2020 has officially become so terrible that I found an episode of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City weirdly … poignant? This week is centered around the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and now, almost a year later, with a mostly virtual Festival on the horizon in 2021, the world of packed screenings and ill-advised house parties feels like an impossible dream. We were all so innocent back in January!
Setting aside my impending emotional breakdown: yes, it’s Sundance week! It was obvious since the announcement of this series that the Housewives would spend some time soaking up the closest thing Utah gets to Hollywood glamour. And while the drama isn’t gone from this episode entirely, the general tone is more excited than bitter as the women prepare for Park City festivities.
Since the first episode, Lisa has touted her Sundance cred. (“Some people call me the queen of Sundance. I just think I’m really good at what I do,” she says early in the episode. Later, she refers to herself as the queen of Sundance, so apparently “some people” includes herself.) Her high-octane ambition fuels the episode as she runs from event to event on practically no sleep. Her husband, John, seems decidedly less invested—in one telling confessional, he admits that Lisa is the real boss, says that he doesn’t care because Lisa is a great boss, and then suggests that Lisa prepped him for the interview. (Honestly, I respect the business savvy! Don’t let those Bravo producers control the narrative without a fight.) Still, he comes in clutch with a U-Haul full of furniture, and Lisa ends the episode quite pleased that everything is going so well. We also get a judgmental scene of Lisa skipping a FaceTime call from her kids. I found this narrative to be pretty gross. It’s her busiest work week of the year! Her kids will survive if they can’t video chat while eating Buffalo Wild Wings.
Meanwhile at the Marks household, Brooks is preparing for his clothing line to be featured at Park City’s first ever Fashion Week. (In a telling moment at the end of the episode, Brooks gushes, “I don’t know how I got this opportunity … I mean, I do. My mom, obviously.”) Every moment of Brooks involves some sort of near-breakdown. He’s surprised to learn that he’s walking the runway, and wishes he would have gone on a juice cleanse. Right as he’s supposed to leave for the show, he’s still in a face mask. Then, a leaking toilet, blaring smoke alarm and dog accident make him 45 minutes late to the show. All the while, he’s upset that Seth isn’t coming to see the show, while Meredith feels increasingly guilty that her marital problems are partly to blame.
This episode’s contractually mandated big party comes courtesy of Whitney, who is planning a big bash for her husband Justin’s 52nd birthday. We haven’t really seen much from this couple recently, and at the very least, it’s clear they aren’t lacking for excitement. The pregame isn’t even finished before Justin slurps a shot from Whitney’s belly button. Then, Whitney, Jen and Heather board the party bus to Deer Valley. I’ll trust the Housewives that this party was fun, but it all looks strangely stilted on camera, especially when Mary shows up. She declined the invitation to go on the party bus, and she spends the night awkwardly dancing on her own away from the other women. Of course, Mary and Jen quickly start fighting again. This spat isn’t the energy-sucking blowout of episodes past, though Mary does directly address Jen’s, um, blunt comments about Mary’s marriage. Jen conveniently says that she was too drunk to remember. The two are (sort of) able to keep their tempers in check, seemingly for Whitney’s sake, though it’s clear this rivalry isn’t over.
Whitney’s raucous party spurs what is easily my favorite subplot of the night—Heather is, simply put, extremely horny and not afraid to say it. The two cousins debrief at Punch Bowl Social (R.I.P) where Heather offers her weekly Sunday school lesson on Mormon culture and politics. (Yes, Utah liquor laws never really moved past the Prohibition, as most locals are well aware of.) Whitney’s nontraditional, sex positive marriage inspires Heather to take stock of her own relationship history. She regrets “choosing faith over love”—in a brutal bit of editing, Heather talks about her loveless marriage as photos of her young family, husband included, are displayed. Now, post-divorce, Heather is in a serious dry spell. She feels rejected by Utah men who want her to fit into the typical Utah mold, and she is haunted by an alternate timeline of her 20s where she explored her sexuality and tried new things. Sure, Heather’s attitude is more than a little fatalistic—she declares that “the men in Utah are worth nothing”—but dating in Utah is rough for just about everyone, and Heather is feeling the pain.
This comes to a head when Jen hosts a screening for a film by her cousin Tony Vainuku, filled with men who are a little drunk, ready to have some fun, and, most importantly, not from Utah. “This is a feeding frenzy for me,” Heather says. And, for all of their interpersonal squabbles, the Housewives are surprisingly good wingwomen! Jen primes a hot single guy to talk to Heather, Vanderpump Rules stars Lala Kent and Katie Maloney-Shwartz hype her up and Whitney offers the classic Mormon mom line: “Remember who you are. Return with honor.” Heather’s charmingly odd attempts to flirt include calling a projector a “mad ass printer,” but apparently it works, because the couple leaves the party together to everyone else’s obvious delight. Good for Heather!
I am weirdly fixated on one very specific moment of the episode. It’s B-roll at the beginning of a scene at Shah Squad marketing. The camera zooms in on a notebook that reads, in a font that’s best described as “Target mom,” “just a girl boss building her empire.” Just to review: Jen’s son has a sign in his bedroom that defines the word “hustle.” Mary gave out notebooks that say “boss lady” at a Met Gala-themed (?!) luncheon. And now we have this? These women wake up every day and choose violence.
This raises the most important question of the episode: which Housewife is the best “boss lady?” Lisa, to her credit, is effusively upbeat to the staff members at her many Sundance events. But Lisa, who says the Church of Jesus Christ teaches the “constant pursuit of being your best self,” has a relentless positivity that could be exhausting. We haven’t seen Meredith interact with her staff, but she does teach Brooks that timeliness is important, so she seems to be at least professional. Jen tries to be a fun boss—she rollerskates through the halls of her office in sunglasses and a tiara—and teases her first assistant Stuart for his drunken antics at an earlier Sundance party. (He apparently called himself “Stu Chainz,” which I consider a microaggression of some kind.) But her insistence on treating staff as family could be a boundary-setting nightmare. How often does Stuart literally fan Jen? Do the rotating cast of makeup artists and nail technicians ever tire of supporting Jen through petty drama? Do any of these people have their own families that probably want them to clock out at 5 p.m.? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
Mary’s housekeeper Charlinda is literally family, because apparently Charlinda is Mary’s grandmother’s brother’s daughter. But Mary’s definition of family is … well, I’ll just let her explain it: “We’re not close at all. Like, I don’t know her life and what she does outside of what she helps me with. But at the end of the day we’re family.” This checks out—Mary exuded strong Karen energy when she berated the staff prepping her Met Gala luncheon. And yet Charlinda keeps beat-boxing on, seemingly bulletproof. She is the episode’s most inspiring person and the show’s moral center. I hope Mary offers her a spare Chanel purse this Christmas.
- Meredith calls Park City the cultural center of Utah, which is definitely up for debate!
- Another perfect Heather line: “I am always looking for sex but I am not looking for love. … That sounded horribly vulgar. Can you delete?” Thankfully, no one deleted.
- Jen “kept it modest” with her one-piece swimsuit—and a fur coat and matching boots of course.
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