Congratulations, boys and girlfriends. We got there. We finally got there. After a long, plodding season — seriously, Jax and Brittany’s pre-COVID wedding seems like it took place during the Civil War — we finally got to the dirty, messy truth. The best reality shows, this one included, are like a temple built over a tar pit. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try to hide it, the darkness underneath can’t help but seep through the cracks and burble up, sullying the perfect edifice.
The whole final act of this episode is absolute genius, crosscutting between the breakups of the Witches of WeHo and Tom Sandoval and Jax’s 20-year friendship. It is capped off by a confrontation between Lisa and Jax that is not only the crowning glory of the season, but might be one of the best moments of the series ever. It’s a brief, clever glimpse, not into the artifice the show is trying to sell through its story lines and character arcs, but into what these people are like in real life, what the implications of fame, attention, and the reality-television economy have really wrought on actual souls.
I would like to do a close reading of this incredible moment. It starts right after Jax tells Sandoval that maybe they should take a break for a bit, like they’re Ross and Rachel. Lisa approaches Jax and says, “Is this how you really feel?” She’s interrogating his emotions to make sure they’re genuine, not something incited by a producer or in service of the show.
“Yes,” Jax says. “These are my lifelong friends.” We see footage of him with the Toms during better times, as the show’s theme song plays like a dirge in the background. “So then work it out,” Lisa tells him.
“I thought I was going to grow old with Tom and Tom. We were going to have kids and go to baseball together.”
“Well, maybe not,” Lisa interjects. She knows that life is long and messy, that Catholic Jesus laughs in your face when you make plans. But even more insidious than that, she knows that people change, that circumstances change people, and who you thought you could rely on one day is now a misty watercolor memory.
“We are. My friendships are the ones that I need. What if I lose them all tomorrow,” Jax says. He’s still rocked by his father’s death, still shaken by his 40th birthday and realizing that his youth won’t last forever.
“Then respect them and put it back together,” is Lisa’s advice, which is good advice, but also advice she couldn’t take herself to rebuild her friendship with Kyle Richards, but that is another show and we only have so much time. She also knows that this is entirely Jax’s fault because, contrary to what he believes, nothing that has happened in Jax’s life wasn’t his fault. He is the usual suspect in his own demise.
“This is not just on a fucking television show, Lisa. These are my true friends,” Jax says, which makes me think he receives Lisa’s advice not as a matriarch, but as a producer, as if she’s trying to massage a story line and Jax doesn’t appreciate the interference. It also shows that, despite my protests, these are true relationships. There are actual stakes here, which is what always made this drama so compelling, unlike some of the Housewives shows where you doubt if the women even talk to each other in the “off-season.” This clan is truly devoted to each other.
Jax knows this is the case, and that’s when he drops the bomb, “This is why my show is successful.” My show. My show. That is the problem with Jax in two words. He doesn’t see it as an ensemble, as a group project, he sees it as an enterprise with himself at the center that will rise and fall with his own fortunes. That is why Jax refuses to wear a SUR shirt during the group photo shoot. He doesn’t see himself as on par with the rest of the people who actually work there; he only works there to keep his real job, which is as a performer on the show.
“It’s not your show, it’s actually my show,” Lisa immediately reacts. She’s not wrong, it is her show, but it is carried on the backs of her exploited workers, workers posing as workers posing as workers posing as workers. “And I put you on it, so don’t fucking disrespect me.” It’s unclear at this point, based on the crowded party and the angle of the shot and the fact that these two have spent the better part of a decade on-camera, if they’re even aware that they’re being recorded. Is this a truly unguarded moment, where they aren’t performing at all, where they’re just connecting human to human? It almost seems like it.
Jax tells Lisa that she doesn’t understand, because Jax never thinks anyone understands. He thinks he is completely unique and there is never anything that happened to Jax that he didn’t have a scapegoat for. It is always someone else’s fault. There is always another foe over the horizon. I hate to say it, but his personality reminds me so much of Donald Trump that I think that’s the reason I’ve had such a hard time watching him over the past few years. It’s one thing to be an unrepentant and malignant narcissist (the reality-TV arts and sciences would be nowhere without them) but the frustration of those personalities having all the power really grates on me.
Lisa tells him that she does understand. Know why? Because she is a wise woman who has lived more life than Jax and with much more intelligence and insight. She then launches into a monologue that is so good, so powerfully felt, that not Ibsen nor Williams nor Strindberg nor even Shakespeare could devise such a thing. “Stop making yourself feel more special than you are,” she tells him, offering him the best advice anyone has ever given Jax. “We’re all human beings. We’re all going to lose people, we’re all going to fall in love, we’re all going to fuck up. We’re all going to lose our parents. We’re all going to go through tragedy, because that is what life is about. You have to deal with it. You have a beautiful woman. You’ve got every chance in life. Now pull it together, go talk to someone, and find out how lucky you are. End of fucking story.”
End of fucking story indeed. After that reading, Jax should pack his bags and retire to the desert. “Stop making yourself feel more special than you are” is great advice for anyone, but particularly this gentleman who told Tom Sandoval that he can’t be held accountable for his actions because there is something wrong with his brain.
He tried to use this same line on Lisa before, telling her he didn’t know how to take care of his wife in his condition. She says something along the lines of, “How about you just take care of her.” Jax tells her it doesn’t make any sense. That is Jax’s problem. He doesn’t understand that the best way to do the right thing is to just do it. He is the only obstacle in his way. He always has an excuse, there is always some reason he can’t behave as he should. But he can. He has the resources, both emotionally and financially. If he wants to interrogate the reasons he can’t, he needs to see a mental health professional — and a real one, not the kind that will show up on television.
The fallout of Tom and Jax’s friendship makes total sense, because, as Tom says, he doesn’t want this constant source of negativity in his life. We all make these changes as we grow up. The things you can ignore in your friends in your 20s because you are loyal and they are fun at parties become the things you can’t overlook anymore as your lives get more serious and complex. Tom can no longer keep spinning on the same wheel of fighting and recriminations with Jax anymore. None of them can. Ariana has a great speech where she says, “These aren’t mistakes. These are pointed decisions. This is a pattern. This is a personality. This is who this person is.” Now that they know who Jax is, maybe they’re not so keen on spending time with him.
I think the same holds true of the relationship between Katie, Stassi, and Kristen. This one is a bit more cryptic, because I can’t point to anything that Kristen has done to the two of them explicitly. I can see how it would be frustrating for Kristen to get back with Carter after years of complaining about him to the two girls, but it seems like Kristen needs an enabler more than anything else. Katie, at one point, tells Kristen that Kristen asks their advice and when they tell her something other than what she wants to hear she says, “That’s not the kind of love that I need,” and then she tells them that she’s sad because she doesn’t know what she did wrong. It’s an opposite strategy to Jax’s but it seems to be the same, creating the type of person who is so dug into their own dysfunction that they can’t possibly change. That is why Carter is perfect for her. He will never contradict her, he will do everything he can to hold on, even if it is to both of their detriments.
But the strange situation these people find themselves in means that Stassi has to declare their friendship dead, officially over. Most of us don’t get these edicts. Mostly friends just drift away with texts unanswered, invitations avoided, offers for plans adroitly shirked until what was once a solid bond is just another dead spot in your phone’s contacts list along with every dude you ever met with the last name “Tinder.” But seeing Stassi end it and Jax call for a break is definitely an end to an era, maybe the end of this era. They were the Big Bad Wolf and Wicked Witch of West Hollywood who started the drama of this show, and now their malignancy has devoured the whole organism. The center cannot hold. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer. Surely some revelation is at hand, surely the second coming is at hand.
That second coming is not Dayna, Max, and Brett, a solution in search of a problem. The second coming is not in Karrah, a character so thirsty that her side hustle is working as a dehumidifier. It might be in Danica, who goes up to Karrah while she’s trying to interrupt Stassi and Ariana’s conversation and tells her to back off, eventually pushing her and getting ejected from the Tom Tom anniversary party. Danica is the only one who deserves a job. Danica is the only one who brings it. Give her a show. Below Deck: Danica. Danica Ever After. Danica Takes Over. Danica Eye for the Straight Guy.
As the episode ends, Tom and Tom kiss under the picture of the two of them kissing, and we see each of the couples walking to their individual modern farmhouses in Valley Village, as Stassi calls them. Both of the Toms find an excuse to go back to Tom Tom to close the bar, sending all of the staff home, putting all the napkins in neat piles, piling the money into the safe at the end of the night. “Don’t worry, we’ll lock up,” they say. As soon as the lights are off and the gate is down, they kiss in the middle of the empty room, surveying all that is (10 percent) theirs. They think about knocking down the wall to the “garden” which, with Nick Alain’s design, will look like the lobby of an upscale movie theater if it were in Hobbiton.
Their kisses become wetter, more intense, the passion rising within them. As they grapple with each other’s matching suits, it’s hard to tell whose pants are whose, whose shirt is whose, as they all puddle onto the floor. Schwartz runs his large palms along Sandoval’s sculpted arms and grabs him by the hips. He turns him around and bends him over, Sandoval’s arms grabbing the bar, propping himself up. “Say it,” Sandoval tells him. “Say it.” Schwartz doesn’t stop his rhythm but adds in a blissful drone, “You’re the number one guy in the group. You’re the number one guy in the group. You’re the number one …”