The Real Housewives of Potomac
When I was a teenager, I used to love to leave school as early as possible to run home and catch my stories, from Days of Our Lives and General Hospital to the early aughts cult classic Passions (I was still a 4.0 student!). In soaps, the frequency of filming leads to cyclical rounds of hyperbolic drama: a villain is never dead, a character with a persona transformation has a secret twin, a third party is invested in devastating a relationship. A few defining details may change depending on the circumstance, but the template is largely copied and pasted; after a while, it becomes easy to predict character’s actions and motivations while no less thrilling to watch play out.
This preamble is my way of saying that Monique Samuels of Atlantic City, New Jersey, must have been watching this current episode of Real Housewives of Potomac with a shit-eating grin and popcorn in her hand. After all the handwringing that season over her behavior — which was simultaneously confrontational, defensive, and understandable — this current season is following similar beats. Gizelle, aware of an ongoing rumor about another family (but never about hers), manipulates someone else into doing her dirty work, feigning innocence in her complicity and irritation in the scale of the response. The rest of the ensemble stands by the green-eyed bandits, genuflecting to her framing of events and protecting the image of the poised upper-class Black woman, despite the skeletons in her closet.
It is fascinating to see Gizelle wilfully bend the truth to her convenience. When poor Ashley Darby —who is so desperate to stay in the mix that she is serving as Gizelle’s mouthpiece — makes the trip down to Williamsburg and asks her why Karen is reporting to her that Wendy cried over an attack led by the her last night, the master puppeteer feigns confusion. Her questions were a matter of concern, not an interrogation or attack. Karen is a liar who tells fables, why trust the narrative that came from her over me, whose hot pink high tops serve as a shining beacon of truth? I didn’t say she couldn’t be sexy, I just had questions! Maybe she won’t be able to receive the information from the blogs that I keep repeating on camera out of love; since your husband can’t stay out of the news, why don’t you give it a shot on your own, Ashley. I’m sure she’ll love that. The scene is a master class in manipulation, and Ashley falls for the gambit hook, line, and sinker.
What is happening with Wendy is particularly frustrating. There is merit in some of the conversations being had with her, but the execution is so deeply rooted in perceptions of respectability and propriety that it renders all discussions null and void. It’s indisputable that Wendy is showing a different side of herself, but to use her new style of dress as a matter of concern is ludicrous. Wendy could remain in a knapsack for the rest of the season and I would still want to get an understanding of her pivot into a lifestyle line or her one-liner reads that were clearly rehearsed prior to filming. The first few episodes felt like Wendy was looking for a moment to confirm that she had arrived at the big kids’ table in her sophomore season and was ready to give as good as she got; that moment ultimately comes for her organically in Episode 7, courtesy of a whiskey tasting.
The sequence of events is almost dumbfounding. Ashley, hopped up on Corona Lights, feverishly defends Gizelle’s behavior at a conflict that she did not witness — Candiace hilariously pointing out that her breast pump and forehead just arrived — despite both Wendy and Askale affirming Karen’s recounting of events, which forces Gizelle to offer a half-hearted apology. Back at the estate, Ashley waits until everyone is several shots of whiskey in to take Wendy aside and inform her that several of the women are aware of the rumors regarding her husband and his alleged infidelities, suspecting that it might influence her current on-camera behavior. For what it’s worth, I genuinely believe that Ashley wasn’t trying to come from a malicious place. She has been confronted repeatedly about reports of her husband’s behavior in blogs by her castmates — including Candiace, who was apparently hit with a Neuralyzer when she later argues with Ashley over ethical use of internet fodder. Compiled with everyone else’s behavior in the trip so far, however, Wendy feels blindsided, astutely pointing out that Gizelle had no idea how upset she was until the next day yet still chose not to take her aside and speak to her one-on-one in favor of trying to humble her in a group setting. Moreover, in last season’s reunion, Wendy understandably pointed out the under-discussed colorism issues in this show, calling Ashley out for labeling her as aggressive; now that Gizelle is on the other side of a conflict, Wendy clearly and directly stating her feelings on how Gizelle’s words harmed her and were just generally irresponsible are rebuffed with retorts of her being “combative” and projecting nonexistent issues, with Mia, of all people, dogpiling about her decorum. It’s an insulting premise to both Wendy and the viewers, particularly when you consider that Gizelle has already had several heated incidents with the Grand Dame this season alone.
If I were to guess, I would speculate that Karen offering a safe space for Wendy is getting under Gizelle’s skin and making her react even more poorly than her standard level of callousness, which usually baselines somewhere around Regina George level. Regardless, Wendy finally lets it rip: Don’t get your ass whooped … fuck these motherfucking cameras … she doesn’t understand the parameters regarding people’s husbands because she doesn’t have a relationship that holds water. I see you for everything everybody said that you were … the life you’re living now is exactly God paying you back for all the bullshit you’ve done. Robyn, 3 sheets to the wind, immaturely attempts to defend her friend, which Wendy cuts down quick: you don’t even have a relationship to fucking care about. Somewhere in Maryland, Monique is cackling into the ether; Karen reacts in her stead, responding with dramatic facial contortions that even Lucille Ball would have a fit over.
Then the gauntlet is thrown: I knew Jamal before I came on this show. We are not talking about blogs no more. Imagine being with a man who consistently cheats on you all the time and sleeps around with all of Baltimore and everyone knows it … you know how low of a self-esteem you have to have? Ladies, gents, and everyone in between, Zen Wen has officially arrived.
Next week, Robyn disinvites Wendy from her imaginary wedding. Girl, I guess.
• Robyn and Gizelle insist that Karen has no right to be offended by a “troll” insult if it wasn’t true. I did find it to be a relatively mild insult; scale notwithstanding, however how can they reconcile their position with Gizelle’s insistence that all the alleged lies said about her by Karen were hurtful? Your principles don’t hold water if they are contingent on how highly you regard the person involved.
• Considering the hyper-focus on her style, I want to acknowledge that Wendy delivered some great fashion moments today. Her swimsuit was A1, and her styling of Beyoncé’s IVY Park x ICY Park collection was also very flattering. In general, I think her fashion voice is a little too trendy, which can be hit or miss because a lot of these fast fashion shops are creating garments that are built for those who got BBLs that leave women shaped like a treble clef instead of the more subtle work that Wendy did, but she’ll figure out what works best for her in time.
• Michael, a poltergeist cursed to roam the mortal realm, was in relative absentia this episode, and we thank God for small blessings.
• Gizelle frames her sharp interrogation of her best friend’s behavior as “tough love” that she believes Robyn can handle. Love, however, should be rooted in care, and that is what Gizelle lacks whenever she expresses to anyone in her circle that she thinks they’re falling short. Many people cannot will themselves out of a depressive episode just to keep a man; her struggles seem to be rooted in a lot of past trauma from losing everything and having to rebuild, and COVID has augmented feelings of insecurity for everyone. For her part, Robyn has shared that she is currently seeking an evaluation for ADHD, which could both address her mood and her seeming struggles with executive functions. I wish her the best; that said, it is disappointing for her to be unable to realize that the way Gizelle engages with her is not the most productive way to support a friend, and can be malicious when wielded at people she is not nearly as close to. As Candiace puts it, “Gizelle is not capable of couth 24 hours a day”, but even Candiace is holding her punches in addressing Gizelle’s behavior. Also, I can’t imagine the founder of EveryHue Beauty giving advice on growing a business; I am admittedly astounded that Macy’s and TJ Max are trying to sign on for her trucker hats, but Robyn is well far and beyond anything that her bestie has accomplished in that respect.
• While it is indeed correct that swimming is one of the best exercises you can do to keep your body in shape, it is not simply because you are floating in water; swimming laps back and forth, similar to basketball and boxing, requires the use of every muscle in your body. That’s not to knock on water aerobics at all, but I just didn’t expect to see these women recreate routines I’ve seen amongst senior citizens at the 92nd Street Y. I mean, the girls are in the pool in shades. They couldn’t have just gone to Busch Gardens?
• I really wish they would have warned us before showing that montage clip of Ashley turning her placenta into capsules, because I promptly had to put my Kale Caesar salad aside.
• Karen understandably doesn’t want to risk her lace getting lifted in the pool for Gizelle’s benefit, but for future reference just keep some spirit gum and a rat tail comb on hand love, or buy Porsha’s Go Naked hair line that allows her to jump in the pool without a care.
• Askale being left behind at the door is a metaphor for her presence thus far on the show; easily forgettable despite how hard you try to care.