There are a lot of great things about this show — called Ex-Wives Club — but my absolute favorite is the theme music. It has the poppy, orchestral feel of a “cozy murder” British import that you would watch on PBS’s Masterpiece. You know, like a Miss Marple. The plucky strings play as we get a shot of each of the characters, all suspects, all potential victims.
Because what is this show other than a murder mystery? A bunch of strangers are all summoned by a mysterious figure holed up in a Tudor-revival New England estate. This is basically Clue, but no one has throttled Yvette. Based on the characters that we know and love who have assembled at Dorinda Medley’s Blue Stone Manor, it is obvious that someone is going to die, and at the end we will find out who did it. (I wouldn’t be shocked if the murder was somehow Cameo related.)
The song isn’t the only thing I love about a UGT experience. I don’t want to say the production values are better on this show, now in its second star-studded iteration, but there’s something about the way it’s put together that is fun, slick, and different from other Housewives programs. Just look at the diagram that Dorinda draws us of how all the women know each other, who has beef with each other, and just what they’re all doing at the manor. My favorite innovation is the split-screen confessionals, so we can watch one woman explain herself while the other woman reacts to her insane rationalization in real-time.
Also a good addition is Marco, who replaces Matthew as this season’s hot butler who is always wearing a mask. It’s sort of the opposite of the Pit Crew on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which leaves nothing, including their religion, to the imagination. The hot masked butler is more like Bugs Bunny when he’s trying to fool Elmer Fudd while dressed as an Arabian princess with sparkly eyes and a veil. We don’t know what is lurking under there, but we know it’s good and also a demented surprise.
Before everyone gets to the Berkshires, there’s a little check-in with all of the women. Dorinda explains what is happening at her house; Taylor Armstrong tells us that she now lives in Orange County and her daughter is 15. We are all oooooolllllllldddddddd. Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge catch up and show they’re still friends, and Phaedra Parks and Eva Pigford Marcille Sterling meet up in Hartford, of all the filthy places, before heading to Great Barrington. Brandi Glanville — someone said her name three times, because she has appeared — is left to travel alone and flirt with her adorable driver. Speaking of adorable, did you clock Brandi’s son Jake, who is 14? He’s like a young Noah Centineo. He is going to cause his mother serious trouble, or he will star in a Netflix teen rom-com trilogy. Probably both.
The only thing this show could be other than a whodunnit is The Hunger Games. As soon as this cast was announced, I joked that Andy Cohen told the women that the one who emerges alive gets to go back on her show. It’s not far from the truth, because the thing I love the most about UGT is that they are free to talk all about the show and what being Housewives has done to them. I’m currently in the throes of finishing the greatest reality television program of our time — Real World: New Orleans: Homecoming: 2Fast2MiddleAged: Julie’s Revenge — so I am all about exploring the ailments that reality television hath wrought.
My favorite thing so far is when everyone talks about how they were fired, which is an odd thing for a Housewife to admit. They don’t say that they “decided to move on.” They don’t say that they “want to pursue other ventures.” They’re all like, “Yeah, I was fired.” The only one who is in denial is our girl Dorinda, who says that our dark lord Andy Cohen himself told her she was “on pause” for a year. The women scoff at her, particularly when she says her biggest insecurity is being irrelevant. Yeah, that sounds like she wants back on this show worse than Teddi Mellencamp talking about her neck surgery to The Sun. But as much as the rest of the crew titters, she might not be wrong. Between hosting UGT and the possibility of RHONY: Retirement Home on the horizon, Dorinda might be booked and busy while Brandi and Tamra still record their podcasts.
Speaking of fired, I am definitely one of those people who think that what Phaedra did to Kandi Burruss — falsely accusing her of attempting to drug and rape a co-star — is beyond the pale and she should never be allowed back on RHOA. But girl, have I missed her on our screen. When she talks about how she would lick Dorinda’s fingers because she is rich but would also lick her butthole, I almost lost it. I’m so glad to have her back. And she is sleeping in the vaunted Fish Room, so you know she is blessed and highly favored.
If Phaedra is the early MVP, then the early MAP (Most Annoying Plastic) is Victoria Denise Gunvalson Junior. Even on the way to BSM, she says, “Where do you go shopping around here?” I think she’s missing the global luxury brands at Fashion Island, but instead she’s like, “Where’s the Home Goods? Where’s the Target?” Sister, this is Massachusetts, not Chad. They have those things here. And of all the things to miss, she wants to go to Home Goods? Do that on your own time. She also wants a place to go “whoop it up” since she and 24th-place gubernatorial candidate Steve Lodge have broken up. It’s already evident that Vicki is going to be nexus of all bad energy on this trip, and not just because she refers to a penis as a “wee wee” like he’s a toddler who won’t stop clutching himself in a Newport Beach Home Goods.
Sure, I always make fun of Brandi Glanville, but she has always been one of my favorite Housewives, even when she’s bringing a nuclear bomb to a knife fight. I was actually impressed with her early on in the episode, knowing that she had to have some discussions with both Tamra and Taylor for their altercations in the past. Apparently she got mad at Tamra after Mx. Judge compared her to Kelly Dodd in an interview. Brandi responded with a tweet that was something like, “Well, at least all of my children talk to me, unlike you.” There’s the nuclear bomb and Tamra’s charred corpse lying next to an abandoned knife. Brandi tells Tamra that when she talks about someone, she can’t expect that person not to react. Yeah, but the problem is the punishment did not fit the crime; this is always Brandi’s problem.
However, she and Tamra leave it in a good place and decide to get to know each other and try to forge a relationship. Before everyone sits down to dinner, Brandi pulls Taylor aside and wants to apologize to her. I appreciate that she knows there is drama and immediately tries to clear the air, not only because it will cause drama and be good television, but also because it is something that a sane and reasonable person would do on this kind of trip. But Brandi is neither sane nor reasonable, which is why they flew her out to the Devil’s Backwoods in the first place. (As Phaedra says, if Kenya Moore warns you that someone is crazy, you better put up a wall so high that not even Post Malone will bother to get higher.)
During their conversation, Brandi lets out some doozies. She tells Taylor that when they filmed season two of RHOBH, she was going through the worst time in her life. Not only was she getting a divorce, but then this man on the show she was on killed himself. Umm, Brandi. You’re talking to that man’s wife. How hard do you think it was for her? Then Brandi says she didn’t know if Taylor was making up the abuse for reality television or if it was really happening. Okay, we all know that Housewives manipulate storylines, but do you think one of them is going to fake spousal abuse just to stay on the show along with all of the attendant bruises and injuries?
Taylor is very patient, explaining that she went on the show to protect herself. She thought that if the cameras were around, Russell couldn’t kill her, which she was always afraid he would. That is some seriously dark shit, and only ten years of processing it could lead Taylor to be so calm when talking about it.
But as bad as that was, it got even worse when all of the ladies settled down to dinner outside as if COVID restrictions were never lifted and Dorinda’s backyard were a shanty on a Manhattan sidewalk. Brandi, clearly a few too many glasses of Chablis into the evening, repeats what she told Taylor — that it was happening during the worst year of her life — and all of the women around the table shout at her what we were just yelling at the television: “This lady’s husband died and you were picking on her for writing a book too close to her death.”
Taylor is right; Brandi never asks questions, she just spouts off, which is what makes her good at her job. Taylor explains that she wrote the book so quickly because she would get a bigger advance if it were done before the reunion, and she needed to pay the bills now that her husband was dead. Meanwhile, what Brandi was saying amounted to, “I was a poor single mother, and I was given this opportunity to be on a reality show and you almost ruined it.” Then Vicki turns on Brandi and says, “What does any of this have to do with you,” and Brandi shouts, “Shut the fuck up right now.” Oh, Brandi. Never go changing.
Brandi puts down her knife and fork and, most importantly, her wineglass and walks upstairs to her room, where a foldout bed and a copy of Dorinda’s book await her. She settles down onto the bed to have a little cry, her elbows poised on her knees and the heels of her hands pushing into her eyes, smudging them with makeup as the moisture grows to small pools. She heaves in small sobs as the crickets far off in the forest make their amorous intentions known, and the din of the women finishing dinner drifts in through the screen window. She decides to shut the door, as if that will drown the women out. Without moving from her spot, she closes the door with her foot and then jumps to attention. There is a female figure standing behind the door and the dimness. “What are you doing here?” Brandi asks. But before she can get up, the woman’s hands are around her throat, and Brandi gasps her last breath. The Killer of Blue Stone Manor has claimed its first victim.