Credit: Bravo

The show opened with a mush-mouthed disclaimer from Bravo that the episode had been shot before A.J.’s untimely death. The network extended its sympathy and then proceeded to air an hour of TV that largely questioned the man’s integrity. Poor Joyce—Kandi’s mother who so thoroughly disapproved of the possible union that her toast at her daughter’s engagement party consisted of “We’ll just wait and see…”—hopefully decided not to tune in to this episode altogether. It would be too painful for anybody in A.J.’s life to watch him immortalized in a therapy session that questioned his ability to properly take care of his six children. The therapist, the ingeniously named Ms. Bliss, struck me as a kind and reasonable woman. I’m not sure what she was hoping to accomplish by her word game, in which she asked Kandi, A.J., and Joyce to pick a random word in order to find some common ground. Kandi picked “delicious.” A.J. chose “time.” Okay, okay, I’m not sure where this exercise is leading but nobody is yelling so that’s a start. Then Joyce, without missing a beat, said “child support.” (Ms. Bliss patiently reminded Joyce that that was two words.) Again, Kandi’s mother must be feeling all kinds of awful. At its best Housewives is good for a guilty escape into the tacky lives of poorly behaved women who spend a lot of money in the pursuit of class. When a genuine tragedy looms overhead, everybody—the participants, the viewers, hopefully Bravo execs—just feels like kind of a heel.

The large elephant in the room aside, there was some genuine intrigue and laughs last night. NeNe took her sorta uncle and her mem-woi’s co-writer back to her hometown. I really hope Denene asked a mountain of follow-up questions on the drive home because there are chasms of mystery for me in Athens. Why did NeNe’s mother Harriet live in New York and leave NeNe in the care of her sister? What did she do that afforded her that four-columned brick house in the once all-white neighborhood? Why does it continue to sit empty? (Rent it out in this economy!) I’d say there was the looming mystery of whether the cutely-capped Allen is NeNe’s true father but the man is such a dead ringer for NeNe’s son that I think we all know the answer to that one. It was good to see NeNe away from the other Housewives. I needed a breather from their scratching and clawing. (Next week: NeNe calls Kim a heifer and possibly assaults her. Sigh.)

For the thousandth time, we watched Kim watch herself in the mirror and whoop over her perceived beauty. “GOD, I LOOK SO GOOD!” she roared at her reflection. “DAMMIT!” The previews had led me to believe that we might finally see a shot of Kim’s wigless cube. I was hoping a little dirty blonde chick fuzz and perhaps even a lightning bolt of a scar. Alas, another cruel tease. Instead we learned that the woman spends more than $12,000 a month so that she can wear a new piece every single day. And that, bile burp!, sometimes she takes her hair off in bed with Big Poppa.

Kim and Sheree are suddenly drinking buddies again. Their synthetic hair pieces joined them on a double date to swill chardonnay and plan Kandi and A.J.’s engagement party. “Hey, life’s short!” said Kim about their mystifying rapprochement. Sheree, who just looks so incredibly forced and insincere when pretending to be sincere, looked like she was hiding a shiv up her She by Sheree sleeve. The party was an awkward one, with Joyce dogging A.J. to the group before the couple arrived. Kim figured the evening was a success, simply because of NeNe’s absence. “NeNe’s not here and we all get along,” she said. “But if that moose walked into the building you can forget it. It’s just all that negative energy.”

On next week’s finale: Negative energy! Dwight takes over Sheree’s fashion party, NeNe corners Kandi, Kim claims she was choked.

What did you all think? Should Bravo have yanked this episode? How much do you spend on your hair? Do you find it funny that Lisa and Ed’s story line has been reduced to one little mid-commercial break interlude per episode?