Well. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City came out swinging for the Season 2 premiere. Fans knew from the moment of Jen Shah’s arrest that this season’s material would be a reality TV producer’s dream come true, but this episode’s first scene still exceeds expectations. They’re giving us flashbacks, dramatic reveals, shifting timelines and alliances and betrayals that border on Shakespearean. This is some HBO prestige drama-level shit!
The producers know that the Shah arrest is their most explosive plotline and they deliver the goods right away. Five of the cast members—Whitney Rose, Heather Gay, Lisa Barlow, new Housewife Jennie Nguyen and Shah—board a limo for a girls’ trip, shot ski and Vida Tequila in hand. The day quickly takes a turn when Jen gets a call with bad news from her husband Sharrieff. Visibly upset, Jen asks Whitney to turn her microphone off, a big no-no when filming a reality TV show. Jen tells the group she has to leave, and just 12 minutes later, NYPD and Homeland Security officers come to the parked limo looking for Jen. Cut to a beautifully dramatic montage, previewing a season’s worth of juicy legal drama. Whitney reads headlines about the fraud charges as the women drive to Colorado. Jen walks out of the court house with long braids and a fur coat as cameras flash. The other women wonder about their own involvement: “If we do not share what we know, we’re in danger,” Whitney says. As a final flourish, we see confessional shots of Whitney, Lisa, Heather, Mary and Meredith as the producers ask “What do you know that you’re not saying right now?” and “Do you know who tipped off the feds that day?” I’m already obsessed!
After that shocking opener, the episode flashes back two months, when the show began filming, to catch up with each Housewife. First, we visit Jen, who has a new Park City Shah Chalet and a new 2nd assistant, Murilo, presumably because the old one is in prison or needs intensive in-patient therapy. Lisa comes over to tour Jen’s new house and coo about how much she loves everything. At the end of Season 1, Lisa and Jen maintained a strange friendship even as the other women, including Lisa’s bestie Meredith, were fed up with Jen’s antics. Jen confides in Lisa that her marriage with Sharrieff is in trouble—they nearly got divorced in 2020 and are trying to patch things up in couples therapy. Jen also says she wants to make up with the other Housewives, who seem to have little to do with Jen when Bravo cameras aren’t rolling, while Lisa is caught in the middle trying to make everyone happy.
Jen isn’t the only Housewife with new Park City real estate. Meredith Marks has also moved into a blandly pretty mountain home, where she can pursue her passion for putting her dog in ridiculous sweaters full time. Heather stops by, in full ski gear, as an excuse to squeeze in more exposition. Meredith and her husband Seth now have a great marriage, thank you very much for asking, and Heather hopes her college-bound daughter Ashley will avoid BYU and live the party girl fantasy that good-Mormon-gone-bad Heather never did.
Last season, Whitney was at the center of the show’s darkest plotline—her father Steve’s drug addiction and attempts at recovery. In this episode, her segment is 100% goofy and, honestly, it’s a good fit for her. Whitney, showing off a bikini and Brooks Marks tracksuit, is preparing for her stepson McCade’s birthday party. Whitney’s 20-something stepsons are closer to her in age than her 52-year-old husband Justin, and she admits the dynamic can be strange. Luckily, the family muscles through the awkwardness by drinking a lot of shots and hopping into a hot tub. Whitney also gets a minute to plug her skin care brand, recently renamed Wild Rose Beauty, and says now that she makes her own money she doesn’t have to give blow jobs to Justin anymore. Girlboss! She also says she can be a role model to her stepsons by “working hard and playing hard” and then drunkenly drops a birthday cake not once, not twice, but three times. You go girl??
In all of the horrors of the past several months, you may have stopped to wonder: how did Mary Cosby handle coronavirus lockdown? Now, we know the answer: the pandemic was rough on Mary—her son barely talks to her, her grandpa/husband was stuck in Florida and there were no congregations for her to berate/preach to. As shown in genuinely disturbing footage, Mary passed the time talking to the mannequin heads in her dressing room and washing eggs (?) while saying “they looked like they just dropped out of a uterus.” (??) Mary decides to harness this…energy…by starting her own podcast, “Talking Facts with Mary Cosby.” Topics include: the right way to say a prayer, Mary’s fears that her son will mooch off of her forever and different names for marijuana. As far as I can tell, this podcast was never actually published, which is probably for the best.
After whatever the hell that was, we finally get to meet Jennie, the new cast member. Jennie is a retired entrepreneur who lives with her husband Duy, a chiropractor, and her three kids, Atlas, Triton and Karlyn. (Learn more about Jennie in her interview with Salt Lake magazine.) Jennie is also good friends with Lisa—the two met a decade ago when their sons attended the same school. Lisa and her son Jack visit Jennie, who talks about her immigration story. As a child, she left Vietnam, (as she tells Jack, they escaped “on a boat, dude!”) spent years in a Thai refugee camp and settled in California after a Christian church sponsored her family. For some reason, she also says that her husband is sexy….from the neck down. Jennie already shows off plenty of personality, but we have to wait to watch her interact with the rest of the cast.
Now that everyone has re-introduced themselves, we go back to the Shah Chalet 2.0 for a family party. It’s honestly pretty boring, but we do meet Jen’s Auntie Nani, whose legs were removed in a surgery that inspired the now-infamous “smells like hospital” fight between Mary and Jen. (In the confessional, Jen introduces her with, “My Auntie Nani, she looks good, she don’t smell like hospital, she smells like ‘spensive Louis Vuitton perfume.” No notes!)
Elsewhere in Park City, Meredith, Mary, Whitney and Heather meet at The Boneyard for lunch in one of those “COVID-safe” igloos every restaurant was trying to speed-build last winter. Heather takes over and chooses for the table because, in her words, “these skinny bitches don’t know how to order.” God bless! Things get serious, though, when Meredith shares that her father passed away after a long battle with dementia. Meredith’s emotions are clearly raw, and the other women are gentle and supportive. But this is the Real Housewives after all, so the petty drama has to come back at some point. Heather says that she hasn’t talked with Lisa and Jen since the reunion, and while she’s willing to make amends with Lisa, Heather is incensed that Jen reposted an Instagram story calling her a racist. (It’s unclear if Jen is referring to any specific statement or incident.) Heather recognizes that her friendship with Jen is an unhealthy dynamic fueled by her insecurity—“she fills me up with so much friendship juice that I am drunk on it.” There is even more offscreen Instagram drama from Meredith. Meredith is upset that Jen liked and replied to comments about her son Brooks that she feels are homophobic. One in particular calls Brooks a “privileged twink”—which, I mean, at least the first half of that is true. I’m not as convinced as Meredith that calling someone a twink is blatant homophobia, but it’s clearly a sensitive subject for her. While many fans have assumed that Brooks is gay, he has not come out as queer or even discussed his sexuality in detail with Meredith. Jen’s comments awakened Meredith’s inner mama bear, she says that Jen should apologize to her “fam-i-ly,” dragging out every syllable as only a true ice queen could. Meredith continues to be deliciously passive-aggressive when Whitney asks about Jen and Lisa’s tight friendship: “Do I understand it? No. Does it irritate me? Of course. But do I think that Lisa shouldn’t be friends with Jen? Honestly, Jen probably needs a friend right now.”
It’s clear that Lisa and Meredith’s friendships with the other Housewives will cause some sort of confrontation. (Meredith has gotten closer with Whitney and Heather, who sparred with Lisa at the reunion. Their fight even inspired Lisa to try out some slam poetry.) The inevitable showdown happens when Meredith invites the Barlows over for Shabbat dinner. Things start out okay: Brooks is trying to braid challah, Meredith is wearing some extremely bold puffy sleeves and Lisa gets to remind us that she’s “Jewish by heritage, Mormon by choice,” which always makes me laugh for some reason. But when Meredith mentions that Heather wants to patch things up with Lisa, Lisa in turn tries to broker peace between Meredith and Jen. Meredith, the quiet MVP of the episode, is skeptical: “She doesn’t understand the meaning of friendship at any level, Lisa. This is so basic,” she drawls. Meredith says “it’s not about me, it’s about my family” so much she might as well audition for the next Fast & Furious movie, and she feels (not unfairly) that Jen’s personal attacks are on a different level than Lisa and Heather’s rivalry. As Lisa keeps suggesting ways to make up, Meredith gets heated, and Lisa, sensing that her attempted peace deal has gone awry, reaffirms her friendship with Meredith and drops it. Even as the families come together to bless and light the candles, one of the series’ most solid friendships appears to be on shaky ground.
- Heavy foreshadowing alert: Jen does herself dirty by telling Lisa, “You know I’ll go to jail for you. I haven’t gone to jail yet.” The feds are watching, Jen! Don’t tempt them!
- The secret star of the episode: Jennie’s daughter Karlyn, who explains her straight-A grades by saying, “that’s why we’re A-sian, not B-sian”
- Lisa’s thoughts on religion: “The way I look at it: Jesus loves us, God’s the judge of us and church is an open door.” Amen Sister Barlow!
- Whoever put “Kumbaya” in the Season 2 preview at the end of the episode is NOT seeing heaven.