We all went into this season knowing that it, like all of our lives, would be drastically affected by COVID. I thought they could pull it off, though. Like my friend and fellow Dame Sarah Galli says, “I don’t believe in God, but I have faith in the Real Housewives.” This wouldn’t be a Housewives season like we were used to, but nothing was like what we were used to and we were making the most of it. I figured Housewives would start to look like our lives, at least as lockdowns started to wane in those heady days of early summer. You know, group picnics outside, tentative outings to stores with masks on, small dinner parties, particularly with the French doors open, lots of barbecues.

But that’s not it at all. It’s just the women in pairs sitting in each other’s kitchens talking about phone calls that happened off camera. Gina is at her house telling Emily how she heard that Shannon’s boyfriend John got so drunk at a golf tournament he had to be escorted home. Emily is at Elizabeth’s telling her that Braunwyn picks on other people to distract from what a mess she is in her own life. Elizabeth is telling Emily that she FaceTimed Braunwyn to talk about cult life and Braunwyn looked bored. Kelly is telling Shannon that Emily told her that Braunwyn is about to get divorced. Shannon is telling Kelly that she and Gina have been having teary late night conversations. Kelly tells Shannon that Braunwyn is a hypocrite because she wants everyone to be honest about themselves but isn’t authentic herself. “Everything about her is contrived,” she says.

This show has always been predicated on women talking shit about each other, so I’m totally fine with that. What is different is that those shit-talking phone calls and conversations usually happen in person so we can parse what was truly said and what the women really mean, because every Housewife has a faulty memory, an axe to grind, and at least one Gucci belt. As they tell each other what happened in private conversations, eventually there is a big group hang where all of these grievances can be aired and either quashed or lit into a giant conflagration, like the bus ride home from the Ireland trip. Neither of these things are happening and it’s making the show weaker.

Real Housewives succeeds on the idea, as faulty as it may be, that these women are a group of friends with genuine feelings and relationships, even if they are ones that are brought about by being on the same reality television show together. When they can’t hang out in a group, it shatters the whole concept. What we’re left with is a diffuse dynamic where they’re all just talking about talking to each other. The only thing more boring that I can think of is hearing about someone else’s dream or someone else’s hangover.

As the nexus of the group spreads out, these fights, like so many in the past few years on the Housewives, don’t seem to be about emotions or something that happened. They seem to be about being on the show. Kelly is not upset that Braunwyn is really a hypocrite, she’s upset that she’s calling out people on camera while not talking about her own life for public consumption. Shannon is not mad at Gina for not calling, she’s mad about talking about her relationship troubles on camera because Shannon wants to perpetuate the myth that her life is perfect. Elizabeth isn’t really mad that Braunwyn looked bored when she tried to talk to her about her troubles, she’s mad that Braunwyn was on camera being like, “I’ll always be there for you,” and then in private was like, “Sorry, sister, I got problems of my own.”

I guess it’s all going to come to a head next episode during the finale, when they finally get together for one last party, but it seems like these things would have built to more, like their relationships could have been bolder, like everything about this season could have been a little bit more robust had not COVID come in and messed it up. However, isn’t that true of everything? The only thing about my life that has gotten more robust since lockdown is my waist, because I discovered Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough Bites and they are all that is getting me through.

Luckily we had some more of the women on their own behaving absolutely insane. As promised, we got a conversation between Elizabeth and her golf-obsessed younger brother Andrew about what it was like growing up in a cult. The two stand-out accusations are that Andrew was almost beaten to death for being dyslexic because they thought he was possessed by demons, and that they watched their aunt die of an allergic reaction because God was supposed to save her but didn’t because she was “unworthy.” How did Elizabeth escape this and have all this money for all those years and never bothered to get herself to therapy? Her brother, who certainly wasn’t as rich, has done the work. At least she’s finally going to a therapist, but it’s an on-TV therapist, which I never trust. If Elizabeth ends up pretending to be lost at sea with her therapist, it’s all over for me.

Braunwyn continues taking the Sappho Express to Lesbian Station with her live-in girlfriend Shari. She’s also trash talking her husband Sean at every turn. She says this is because she’s unhappy with “a part of herself” — you know, the lesbian part — so she’s mean to Sean and then he holds on tighter and she is meaner to him and it’s a vicious cycle. The worst was when they were talking about the cake for her six months of sobriety party. Shari wanted to order Braunwyn her favorite cake, which everyone knows is the Celebration Cake from SuzieCakes, but Sean said that red velvet was her favorite and Braunwyn was like, “I hate red velvet.” She only took three sympathy bites of that cake. That should be criminal. Call the California Attorney General. Also ask him how the Celebration Cake from SuzieCakes is and if it’s better than Cookie Dough Bites. I’m asking for a friend and that friend is my belly.

Braunwyn is hanging out with Shari, who is a gorgeous single mother, and Noella, who is also gorgeous and we learn that she’s the “life of the party,” and the three of them are just hanging out in the kitchen chewing the fat. Is this the backdoor pilot to some spin-off series for Braunwyn? Is she single-handedly trying to cast the next season with her potential lesbian lover and a friend of color? I mean, she’s not doing a bad job, but it also seemed really blatant when there are good cast members sitting right here who really aren’t getting used.

The MVP of the episode, though, was Ms. Shannon Stormy Daniels Beador and her absolutely insane style of mothering. Can you believe that she ordered not only one “organic headboard” for her daughter’s dorm room but two?! She ordered one for the roommate. She said it’s because she doesn’t want any toxicity around. Um, your daughter is going to a Christian institution in Waco, Texas. It is all toxicity everywhere. Also, her dorm is probably made of cinder blocks. It’s not like she’s going to be living in a free-range yurt at college.

Can you imagine your roommate’s mother making design choices for you? Can you imagine your mother going to her tailor to make a bed skirt for your dorm room and not even asking you what kind of fabric you want? The thing is, there are kids out there who would love this, who have so bought into their parents’ control then they want nothing more than to follow orders. Sophie is not one of those kids. “This is what is annoying to me, that it’s Sophie’s dorm not Shannon’s dorm,” and still Shannon can’t help herself and puts her children in a position where they have to manage Shannon’s emotions because she can’t manage them herself.

Sophie says she just wants to order things for her dorm room online, but Shannon says no because she has to see them for herself. Um, no she does not. What she needs to do is take her daughter to Bed, Bath & Beyoncé, give her a budget, and let her get whatever polyester bullshit she wants. She’s going to college. The whole experience is about filling your body with toxicity. If she doesn’t build up the sludge in her veins during these four years, how is she going to survive her slutty and hard-partying 20s? This nation is just littered with the corpses of good girls who didn’t eat enough cafeteria food and do enough ketamine while getting their degrees and then started a job in PR or marketing when their bodies just weren’t pH-balanced to survive.

Shannon tells Sophie that the reason why she’s not worried is because Shannon has always worried for her. Then she tells Sophie, “Wait until I have to teach you how to do laundry, you’re going to die.” Okay, grab a chair, because this is the Official Real Housewives Institute’s Guide for Doing Laundry. 1. Add a Tide Pod. Do not eat. 2. Stuff everything in the washer. 3. Put it on cold. 4. Dry everything on “normal.” 5. If you really like it and/or it is denim, air dry. 6. If you really, really like it or spent more than $200 on it, dry clean it. That’s it. I have been doing my laundry for 20 years using this formula and have not ruined one garment. I did once lose a sock, but I believe that someone stole it out of the dryer, most likely for sexual purposes.

Shannon is right that Sophie isn’t worried, because Shannon has done everything. Even Sophie realizes this and says she needs to make her own mistakes and learn her own lessons. Shannon has never had to do this. She was insulated either by her parents, by her husband, or by her children from dealing with the soul-crushing reality of the everyday world, and someone really needs to put her out on her own, without $1.4 million divorce settlements, and see how she fares. I bet the first thing she would cut out is organic headboards and talking shit about others, but, without them, how would she even know what to do with herself in the morning?

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