RHOC: “Where do people go to shop, or to Nordstrom?”

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Real Housewives is, at its core, a show about small but abject suburban horrors. Although last night’s episode was the kind of quasi-filler that the series serves up every three or four weeks to fill out the season, it was subtly packed with the kind of stuff that would drive even the most stable McMansion dweller to guzzle some white wine and start a fight at an outdoor cocktail party.

First, the most horrible of the episode’s horrors: the notion of being trapped in a car for 21 hours while driving through the literal middle of nowhere with Noted Nutcase Vicki Gunvalson, two small children who still need to use the bathroom constantly in spite of a complete lack of bathrooms in the desert, and a post-surgical bacterial infection that has left you in incredible pain and is potentially threatening the use of one of your legs. That’s the nightmare situation in which poor, sweet, real-life decent human Brianna found herself for most of the episode, and if you wanted to pick a good word to describe how it felt, you wouldn’t go wrong with “harrowing.”

Brianna was leaving Oklahoma nominally because she wanted to come back to Southern California to see different doctors, but probably also (and maybe even mostly) because her mother is lonely and needy and Brianna felt guilty for trying to be a real human being far away from reality TV when she didn’t technicallyhave to be. It meant leaving her husband halfway across the country to settle his retirement from the Marines and sell the house before joining her, but Brianna has proved to be nothing short of an incredible daughter in the ten years we’ve been following her, even if her dedication to Vicki is often to her own detriment and occasionally requires her kid to take a dump on the side of the road.

Brianna ended up in the emergency room at the end of the trip, and when she got out, she still had antibiotic delivery systems poking out of her and a bum arm, in addition to the bum leg. Despite Brianna being more or less doubled over in various sorts of discomfort and unable to fully use half her limbs, Vicki then left her at home with two small kids and no help and went to the office. After all, tacky McMansions for every member of the family don’t buy themselves.

In fact, much of the rest of the episode was also concerned with the creation and acquisition of homes. Heather, having completely run out of other luxury goods on which to spend money, went to the Fancy Outdoor Appliance Store to demand a pizza oven which she would neither operate nor enjoy, as well as the largest, stainless steel-est grill available, because who knows what her personal chef might need in order to assemble her daily bowl of arugula and quinoa? Those are details for someone else to work out, someone who gets paid an hourly wage to operate machines that create fire and then, eventually, grilled chicken breasts. (Who knows what happens in the middle.) Heather was just there to take inventory of her new stuff and write the check, a skill at which she is long-practiced and quite adept. She then turned her attentions to the acquisition of hexagonal ice cubes, which are for sure a thing that someone invented with the express intent of draining some extra money out of rich people. Shannon, for her part, is also in want of a new house, but who knows when that or anything else about her will turn into an interesting storyline.

We discussed Meghan’s renovations last week, so this week, we were treated to her confronting her worst phobia in the world, by herself in her cavernous bathroom, on home video, jabbing a needle in the only morsel of fat on her entire body while chanting about the baby she wants to have with her husband’s preserved sperm. Just making it through that sentence gave me a thousand-yard stare.

Tamra already has a house and some babies, so instead of procreation or renovation, she set out building both her body and her relationship with Jesus. Luckily for her, she’s found what strikes me as a particularly Southern Californian combination: a woman named Mia, who is both personal trainer and Christian spiritual adviser. (See? I promised this episode was full of little horrors.) Although, I have to admit: Tamra is never going to be sane, just like the rest of the people on this show, but she seems a lot less like a little blonde powder keg than she did before she found both Jesus and her abs.

Vicki should say a woohoo prayer for that and thank her lucky stars, because when it came time to have the episode’s requisite Emotional Non-Apology For Totally Not Lying About Helping My Boyfriend Fake a Cancer Diagnosis, this week’s was given to Tamra while at Kelly’s otherwise-inoffensive beach party. (Kelly may be getting the villain edit this season, but as I believe we’ll establish next week, she has far and away the best taste in home decor of the group. Why do the others love brocade so much?) Perhaps because of the long, close relationship between the two (a relationship that I’m wiling to bet is largely genuine at this point), Vicki got a little bit closer to admitting that maybe she did indeed screw up, although maybe not in exactly the way her fellow Housewives think she did. But first she mentioned casseroles again, as if she wanted to subconsciously remind us that she is completely nuts. (Casseroles are definitely a horror in most cases.)

What Vicki finally said, though, is that she might have gone wrong by being unable or unwilling to see what the rest of them saw. She didn’t seem to realize or understand that she had hit on something important, but it’s a notion that, if expanded and explored and made into narrative, might just be the only way for her to gain forgiveness from the other women without admitting she knew Brooks was lying about having cancer, if she indeed did. (I still think she knew, for what it’s worth, but I tend to assume longtime reality TV stars are pretty craven.) When that explanation–that Vicki was overcome with the kind of desperate love that makes you ignore your concerned friends and lie on behalf of your boyfriend, because desperate love does not allow for the possibility that your partner is lying to you–was introduced, Tamra softened immediately. Vicki had bumbled her way into the key to the whole thing, even if only because she had already tried all the other keys on the ring.

It’s anyone’s guess to see if Vicki even knows what came out of her mouth that caused the change in Tamra’s attitude toward her, but if she can find it and hold on to it, she might be able to mend fences with her cast mates. Well, all of them except Shannon; she still needs her beef with Vicki because it gives her something to talk about other than her husband’s affair and the fact that her family needs to move into a smaller house. The episode ended with a literal “to be continued…” though, so the producers seem thirsty to ensure us that there will be even more drama next week. And isn’t there always?

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