The Real Housewives of Orange County
Just like that, as the pandemic ended, so did this season of The Real Face Shields of Dr. Fauci Memorial Boulevard. We no longer have to worry about COVID. The vaccine is here, the hospitals are empty, everyone wearing masks all the time worked, and everything is back to normal. Haha. Fooled you! Oh, wasn’t that a funny joke?
Yes, the coronavirus is still with us, just like the 900 rolls of toilet paper Shannon Beador hoarded when the world all went into the shitter back in March. The Housewives, after this week, sadly will not be. (Well, except for RHOD and RHOA and also Southern Charm and then Summer House in a few weeks, and …) I have to say, I’m glad this season is pulling to a close, and this final episode just highlighted how weird, diffuse, and disconcerting the season turned out to be.
It started with the dramatic irony of the women working through their petty squabbles knowing that, in just a matter of weeks, the fact that Shannon called Gina’s house sad and depressing would no longer matter when they were all trapped in their houses. Actually, that meant the sadness and depression of Gina’s house mattered even more, because I’d rather be trapped in a rented mansion with a nightclub in the basement than in a two-bedroom duplex with six children, but you know what I mean. Then we started to deal with the COVID of it all and reliving our fears of those early days through the Housewives. It was now great.
Then in the final stretch, we tried grasping for any shred of normalcy we could find. The women tried to go on a trip, but it was lame and stilted and not everyone could come because two of them had COVID. Then they tried to hang out with each other and get back to the uplifting pettiness of dabbling in the reality television arts and sciences, but it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t enough.
Just like that, this season limped to a close, and I couldn’t muster up very much emotion for it. When watching Kandi’s daughter Riley leave for college on RHOA just this week I was a sobbing mess. But I couldn’t muster up the same emotions for Shannon’s daughter Sophie. Yes, we got the same retrospective montage — complete with a cameo of her band LOCK, Ladies of Rock — but it did not hit the same, as the kids say. Maybe that’s because we haven’t shared as many years with Sophie, haven’t seen her full journey.
Or maybe I’m just fed up with Shannon Beador. I applaud the editors for giving us a dozen different squares with Shannon talking about her different anxieties for her daughter going to college, but even Shannon’s anxieties annoy me. That’s because everything about Shannon is about herself. Even worrying about her daughters is a way to reflect the world back onto her. It is a way for her to warp her daughter’s experience and make it be all about herself. At Sophie’s farewell dinner, Shannon toasts her and says, “I can’t wait to watch from the sidelines and see what you accomplish.” Waiting on the sidelines? Please. Shannon is going to referee every game that Sophie ever plays in. She will also be the coach, the goalie, the quarterback, and the right fielder. (Is that how sports work?) Shannon isn’t ever going to let her daughters just do whatever they want, she is going to be in there micromanaging them like Nurse Ratched doling out medications.
Shannon’s big storyline this episode was her clash with Gina. She is upset that Gina was talking about her relationship with John but didn’t pick up the phone to call her. I loved Gina’s line, “All relationships with Shannon are one-sided, and now she’s accusing me of not even doing that one side well.” Gina and Emily are also annoyed because Shannon calls them up all drunk talking shit about John, a three-legged labradoodle who just wants belly scritches, and then when they call her in the morning Shannon just pretends like it’s the same fairy tale as always.
Shannon offers a good defense for this, saying that her marriage was so bad that when she found happiness with John she thought it was magical and didn’t want to ruin that with fighting. But Emily and Gina both know what it takes to stay in a relationship (and when to bail) and Emily has been with Shane, a subreddit about niche RPGs, for more than a decade, so she really knows that all relationships come with fights. Now, knowing all this, hopefully she won’t be so angry with Gina.
This fight, and honestly all of the arguments this episode, is sort of like trying to socialize after lockdown: We all remember how to do it, but it all feels strange and stilted. All of the fights were about phone calls or texts we didn’t see and their meager responses. The arguments were about who was calling who and who was calling back. If someone accused the other of not staying on Zoom long enough, I was going to give my TV a PCR test then lock it in a closet for 14 days no matter what the results were.
So Elizabeth texted Braunwyn a long text about how proud she is of her sobriety but got mad that Braunwyn only texted back “Thank You,” but then apparently Emily called Braunwyn and called her a liar and said she was using her kids for sympathy or something. I don’t know. I didn’t hear the conversation. I only heard about it like 17th hand, like it’s a story about Ferris Bueller dropping dead in a 31 Flavours. (I spell it with a U now. I live in England.)
This all comes up at the big beach party that is supposed to be the finale party for the season, but all of the arguments around the table don’t feel like they’re grounded in real events because they’re not. They’re not about interactions that the women have had, they’re about impressions — from their phone calls, from their texts, from their social media. These are not the things of iconic moments, these are the things of petty squabbles that we already have with our friends. If I wanted that I could just stay at home. OH WAIT, I have to stay at home because everything is shut. Never mind.
The only really interesting interaction was between Braunwyn and Kelly Dodd, who it turns out is a shockingly adept ping pong player. It starts with all of the women accusing Braunwyn of being fake and them having no idea what is going on with her. Luckily for us, Assistant District Attorney Emily Simpson was cross examining for the prosecution, and she got right to the heart of the matter. “Are you in love with Sean?” she asks Braunwyn.
“I love him.”
“Are you in love with Shari?”
“I love her. She doesn’t sleep in my bed. We’re not having sex, if that’s what you’re asking.” Yes, that is what we’re asking. That is what we want to know. Are you or are you not a lesbian? By the end of the episode, she says that she is, and we learn that she has a much younger lesbian who I stalked on Instagram and is a dead ringer for Ruby Rose and I am incredibly jealous because she is hot. We also learn from Braunwyn’s final title card that she no longer talks to Shari. Accccccuuuuueeeeee Me? What happened there? We need more of this story. Did Shari get jealous? Did she say “Sorry, I’m strictly dicktly” like Sheree said at a reunion special and then take off? Is she now Sean’s girlfriend? I am dying to know all about this, and if anyone has some intel, please send me a smoke signal.
The women are asking Braunwyn to define what is going on with her right now, and she says that she doesn’t even know and is trying to figure it out, which is fair. Luckily Emily has more questions and it gets somewhere good. Braunwyn says that she and Sean are working on their marriage and lists the things he has to do to keep her. However, she does not list the things she has to do for him, and she says she’s not willing to have Shari move out yet because she “needs her right now.” Ugh, this is just awful. I know the closet fucks you up, but Braunwyn is using her sobriety as a cudgel to just do whatever she wants.
Emily asks Braunwyn if that is selfish and she says, “I need to be selfish right now.” That is not something a person who is not single and without children should ever say. If you want to be selfish and focus on your career and sleep around without being a relationship, then do you as long as you’re upfront about your intentions and not hurting anyone. However, if you choose to be in a relationship or have children, then you can never be selfish again. There are other people to consider, and no matter what your circumstances are, they need to be considered. There is a way for Braunwyn to get sober without sacrificing the needs and happiness of her husband. Sorry, there is. Maybe she just doesn’t want to see it. She also says she’s not in a rush to figure things out. But you know who is? Sean! He’s walking around in all those immunity necklaces not getting laid while his lesbian wife is hectoring him to stop sending emails all day so that he can afford the house she lives in and the tuition for her to go back to school. Poor Sean.
As the episode ends with Kelly and Braunwyn yelling about whether or not she has to live in conservative Newport Beach rather than liberal Mecca Laguna Beach (also one of my favourite shows, because I’m basically Madonna with a fake accent now and spell everything with Us), I just wanted this to be so much more and so much less. I wanted to hear whether or not Elizabeth and Jimmy were finally having sex and, not only that, if the sex is good and if it’s better since they waited two months. I wanted to hear about what Shannon’s problems with John actually are, not just that they’re having problems. I wanted someone else to yell at Braunwyn for being completely unreasonable and excusing it all with her recovery. I wanted to hear about why Kelly didn’t invite any of the other women to her wedding. (I am assuming both safety concerns and because they all hate her a little.) I wanted it all. I wanted everything, which is just how I feel from my couch, watching TV for another day, another hour, more Housewives, more forgetfulness, as we hope that our normal will come back but know that it’s swimming out further into the ocean, like a pond of dolphins, leaving this sun-dappled shore forever.