you and wear it on my head sometimes as a joke. Of course I want to do all of those things, but I can’t.” Okay, I made some of that up, but that is the gist. Kristen seems to know he’s no good for her but also doesn’t want to get rid of him.
Everyone gets drunk, they all yell at Kristen, she storms off into the night, and, yup, this is it. This is the show we signed up to watch. It has nothing to do with Dayna and Max and Sir Whatshisfuck from Handsometown. It is about pettiness on an epic scale.
As the party winds down, everyone leaves, and Tom Sandoval walks next door to his own house, which is essentially a carbon copy of the one Tom Schwartz lives in. Still wearing his muumuu, Schwartz walks up to his bedroom, where Katie is passed-out drunk in bed with the light on. He goes to the window, peers across to his neighbor’s, and sees that Sandoval’s bedroom light is still on too. He sees Sandoval’s backlit form in the window. They can feel the tension across the two meters that separate them, two shadows cast off from their windows merging somewhere in the night air. Sandoval takes off his shirt and flexes his chest muscles just a smidge. He puts his hand on the window like he’s a prison widow and smiles across to Schwartz, who is marveling at how strong his penis is that it can tent even this dowdy and voluminous garment he can’t escape from fast enough.