Teresa Giudice gets out of prison on December 23, 2015. That means her time is nearly over, and now that we’ve finished the final hour of Teresa Checks In, our time is done, too. Lessons have been learned. (Maybe?) The family has gotten stronger. (Or, at the very least, Teresa’s family members have said the word “stronger” a whole lot.) Soon, Real Housewives of New Jersey will return with season 7, and viewers might forget that this three-part spin-off was supposed to foster compassion for the Giudices instead of just the inevitable fodder for some “Top 20 Real Housewives Meltdowns” list.
In the meantime, we’re left with a lingering question: How will this difficult moment in the Giudices’ life affect their relationship with the Gorgas? Sprinkle cookies almost broke Teresa and Melissa apart for good, so how can prison really bring them together? Whenever they’re in front of the cameras, the Gorgas insist that they’re heartbroken over Teresa’s incarceration. (“It’s just weird without Teresa,” is a phrase Melissa utters about once every other commercial break.) But is it possible to show real empathy when you’re on reality TV?
Last week, while watching Teresa Checks In and reading viewers’ responses on Twitter, I noticed some Real Housewives fans getting upset about what they believed were crocodile tears on Melissa’s part. How can she say that she’s really there for Teresa? the argument went. She’s not even live tweeting as much as she should be during the show! It’s almost as if she wants the show to fail! The logic here is complicated at best. Is Melissa really supporting Teresa if she’s just drawing more attention to a three-part special about the Very Bad Thing that Teresa and Joe did? Can this family only show love through self-promotion?
At times, the Giudices and the Gorgas seem to view one another with the same distant remove that the cameras view them. When Joe Giudice loses his cell phone in the water, Gia doesn’t jump in and help him. She stands on the shore, laughing, and shoots a video of him wading through the muck, because “it is definitely something my mom would want to see.” (Also, note to Joe: By the time you put on those fisherman’s waders, that phone is already long gone.) For a moment, Gia is watching her dad the same way many viewers watch the Giudices at home: She’s thoroughly entertained by their every last embarrassment.
It’s sad to see Gia slowly turning into Teresa. When she tries to express how much going to upstate New York makes her grieve her Nonno Franco, she flubs the line and starts laughing about how much she’s like her mom. But when she repeats the line about her late grandfather, it comes off cold and rehearsed. That’s not to say that Gia’s not genuinely sad about losing him. It’s just that she’s been so scarily media trained, she’s now used to turning heavy emotions into sound bites, which can’t be good for her mental health.
Anyway, we learn quite a lot about upstate New York from this episode. Apparently, you don’t wear bows there, you can’t get real Italian pizza dough there, you can hang a billion wild animal heads on the walls of your cabin without anyone suspecting that you’re a serial killer, and no one even blinks when children play with bullets and carry chainsaws around there. Let’s hope that Bravo is extremely well lawyered up, because the cameramen just stand by and shoot without intervening while Milania handles dangerous equipment that could turn her into a miniature Leatherface.
Upstate New York is also a place that’s gonna give Melissa “agita,” especially since the weekend will end with a visit to see Teresa, who hasn’t (and likely won’t) put Melissa on the guest list. (Who can blame her?) Still, Melissa tries to reassure her husband that prison might not be so bad for Teresa. “We all have these images in our minds from the TV shows we watch,” she says. “Maybe it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be!” It’s a weird thing to say, since Melissa herself is currently on a TV show, and judging by the images that Teresa Checks In has lodged in our minds, prison is just a place where you watch Magic Mike with your girlfriends, go to spin class, and have your vagina tightened. Basically, it’s just like New Jersey, with more jumpsuits.
NEXT: What have the Giudices really learned?