In my many years of navigating friend groups as a Black woman, two maxims have consistently held true: (1) not all skinfolk are your kinfolk; (2) there is a thin line between love and hate, and that tension can often be explored in platonic friendships just as much as romantic ones. This week’s episode of Real Housewives of Potomac is a character study in both sentiments — this flock of dames, confined to a house, are left with nothing but their own devices and respective ire for each other this episode, and what comes out in the wash is equal parts surprising and inevitable.
Karen and Gizelle are still in the thick of round two when the episode kicks off, treading the same ground as the initial dinner of the season. Surprisingly, Wendy and Candiace serve as the voices of reason this go-around, pleading with them to abandon trying to litigate a years-old feud every time they break bread. The production team drove the point home by offering up a montage of their blowout moments. To Karen’s credit, it seems to bear out the argument that Gizelle has long been the initiator of their conflict, and Karen is simply striking back. (The clips also doubled as a retrospective in Karen’s hairstyling journey — the Grand Dame has come a long way from the lion’s manes and cornrow wigs she used to just slap on her head, and we praise God for that.) Karen’s entire point gets obscured, however, by the fact that she keeps clinging to the “death allegations” instead of her more apt rebuttal that this is an accumulation of multiple years of disrespect between the two. Gizelle remains unbothered, her legs placed up on a chair in feigned disinterest. Candiace, of all people, calls both women childish and requests that they throw down their gauntlets another day.
The women break to get situated in their respective housing for this trip which is … separate and quite unequal. I avoided getting into this last week as much as I could, but it begs to be said at this point: Kingsmill Estates is a former plantation, and to refer to any place of residence as “servant’s quarters” as such … the likelihood is that servants didn’t stay in that cottage, slaves did. The house has clearly been restored and furnished inside — albeit with similar finishings as a Residence Inn — and the exterior honestly looks better than Gizelle’s “West Wing.” I just find it peculiar that a group of educated Black women failed to note such a glaring observation while settling into this Downton Abbey dynamic. More peculiar is the fact that Robyn has no qualms about sleeping separately from her friend Askale — who refers to the lodging as a “three-star accommodation” — when she brought her into the group, choosing to keep Mia around instead, which only reinforces the suspicion that they are trying to strategically separate her from Karen and cut Mrs. Huger out of filming moments.
Unfortunately, Gizelle’s callousness isn’t limited to her enemies; even her best friend, Robyn Dixon, ends up on the wrong end of an inquisition. I find it totally fair to inquire as to Robyn’s lethargy and admitted lack of motivation and followthrough in the moment, and her admission that the kids were suffering for it was brave, considering that people are always ready to call Black moms bad parents. But Gizelle’s notable lack of empathy doing so, on the other hand, is jarring. So much of her concern lies in the fact that Robyn should be doing everything possible to remain desirable to Juan and her shock at the use of the word “unattractive,” which I found more than a bit insensitive but also revealing of Gizelle’s sense of priorities. Robyn should be seeking wellness for herself, not merely to preserve a relationship with Juan. Honestly, we give Juan entirely too much credit for being handsome and non-confrontational and forget that their marriage originally ended due to infidelity, financial stressors, and the strain of him being absent when the children were young. To date, we have barely seen him show up as a partner onscreen beyond being physically present, and low moments like this are when you need your partner to show up for you more than ever. Askale rises to the occasion and suggests to Robyn that she may be in the throes of depression and that therapy and a life coach may be the next step for her to take. The pandemic has thrown a lot of us for a loop, and Robyn being honest about that is probably the most relatable she has been on this show, and I hope her best friend will work to give her grace in working through it. Back in the DMV, however, Michael, a retired James Bond villain, can barely contain his toothy Cheshire grin upon the realization that Juan seems to be nowhere close to walking down the aisle.
You would think that considering her own extenuating circumstances, Robyn wouldn’t be so gung-ho to pile on Zen Wen, but self-awareness and circumspection are hard skills to master. Wendy clearly has evolved from her first season on the show, and you would need to be Stevie Wonder not to notice it, but the level of fervor with which Gizelle and Robyn are interrogating this is more unseemly than the alleged transgressions. Admittedly, Wendy did herself no favors in the conversation by sporting a comically ill-fitting Versace top to dinner, but being tacky is far from a cardinal sin, and if anyone should know that well, it is the alum of the so-called “Real HU” (don’t stone me, Howard Bisons!).
From the cleverly edited scene that makes it look like Wendy is walking up the stairs at the same time as Robyn and Gizelle are commiserating over Wendy’s new look and the infidelity rumors (which Gizelle is now broaching for the third time), to the close-up shots of Wendy’s face as Gizelle launches into her inquiry of Dr. Osefo’s behavior, the producers are really putting their skills to work this episode. Word to the wise: you can’t allege a lack of judgment while calling someone “loose” and lacking substance. What did substance bring both women besides terrible partners? I’m not entirely surprised that a former First Lady of a church is reacting so harshly to a little less modesty, but in season one, Gizelle couldn’t be found anywhere without a bodycon dress, so perhaps she should let people choose to be skintight and tacky in peace. Making a jab about substance to Wendy is a bit uncalled for, considering that she is certainly the most educated in the group; but moreover, what is the purpose of holding such an arbitrary standard on a Bravo reality TV show? Half of the leading stars of the franchises are about to be felons. As Candiace says, they need to mind their own areola and stop feigning concern. There are some jokes that you just have to keep in the group chat, and presenting snark under the guise of worry is tasteless. I just wish that Wendy had rebutted with “my left implant has more substance than you” in real time instead of relegating it to a confessional.
Gratefully, Karen stands behind Wendy, stating that she shouldn’t have to explain her sartorial choices to the group and later comforting her during an emotional moment. Wendy has a new body, wants to show it off after coming into the reality world two-months postpartum, and is just going through the growing pains of trying to find her fashion voice. Can you imagine having your style assessed by someone in a rose-patterned sweater? Honestly, did the caramel candies come with Gizelle’s garment, or did she have to buy those separately? The only person that has somewhat of a point is Mia, who states that diplomats and revered celebrities such as Oprah and Michelle Obama remain conservatively dressed for their professional image, but even that falls a bit flat. Wendy is not Oprah or Michelle, who wouldn’t be caught dead on Real Housewives. Whoever would judge her wardrobe in professional circles is already already looking down on Wendy for consorting with low-class reality-TV ilk such as them in the first place. Naturally, when the tables turn onto Gizelle to elaborate on her personal circumstances, she is not nearly as forthcoming with her own struggles, which is par for the course at this point; as Karen pointed out, she likes to attack others to deflect from the problems in her own life, and the gimmick is increasingly wearing thin.
Next week Wendy pushes through and shows off a stunning swimsuit, Ashley gets thrown under the bus for doing Gizelle’s dirty work, and we continue to hurtle towards the inevitable Wendy and Gizelle confrontation.
Listen, I know that the Eileen Davidson accords can apply to the friends of the cast as well, but Askale is giving me *nothing* to work with here. She’s not serving looks or glam, her personality isn’t shining through in these group moments, and we have no real sense of her own background and what she brings to the table in this ensemble. Hopefully she can turn this around, because she may be the first forgettable addition to the crew since Gizelle kept bringing around her “business partner” to antagonize Karen over Ray.
Just how long ago were Wendy’s nips and tucks completed? The girls took care of her luggage as if she just got out of the recovery room yesterday.
This season for Ashley and Michael is turning into serious image rehab for their family unit. Someone needs to inform them that despite their efforts, no number of staged scenes will outdo the repeated cheating allegations, drunken instigations, and groping allegations that Ashley’s sentient wax statue of a husband has been at the center of. That said, kudos to Ashley for bravely nursing in a white dress before a family photo shoot; the risk for a mishap with a newborn baby was more than a little high.
As I said last week, there is nothing to do in Williamsburg. I get that COVID brought serious limitations that had to be considered for filming locations, but water aerobics and a whiskey tasting is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel for activities. You can get both of those done at your local YMCA.
While I deeply respect Karen for standing up for Wendy, I need her to understand that not one viewer of this show is keen to see her pubic hair, and I say that with all the love in my heart.