The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
This week on our favorite television program Rich Women Doing Things, the rich women did things. They washed aubergines suggestively in the sink without taking the supermarket stickers off of them and then told their friends that they couldn’t handle a whole eggplant emoji, they would much rather enjoy a cucumber. They listened to their sons say, “Mommy, you’re only going away for two days, why do you need all of these clothes?” and they answered back that they needed options, but they knew, deep down inside, that their precocious toddlers were totally correct. They broke a bottle of cumin (that’s pronounced KEW-min) in the kitchen and then waited for their sister to try to sweep it up using the brush that’s meant to scrub the grill. What will the rich ladies do when there is no help around? Lug their own bags? Yeah, rich ladies. Why do you think it’s called luggage?
And there is no help in Palm Springs. Oh, I’m sorry, it’s not Palm Springs. It’s La Quinta, which is a community that, like all gay men over 65, is Palm Springs adjacent. This should not be confused with the budget hotel chain. (My father always jokes that La Quinta must be Spanish for “behind a Target.”) Kyle has a gorgeous house there and it is not the one that she stole from her sister Kim, that was the old house. This is a new house that she probably bought with the spoils from the stolen one. I don’t understand why L.A. people are always clamoring to get to Palm Springs. It’s just leaving the desert next to the ocean to travel to the desert that is far from the ocean. I guess in a land where the weather, landscape, and faces never change, you just want to be able to stare up at some brown mountains, but this time from a larger pool.
While all the women are piled into Kyle’s house, most of what they do is talk to and about Erika. She’s a little bit late to the party because she and her assistant were closing up her Hollywood “clubhouse,” which is essentially a one-bedroom apartment that served as her office. It’s an expense she can no longer afford. It was very illustrative of her new life when she talked about the pool at her new house, saying that after looking at the bill for heating the pool for three days, she would never do it again. At the old house she heated it for 20 years and never got in it. Life is very different when you’re looking at the bills.
I’m sure plenty of people will be upset that Erika made a joke like this about spending the money owed to “widows and orphans.” I can totally see that, but I still don’t think she knew where the money was coming from. Also, many have expressed regret that she hasn’t apologized to the “widows and orphans” who suffered from Tom taking their money (allegedly until proven guilty). I assume there are legal reasons why she can’t do this, and probably can’t talk about the ongoing cases at all.
Instead, she’s choosing to talk about what is going on with her and Tom personally. The day she arrived at Behind the Target, California, as the gringos call it, was the day that Tom was in court and his assets were frozen. (I love how Dorit points out that her assets have been frozen before and it was scary, and then we just quickly move on from that to her lugging Kathy Hilton’s bag up the stairs in yet another Louis Vuitton–print tracksuit.) It was the same day his lawyer requested a test of his mental capacity because she didn’t think he could stand trial.
Erika told Kyle even before this that Tom was deteriorating and wouldn’t do anything to help himself. She thinks that this is what led to some of his anger towards her and why he started to treat her badly. She talks about how a car accident he had several years ago was far worse than she let on to her friends. (This happened when we were working on the book together, and I was told the same story we see her tell Kyle on camera.) Apparently, he didn’t just break his ankle, he launched himself off a cliff somehow and was ejected from the car and passed out for 12 hours. We didn’t get a very good explanation of exactly how it happened, but I think part of that is because the editors condensed the story. Or maybe there wasn’t much understanding to be found. Sutton admits that she’s confused, which could be true, or could be a trick the editors are playing to make it seem like Erika’s lying.
When Tom did call Erika, she just assumed he had been off with another woman. This is the real tea, as middle-aged women at Home Goods say when buying actual tea. Erika says that after her friend Yolanda Bananas Foster, the mother of two completely insignificant humans who have zero Instagram followers, divorced desiccated Mothra carcass David Foster that she decided to check out Tom’s phone. (Does this mean that Erika thinks that David might have been cheating on Yolanda? Hmmmm???) She found evidence that he had been having at least one affair for a number of years. To make it even worse, he didn’t even deny it. Erika was just stuck dealing with this knowledge.
Kyle, doing her job as essentially the show’s best producer, asks the most important question: “Why didn’t you leave? You’re a beautiful woman.” Erika responds, coldly, “Where am I going?” I found this hard to watch for a number of reasons. The first is Kyle’s seeming belief that Erika’s only value is that she’s beautiful and of course (!) she could find another rich guy to take care of her. Secondly, Erika admits that she knew the score of the marriage: She married him for financial support and she didn’t want to leave it. Yeah, you might not agree with it, but that is her truth. But also, as Kathy points out, Tom led her to believe that she couldn’t do better. As supportive as Tom was, I think he had her trained to think that she couldn’t survive on her own. Enough years of that and it sinks deep down inside and you will never get it out.
Kathy makes another very interesting point about how many marriages that work are built on trust. She says if her husband told her to sign a 50-page document she would just sign it without reading it. There are many wives who got in trouble doing just that. Just ask Teresa Giudice. But many people have a hard time believing that Erika did that, despite us not having anything like the full story yet. She does point out a very interesting dichotomy: First she was just a bimbo who was using an old man for his money and had no idea what was going on, and now the same critics see her as some sort of criminal mastermind. For one of those assumptions to be true the other has to be false. And if one of those assumptions can be false, can’t both of them be?
All of this Erika stuff leads to an essential fact that is hard for those of us who enjoy the reality television arts and sciences to comprehend: the absolute unknowability of any other human. This wasn’t illustrated just by Erika this episode, but also by Sutton’s story about her father, who killed himself two days before Christmas. No one knew. Even though he struggled for years, no one saw it coming. Years later, when she asks her mother if she misses her father, she says no, telling Sutton that no one, including her own daughter, can understand what was going on in her marriage.
None of us can really know anyone, and that leaves us shivering like a girl at Coachella who didn’t realize that crop top won’t keep her warm in the desert twilight. Erika didn’t know all of Tom. Erika’s friends didn’t know all about her. And we certainly didn’t know, and will never know, all of Erika either. This is hard for us fans. We love this show because it promises us a way in. It promises us insight into these women’s lives, their dreams, their aspirations, even their disappointments and destructions. But we can only see what they show us. No. We can only see what they show us as interpreted by producers, editors, network executives, and all the other people who are turning the kaleidoscope of perception so that we can see something that looks like entertainment.
This whole thing is like a lunar eclipse on a new moon. We think we can see it, we can understand it as a celestial event, but the real event is about the obscuring. It’s about the light peeking out around the sides of something that is huge and unmovable. Kathy, our favorite billionaire jester, tells us that during this eclipse we can erase our past and manifest our future. She tells us we need to light a candle and blow it out. She pushes a candle toward Erika, who looks down at it, her face inches from the flame, and she takes a long thought while holding her hair back from being singed. She thinks about it all, she thinks about the sun and the moon, how they are trapped together in unchangeable orbits, at odds but still providing for each other. She then takes a moment to inhale and, as if by instinct, wonders just what she should do with all of that air.