In the middle of this week’s episode of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, I texted another fan of the show and declared it was one of the best episodes of television I’d seen. That was maybe (definitely) a touch hyperbolic, but this really is a new peak for RHOSLC. Behind the ridiculous drama and ethical queasiness of watching most reality TV, this tense, surprising episode proves why this series can be so compelling.
This episode begins right where we left off last week. Jen said that Sharrieff had internal bleeding (a lie), left in a hurry and then a swarm of federal agents showed up to arrest her. Lisa, Jennie, Heather and Whitney are parked at Beauty Lab, stunned. Unlike most installments, which follow a loose formula with several subplots, this episode is set entirely over the course of a single day. Transitions mark the exact time and location of the cast, and the whole thing is paced like a thriller. The tone is a hybrid between a mid-reputable true crime documentary and a normal episode of the show, which makes for an odd but compelling juxtaposition. One minute you have Meredith, in a hot pink blazer, no pants and with go-go boots, enjoying an infomercial about a luxury vacation rental in Vail, the next you have grainy footage, seemingly from a doorbell security camera, of Jen’s kids walking out of the house with their hands up.
Beyond the unusually high stakes of the ripped-from-the-headlines drama, this episode succeeds because each cast member shows a new side of themselves. Even though RHOSLC is only in its second season, (the OG series, The Real Housewives of Orange County, has a staggering 268 episodes) the cast has already started to calcify into types. Even with an ever-evolving web of alliances and rivalries, you can generally predict how most of the women will behave—Mary will throw the most unhinged party on God’s green earth, Jen will have an outburst of rage and Meredith will disengage. The cast, always aware that cameras are rolling, perform the parts. But the events of this episode are shocking and destabilizing enough to inspire some raw, surprising reactions.
Whitney, for example, is savvier than we might expect. She seems to be the first to connect that the NYPD was involved because Jen’s business was based in New York, and she somehow knows quite a lot about (legal) digital marketing. She is much more clearheaded than her cousin. Heather, who is surprisingly naive. She suggests to the group that the police were “trying to protect” Jen, because surely a full SWAT team got their handcuffs out for just a casual check-in. She keeps asking if Jen will text her back. (I don’t think so, babe!) Before learning exactly what Jen is charged with, she hopes the whole thing is a misunderstanding about “paperwork.” True, watching a police department’s worth of federal agents come looking for your friend would be disorienting, but Heather certainly is lacking in the street smarts department.
Lisa is in a tough situation because, unwisely, she decided to be Jen’s #1 defender and friend ever since the end of last season. In one of the most unbelievable moments in an episode full of them, Whitney finds out the specific allegations against Jen from reality TV blogs and gossip sites as the group drives through the middle of nowhere. (I *hope* Reality Blurb wins a Pultizer for Breaking News Reporting TBH.) In real time, they learn that Jen is charged with fraud, Stuart is implicated too and that she could face up to 30 years in prison. Lisa and Heather burst into tears and join Whitney for a group hug, while Jennie calmly sips her drink. Jennie is too new to have deep connections with anyone besides Lisa, and she is hilariously not going to pretend otherwise. Before the bus even leaves the parking lot, Jennie raids Jen’s snacks, correctly guessing that Jen won’t be coming back for her Mint Milanos and Life Savers. Mostly, she seems mildly irked that her new friend’s massive fraud scheme has spoiled a perfectly good girls’ trip.
The two other Housewives going to Vail, Mary and Meredith, wisely skipped out on the party bus and get to travel in relative peace. Meredith, in particular, is having a great time drinking champagne alone in the stupidly big ski mansion. She’s having so much fun, in fact, that she hasn’t been reading any headlines or texts about Jen. Lisa FaceTimes her, and when she learns the news, she says, stone-faced, “Honestly, I’m not surprised by this.” She feels validated that her longtime suspicions about Jen were correct, and openly gloats before basically saying “I told you so.” “The good news is, while everything else is falling apart around us we do have a beautiful house here,” Meredith says before blowing a kiss. How’s that for the magic of positive thinking?
The demise of her longtime enemy gives Meredith a real chance to shine, and she milks the opportunity. Sometimes in Season 1, Meredith was too reserved (and emotionally mature) to stand out, but this episode, she decides to put on a show. When Mary arrives, Meredith greets her while luxuriating in a bubble bath. She and Mary gossip in the bathroom, and Meredith continues to emphasize that she is not surprised by the arrest. (Mary, for her part, mostly says she’s sad for Jen, except for the times when she says that Jen had it coming.) “The FBI doesn’t get involved unless there’s facts,” observes Mary Cosby, Esq. “Unless there was, like, an insider who gave them the information,” says Meredith, before quietly looking away.
I won’t speculate if Meredith did, in fact, tip off the federal agents. The show, and maybe even Meredith herself, is certainly leaving plenty of breadcrumbs to suggest this possibility. What I do know is that Meredith is really leaning into her performance. She clearly chose to film the conversation with Mary in the bubble bath (I am hoping…PRAYING…that the camera crew doesn’t have bathroom privileges without permission,) because she wants to prove just how relaxed and unbothered she is by Jen’s downfall. She stays in the tub until the rest of the cast arrives, her hands getting pruney for the sake of the bit. This woman is looking camp right in the eye!
The gravity of Jen’s arrest (almost) unites everyone, mostly because they are distracted from the petty bullshit that would have animated a more normal trip. Still, the Housewives find time to eye each other suspiciously and wonder aloud if anyone knows more than they’re letting on. Jennie finds it strange that Whitney is a sudden expert on the legality of direct marketing. Whitney questions why Lisa calls literally all six of the attorneys on her payroll. And, most suspiciously, Lisa stage whispers, “I think Meredith might know something” in a phone call to John. In the last two episodes, several Housewives revealed that they quietly knew rumors about Mary’s church, and once again, it’s clear that anyone paying attention to Jen’s lifestyle knew there was something fishy going on. Heather says that even after an hour of conversation, she didn’t understand Jen’s job and concluded that her business was at least “unsavory.” Whitney questioned how Jen made so much money, and a damning montage shows Jen’s lavish spending. Mary claims she “never saw nothing good” in Jen. (K.)
In the episode’s final scene, the women gather over a fancy dinner made by a private chef—Heather says “Today has been insane. So stressful. But it surprisingly hasn’t cut my appetite at all.” When everyone debriefs together, the allegations start to fly. Meredith says she has security footage of Jen’s employee stealing something from her jewelry store. She also brings up a rumor that Jen is “red-flagged” at Louis Vuitton for always paying in cash. (“Being red-flagged at Louis Vuitton would be far worse than the feds knocking at my door,” Lisa says.) Then, Heather remembers that Jen took an Uber from her house late at night, but mysteriously exited the car at an intersection half a mile away. This leads Lisa to suggest that Jen is meeting up with another guy. (How does Lisa know this?) Soon, every detail of Jen’s life starts to feel suspicious. Whatever is going on, Whitney observes, “If we do not share what we know, we are in danger.”
If you haven’t noticed, the missing piece from this episode is Jen herself. Besides brief footage of her leaving the U.S. District Court, she is entirely absent, but for the rest of the season, she is still contractually obligated to have cameras follow her most personal moments as she tries to defend herself against very serious allegations of fraud. It’s her lawyers’ worst nightmare, and voyueristic fans’ dream come true.
- Every episode, Heather cements her status as the most funny-on-purpose cast member
- There is a medically alarming amount of candy and Cheetos on the party bus, which I both fear and respect.
- Mary is awfully sanctimonious about Jen’s morality considering the allegations against her church. There is a 100% chance her incoherent monologue about reaping and sowing will be used against her before the season is over.