Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 8, Episode 21 of Bravo's "Real Housewives of Orange County," titled "Reunion Part 3."
Here we are, my friends. We've reached the final chapter of the "Real Housewives of Orange County" Reunion Special. Parting is such sweet sorrow, is it not? What have we learned? How have we grown? Why were there not any wardrobe changes over this three-part epic (cough, Gretchen, cough)?
We begin genially enough, with Andy asking Heather about her new six billion dollar house, and how much bigger and better it is than her previous six billion dollar house. He then serves up a flashback reel of Heather's husband Terry bumbling about, mildly belittling her acting career, and making harmless jokes (in a not-so-harmless "military-chic" button-down). The montage closes with a recalcitrant Terry giving Heather an "I'm sorry" card over candlelight:
"Sometime pretty smart people can say pretty stupid things. I know I can be a jerk, but I love you and I love us."
Andy appears moved, then asides that he's just reeling from the ugliness of Terry's shirt.
A viewer writes in, asking why Heather emasculates her "man," and how she can be so hard on the person who's paying the bills.
"We have a partnership," Heather says, acidly. "Just because I'm not earning a paycheck doesn't mean I'm not working. I'm working in the home. I'm providing him with a very fabulous life, too."
Okay then! Don't mess with H. Dubrow. Andy cheerily segues over to Alexis and observes that she and Jim made a conscious effort to portray themselves in a positive light this season.
Alexis slowly agrees, explaining that in past seasons, all the happy scenes of her and Jim ended up on the "chopping room floor."
"He's quirky," Alexis says, unlocking the secret to her marital bliss. "We'll be in the kitchen and he'll say, 'here, baby, catch' ... and throw me a Good 'N Plenty."
Tamra says she thinks their relationship seemed staged.
"It's not all peaches and cream in the Bellino home," Alexis admits. No ... it's all Good 'N Plenty, apparently, the very worst candy in the world. (Personal bias).
Andy then turns to Tamra, and brings up the subject of her long-delayed nuptials to her fiancé Eddie with a quippy, "The Latin heat turned to cold feet."
We flashback to Tamra orchestrating her wedding pretty much against Eddie's will, forcing him to choose a date, picking out the rings herself, being given carte blanche with the wedding planner, etc. But according to several promos for "Tamra's OC Wedding," the two did indeed tie the knot! Andy gives Tamra a hearty Mazel as we close-up on her wedding ring, a gaudy bauble which receives a far less patronizing assessment than Gretchen's super-sparkler last week.
Moving on, OMG, Vicki's daughter Brianna arrives on set and she looks pissed. Andy opens up gently, inquiring after baby Troy. Vicki announces that she wakes up Troy at 1 am every night when she gets home from work. Questionable grand-parenting, but whatever.
"She's crazy but she's my mom," Brianna says. "I love her."
We cut to scenes of Brianna in the hospital giving birth, dealing with new motherhood, and reacting to her husband Ryan's deployment to Afghanistan. Tears all around, as Ryan kisses his wife and newborn goodbye.
"I just want him to be safe, come home, and watch his son grow up," Brianna says.
Brianna reports that Ryan is doing well oversees, and she hopes to welcome him home by October. She then says he can retire in nine years from the Marines, at which point Vicki declares, "He'll sell insurance."
"Maybe he can hire Lauri," Andy says, referring to the rumormongering semi-cast member.
"No," Vicki says. "Lauri earns her pay on her back now."
Ah-hem. There is discussion about Brianna's husband Ryan's heated response to Lydia's mother putting her feet up on Vicki's couch during Vicki's "Winter Wonderland" party.
Brianna defends her husband, saying Ryan was only following Vicki's house rules. Lydia pipes up but quickly backs down, perhaps realizing it will be an uphill battle (pun not intended) disparaging a new mom's deployed spouse.
Finally, friends, we get to the B word -- Brooks.
"Brooks and I have a yo-yo relationship," Vicki says. "He hasn't been accepted by a lot of people in my life." She says they are "opening it up" to both date other people. A sigh of relief from all.
Brianna states she doesn't want Brooks around her, her son, and her husband. Why, you ask? "He's done things that are shocking and extremely disrespectful, and I don't trust him."
"I don't want to discuss it," Vicki says. "I'll de-mike and walk off."
Andy presses on, asking Brianna, "Was Brooks disrespectful to you?"
"To me, my husband, and my mother," Brianna asserts.
Vicki weakly explains that both Donn and Mike (her former husbands) have also been disrespectful to her.
"Break the pattern," Brianna mutters.
"But with Brooks, it's never been physical," Vicki says.
A shocked silence.
Brianna then interjects, "It's not just that he's creepy, that he talks to me about his d--k size, it's way beyond that," she says. Way BEYOND that?
Vicki stands up, in her orange peplum glory, and walks off the set.
We return to a defiant Brianna telling Vicki to stand up for herself, just as Brooks ambles down a hidden spiral staircase in the back of the set. He hunkers down next to Vicki, looking as shiny and smug as a Mississippi Bob's Big Boy.
Andy puts him on blast immediately. "The crux of it is, Brianna feels you disrespect Vicki."
Brooks drawls, "I'm sorry about that, Brianna. In 2007, when your mother and I just met, you saw an email from me that said that I was in love with your mother."
"And that she should leave Donn for you," Brianna says, her teeth not so much on edge but over the cliff and into the rage ravine.
"For any child to see that ..." Brooks begins, but Brianna cuts him off.
"Let's go down the list. What else are you sorry for? What did you say that my husband should do to me?" Before he can answer, she continues, "You told my husband to start hitting me and you're not sorry for that? F--k that!"
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
Apparently, one drunken night, Brooks was giving Ryan some marital advice, and as the evening got blurrier and more inappropriate, Ryan began taping the exchange on his phone, which revealed this shocking Brooks-ism: "You need to start hitting Brianna in order for her to fall into line."
Brooks says he was drunk and angry, and he's sorry. Brianna reveals that she was abused as a child, and that she still has the recording and is not afraid to share it with her mother.
In the chaos, Lydia chokes back tears and walks off set, as Vicki stands up and says Brooks has never touched her.
Andy steps in with a scripted: "On the one side, there's a love for your family, on the other side it's the love of your life." We then cut to an obligatory Vicki-Brooks-Brianna flashback reel, then back to the studio, where Brianna and Brooks are still going at it.
Brianna says, "You talked to me about your d--k size, telling me that people call you 'Girth Brooks'."
OH MY GOD.
Lydia returns to the set, saying that she felt things got "too intense." You could say that. Andy wonders if there's any resolution to be found here. Alexis thinks that Vicki needs to listen to the tape. Heather poses that Vicki may be afraid to listen to the tape, that if she hears the truth she won't be able to be with Brooks ever again.
Andy asks Tamra for her thoughts.
Tamra is, for the first time in her seven-year history of the series, at a loss for words. "So many things," she says. "You know, I went to Brooks and I told him 'if you've ever hurt her, touched her, stole her money, done anything to her, I would hurt you."
Steely, obsidian-eyed Tamra is back, and she means business.
[Note: If I were Brooks I'd pack up my suitcase of BS and country charm and hightail it off of that set faster than those Jim Beam highballs went down before taping, but he stays put.]
Tamra says what she's seeing is a "weak Vicki," and indeed Vicki seems to be reaching Blanche DuBois levels of wilted femininity. Heather jumps in with her tart two cents: "Don't date people who are inappropriate for you -- because you can fall in love with anyone. Not that he's a bad guy, but maybe he's not the right guy for you."
"I love this guy," Vicki says.
Andy notes that Vicki is surrounded by love and support. There seems to be a tacit agreement on the couch: Dump Brooks! At which point Gretchen says that Vicki should "be with the person she loves," a sentiment that lands with a thud.
"At the end of the day, no matter what anyone says, you have to make decisions for you," Gretchen says. Nobody seems on board with Gretchen's stand-by-your-man POV but I can see where she's coming from after years of the cast maligning Slade.
Brooks then coughs and announces, "I've decided the resolution is for me to exit stage right out of this family because of these strong feelings."
"Because of what you've done, not about what I'm feeling," Brianna clarifies.
"Do I love her enough to let her go? Yes." Brooks says. He hugs Vicki and says, "Good luck, I love you, it's alright," and exits up the incongruous staircase from whence he came.
Alexis hugs a sobbing Vicki and the rest of the cast, one by one, in their luminously tacky evening gowns, all surround her and offer their condolences. No matter how facile a friendship, no matter how shallow a bond, when a woman sees another woman broken down because of a man there is a Darwinian instinct to hug. It's in our blood! And honestly, for all the staged claptrap on this show, seeing a genuine moment of compassion from these ladies is downright moving.
"I just want my family back," Vicki sobs.
"You have an amazing life, an amazing grandson, look what you've accomplished in a year," Heather says, the subtext being, "pull yourself together, you're on television."
Andy then asks for "final thoughts," Jerry Springer-style.
"I feel like I've been punched in the head." -- Lydia
"I feel bad for a lot of people and friendships have changed yet again." -- Alexis
"Some of my year was difficult, and some of it was fun was exciting, and that's life." -- Heather
"It's been my best year, I learned a lot about myself. I got married. We had some bumps on the boulevard but I love all you girls." -- Tamra
"I was hurt by some of the friendships here that I thought were close, and I'll always defend my honor. I'm thrilled that I'm engaged and I'm excited for the future." -- Gretchen
"I'm emotionally drained. I was looking forward to a future with Brooks and it looks like it's over. I'm a romantic. I love my family, and I never want to see Brianna hurt. At the end of the day I love the man who left -- he never touched me, he never hurt me. I wasn't in an abusive relationship. I hope there's someone out there that will swoop me off of my feet again." -- Vicki
"We'll be watching," Andy says.
And the girls all toast with some customary "champs."
Whew. Allow me to humbly offer my "final thought," and say that while this show certainly has its detractors -- many of you reading right now! -- there are odd moments of poignancy to be found in its jagged edges; an authentic, beseeching sadness under the soapy storylines that have made my duties here, if not a pleasure, an enlightening adventure descending into the mires of the rich and sort-of-famous. And many thanks to you for coming with me. See you next season, dear readers!