The Real Housewives of Orange County
Here it is, like a prophecy of destruction or a diarrhea fart after a stomach rumble: The coronavirus lockdown that hit us all in mid-March finally makes its way to Orange County. There are some things that we’ll just never be able to stop, like nature or the unforgettable earworm of Lindsay Lohan’s “Bossy.”
As has been the case all season, I was not really happy to be dealing with these early lockdown feelings once again. When Gina is talking to her mother on the phone, she says, “They just closed the kids’ school for a month. A month!” Oh, sister. I have seen into your future and it will be a lot longer than a month. Those little cherubs will stare blankly at a computer screen for a year and haven’t learned a thing since March except how to worry about their own mortality, how to properly wear a mask, and a whole host of new curse words from their bored and frustrated parents.
The funny thing about watching this is that each one of the Housewives handled preparing for the pandemic exactly the way you think she would. Emily, as always, is levelheaded and efficient. Kelly works through it with cheesy jokes and saying that it’s just like the flu, which, in her defense, was a popular refrain among people of all ideologies back at the time. (How she’s behaved since then … well, I have seen into her future too and all of the tarot cards just say “You have been blocked by Kelly Dodd on Twitter.”)
Elizabeth handles the coronavirus just how she handles everything else, by talking about money and her divorce. On the last afternoon of Braunwyn’s vow renewal, the women split up and Braunwyn, Kelly, and Elizabeth go to a modern house that is an architectural landmark and also a total ripoff of Philip Johnson’s Glass House but with a boulder in the living room where a Lucite table with lines of cocaine on it should be. Hello, I have been to Palm Springs and every house I’ve visited there has one, so it must be universal.
While they’re there, Kelly and Braunwyn tell Elizabeth that she talks too much about money and about her divorce and that she should really shut up about it. I get it, it’s what is going on in her life, but if she wants to move past this, she needs something else to occupy herself. Meanwhile, Shannon, Gina, and Emily are on a hike and they are trying to figure out Elizabeth’s divorce too because they say the timeline doesn’t make any sense. They feel like she’s hiding something. I don’t think that she’s hiding something nefarious, but I also don’t think that we’re getting the full story. That may be because Elizabeth is withholding, or it could be because, honestly, she can’t talk about it until the divorce is finalized, but for her favorite subject, it sure is patchy.
Later, we see her by herself going to Curl Fitness. Oh, I think we know her sister, Cut? Where do we know here from? Did we go to middle school with Cut Fitness? Did we used to work with her? I don’t know. Apparently I follow her on Instagram, but she’s on mute for some reason. Hmmm. Weird. Anyway, after training, Elizabeth FaceTimes her mother, and I swear that Elizabeth has spent more time FaceTiming her mother than she has actually hanging out with the group as a whole. She’s upset that “these women” are skeptical of her and her divorce. She asks her mother, “Why do I have to justify my personality, who I am, and where I came from?” Because that is entirely the exercise you signed yourself up for. Being a Real Housewife, in fact any profession in the reality-television arts and sciences, is about justifying your personality, who you are, and where you came from. Those who are best at it are completely open about themselves and let the audience share in that. Elizabeth, hiding behind a court order, is not doing that. Instead, she just talks about it incessantly, as if it will reveal something about her, and it’s just more and more curtains over the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
The best juxtaposition of the women dealing with the pandemic, though, is the scene of Shannon freaking out in her house with that of Gina shopping at an Italian market. Shannon’s boyfriend’s daughter, a.k.a. her assistant, is at Costco and can’t get any of the things Shannon wants, particularly meat. Shannon doesn’t keep meat in her house because she gets her meat fresh every day, which is a setup for a joke that Kelly Dodd would knock out of the park, catch in right field, and trade in for a hot dog, which she would then make another joke about.
Shannon is literally crying because she might run out of paper towels. Shannon, who is lording over a hoard that she just ordered online, is instructing the children that she has to make her own hand sanitizer. She picks up a vitamin-size bottle and says, “I don’t know what this is. Agaricus. We have to take that too.” Why, Shannon? Why do you have to take it? Why do you need these things? Just be normal and cautious. Stay inside. Wash your hands. Take a Xanax. Calm down.
I get it, she has a lung condition, which means she’s vulnerable to the virus, but we also saw that she was worried about the Zika virus two years ago, when they were in Jamaica. Zika isn’t great, but it’s really only a problem if she plans on conceiving again. We all know that particular ship has sailed, cheated on her, left her for another woman, and absolutely loathes her while he does Spartan races every weekend. Yes, the beginning of the pandemic was a scary time for many of us, but Shannon is inflating it because she is a narcissist. That is what Shannon’s form of hypochondria really is. (If you haven’t noticed, I put on my Real Housewives Psychological Examination monocle.)
When Shannon calls Kelly to talk about everything she says, “I don’t want to make this all about me,” but that’s exactly what she’s doing. Shannon uses disease and affliction to draw attention to her neediness, to draw attention to her anxiety, to draw attention to herself. If everyone has to be focused on Shannon’s needs, then they are focused on Shannon. But her worst tendency is to deny this tactic even as she does it. “I don’t want to make it about me,” “I don’t like to be weak” — these are just more ways for her to elicit our sympathy, to deny the very thing that she’s doing. The complexities are enough that I need to take a chill pill and stare at them as they pop out of the ceiling like a chess scene in The Queen’s Gambit.
Meanwhile, Gina is at the Italian market buying a whole bag of sausages. Shannon is worried about getting some frozen chicken, and Gina is like, “Ten pounds of gabagool, paisano!” I am much more in the Gina camp of preparing for the apocalypse. As bad as I knew things were going to get, I knew they couldn’t close supermarkets. I knew that we weren’t actually going to run out of toilet paper, and even if we ran out of toilet paper, in my house a quick shower after a poo will do you fine. I was at the Whole Foods buying food like I normally would, knowing that, if push came to shove, I’d be much happier subsisting on bag after bag of Pirate’s Booty than I would on frozen chicken breasts and broccoli. If we’re going to be stuck, we might as well be stuck with the foods we love.
Last up is Braunwyn and, whoa, nelly. She is handling COVID just as she is handling everything in her life right now, which is about as well as a starfish trying to order a Jamba Juice. I feel like right now Braunwyn couldn’t even find her asshole if she had two hands and a flashlight. That therapist’s visit! She had a miscarriage, she was in the closet for five days, she was drinking so much she had to go to the psych ward. I mean, is this a therapy session or an audition for a remake of The Bell Jar?
I feel bad for her, especially when we see her at home and she’s talking to Rowan, her second-eldest daughter, who suffers from anxiety and OCD. Rowan is worried about everything, naturally, and Braunwyn’s solution is to take her to an AA meeting. She says that morning she went and it was full of such nice, lovely grandmas and grandpas. No! Braunwyn! Don’t do it. First of all, AA isn’t just for everyone. It is for alcoholics. Second, don’t bring your nasty germs around the grandmas and grandpas. Keep them at home. Protect the elderly. Let them live to share their wisdom long into the second President Kamala Harris administration.
Suddenly, she snaps at Sean, protector of the immunity idols, and says that his optimism is getting annoying. She just wants to be able to speak. Then she talks about crawling out of her skin, about having nowhere to go, about feeling trapped. Her therapist was right, Braunwyn’s biggest problem isn’t just staying sober, it’s about how she’s going to mitigate her anxiety now that alcohol isn’t doing the job.
At the end of the episode, we see the “on the rest of this season on the COVID Night Sweats of Lockdown Canyon” trailer and it looks like Braunwyn is having trouble in her marriage and maybe also having a girlfriend. Then I logged onto Twitter to see that she has come out. No, not even bisexual, because we all kind of knew that. She says she’s a lesbian and she has never been attracted to men. I mean. Is that what Sean’s necklaces were to ward off? Lesbianism? This season is shaping up to be crazy when it comes back from lockdown. Also, good for her finally living her truth. This also makes her the first full-time openly lesbian Housewife, so there’s that too.
Then my thoughts turned to her daughter Rowan, who said one of the most chilling things I’ve heard about the initial lockdown. “I’m not scared of the sickness,” she tells her parents. “I’m scared of the older people I know dying. I’m afraid of running out of food. I don’t think we’re going to have a prom, and I was really looking forward to that stuff.” The same is true of Shannon’s eldest, Sophie, who is never going to get to be a debutante now. (She says it’s a ceremony where a “young woman enters society,” and I thought, by society you mean the patriarchy? Okay, great.) But here they are, shut in their houses, vines wilting in their pots, flowers unable to bloom because they haven’t been watered, fruits afraid to ripen so they rot on the ground of a fallow orchard.