When Countess Crackerjacks walked into the recording studio to lay down the vocals for her latest hit track, it was like déjà vu. It was just like that episode way back in season three when Luann first walked into a recording studio with Hitz St. Cloud, her former Svengali, to create the classic known as “Money Can’t Buy You Class.” This time she’s recording with Desmond Child, who wrote hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Luann has certainly come up in the world, recording with an actual artist, but everything else is exactly the same. She still can’t sing, she still has to record multiple times, and we’re still wondering if she’s actually going to pull this off or embarrass herself like a retiree trying to hop onto a Bird scooter.
The new song is called “Viva La Diva!” which sounds like a catchphrase that someone is trying to get to take off. It sounds like it’s from a movie about a former fictional child star and she’s all grown up now and people keep approaching her on the street to say, “Viva La Diva!” and you think, Oh that must have been her catchphrase, but that sounds more like a catchphrase someone would write rather than something that would actually enter the popular vernacular on its own. Anyway, Luann should probably call the song “Livin’ Viva Diva” because Child seems to only have hits with the consonant-droppin’ word “livin’” in the title.
The reverberation of this scene across the Housewives Space Time Continuum got me thinking a lot about growth and change. If the women stagnate, if they can’t possibly evolve, then why are we still watching this show more than a decade after LuAnn (still with a capital A) told Bethenny to call her Mrs. de Lesseps in front of the driver?
I think that the best Housewives have a little bit of difference and a little bit of consistency in them. There’s something about the ritual of them repeating their self-delusions that we love, like a dysfunctional lullaby. But, again, it can’t be exactly the same because every song, no matter how sweet, eventually gets played out. Just ask “You Oughta Know” in 1995. I think the best example of this is Sonja Tremont Morgan of the Buffalo Bob’s Bingo Balls Morgans. She takes Ramona on a tour of her renovated townhouse and says that, “It’s not fancy, but it’s clean and new.” As she walks Ramona around the house we see that there are giant fan art portraits of her hanging on all of the walls, because this is Sonja Morgan’s home and she wants you to know it.
It all seems the same, it all seems consistent, right down to the three interns she has hovering around her, hoping that they won’t complain of the smell of rotting Blackberries stuck in the bidet or the thousands of other OSHA violations haunting that house like all of Sonja’s ghosts. But then we learn that she’s actually going to sell the townhouse. After all of these years of being stuck in her past, of holding on to that Wesson oil-filled basement, Sonja is willing to let go of the touchstone of her past to find a future of her own. We find out that she was unsuccessful in offloading the property, but her wanting to move on is in itself a bit of an improvement, just enough to keep us interested.
Leah is still new to the group, but we got to see her grow at least a little bit in this season. She goes with her daughter and mom, Bunny, to decorate gingerbread houses and she says that she has learned how to have a better relationship with her mother. Well, it’s complicated. “You told me to go to hell the other day,” Leah says to her mother.
“What did you say to me first?” she replies.
“I told you to fuck off.” Yes, that is the Leah we have learned to love over these past 21 episodes. She is brash, she is bold, and she is bratty. I think that the little bit of learning she did this season definitely came from her boxing coach Martin, who we saw work absolute psychological wonders on the Late Tinsley Mortimer (RIC — Rest in Chicago). Later in the episode, Leah and Sonja set up a trip to go exercise together. Oh please take Sonja to Martin. Pretty pretty pretty please with an “It’s About Tom” on top. I need to see this episode. I need to see Martin totally fix Sonja’s life and for the two of them to fall in love and find hoagie-eating happiness in Sonja’s haunted Upper East Side mansion.
AS for Luann, though she is still doing the same things she did nine seasons ago, those things are still working for her. After several seasons being a drunken narcissist, Luann has changed back into, well, an intermittently sober narcissist, but at least one who pretends to cry now when her friends upset her. She’s sticking to being a cabaret queen, but she’s not crowing about it from the rooftop of Feinstein’s anymore.
Her new show “Fuck, Marry, Kill” is, however, just an excuse to tell more jokes about getting arrested and falling into bushes, but give the people what they want, I guess. Honestly, the best thing about her cabaret preview was seeing so many members of the Real Housewives Institute in the audience. There was Vice President of Gift Shop Sales Ben Rimalower, Director of Nigerian Soccer Team Outreach Jess Rothchild, Inaugural Kyle Richards Memorial White Party Planner Sarah Galli, and, of course, Intern for Life Molly Fitzpatrick. How I would have loved to be there. These days all we do is remember. Remember cabaret? Remember going to events with your friends? Remember just running into friends at events and then talking about Housewives for about three hours because that is what seemed most important in the world? Ugh, when did everything get heavier than Luann’s mirror-ball encrusted hat at the Drag Queen Bingo party?
Speaking of the Drag Queen Bingo Party, where Sonja’s raising money for “the LGBT+ community” — hey, she’s still using the definite article, but at least she’s finally added on the “+” — it goes off mostly without a hitch, except Ramona Singer brought a hamhock of a straight guy to this big gay party and is also shocked when she arrives and finds out that it’s full of gay guys. Ramona has no interest in any event unless she can meet a man there. She would go to a Trump rally if she thought she could get a date out of it. Well, she would probably go to a Trump rally just because, but you see what I’m saying.
When Sonja brings this up on stage, Ramona charges the dais and starts to interrupt Sonja’s speech, saying she didn’t tell her it was a gay party and bringing up texts on her phone. Ramona is going for the receipts like this is a reunion, and meanwhile it’s a charity event with an audience that cares little about her outburst and wishes that she would just shut up about loving the graphic symmetry of the word 69 so that they can hear the drag queen on the stage. Dorinda says that this behavior is disgusting, but do I need to remind everyone how awful they all were during the speech that women Bridie gave at her own charity event? It’s like some sort of bad behavior feedback loop.
That all becomes clear at the end of the party, when all of the women are standing in a clump so they can have a little producer-orchestrated talk about how far they’ve come this season. Leah, in an amazing dress that I was going to say looked straight out of the ’90s before she told us she bought it at Pat Fields in 1995, tells the rest of the women that Tinsley may have introduced her to them and Dorinda immediately interrupts. “I’m not doing that. I’m not giving Tinsley that,” Dorinda shouts as she breaks away from the scrum.
This incident is interesting for two reasons. The first is that it becomes all about the show. Dorinda is supposedly upset that Leah is saying Tinsley introduced her when that might be something false cooked up by the show, but Dorinda really just doesn’t want to bring up “that bitch.” Dorinda takes the nice moment and starts shouting in everyone’s faces, “Tinsley almost ruined our show. She left the show and breached her contract, and you want to do a toast to her.” This is some great fourth wall breaking and I wonder if they thought the show would really fold when she left (of course it wouldn’t). But what’s even more interesting, and scarier, is the vitriol that Dorinda still has for Tinsley. That vitriol might have even been why Tinsley left. Who would want to show up to work every day when there is an insane anger hose that is going to spray all over her face and not let her get a word in edgewise?
As the women scatter, Leah sits down with Luann. After a brief smell test and mouthing that her pits stink, Leah listens to what Luann has to say. “When you don’t grow, that is what happens over there,” she says about Luann, and she’s right. Yes, all of these women are stagnant to some degree. Sonja still won’t touch the Morgan letters even though her six-year marriage ended more than a decade ago. Ramona is still going on about the Christmas cards she used to take with her ex-husband. Luann is still using a title that has been void longer than Sex and the City was on television.
But they’re all trying. They may be wilted, but they’re sunflowers growing, ever so steadily toward the light. Dorinda is not. She is not changing. She is spiraling, like the last bits of a bubble bath as they gurgle in the drain. If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, every inaction has an equal and opposite amount of psychological damage. Dorinda has just been accruing it and accruing it like emotional interest, a negative karma whose balance sheet can never be tallied. This is how she is going to go out, this is her last scene, snapping at her friends and raging over something completely insignificant based on some cockamamie principle.
As Dorinda left the party in a huff with her iridescent turban in knot, she walked along the New York sidewalk, past heaps of garbage in electric blue bags. Everything seemed full. Everything was happening. She didn’t know what the future held just after Christmas. She didn’t know that on the other side of the world something was multiplying that would render her life asunder, like the metaphorical butterfly wings creating a tornado. As she reached an intersection and looked down the avenue before crossing, a black SUV pulled up alongside her. The rear door opened and a redhead sat inside. She pushed her long hair behind one ear and said, “Get in. There’s somewhere I have to take you.”
“Where are we going? I don’t want to go. I’m not ready.”
“It’s time,” Jill Zarin said. “There’s something I have to show you.” Dorinda got into the car and closed the door behind her with a light slam and the car pulled away, through a cloud of steam seeping up from the pavement like it was creating a portal into another world.