You know what, ladies and (homosexual) gentlemen? It’s December of 2020 and I am tired. I am tired of being stuck in my house, I am tired of not being able to eat so much movie popcorn that I get intestinal distress, I am tired of not being able to plan a vacation because only the Catholic Jesus knows whether or not I’ll be able to travel on the given date. But mostly I am tired of dealing with all of this year’s tragedies and indignities not only once but twice: The first time as I experience them and the second time as I experience them through the eyes and lives of the reality-television yahoos I have dedicated my life to chronicling.
This week we get the pleasure of watching the Southern Charm harridans deal badly with both COVID-19 (so named after the score of Craig’s IQ test) and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a one-two combo more vicious than Austen’s beer farts after a night of doing Instagram Live at Craig’s Pillow Palace.
As far as the coronavirus goes, production shut down for almost three months between March and June. Madison stayed home and baked bread with her son, Hudson. Pringle took his hot dad bod to San Diego to quarantine with his kids. Shep had his girlfriend move in for a few months and “peeked into the white picket fence life” and found out he didn’t hate it. Patricia went into quarantine with Whitney and her manservant Michael, who had to dye her hair, both the drapes and the, ahem, carpet. (I made that up, but imagine.) Kathryn, well, she holed up in her house in a racist maelstrom of her own making. But we’re coming to that.
When the state of South Carolina reopened, production resumed and it seems like the cast isn’t wearing masks and are mostly filming group scenes outside, but otherwise generally going about their lives. Austen meets his mom, dad, and sister for drinks at a rather bumpin’ terrace of a restaurant (with a packed cruise ship in the background). Madison invites over her mother and sister from Greenville and they sit on the back porch and have a drink. They both talk about one thing: how you can’t tell the difference between Madison’s mother and sister. Seriously, they look the same and about the same age. Turns out Maddy is ten years younger than her sister, so that explains some of it.
What they’re really talking about is the deterioration of Madison and Austen’s romance. Madison says that when lockdown happened she started exercising every day, tried to lose weight, and was working on keeping herself healthy and active. Austen, on the other hand, moved into Craig’s and turned into the human equivalent of a Nintendo Switch that short-circuited when a beer bong spilled on it. This show, once again, has become about beautiful, ambitious, driven women and the men they are burdened with.
Madison is talking about reopening her salon and getting her business going and Austen is talking about how all of his beer is spoiling in a warehouse because it is only served in kegs to bars and restaurants and isn’t in cans yet. Austen, pour that beer into the cans yourself! I thought you loved cans? Didn’t Madison catch you with two sets of cans last year? As Austen is telling his family about the strife, his father says, “It sounds like you’re making fun of her,” and he’s right. Then his sister Katie, who lives in New York City so I love her already, says, “Maybe Madison is onto something here.” Austen is mad she isn’t defending him, but she is speaking total sense. This woman has a kid, a business, and a life. If Austen isn’t serious he needs to get the hell out.
We’re supposed to be talking about coronavirus though, right? (Ugh, as if we haven’t already beaten that horse to … Um, maybe I need another metaphor?) One of Madison’s problems is that Austen is going out to bars and chilling with Craig, his new girl Natalie (who reminds me of an even more annoying Landon), and whatever other randos they pick up on the street. The cast also seems to be all hanging out with each other (albeit outdoors) in close proximity and without masks. So, is it any wonder that by the end of the episode that Austen has tested positive for COVID?
There’s a tense Zoom with Madison. (A Zoom! Like it’s a meeting. Did this thing have a Google Calendar notice? Did they Slack each other afterward? Did anyone promise to “circle back” “offline”?) He tells her he’s COVID positive which means she probably has it too, a call that had such severe early HIV epidemic resonances it should have carried a trigger warning. Madison is understandably pissed. She thinks that Austen not taking things seriously has endangered her and her son. “How fucking selfish,” she tells him. “I’ve had my salon closed for months and I just reopened and now it’s ruined.”
“Your salon?!” he shouts back. “I could have gotten it from you for all I know. You’ve been at your salon.” Oh no, Austen. That is not only the wrong bark and the wrong tree but the entirely wrong forest. Madison seems sensible enough to take precautions at her salon. (Though, to be fair to Austen, we did not see her doing so when they showed her in the salon.) Also, the salon is work. Going to the bar with Craig, while it may fulfill Austen sexually, is not work. Well, at least not if the cameras aren’t there. It’s one thing to catch COVID when you’re trying to do your job within mandated guidelines. It’s another thing to catch it so you can lose at pool to some floozies.
Madison hangs up on Austen and he’s like, “Oh, great.” My first thought was that logging off of a Zoom call is awkward enough. You’re like, “Okay. Bye. Bye. See you later. Bye,” while you’re looking for the “leave meeting” button and then you’re like “Yes, leave meeting,” like you’re just lingering around the door waiting for it to open. If it’s that hard to leave normally, how hard is it to leave and slam that door behind you? Zoom needs a “Leave Meeting and Slam Door” button, where it not only logs you out immediately, there is an animated slamming door in your window to let everyone else in that room know you are pissed and left in a huff.
We are now slamming the door on COVID and we must talk about BLM and Kathryn’s racism and how there were riots on the “Ravenel Bridge” and this whole thing was so obvious, so inevitable, that it makes me want to plop myself in the middle of “Boundary St.” and not get up until all of the police are defunded. Seriously. These people hang out on “plantations” and we didn’t think that some of them might be more than a little bit racist.
In this episode the story is two-pronged and both prongs come from Kathryn, like she has a forked tongue. The first is that she got in a fight with a Black radio host on social media and called her racist for saying “white people.” She then sent a Black woman the monkey emoji. Kathryn claims she didn’t know it was offensive and that she sent the monkey because it was making a silly face like she would be making. I mean, how did she not know this? Two years ago it was huge news when Roseanne Barr got fired off a hit show that bears her name for making a joke about a Black woman with the monkey emoji. As Leva says, “You have to be really conveniently ignorant to not know the monkey emoji was inappropriate.”
There is also some controversy in Charleston around a statue of John C. Calhoun, a former vice president whose Wikipedia entry contains the word “slavery” 65 times, including a sentence that reads, “Calhoun asserted that slavery, rather than being a ‘necessary evil,’ was a ‘positive good’ that benefited both slaves and owners.” Calhoun is an ancestor of Kathryn’s and she bears his surname as her middle name. The community rightly wants the statue taken down, especially since it once served as the boundary that Black people in the city couldn’t cross.
Both of these things come to a head at a demonstration at the memorial. Leva invites Danni, Kathryn’s bestie who hasn’t talked to her in months, to attend this ceremony along with Other Madison, the owner(?) of Gwynn’s, and Megan and Venita, two of Leva’s other friends of color. We hear a lot of strong arguments for how this statue is offensive and why it should be taken down. This part of the show was more like a PSA than a reality show, and if it hammers home to some viewers why we don’t need to glorify this part of our history then I don’t know what else will.
At brunch after the event, Other Madison, Leva, and the rest of the group are especially critical of Kathryn and how she’s dealing with the blowback to her emoji tirade. O.M. says that Gwynn’s fired her, as they should, and adds, “She has been given opportunities to speak out and take a different road and at every turn she hasn’t taken them.” Leva, who Kathryn has been talking to because she’s probably Kathryn’s only friend of color (as even Leva postulates), says that when she asked Kathryn about the statue she said, “Take it down. I don’t care. It’s ugly.” Venita says that she wishes she could know the feeling of turning her back on something because it doesn’t affect her.
Kathryn, of course, would say that was a joke, but it really isn’t a funny one. It’s not really much of a joke because we all know that deep down somewhere she really means it. Kathryn could come back from this. She could have been the one at that demonstration learning about the hurt her family caused in the distant past. She could be learning why that monkey emoji is bad and why she shouldn’t be using it. She could be doing the work to be a better person. But she’s not. Instead she’s sitting on her living room floor wailing that she’s a victim because people have been really mean to her on Instagram. “Apparently I’m racist,” she says with a dismissive sigh.
As much as I loved these discussions and think they are essential not only to be had but to be seen by the viewing public, it also made me think about just how inadequate the show’s response was. Who is at this demonstration? It’s Danni, who is not even a main cast member, and Leva, who we just met a few episodes ago, and some women of color they had to call up to make the scene look better. Why wasn’t Shep there? Or Big Madison? Or Craig? Or Whitney? Or Patricia? I think I know the answer and you probably do too.
Then I’m reminded of Roseanne. She got fired off a show with her name on it that was a huge hit. You can’t have Roseanne without Roseanne, right? Well, ABC decided they could and sacked her. Meanwhile Kathryn still has a job. Southern Charm is still on the air. Roseanne got the axe and we got the B-team giving these important issues a once over so that Bravo wouldn’t look so shabby.
I’m watching this group of intelligent, attractive women of color sitting around a table and I’m wondering why they aren’t on the cast and Kathryn is. Why can’t we make Venita full-time? As it turns out, she has gotten as much screen time this season as Thomas Ravenel, a convicted abuser and, well, let’s just say he spends a lot of time on his “plantation.” In this episode we’ve finally seen this nation going through a reckoning about how it treats people of color, but Southern Charm needs to answer with a reckoning of its own.