Let’s do what we can to treat this episode like a normal trip, right? Right! The women arrive in Rome but all at different times, with the OG clique of Dorit, Erika, Rinna, Kyle, and Teddi showing up first and Denise and Garcelle arriving later that evening. Sutton, in a metaphor for her existence this season, didn’t have her passport and shows up late, out of sorts, and as ignored as the women’s room in a gay bar.
It’s like any old trip, right? Right! The women go to the hotel and there is a line of staff to greet them, like it’s the opening scene of Downton Abbey and the queen is en route to the manor. We see their rooms, with huge Botticelli goddesses painted on the walls as headboards. They get dolled up to go out to dinner and Dorit gets tiny strings of pearls affixed to her forehead for no discernible reason other than trying too hard. She then goes down to the lobby and shows off a CHA-NEL shirt and gloves that say COCO across the knuckles on each hand. She is doing something worse than wearing a band’s merch to their own concert. She’s doing the fashion equivalent of wearing Star Wars cosplay to an anime convention. Anyway, they have drinks at a bar next to the Colosseum on a street where most of the gay bars in Rome are and it is a shock that they aren’t mobbed by adoring fans.
Because this is a normal trip, this means shopping, right? Right! The next morning they all get together to hit the Spanish Steps, which is honestly one of the most disappointing monuments I’ve ever seen. (It’s really just a bunch of stairs, guys!) Erika is killing it with her fashion game this entire trip, and when she walks out of the hotel she looks like Anita Ekberg in some Fellini movie, in an all-beige ensemble with a chunky turtleneck and a cream Chanel hat that is even chicer because there is not a CHA-NEL logo anywhere on it. The best don’t need to advertise, honey. They just exist.
Yes, yes. Everything is normal, right? Right! The rich women are doing things. The rich women are buying things. The rich women are back at the hotel and we see Dorit wheeling around five suitcases that are all half-packed, which just seems wasteful. They’re back in glam. They’re getting ready for dinner. They’re doing things. Doing things. They’re, as Garcelle says, dressing like they’re going to a fashion show only to go downstairs to the hotel restaurant.
But this is not a normal trip. They know it. We know it. The producers know it. The sales staff at Fendi and Gucci and Max Mara know it. The feral cats that terrorize the Roman ruins know it. The ghost of Nero’s mistress that haunts a palazzo at night knows it better than anyone, as she breaks herself into eight tiny pieces and embeds herself in the ghoulish meat sacks sitting around a table at a hotel restaurant. No, ma’am. Nothing is normal.
This trip is about Denise, just as this whole season has been. But this episode really marked a change in my thinking about this whole, pardon the pun, affair. When everyone sits down to dinner, Teddi says, “I have to say something,” and tells Denise that she heard that Denise talked shit about her as well as Erika and Rinna. Denise flatly denies it and is actually surprised at the accusation. When Teddi tells Denise the source, it cuts to a confessional in what may or may not be Denise’s house, but it is spectacular. She is wearing pink makeup and Whitesnake hair in a room full of overstuffed chairs and fake flowers and a wall of glass bricks glowing neon pink. It’s like the background of a Nagel painting. It is definitely the room where Jerica Benton kept her illusion-creating supercomputer Synergy on Jem and the Holograms, and I want to live there.
There’s some questioning around the table about whether Brandi made up these comments and why she would say these things about Denise. Teddi told her the reason she believed them is that Brandi had a very detailed story about Denise that she believed, and she had a reason to be mad at Denise. Kyle, as always when the shit goes sailing toward a Dyson Air Blade, is suspiciously quiet. Rinna is talking about the allegations without saying the stuff about Brandi and Denise hooking up because she does not want to be the first one to say it on camera, like she did with Yolanda’s fake Munchausen diagnosis.
People are asking what this thing is, what this thing is, because Teddi won’t say it. “It’s really bad. It’s really bad,” Teddi and others are saying around the table. I don’t think she means that it’s bad that Denise hooked up with a woman. I think she means it’s bad in that there are allegations that Denise cheated on her husband and these things, once out there, can’t be erased with a few swipes of the rubber on the top of your Hello Kitty pencil. After much prodding, Teddi scowls at Denise, “I’m not going to torture you any longer. She said you two had sex.”
Based on how this season was framed, back from the first episode, it seemed like this was going to be fun drama. We already knew these revelations were going to be juicy and I just couldn’t wait for them to be exposed. Now that they are, I feel…I don’t know…kinda sad. After Teddi aired this dirty laundry, we see Denise trying to snuffle through the rest of dinner, dabbing her reddening eyes and trying to do the math in her head about exactly what this might do to her, her reputation, and her custody arrangement. As she told the women, “There is so much stuff going on, so much that has nothing to do with you or the show.”
That’s what is odd about this whole exchange: “the show,” which is usually the subtext, has become text. We see Denise saying, “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” to camera, which is an old trick to get the footage spiked, though it doesn’t really work anymore. We see her saying that if they want her to be on the show they have to cut this. We see her looking into the camera and pleading, “Please don’t air this.”
When we got the preview of what would happen this season, including this dinner, it made Denise seem like she was acting unreasonably. Like the women and the show wanted to talk about something that was totally fair game, that was totally on the table. That is not the case. This scene left me not feeling bad for the women for being put upon by Denise, but feeling bad for Denise for being taken advantage of by the show and its producers. For the first time, perhaps in my whole life, I felt bad for watching.
I think it comes down to a question of what we would consider off limits. Let’s take Taylor Armstrong being abused by her husband. This is something she told all of the other women in confidence and told them not to talk about on camera. However, she is a person who signed up to be on a reality show, which means sharing what is going on in her life and what she talks about with the other women, regardless of what it might be. When that fact of the abuse started affecting the storylines of the show, it needed to come out so it made sense to the viewer. That is the price of admission to this circus and all the bonus peanuts you get for being a part of it. I think that is totally fair game. However, what happened between Denise and someone who is not even on the show shouldn’t come into play. Her storyline, as mundane as it was, was humming along without this being thrown into the mix. In fact, it has nothing to do, at all, with anything else we’ve seen this season.
All of these women deserve to keep some things private. If it happens within the context of the group, they need to address that. If there is strife between members of the group, for whatever reason, that is on the table. Denise maybe having an affair and maybe talking shit about the Housewives with someone who not only isn’t a part of the group but has an ulterior motive for trying to get back on the show doesn’t pass the smell test for me. After the news dropped, we were all Garcelle, who said, “If she slept with her she doesn’t have to tell these ladies. It’s none of their business. I want to get to the bottom of it, though.” There is a prurient interest, but not an essential one.
Teddi says in a confessional, “Denise is so concerned with her image when she doesn’t want to talk about something she says, ‘Bravo, Bravo, Bravo’ so she can get the edit she wants.” I can see how it’s frustrating for Teddi, Kyle, and the rest that Denise doesn’t want to fully open up her life to the cameras in the way that they do. It’s a similar frustration that Dorinda had with Tinsley on this season of Real Housewives of New York City. They feel like they’re giving their all and this other person is skating by and reaping more of the benefits by being a fan favorite and staying above the fray.
With everything that has happened with Denise so far this year, Teddi is right. All the stuff about threesomes at the party, all the stuff about how Aaron talked to the women, all the things that were said at various parties she walked out of were within bounds and Denise should have had to stay and address those things. This, however, is different.
What makes it different is how it ended up on camera in the first place, which I want to know more about. This isn’t something that happened while the women were at “work.” It is not something that happened between coworkers. This is something that happened between Denise and someone who is, ostensibly, a private citizen. How did production learn about Brandi’s story and why was she invited on? Did one of the women set Denise up? Did production sell her out because they had a dud of a season? There is all of this fourth wall breaking going on, why not tell us exactly what triggered this? To me, no matter how true these allegations are (and I believe the hookup stuff but not the trash-talking stuff), it’s fruit of this poisoned tree. (Brandi Glanville has been called many things before, including a poisoned tree, so don’t be too upset.)
Last season we knew there was footage of a woman coming after Dorit on a cast trip to talk about her and PK’s debts. That footage that wasn’t included in the season (though production made them address those concerns earlier this year). Why was that left on the cutting room floor but someone introduced Brandi to wreak havoc on Denise’s life? And who introduced Brandi? If it was production, I want to know because that seems unfair. If it was someone from the cast, I want to know that too, because that is a storyline worth pursuing.
We’re not getting the whole story here, and what we are getting, I think, is backfiring. Denise deserves the courtesy that all of the other women enjoy, the courtesy of keeping some things to themselves. (Holy shit, I can’t believe I actually said that about practitioners of the Reality Television Arts and Sciences.) And the fans, well, we deserve to be treated like the intelligent people we are and to be let in on the process either entirely or not at all. What we have now benefits no one — not the show, not Denise, not Bravo, not Kyle Richards’ wide array of sequined blazers, not Andy Cohen’s Hamptons nursery and home for wayward bottoms, and not the swirling eddies of light around the Coliseum at night, which clench the shadows in their jaws and gnaw them with a snap.