This episode introduced us to something so terrifying, so incredibly unsettling that I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep for a collection of nights while it haunts my dreams. Yes, I’m talking about the menagerie of horrible raccoon paintings scattered around Kelly’s room at Lake Arrowhead like the contents of a rifled-through trash can. It’s like someone commissioned Bob Ross to paint a series of images of ghouls and instead he painted some fluffy little raccoons with eyes that follow you around the room and will steal your soul if you look into them for more than seven seconds. I swear those raccoon paintings were a punishment from Jumanji.
The other crazy thing we got a glimpse of in this episode is Shane Simpson’s garage. After about a week, every Housewives fan’s favorite Twitter punching bag has returned from his COVID stay in the hospital and Emily can tell he’s back to normal because he’s cleaning his garage. “And you’re annoying me, so that’s normal, too,” is his retort, because a Shane’s gotta Shane.
But did you see the garage? It isn’t paved in cement like a normal garage; it has that durable black finish that is also soft and porous, like the flooring at a trampoline park or something. (Hi, Jim Bellino! Love your place!) And he’s power washing it. Who owns a power washer? And who power washes their garage? And who owns a pinball machine and has it in their garage? Or maybe that’s some crazy Mormon time-travel device he’s going to use to go back in time to prevent Mary M. Cosby from marrying her grandfather not by blood! Who can tell?
There’s a whole lot of COVID this episode. Emily and Shane have recovered from it, Shannon is dealing with her positive diagnosis, Kelly was exposed to it and has to cancel her trip to Napa, and Braunwyn tries to give it to herself through the power of positive thinking while her embattled husband, Sean, talks her out of it on the phone. At one point we got a chyron that said, “One week later,” because there was literally no one left to film. I mean, who could they film? Gina and Elizabeth? Yeah, that’s a no from me, dawg.
Shannon’s COVID journey continues to be a bit confusing for me. She has been at her boyfriend John’s house for what she says is two weeks, but then when she gets her positive test, she goes back home to her daughters. The house, of course, is a mess, with dog poop, dirty dishes, and peelings from zoodles all over the place. Of course, Shannon’s teen daughters treated the house like their own personal litter box, but they know their mother. Couldn’t they have at least gone through a frenzy of cleaning while she was on her way home like they just threw a rager and a girl got her hair stuck in a door and Long Duck Dong was passed out in the driveway while everyone stood around and wondered how they could have ever been so racially insensitive?
But if Shannon was away for two weeks, are we sure she got it from them? Also if they’re treating John like he’s going to inevitably get it (which, duh), then why can’t he just return to Shannon’s house with her, his negative test be damned? And if Shannon has been gone for two weeks, why is Sophie just having trouble breathing now? Shouldn’t her symptoms be abating? I’m so confused by this whole timeline and Shannon’s somewhat arbitrary and reactionary way of handling the disease, but, then again, COVID doesn’t make sense and is always behaving strangely, so who am I to tell someone else how to deal with it?
Braunwyn and Sean went on a weekend away to “The Montage,” which is either a resort or the name of one of the teams on the last season of Celebrity Apprentice. She made it look on Instagram like it was a romantic getaway, but it was really a trip to decide if they were going to stay married. “Well, what was the answer?” Emily asks her. “Um. No,” Braunwyn says. But she’s still with him in his house. Are they getting divorced or not? Does she even know? I know that Braunwyn has come out as a lesbian, but are she and Sean still together? I’m so confused! This year has been a mess, and all I want is some clarity, and if I can’t even get it from my shitty, escapist reality television, then how am I going to get it in real life?
The lesbianism, naturally, seems like a big problem for Braunwyn and Sean continuing to remain hitched. The blonde, thin, yoga-attired elephant in the room seems to be Shari, another mother whom Braunwyn has literally moved into her house as her friend and bubble mate. Okay, are these two getting it on like Kristen Stewart and anyone with a chic haircut or what? Does Shari know that Braunwyn is totally doing ReFace GIFs of the two of them where she puts their pictures into Fried Green Tomatoes — and not the Kathy Bates scenes, either? Is this a requited love affair, is what I’m asking, and does Sean think his immunity idols will protect him from this? What is wrong with me this week? All I have are questions and no one has answers. Please, give me answers, a pineapple Spindrift, a bag of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough Bites, and send me to bed. Thank you. Love, Brian.
The one person we finally got answers from is Elizabeth Vargas. The last episode ended with her making some strange allusions to being in a cult and then having a panic attack. As the episode starts, Braunwyn is coaching her through the panic attack. “Tell me five things you can see,” Braunwyn says, connecting her to the physical world, which is the best thing for a panic attack. “Now tell me two things you can smell. Now tell me one thing you can feel.” You can see that Braunwyn has coached Dr. Deb through more than one bad ayahuasca trip and her training has paid off.
Once Elizabeth calms down, she gives Braunwyn the whole story in pieces. It turns out that Elizabeth’s grandmother ran a cult and her father was one of the main religious leaders. (Speaking of Mary M. Cosby, cults and messed-up grandmothers seem to be a leitmotif this year across the Real Housewives diaspora.) They lived on a commune until she was 13, and everyone had to wear the same uniform and eat only the things that her father and grandmother provided. There was also a lot of sexual abuse, particularly of the girls, going on in this religion. One day, a neighbor boy was hanging out with Elizabeth and they went into a teepee in her front yard and she told the kid what the adults did to her in that tent. He went home and told his parents, who called the cops, and the cops called the FBI and they showed up to shut down the religion. Elizabeth says that day her dad said to her, “You have lost a father.”
Elizabeth tells Braunwyn, who was previously digging for dirt on Elizabeth, that she can Google all of this. Um, can you tell us the name of the cult, please, because I will get on my off-brand Samsung Galaxy Tablet and research the ever-loving raccoon painting out of that cult? I will turn it into a podcast, a true-crime series, and a TV show based on the podcast and true-crime series. It looks like next week, when Elizabeth’s brother comes to visit, we’re going to get even more harrowing tales of this cult, and I don’t want to say I can’t wait, because that seems insensitive, but also I can’t wait.
Do you think that producers knew about this when they cast Elizabeth? I imagine they didn’t, since she tells Braunwyn she’s never really talked about it. Think about the producer who was there while they were filming the scene, trying to lower his mask from his eyes just enough so that he can text everyone at Bravo, “Holy shit, Elizabeth is a cult survivor and we didn’t even know!!” while this is unfolding in real time.
Elizabeth and Braunwyn go to join Gina and Kelly at the lake where they are doing some “catch and release” fishing, but mostly they’re just killing fish. Elizabeth tells them that it was a rough da,y and Gina asks, “Anything you want to tell us about?” Give Gina a freaking Pulitzer for the reporting work she does on that pier, asking Elizabeth all the questions she wants. As Elizabeth starts unfolding the story, Gina asks, point blank, “You were molested?”
“Yeah, bad,” Elizabeth answers.
“In many situations?”
“Yeah, by many men.”
I could see how if Elizabeth is making these admissions, you might want to give her some breathing room to get all of the details out in her own time when she might be less triggered. Not Gina. She dives right into that murky lake and plucks the sludge right up from the bottom. Elizabeth does say some really revealing things along with all of this. From her earliest days, she was forced to put a smile on her face and go along with this crazy religion and they wouldn’t allow her to be sad. She says, “I found it easier to live in a fantasy of happiness than the reality of my depression.” That, right there, is why she makes up all of these stories. She just wants everyone’s approval, she just wants them to think that she’s cool and rich and fun, because if they think that, they won’t have to know that she was a crazy cult lady who broke up her family and maybe possibly also inadvertently caused her father’s death. Holy shit, is this Housewives or a Freudian case study? This thing just got darker than the bottom of a mine shaft during an eclipse.
As they were sitting on that pier, with all of Elizabeth’s muck finally coming up to the surface, she felt a little tug on her line. Everyone went from dour to excited for a brief shining moment. “I caught something! I caught something!” She yelled, pulling the tiniest, loneliest, breathiest little fish out of that sad sloppy lake. “I don’t want to kill you, little fishy, but I’m so glad I caught something,” she told the other women. Gina, skilled at removing fish hooks from her time taking fish hooks out of dogs for the community service required for her DUI, eased the fish off the hook, and handed it to Elizabeth. She took that poor injured thing, something they thought might never swim again, and lowered it down to the water with her hands clasped tightly together. It seemed, if you looked at it from a distance, like she was praying.