Usually an episode of Vanderpump Rules is an entrée — a hearty examination of the issues facing a small constellation of friends that feels like tucking into a good steak or, yes, a big bowl of pasta. This season, though, every episode feels like a charcuterie plate. It’s just a little bit of this, a little nibble of that, and by the time you’re done you’re still hungry and wanting to stop at the Burger Doodle drive-through on the way home. There’s just a million tiny, unsubstantial ingredients hovering around waiting for one celebrity chef to turn them into a distinguishable dish.
Well, there is one event that everything seems to have been centering on: Brax and Jitney’s wedding. How, in the year of our Lord 2020 — when the news cycle moves faster than Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candle sells out, and the coronavirus has swept the globe in about the span of Kardashian marriage — are Brittany and Jax still not walking down the aisle? I feel like I have been waiting for them to get married as long as I’ve been waiting for a Lindsay Lohan comeback vehicle to actually work. Maybe the problem is that if Brittany could be about-to-be-married for the rest of her life, she would be. She could stretch this thing out until her very dying day, like a bridal Advent calendar where she gets to open a little door each morning and snack on a morsel of romance and attention.
I can’t even talk about this wedding anymore and yet here we are, forced to do so. This episode, Tom Sandoval finally prostrated himself before Jax enough to not only be reinvited to the wedding, but also reinstated as co–best man with Schwartz. However, despite Sandoval showing up with a golf umbrella, a cooler full of ice and beer, and all the other accoutrements that a best man needs, he still doesn’t get to stand next to Jax, who makes it very clear that Tom Schwartz is Best Man No. 1 and Sandoval is merely Best Man No. 2.
The only thing about this whole wedding that I’ve found slightly amusing is the mock commercial they made about Tom Sandoval’s business as a professional best man. This is why the editors of this show deserve a Peabody, because only they can take a corpse of an episode and animate it to at least zombie level. The same brilliance is shown for the mock in memoriam treatment we get for Schwartz’s pet lizard Daug, which passed away about a month after he was put in his sad lamp-heated tank.
All of the other story lines, though, are weird and diffuse. Just look at the drive-by fruiting of Katie and Kristen’s continued fight about Carter. Katie is still upset that Kristen is pretending like they’re broken up but they’re not. Then Katie asks if he’s coming to the wedding and Kristen says, “Of course he’s coming to the wedding,” as if he and Jax are best friends. Katie is right (I hate when Katie is right), the only reason he was invited in the first place and is still allowed to go is because Kristen is allowing it. Are they broken up or not? Who knows? Who cares, really, particularly when it gets about as much screen time as the death of Daug and Lisa’s swans preening themselves in the fake moat in front of her house.
Then there’s the stuff with all of the new kids. Brett and Charli had a disastrous date where Brett says that Charli sounded like a child because she’s never had avocado or pasta. Charli says that Brett only talked about himself and his ex-girlfriend. At first I thought he had just broken up with her, so I kind of understood, but when Charli said that it happened two years ago, I thought, Oh, yeah girl, that is messed up.
There is also a little tiff when Charli, Brett, and Scheana are all working at SUR. (Brett says to them, “Wow, you guys are wearing the same outfit.” Um, they’re in their SUR uniforms. That’s kind of the whole point, Nancy Drew.) Charli is pissed at Scheana for supposedly telling Brett not to date her and that she is untrustworthy. “I don’t use that word. It doesn’t sound like me,” Scheana says, admitting that nothing past three syllables ever passes her lips. “But I don’t trust any of these new people.” Charli’s also mad at Brett for telling her something Scheana told him in confidence, which Scheana is also pissed about. Charli also brings up that it’s weird he only talked about his ex-girlfriend.
When Brett raises his voice, Charli says, “Don’t yell at me.” Brett responds, “Now I’m being scolded for being honest. This is why I can’t be friends with girls, because you take shit to the next level.” Oh, being called out for being a jerk to a woman is her fault for taking it to the next level? Then he says in his confessional, “I’m in a Charli and Scheana smoothie, which is the most disgusting smoothie there is.” Oh, shut right the fuck up, racist. Why are so many girls crushing on a(n admittedly hot) guy like this?
Something Scheana said in this fight is a strange thread running throughout the episode, about not trusting any of the new people. Stassi, who has been mostly absent from this season so far, has a similar sentiment when talking about Ariana’s birthday party. Every year the two, born on the same day, had competing parties. Last year, they teamed up for a group party, but this year, Ariana is back throwing her own shindig. Stassi says, by way of explanation, “Ariana is friends with all of these people I don’t know, and I don’t want to make small talk with them at my own party.” She is, of course, referencing Charli, Dayna, Danica, Brett, Max, and the other randos who have been brought in to liven this bunch up.
While at Ariana’s birthday, James really only seems to talk to his girlfriend and tells her shortly after they arrive that he’s ready to go. “I don’t feel like mingling with any of these people,” he says. He could mean Katie, Stassi, Jax, and the rest of the crew that he has alienated over the years, or he could mean the new people that he refuses to accept. They say that no man is an island, but there is James, sipping a cranberry and soda in the corner, glowering alone.
This semi-open hostility for the new castmates is actually a fascinating development. Are we seeing our favorite reality stars refusing to bend to the whims of the producers? They’re essentially tanking all of the new cast members by refusing to interact with them, pushing them to the periphery of the story and squelching their need for relevance. It might be a foolhardy ploy, in that they might be tanking their show in the process, but it is essentially a move of self-preservation, and it is making for one incredibly awkward season.
One of the only times we see a newbie and an oldbie interact is when Ariana takes Raquel out by the SUR dumpster, a protected national park. Ariana heard about the awful texts James Kennedy pelted at his girlfriend Raquel, a Starburst that … wait, I’m not going to do that today. I will refrain from mocking Raquel because no one deserves to be treated like James Kennedy treats her. She went out drinking with the girls, and he sent all of these texts calling her a slut and a whore and saying she should die. Just a normal day for any woman with an opinion on Twitter, AMIRITE?
The story goes that Raquel was drunk and didn’t check her phone, which made James worry about what she was doing, which made him start drinking, which turned him into a rage-blind abuser. When Ariana scrolls through the texts, there are dozens and dozens of them. James says he sent them because he knew that if he was out and getting drunk he would be behaving badly and assumed Raquel would behave the same way. That’s because James is a narcissist with a lack of imagination, but that seems to be a different but parallel problem.
Ariana talks to Raquel about this because she says she was in an abusive relationship before and wants Raquel to back out while she can. “If I had checked my phone, he wouldn’t have started drinking and he wouldn’t have said those things,” she says in defense of James, which is about the saddest thing I have ever heard and, yes, Raquel needs to get herself to an Al-Anon meeting right quick.
The weird thing about all of this is that I assumed that Raquel and James’s relationship was always transactional: He gets a pretty girlfriend, and she gets to be on the show. But she wasn’t out getting drunk while they were filming. He wasn’t faking these texts for the camera. This seems to be something that happened organically, and that makes it all the more troubling. Raquel sits James down for a chat, and it makes him uncomfortable when she brings up how he gets when he drinks. “Are you asking me to quit drinking?” he asks. “Yes,” she says. “Then I’m leaving,” James says, heading for the front door.
He leaves for an indeterminate amount of time. Knowing James, he could have made it to the end of the hallway, realized he achieved the dramatic effect he was looking for, and immediately returned. Because of the vagaries of editing, we will never know how long he was gone, but I assume about 20 seconds. Once he’s calmed down, Raquel tells him that if he can’t stop drinking, they’re going to have to break up. If Raquel is acting, she has much improved since her failed improv about her “missed shift” with Peter at Pride. This all seems real and awful and like it is not going to end well for DJ James Kennedy, but we always knew that, didn’t we? No one needs a Magic Eight Ball to know that the only way this ends for him is in destitution, destruction, and a GoFundMe for a legal-defense fund.
While they were making up, across the country in Kentucky, Toms Schwartz and Sandoval were sitting in the chairs in Schwartz’s bathroom eating the exactly two (2) cookies that were on their pillow when they checked into the castle hotel. “You know, the first gay porn I ever saw was called Man Oh Man,” Sandoval said. “It was about two groomsman getting it on the night before the wedding.”
“Oh yeah?” Schwartz said, between bites of his cookie. “What happens?”
“Well, they’re both sitting in this bathroom, like we are now, and one of the groomsmen goes to the other one and says, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this.’” As Sandoval was telling the story, he walked over to Schwartz and looked down at him, smiles spreading over both of their faces like butter melting on toast. “And then the groomsman starts to unbutton the guys shirt.” Sandoval started to unbutton his shirt. “And then he unbuttons his own shirt. And then he leans down to kiss the guy.”
Sandoval then pushed against Schwartz’s chair, rearing it up on its hind legs as they kissed. He brushed their shirt tails away so that their chests could touch in this precarious embrace. He backed off, putting the chair back on solid footing, and stood over Schwartz, his chest proud and something in his pants a little prouder. “I like this story,” Schwartz said. “What happens next?”
“Why don’t you take my pants off and find out,” Sandoval said. Schwartz immediately dropped to his knees and went for Sandoval’s waistband, the tinkling of his belt merging with the whooshing of cars on the highway outside heading somewhere definitely less joyful.