Since when is The Real Housewives a horror franchise? Outside of select RHONY vacations, I mean. I don’t know when Bravo went from reality to haunting-my-dreams, but tonight’s installment of The Real Housewives of Orange County was the darkest thing I’ve seen in a long time. It started at the top, as…
Emily ominously tells Kelly she can’t attend the upcoming girls’ trip to Lake Arrowhead, organized by Elizabeth, because she tested positive for COVID. Shane tested negative, luckily, but he started coughing that morning, so she figures he must have it too. More on this deeply upsetting storyline later.
Shannon can’t go on the trip either, because all three of her daughters have coronavirus (and are happily making countdown charts and peanut butter Nutter Butter bars in quarantine together), and she’s busy at home ordering bougie immunity boosters online; orange juice is no good for phlegm. Braunwyn, who has clearly sensed that this trip is cursed but literally can’t stand another second inside her home with her family, packs up her things and yells goodbye to Sean: “If I call you, answer the phone! It means I’m having a breakdown!”
Upon arriving at the Lake Arrowhead house, I marveled, as I often do, at the Bravo editors’ self-control, as they refrained from editing in a threatening lightning bolt slashing across the California sky. Kelly performs an awkward hand-sanitizing dance upon arrival, which I was grateful they included in full, and then rightly observes that the house with the beautiful views has distinct “Friday the 13th vibes.” It is one of the only times in the whole episode that Kelly is remotely correct about anything.
Elizabeth and Gina soon join her (the pile of luggage on the front porch continuously growing, seemingly of its own accord) and as soon as Kelly has stocked the kitchen with all of her stomach formula, apple cider vinegar, and what I estimate to be about 17 bottles of vodka, they promptly start talking about Braunwyn — who, we learn, was recently caught on camera by one of Elizabeth’s friends at a public pool with Sean, during which time she was supposed to be quarantined for the trip.
Elizabeth already has a bone to pick with Braunwyn for having done so much digging into her past — which is fair! It’s one thing for the women to be annoyed with Elizabeth for being inconsistent with them (also pretty fair, because she has), but finding dirt on her financial history and spreading it among the other ‘wives is probably not the best way to go about understanding her true essence, to be perfectly honest, B.
So Ms. Windham-Burke walks into a room that’s ready to pounce on her. She dismisses the accusation about her pool day, saying that that had been before she realized she needed to quarantine and lectured Kelly about it. But the tension in this hell-house permeates throughout the rest of the trip. Kelly and Elizabeth both have it out for Braunwyn, who is also anxious about how much alcohol she sees in the room. Gina’s having a great time, by the way, dispensing truths just as much as she’s drawing them out of her fellow vacationers — including Braunwyn’s admission that her marriage has been rocky in sobriety. Gina’s response in a confessional? That the vow renewal did feel kind of “sterile.” She doesn’t miss!
Meanwhile, back in the OC, things take a turn for the worse: Shane is extremely sick. Emily, who tested positive but still feels better than he does, is doing her best to take care of him and look after their kids, but it’s clearly quickly wearing on her. How could it not? His condition worsens rapidly, and we see her crying that he’s not getting better and she doesn’t know what to do. It’s impossible not to feel for Emily, and to miss the presence of a healthy, wisecracking Shane.
Back in Lake Arrowhead, the ladies have a pleasant day on the water, except for when the Bravo editors hit Elizabeth with a devastating montage of her laughing at her own jokes, and when Kelly tells Braunwyn she liked her better when she was “hammered.” Why would she say this, except to be cruel? I actually can’t fathom. So what if she is annoyed with Braunwyn for posting professional, overproduced Instagrams from a protest — which is admittedly tacky and yes, hints at the possibility of taking part in a meaningful historic movement with the intention of enhancing one’s personal brand — that is no excuse for attacking an alcoholic’s hard-won sobriety. These are unrelated things!
But the real nightmare comes later. “It’s beautiful here, but I can feel the drama coming, the toxicity,” Braunwyn tells Sean on the phone. That’s what you call an intuitive response to a murder house. The ladies finally really get into it when Kelly displays breathtaking ignorance (all while claiming nobody else knows anything), insisting that tearing down propagandistic monuments erected to glorify villains who represent a lost and worthless cause is an attempt to “rewrite history.” It’s a tired, clichéd way to play dumb about that argument at this point. She compares it to tearing down the Colosseum, if you can imagine.
When the conversation gets to police brutality and the BLM protests, we have to put up with more nonsense from Kelly, but Gina acknowledges that she never felt unsafe because of her race when she was arrested, and Elizabeth adds that she never realized she was privileged before this year, so if awareness is the point, it’s working. I actually think it’s pretty wonderful that the Housewives are having these arguments, maddening as it is to listen to Kelly’s rants or to hear her discredit Braunwyn because “she doesn’t know how to pay a bill.” We’ve listened to them call each other liars and hypocrites over nothing for a decade and a half; here’s a chance to address issues that we all need to reflect upon, and to call Kelly a liar in a meaningful way.
The mood on the trip never lightens enough to feel like the great let-your-hair-down Housewives vacays of yore. Maybe it’s because Kelly and Elizabeth are both waiting for a good excuse to call Braunwyn a hypocrite to her face, but I think it’s just because of the greater situation at hand. It’s hard not to be de-energized by quarantine, even if you’re Kelly Dodd, who insisted in March that coronavirus was just a flu, just like she insists now that her Fox News fiancé is an unbiased journalist. Even when Kelly breaks out some scary masks with Elizabeth and puts on a dead-pig one and calls herself Vicki, she doesn’t even have the energy to wear it into the kitchen and resurrect this ancient cruel joke for the other ladies, who actually know Vicki. Sad indeed.
The house fulfills its destiny as a full-blown haunted mansion when the master bedroom, which Gina was so proud to have snagged this time, turns out to have a bug infestation. But let’s go back to Emily, who is breaking my heart in the scariest story of the week. She takes Shane to the emergency room, where she isn’t even allowed to accompany him inside, and sits helpless in her car in the parking lot, scared that her husband “isn’t going to make it,” she tearfully admits. After returning home to get dinner for her kids, he finally texts her: “This is worse than prison. Every hour is like a fight to live.”
I wish this was a horror movie.