The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
This week on our favorite show, Rich Women Doing Things, the rich women do things. They wake up to a house full of dishes with lasagna dried onto them, flies curdling around half-drunk red-wine glasses, and a ruined half of a pancake cake just sitting there on the counter unrefrigerated. They play croquet so badly that there isn’t even a clear winner or loser, and not one single person makes a Heathers reference and I am left absolutely devastated. They FaceTime with their daughters from second-tier Palm Springs boutiques and the daughters criticize their outfits so harshly that a chasm opens up in the desert and swallows them and their magenta blazers and straw bucket hats into the earth. Just kidding. No one cares, and they get 56 different tacos from Los Pollos Hermanos and have the Uber driver carry them in so that they don’t get grease on their fingers.
But mostly, the rich women talk about Erika. Oh, and Kyle almost puts her foot in it. Good thing she’s limbered up from doing the splits at the dance party the night before. There is a lot of good stuff in this episode, but the one scene that made my eyes pop out of my head like they were the veins in a Super Saiyan’s bicep has the women going around the table describing themselves in one word. They get to Crystal, and she’s trying to formulate her thoughts into a solitary word. Kyle then says, “What would Confucius say?” which is a Mickey Rooney–in–Breakfast at Tiffany’s accent away from being a racial slur. But earlier in the day, Crystal told Kyle that she is descended from Confucius and part of the longest family tree in the world. There are not enough “Phew!”s in the woke world to wipe the sweat that appeared on my brow in the few seconds between Kyle saying that and the flashback. Even Matt Damon was like, “Yeah, we don’t say those words anymore.”
Most of the episode, just like most of this season, is about Erika and her legal woes. As the women lounge around the house in Behind a Target, California, Erika suddenly remember that she owns, or at least her soon-to-be-ex-husband Tom owns, a house just down the street, one she doesn’t know the address of or has ever visited. A flashback shows her during the first season on the show in full “It’s Xx$pensive to be me” mode being like, “I own houses I haven’t even been to!” but it’s different on the other side, isn’t it? She says she asked about the house and the address but never got a straight answer, and everyone wondered aloud whether Tom was keeping another woman or a whole other family in that house. Well, everyone but Kathy Hilton, who’s like, “I have so many houses in so many places I can’t keep them all straight and I get so confused and sometimes I just wander into a stranger’s house completely naked holding a fan and then say, ‘Oopsie. Wrong house!’” This is not a brag or a flex, this just proves how irregular Kathy is (which might be why she needs chia seeds so badly).
Eventually, through some detective work, Kyle and Crystal figure out that Tom actually sold the house back in 2018 and never told Erika. Well, that’s one non-mystery solved. As Erika talks more about life with Tom, she says she has far less agency in the marriage than we might have imagined. She says she paid for everything on credit cards and Tom picked up the tab. If she wanted money, he would give her a wad out of his wallet, like he was Christina Applegate raiding the petty cash in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. She now thinks it’s a good thing that she knows little about Tom’s finances, which are obviously in peril and almost certainly ill-gotten.
Sutton, who just went through an acrimonious divorce of her own, tells her to get some good forensic accountants so that they can find out where all the money went so she can get half of it, but what the women suspect, and is most likely true, is that there isn’t any money to get. It’s all gone; he’s been stealing and borrowing and running, as the L.A. Times will call it in next week’s episode, “a Ponzi scheme.” If anyone is going to be hiring such accountants, it’s going to be federal prosecutors.
We get most of the new information out of Erika thanks to Garcelle, who is this episode’s MVP. First of all, she shows up at Kyle’s house in a full hazmat suit with a surgical mask, face shield, and an infrared desanitizing wand because all of these women just got over a COVID outbreak. Please note that she shows up to pull off this gag in high-heeled boots and then promptly leaves to her hotel room and changes her outfit. She is an instant and forever queen. Then she does the investigative journalism we were looking for and starts giving Erika a Diane Sawyer interview as they stare up at mountains bleached the tawny color of old bones.
Garcelle asks Erika if she got an allowance, and that is where we find out about the credit cards. Then she asks Erika if she saw the lawsuits coming and she says she did not. She then tells us that the divorce was a long time coming. She traces it back to his accident three years ago and how he changed dramatically after that. “There was a shift in his personality, his decision-making, and who he is,” she says. The conversation dried up. He would repeat the same phrases all the time. He started repeating the same stories ten times a day, and if she called him out on it, he would erupt, unleashing his anger and frustration on her. Crystal, whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s, says she noticed that her father would experience the same anger.
Erika then associates the troubles with Tom’s business to his decline over the last few years, but that doesn’t seem to link up with everything about Tom that we’ve read in the press. It seems like his abuses go back much farther, but maybe it’s just now he’s getting caught because he can’t keep it together anymore. Then Erika tells them that Tom calls her every day to ask her to come back home, which seems heartbreaking. But it also doesn’t entirely square with the portrait that she’s otherwise painting of Tom. She tells him that he was cruel and dismissive of her, but then she also tells us that he calls her up, pleading for her to come back.
These two stories seem at odds. Maybe one is false. I can’t say. Maybe they are both true because, let’s be honest, as much as we would like it to be, life isn’t as clean as a story line on a reality-television program. People can be both deteriorating and canny. People can be both cruel and needy. People can be pushing you away and pulling you closer all at the same time. Put that together with years of mismanaging money and relationships and the whole thing is a mess, a Gordian Knot that can’t even be sliced through, just stared at with a resigned sigh as you try to cart it on your back into the next stage of your life.
But Erika doesn’t answer Tom’s calls. Because of all the lawyers, she says that she needs to be able to say that she hasn’t talked to him since the day she left. Again, it’s a contradiction, wanting to help him but needing to protect herself. She says that the lawyers tell her to keep everything close to the vest because the best thing to do in this situation is say nothing. It’s interesting that this is Erika’s natural inclination and she’s sharing more than she ever has, but she also knows this can’t satisfy people’s curiosity.
The really hard part of the episode to watch is when Garcelle and Erika are back in the house with the rest of the women, and Garcelle mentions again that Tom calling her is the saddest thing she’s heard. Erika, retouching her makeup, tries to play it off, but when the whole group sits around, Garcelle brings it up again. “Erika told me, if you don’t mind my sharing, that Tom calls her,” Garcelle says.
Erika is quick to answer, and it’s clear her temper — which we’re reminded of in a montage of flashbacks — has been triggered. “I do mind you sharing because I feel like you’re betraying my friendship. But go ahead, have your moment. Go ahead, babe.” Then she adds, “You got it out of me once, and now you want to do it again.” When Garcelle says that wasn’t her intention, Erika snaps, “Don’t sugarcoat it.”
Crystal says this is a miscommunication. Apparently Erika mentioned to Crystal she didn’t want to talk about the calls anymore, but Garcelle didn’t hear this, which is why she brought it up. Garcelle is clearly trying to gin up sympathy for Erika with the women, and instead she misread her intentions. It seems like Erika saw Garcelle acting like Kyle so often does, as a producer. She thinks Garcelle was prodding her for information, trying to get her to spill, and then after she does, she brings it up again to relitigate it, to let everyone stew in Erika’s juices.
The way Erika reads the situation is clearly wrong, and the way she handles it lacks a bit of grace. Kyle excuses her and says that she’s going through a lot. Sutton is not as generous and thinks that if someone reacts like that to something simple, it means a lot is going on. Erika does have a lot going on. She’s finding out that houses she had never been to and couldn’t get answers about were being sold under her nose. She’s waiting for another story to drop that day, the results of another hearing. This woman is stressed out, and to see her sobbing in the bathroom talking about how she’s trying to be honest and it doesn’t seem like enough for these women (or for the show or the fans).
But this is the part where everyone yells at me because of my relationship with Erika and how I’m much more willing to believe her than many. Of course, other people on these shows have snapped before, and I haven’t been so generous with them because I didn’t know those people. Normally I would say, “Erika should have seen that Garcelle didn’t mean any harm. After all, she brought it up on-camera and that means it is fair game. Why should she care that Garcelle brought it up again?” I think the difference is that while blowups are in Erika’s character, this one seemed so extreme and out of place. If Ramona Singer, say, were to act this irrationally on-camera, that would just be Ramona, and I would get all up in a huff about it because she never acts the way a human should and I would tell Ramona she should be better. But this was unlike Erika. It doesn’t seem like a character flaw that she came after Garcelle like that. I hope that, just like the morning after the Eileen Davidson incident in Hong Kong, we will quickly see Erika apologize for what happened and say that she’s been going through hell and reacted poorly.
But I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know. Erika doesn’t know. She’s trying to do her best and see the possibilities in what is an impossible situation. No one is going to be satisfied and this thing that she’s a part of, the thing that she needs now more than ever as both a means of making money and telling her story on her own terms, is quite possibly the worst thing for her right now. There is a lot wrong, there are a lot of questions, and Erika can’t or won’t give us the answers that we all crave. She knows that. She knows even as she goes out of her comfort zone that it won’t work, that no one will be pleased. Instead of clarity, instead of sympathy, she feels like she is trapped, crying into wadded-up toilet paper, her head curled over her knees, the sobs heaving her entire body as she tries to breathe deep and think of the desert, think of the mountains, think of the little animals scurrying around their holes, think of the lizards, think of the sun, think of the clouds, think of the calls she won’t answer, no, think about tomorrow.