I hate to admit this. I’m starting to see people complaining about this season of The Real Housewives of Orange County. But while other viewers are airing their grievances on social media, I’m maintaining a positive outlook on the whole enterprise. Because I’m really enjoying this season so far. And I really liked this week’s episode in particular. For a number of reasons. No majorly explosive dramatic moment occurred. But a large portion of it felt like I was watching old-school RHOC. Which, as a religious viewer for the last fifteen-plus years, hits a very special, nostalgic and sentimental place in my heart. And the rest of the episode pushed the series into new and unexplored terrain both hilarious and heartwarming.
The episode kicks off with Heather Dubrow and her brood out to family dinner at Nobu. Over the course of which we learn that Max Dubrow isn’t the only child in the family who’s part of the LGBTQ+ community. Her younger sister Kat Dubrow has also come out as a lesbian! But unlike her older sister, Kat’s coming out experience has been much harder, filled with insensitive middle schoolers, gay slurs and trouble at school.
There’s also a bit of tension between the siblings, which manifests itself in a sisterly spat at the table. Which Nicky Dubrow points out may be rooted in who the spotlight’s shining on brightest post-coming out. But arguing with your sibling over something like how they eat? Been there, lived through that. I don’t know about you, but it still amazes me to see the Dubrow kids growing up. Particularly Coco Dubrow, who’s akin to Audriana Giudice in my book in that I simply can’t believe she as a toddler when we first met her on the show.
Cut to Emily Simpson meeting up with Noella Bergener for some fancy pedicures the next day in Laguna Niguel. By this point, it should go without saying that the conversation is all about Noella. Who reveals in her confessional that she’s a Gemini, which frankly could not track more perfectly. Because of course she is. She’s also starting to get a little “suffocating,” in Emily’s words. When the newbie first joined the show, she was blindsided by the shock of her divorce. And understandably so. And it made most of the other women, including Emily, want to rally around her and support her.
But the deeper Emily gets with her new friend, the more red flags she sees in her personality. We’re only halfway-ish through the season and Noella‘s already had problems with almost every other Housewife in the cast. And watching Emily try to give her advice about how to chill out and get back in the ladies’ good graces is painful. Because god, the newcomer is just a brick wall of narcissism. It takes three times as long as it should for Emily to get a simple point through to her because she’s too busy having an immediate response to everything and asking the lawyer why no one is giving her “grace” when she’s being openly hostile to really listen to the much-needed advice Emily’s doling out free of charge.
The next day, Shannon Beador‘s planned a midday luncheon at her house as an excuse to get all the women together. But Dr. Jen Armstrong doesn’t feel much like going. Because she’s just dealt with a whirlwind 24 hours of marital strife. After their tense on-camera argument at the end of last week’s episode, it turns out Ryne Holliday packed up and left the house. And didn’t come home until the following morning. So needless to say, all is not well in the Armstrong-Holliday household. And Dr. Jen is in a precariously emotional and vulnerable state. Opening up to Heather on the drive over, she even blurts out the sentence “I need a divorce” through tears.
And suddenly, I’m having all sorts of deja vu thinking about the many couples we’ve watched crash and burn over the years on this show. I know it’s become somewhat of a classic trope in the Housewives universe that certain women join the show to get a divorce. But there’s always something that feels different about it in the OC. In a way, the problems in Dr. Jen‘s marriage are a tale as old as time in Orange County, dating all the way back to Jeana Keough and her estranged (now-late) ex-husband Matt Keough. Instead of Noella and her scandal-ridden bombshell divorce, Dr. Jen might just be the real successor in a long line of broken, toxic RHOC marriages that includes Tamra Judge and Simon Barney. Lynne Curtin. Vicki Gunvalson and Donn Gunvalson. Meghan King Edmonds. And even Shannon and David Beador. Suddenly, I’m much more invested in the newbie.
Arriving at Shannon‘s, Dr. Jen tells Heather that she doesn’t want to talk about her marital strife with the other women. She’s not ready to face the barrage of questions that will come with opening up. And then proceeds to spill her guts out almost immediately upon walking in. So much for Heather telling the rest of the group not to bombard her with questions…But honestly, it’s clear that Dr. Jen needs to get the drama off her chest. Plus, she’s all ears when it comes to any advice her new friends have for how to heal the rift in her marriage. And considering every single one of the veteran ‘Wives have gone through their own marital issues on camera, they actually have great advice to offer.
Noella, on the other hand, can’t help but draw parallels to her divorce with James Bergener. (Read: find a way to recenter the conversation around her.) And actually, I don’t think she was doing it intentionally this time. I think she really did want to help Dr. Jen. But she was doing so by projecting her own experiences onto her frenemy. Asking the good doctor about prenups and telling her she should get divorced aren’t really what she needs to be hearing right now. Instead, she wants to hear about options for therapy, marriage counseling, and other ways to heal the relationship, not sever it. In fact, it turns out Dr. Jen and Ryne have already gone to the same marriage bootcamp we watched Shannon and David suffer through way back in Season 10. (Yes, the one with the gravestone.)
Once again, Noella is failing to read the room. And when she doesn’t appreciate Emily‘s questions about the story she’s selling regarding her divorce, the lawyer finally loses her temper. Blessedly, one thing we know is that Emily seeing red tends to make for good TV. Emily screams that all Noella ever does is talk about her divorce. Which is kind of true. The blow-up sends most of the ‘Wives scrambling from the table. And the only thing that saves the luncheon from total disaster is Heather breaking out the edibles. Surprise! Fancy Pants has discovered microdosing. And double surprise! She’s introduced Shannon to the concept as well. So before we know it, everyone’s a little bit high, feeling good, and the luncheon even ends in a toast. And cookies! Lots of cookies.
Days later, the drama between the ‘Wives takes off in another direction. Because Gina Kirschenheiter has come to the conclusion that Shannon is jealous of her blossoming friendship with Heather. This is mostly because Shannon didn’t seem excited enough when Heather was praising Gina for starting her new skincare line at the luncheon. Which may seem ridiculous to some, but on the other hand I can see what Gina’s saying. When it’s come to Heather’s return to the show, Shannon’s face has had a habit of betraying her real feelings this season. Even when she’s saying things that, on the surface, are supposedly happy and supportive, she has a tendency to look, shall we say, less than enthused.
That evening, Emily fulfills her duty as the season’s unofficial bone collector to ask Shannon point blank over dinner with Dr. Jen if she’s feeling some type of way about Heather and Gina. Of course, Shannon balks at the accusation. She has her totally own separate friendship with Heather, OK? In fact, her fellow vet is her new marijuana dealer! And she’s totally not mad about being excluded from Heather and Gina’s upcoming trip to New York. Because even if she had been invited, she would’ve turned the invitation down. OK?? Are you convinced yet??? She didn’t even want to go to New York! But now she’s definitely mad at Gina…
On a completely separate note, this recap would be missing a major element if I didn’t mention Heather‘s beautiful conversation with her daughter Kat about acceptance and parental support of LGBTQ+ children. It was just so touching. And as a gay kid who grew up loving Bravo and definitely didn’t have that type of unapologetic, celebratory support at home, tears were streaming down my face as I watched one of my favorite Housewives encourage and champion her lesbian daughter to fly whatever flag she wanted to proudly, loudly and without an ounce of shame. It sounds trite, but it truly meant so much to me as a viewer and as a fan, and I hope Heather’s advocacy of all her children can help other parents watching realize that their LGBTQ+ kids need and deserve exactly that kind of support and love.
TELL US – DO YOU FEEL BAD FOR DR. JEN? WHICH ‘WIFE GAVE HER THE BEST MARITAL ADVICE? DO YOU BLAME EMILY FOR BLOWING UP AT NOELLA? DO YOU THINK SHANNON IS JEALOUS OF GINA’S FRIENDSHIP WITH HEATHER?
[Photo Credit: Bravo]