Anyone who thought the Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills might neatly continue after Russell Armstrong's suicide without dragging up the tumultuous months leading up to the tragedy has learned a good bit about Bravo's thought process over the course of this season. (Armstrong was the former husband of Taylor Armstrong, one of the housewives.) Namely, that the suits (who live in Andy Cohen's Watch What Happens clubhouse) only planned to divert attention away from the Taylor-Russell storyline for a small part of the season—focusing instead on the sublimely boring Pandora Vanderpump and her wedding—before letting it fully combust in the final episodes. And because of that, it now takes nearly an iron will to get through the intensity of these episodes, even for the most ardent lovers of the Real Housewives franchise.
While there was justified outrage by many over the fact that Bravo went ahead and aired the season, there was little surprise given the popularity of the franchise, and the Beverly Hills version specifically. For the first few episodes, you could almost trick yourself into believing the show would just go on showing Taylor looking rail-thin and on edge but never really spilling open the gory details of why. Meanwhile, Russell began popping up very infrequently: at a dinner party here and then at marriage counseling session there. Before you could lose yourself in Brandi and Kim's nonsensical arguments or Giggy's outfits, there he'd be. And over the course of the last few episodes, he's been wedged further and further into the show's central drama, stringing together a plotline concerning Taylor and allegations of physical assault she'd suffered at his hands.
When the crashing realization sets in that you're regularly watching a man who will soon be ending his own life—perhaps, as some have argued, because of the conflicts brought about through the show—it all becomes a bitter pill to swallow. Any follower of these shows will readily admit they are intended to be consumed in much the same way as soap operas: showcasing brilliant female drama, over-the-top decadence, and genetically gifted people behaving poorly. And by poorly, I mean spending too much money on outfits for the dog or a kid's birthday party. That doesn't leave much room for serious consideration of a man's mental illness.
Tonight's episode was grueling, to say the least. But before the awful confrontation unraveled when Kyle, Lisa, Adrienne, and their husbands demanded Taylor and Russell turn around and leave a party they'd just arrived to, there was a thankful bit of palate cleansing fluff away from the drama. Dear Pandy's wedding planning is chugging right along, showcasing her in all her milquetoast glory. And can we take a moment to recognize how boggling and phenomenally disappointing it is that a woman named Pandora Vanderpump is a Grade A bore? It's so good, you could argue it's the only fitting alternate name for last season's standout guest, the electric cigarette-smoking psychic Alison Dubois.
"Eccentric" planner Kevin Lee is all ascots and brittle shag-mullet, singing the praises of a live band he's brought into the Vanderpump house to audition for the impending nuptials. He utters his trademarked reminder that Beverly Hills weddings must be "Big! Big! Big!" to Lisa, and it's mere moments before the band strikes and the ladies Vanderpump are shaking their cabooses. The sultry, Brazilian sound has hips swaying immediately and smiles plastered across everyone's faces but not before Jason, and all his hipness, requests a bit of Motown to seal the deal. The result gives Lisa her single best moment of the season—which we can all hope is immediately turned into a GIF—where she's listening intently to the female crooner and is overcome by emotion to the point that she's kissing Giggy's tiny paws and letting tears flow. Even Kevin is feeling it all so much that he sneaks a smooch on the tiny pup's head. Lovers of Glamour Queen Vanderpump should not be disappointed.
From there, it's time to get to the centerpiece of the episode: Kyle's much-hyped, annual White Party. For several episodes, she's been plugging the shindig, as if we somehow would forget to attend it through our TV screens when it eventually rolled around. This, of course, is the PotE—to steal a term from Emily Yoshida, who covered this season's premiere—or Party of the Episode. Viewers know each episode is constructed around a get-together of some kind that will force enemies to cross paths, copious amounts of booze to be consumed, and silky dresses to be worn. Or, in the case of this season, it's where dimwit Dana shows up and announces the cost of some horrifying accessory she's toting around, like, you know, a diamond encrusted lollipop holder.
In the lead up to the party, we've also learned a pivotal piece of information through a sit-down between Adrienne and Paul at their home: Russell has sent an email to Camille threatening to sue her for announcing in front of the other women (and the cameras) that Taylor had told the group her husband physically abused her. It was a shocking turning point in the season and for the Real Housewives series as it alluded to the enormous amount of tension, drama, and heartbreak occurring off-camera. Russell, apparently, didn't appreciate his name being thrown in the mix and let Camille know, setting off a domino effect of paranoia amongst the other housewives and their husbands.
When should this escalating fear that Russell might seek legal action against them all come to a head? Well, obviously, in the middle of Kyle's ginormous party, while party guests awkwardly walk past the cameras. It seems no one, mysteriously, was able to get a hold of Taylor to let her know Russell had become a persona non grata at Kyle's, and the only solution for the situation was to let the couple slowly wind their way to the party in a limo, all gussied up in their white finery, and be rejected by the angry group at the door. Here we thought we'd get to just watch Kim and her new, creepy boyfriend dance the night away as part of their awkward public debut.
Realizing this showdown will occur, Kyle does what any hostess would do in such a situation and intermittently bursts into tears while running from room to room, drawing all the attention in the world to herself and friends. In their glittering white, the group of friends convinces Kyle she simply must turn Taylor and Russell away, for fear of any further threats of litigation. And while it's handled ridiculously, it also feels like an awful and real moment perhaps prodded at by the producers but genuinely felt by Kyle and her circle. To add insult to injury, the lead-up is dragged out in an almost cruel way, showing Taylor and her husband giddy in the limo, kissing and forcefully telling each other that they've "made up" and are ready to celebrate. Russell even jokingly promises to drink the entire bottle of vodka he's bringing.
The arrival and ensuing confrontation is, of course, miserable to see. Kyle holds herself together for all of two seconds before falling apart and blubbering nonsense to a very confused Taylor and Russell as they stand in her doorway. It's then that Adrienne, Paul, and Mauricio step in to explain the situation and how the e-mail set things off. Russell's only defense is to say that he believed he was "very kind" to Camille, which only agitates everyone more. It seems the e-mail made the rounds, and no one feels the way Russell does about it. Taylor is clearly shocked, saying she had no clue he'd even sent it, but she also allows her anger to gather steam. She snaps that she hopes they enjoy the party and retreats to the limo with Russell, obviously humiliated and angry.
Just when you think you can exhale, Kyle is flying down the driveway toward the limo and throwing herself inside to try to apologize to Taylor. Her posse is hot on her tail and cranes their necks inside to continue battling against Russell. Taylor finally begs to let them leave, and their limo shoots off into the night, leaving Kyle and her circle staring at each other in front of the house, letting their bedazzled white gowns fly around in the wind while guests continue to party inside.
The standoff went as smoothly as anyone might expect, with a minimal amount of shouting but heated exchanges nonetheless. Where Taylor stands with the rest of the girls is a mystery along with how the lead-up to the Russell tragedy will continue to be handled. While fiery and authentic drama tends to bode well for reality shows, the fact that the fuel to these flames involves a man nearing his demise is getting harder to stomach. That said, it will be incredibly interesting to see how the remainder of the finale is handled and how Bravo's intends to create entertainment out of the rubble. It's not the first time someone on reality TV has died, but it's never been so closely tethered to the carefully crafted drama playing out on the program itself. And if you think Bravo might go the purely somber route, just check out the ads for the upcoming, Cîroc Vodka-sponsored Real Housewives Of New Year's Eve sweepstakes, in which stars of the franchises party at various clubs around the country with winners. In it, Taylor is featured prominently, shaking her hips and smiling into the camera. Because a woman several months into grieving the public loss of her husband is exactly who everyone wants to take shots with on New Year's Eve, right? 2012!!!
- Kim and Brandi's confrontation sounded like a continuous thud that only made us all stupider for having tried to follow it. Though we did learn that Kim is freakishly concerned about girls "not looking pretty" when they swear. Also, she wants to break Brandi's other leg. All around scary.
- Is it just me or would DD and Dana make the perfect pair? Or maybe they can have a flatter-off where they both compliment the Housewives endlessly and see who wins... or who gets invited somewhere super cool!!
- Who was that 14-year-old Swedish DJ at the party?
- Hey! Fatburger made it to another White Party! Nice!
- Second major limo showdown for RHBH, both majorly involving Kyle. It's clearly where she lets things out.
- Ready for some fun reality crossover trivia? You might recognize Brandi's BFF Jennifer Gimenez as one of the sober living house managers from VH1's Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew. Also, Lisa and Pandy's goofy wedding planner Kevin Lee appears on the TLC show Brides of Beverly Hills.