There is a deadly and silent menace lurking in Orange County, threatening to upend all of the women’s lives and end the world as we know it today. No, it’s not a novel coronavirus. It is a ghost of a Real Housewife past. How is it that, after she has been fired, Tamra Barney Judge is still the one calling the shots on all the action in this franchise? How many times did her name come up this episode, and how is she still at the center of it all when she’s not even on Andy Cohen’s holiday card list alongside every shirtless twink in New York with an Instagram account?
First Emily tells Gina she played tennis with Tamra that morning and that Tamra told her that Shannon told her that Braunwyn was talking shit about how little Gina’s house is. Then we find out that Tamra told Braunwyn that Gina was making fun of a text that her husband sent her and saying he was pervy. Finally we learn that Braunwyn needs to tell everyone that she is quitting drinking because her mother called up Tamra and told her about it. You would think that info would be safe since Tamra’s husband Eddie no longer has to pretend he’s interested in the cameras hovering over the Dodge Plymouth-sized island in their kitchen. But even though Tamra isn’t on the show anymore, apparently she’s still talking to everyone and spreading gossip, so Braunwyn’s secret isn’t safe with anyone.
Tamra’s insistent presence is going to be a problem going forward — why is she not on the show but still pulling all the strings? It makes no sense. Emily, who is totally my new favorite, says it much better than I could: “Tamra got a day off from her master Lucifer and she has come to earth to let Gina know what is going on,” she jokes. “Tamra needs a hobby that occupies her time so she’s not involved in our lives and everything that is going on.” Amen to that, sister.
So let’s look at the drama that Tamra hath wrought, shall we? First up is telling Gina that Braunwyn was making fun of her tiny house and telling Braunwyn that Gina was calling Sean a creep. This all comes to a head when Gina and Emily head out to what I can only assume is a late lunch, maybe an early dinner? Let’s call it linner. They’re knocking back tequila shots and margaritas and it was so nice to see the two of them back together and having fun again. This is the RHOC that I love.
I love it even more when they start just making fun of Braunwyn, the fact that she thinks she’s special for having an 8,000 square foot house with a dance club in the basement. Then Sean becomes the target and they wonder, as I often do, where all this money is coming from. Sean’s job is about as nebulous as Donald Trump’s natural hairline. He seems to be an “entrepreneur” in the same way that people like, uh, Russell Armstrong and Joe Giudice were before him. Does he even have a job? Then they posit that maybe he’s a male escort, which is why they have that sex apartment. Sean is not an unattractive guy, but there’s no way he’s making 8,000-square-foot-house-and-seven-kids money selling his body. “I can’t believe anyone sleeping with him because of those necklaces,” Gina says, literally channeling my inner monologue. “You mean his immunity idol,” Emily retorts. Okay, I’m sorry, but Emily Simpson is a fucking genius. I have watched all 40 seasons of Survivor and I didn’t even think of this. It’s especially quick-cutting because not only do they look like actual hidden immunity idols on the show, but Sean also looks sort of like the Madame Tussaud’s wax sculpture of Jeff Probst.
The two of them get wasted enough that Gina thinks it’s a good idea to call Braunwyn. It’s like there was a devil on one of my shoulders and an angel on the other and they said, “YES, BITCH, DO IT!” at the same time. It’s a pretty short screaming match where Braunwyn admits to taking shots at Gina but says Gina has been saying things about her husband and she doesn’t want to have this discussion over the phone. I mean, really. Does one pervy text message require an entire sit-down at a half-empty, sun-dappled restaurant that specializes in kale tacos and boba tea?
The text in question happened after Vicki’s tea party birthday last year when everyone went out drinking after filming wrapped. Sean texted Gina, “Braunwyn is asleep but I got her to the condo first ;) Anyway, have a good night and it was great to spend some time with you :)” Gina thinks that it was like him coming on to her and she told Tamra about it last year right after it happened. This means that Tamra was holding onto that ammo until she was off the show and brought it back up to rile Braunwyn. I mean, that is the mark of a true practitioner of the reality television arts and sciences. I don’t think there’s anything really offensive about the text, though. The worst part about it is that Sean uses a winky face emoticon followed by a smiley face emoticon in a world where emojis not only exist but are the lingua franca of texting. This, to me, proves that he is a lazy lover.
Braunwyn’s big problem right now is that she is trying to get sober and it is not going well. We have seen some recovery storylines on our shows before, namely Luann’s court-ordered sobriety journey on Real Housewives of New York City, but a lot of that hard work happened during the off season. Here is Braunwyn two weeks into sobriety. If this season was Trainspotting, she’d still be locked in a room seeing dead babies on the ceiling. Braunwyn’s emotional state can only be described as raw. Rawer than an unbaked cake. Rawer than Dawson’s 50 Load Weekend. (If you don’t get that joke, do not Google it. It’s not for you.)
Honestly it’s a little too real for me, a little too painful to watch. When she goes out to dinner with Sean and again with Shannon, she tells them to order a drink because she doesn’t want people to act differently around her. She doesn’t want anything to change. I hate to break it to her, but things have to change. That’s the point of getting sober. If she just wanted things to stay the same she’d be tossing back Casamigos repisado neat like it’s Denise Richards’ last night at an all-inclusive resort. Braunwyn says she just wants to feel normal again, but that is not going to happen for a long time. Take it from someone who’s been there. But eventually the odd feeling gnawing away at her heart like a worm in the middle of an apple will feel normal. Then it will go away. Then it will be the best feeling she ever had, even better than the feeling of the first time she saw Sean wearing one of his signature necklaces. Even better than the warm glow of that shot going down.
Anyway, the funny thing to me is how Braunwyn wants to disseminate this information. Of course it’s hers to tell people when and where she wants. However, she has talked about this on camera with Emily, so it’s only a matter of time before it’s broadcast and every woman and gay with discerning taste in reality television (and their roommates and spouses) know the truth. She also told Emily, an odd choice considering the two were barely friends. While Emily promised to keep the information to herself, why burden Emily with keeping a secret before she was ready to the rest of the group about her decision to try sobriety? It seems like her mother and Tamra forced her hand and now she has to talk about it. When she picks up Shannon to go to dinner she says, “I have a lot going on right now.” I don’t believe she’s talking about the wardrobe malfunction that is her slouchy white slip dress with a leather jacket awkwardly slung over her shoulders and a pair of booties that look like something you would see in a sock fetishist movie.
She has a chat with Shannon about her situation and how she’s going to lose friends because she’s not drinking, because she’s not fun anymore. That is both true and not true. Yes, she will lose some friends, but are those people she wants in her life anyway? And she can still be the fun one, she just has to be able to get up and dance on a table sober. It’s a skill that plenty of people possess. I mean, look at Real Housewife of New Jersey Margaret Josephs. She’s sober and she threw someone’s husband in a pool. What Braunwyn really needs to do is stop worrying and live her life, her new sober life, and just let the chips fall where they may.
Finally, there’s a little bit of tension when everyone goes to Emily’s house for her daughter Annabelle’s birthday party. I have so many questions about this. Why does the outside of Emily’s house look like a free-standing Panera Bread in a strip mall parking lot across from a Best Buy? Why did she name her daughter after a demonic doll? Why does Sean show up dressed like he’s Disco Stu from The Simpsons? And why is Shannon Beador spending all of her money on some stupid business where her only employees are her new boyfriend’s daughter and four middle-aged white guys in starchy blue shirts and Aldo shoes that they bought in 2002 when she’s probably trying to sell her products to upscale women. Maybe hire a few people in your target demographic, Shannon. Wait, that’s not about Emily’s party.
Yes, Braunwyn and Gina are going to talk, but not yet. Not today. Not at a kids’ birthday party where everyone is wearing cat ears and Gina got her face painted yet again. No one can get in a screaming match about emoticon texts with paint on their face. They decide it will all go down sometime soon, which is most likely next episode. Braunwyn can go out and get in her minivan and let Sean drive her and the kids home. She can cradle her head in her hand the whole way, she can close her eyes and count her breaths, the slow inhale and exhale. She can let the moments tug away at her, pulling each atom away from the center she knew. She can survive the car ride home. She can survive the day. She can survive.