The Real Housewives of Atlanta recap: 'All Aboard the Shady Express'
In many ways, I want to live in a world where this week’s RHOA episode was just an hourlong looping .gif of Marlo’s RHOA-Hall-of-Fame moment from last week: where she dutifully rearranged the topknot of a best friend whom she had recently reconnected with after getting in a 30-minute argument at the mall. No commercials, no handsy vineyard owners, no Sheree-organized city tours, definitely no belted sweatshirts — just Marlo swiftly and efficiently arranging NeNe’s weave as NeNe shouts, “THE DOOR IS CLOSED,” undeterred, all topped off with an adorable bun-pat of self-approval.
Of course, that’s not what we got. What we got were, indeed, married vineyard owners on uppers, Marlo deep-throating a bunch of grapes, Sheree saying “Fisherman’s Wharf” a lot — something that apparently makes me highly uncomfortable — and a bunch of women on a trip together who are all just a li’l bit furious with each other. But the other, much rarer side of this week’s RHOA coin (it’s platinum-plated with rhinestones that say SWAG BOUTIQUE, on a chain just long enough to nestle it into your cleavage) was something so scarce on RHOA it might as well be a crewneck sweater from the Gap. What we got were a few glimpses of reality.
Now, listen, I’ve never been a huge Cynthia fan because it’s hard to be a huge Cynthia fan on account of Cynthia is wonderful to look at and also very boring. But Cynthia also happens to be the only person on this show that I can comprehend as a real human being, as opposed to a couple of toddlers stacked on each other’s shoulders trying to operate the skin of a gorgeous drag queen via a series of levers and a foghorn. Cynthia has a normal, self-aware kid, she sticks up her friends, and, according to Sunday’s episode, when she’s taken over by emotion, she immediately exits the room to cry rather than, oh, I don’t know, erupting into an anger-rage blackout where she rips her caftan off like a resort-wear Hulk Hogan and calls another woman a bag of @*&@%*#!* with a #&**% for a @%%*#.
I found myself rather enthralled by the dinner scene where everyone wanted to have fun questioning Kenya’s questionable marriage and Cynthia didn’t want them to do that because Kenya is her friend and she doesn’t want to be a part of mocking her friend. That seems like a real argument that real friends could get into — honestly, it has no place on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. But it’s always fun to slum it in the pits of boredom that are Actual Reality every once in a while…
The episode opens on a much more familiar scene though: NeNe and Porsha continuing to unhinge their jaws and unleash pent-up emotional trauma at each other. NeNe keeps repeating that Porsha “deserved some discipline for what [she] did to Kandi,” so finally everyone except Sheree drags NeNe to the elevator. But geographical distance is no deterrent for NeNe. She keeps screaming that Porsha shouldn’t even be here, which Porsha counters with her own novel idea that NeNe shouldn’t even be here. NeNe suggests that she is the one who, in fact, “started this s—,” and that Porsha “couldn’t even be here if it weren’t for a bitch like me.” (Bitch Like Me: A Memoir, coming to you in 2019 via Random House.)
NeNe informs Porsha that “THE DOOR IS CLOSED,” which seems to refer metaphorically to their relationship, and also to the elevator doors, which are — praise the lord, Andy Cohen — finally closed and barreling NeNe away from Porsha. Sheree stays with Porsha because she feels bad for her, and since it’s her trip, “I want everyone to feel comfortable.” Which is obviously why she didn’t even wait for the ice in the glasses to crack before she suggested that NeNe and Porsha air out their grievances at a table full of women who hate Porsha.
That’s not to suggest that I have any sympathy for Porsha when she cries, “I’ve just never been around so many women who would want to break me down.” That is, in general, a sad thought, and I don’t necessarily want Porsha to be broken down by other women, but…
If an emotional cage match is what it takes for Porsha to understand that she needs to be accountable for her own actions, so be it, I guess. Because, by morning, Porsha seems to be a little more open to remorse. Or more likely and reasonably, doesn’t want to be on a trip with a bunch of people who hate her. She keeps her sunglasses on and her mouth shut as Sheree explains that they’ll be taking a trolley and then splitting up into two groups (Able to Tolerate Porsha and Unable to Tolerate Porsha) to head to the Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, respectively. (Recap continues on page 2)
Releasing her weave from the confines of last night’s bun, NeNe is wearing a ponytail so high that it is also functioning as bangs. As for Marlo, I do see every name-checked brand that she is wearing, but that can’t make me unsee that fact that she is wearing a gold lamé pleated skirt with a belted black sweatshirt.
On the trolley, Kenya opens up to the other women about the grief she’s dealing with over the passing of her grandmother, and it is shocking to see them be both receptive and empathetic toward her. Porsha gets visibly upset and excuses herself to the back of the trolley, saying in her interview that she recently lost her uncle and she “hates that we can’t reach past the bulls— and be there for one another.” That’s a nice enough sentiment, but the bulls— Kenya and Porsha would have to reach past is so big and historic it would be like reaching past the Lincoln Monument to grab a pepper shaker.
Cynthia goes to make sure Porsha is okay and ends up giving her some advice about NeNe because as Cynthia helpfully reminds us, she went through this exact same thing with NeNe a few years ago — literally. NeNe went on Watch What Happens Live and said that Cynthia was bringing the least to the cast of RHOA. You know…how one of your friends is always suggesting that the rest of your friends should be fired from their jobs? Porsha somehow comes around to saying that she knows NeNe has been there for her in the past and “I may not like what you said on a show, but trust and believe I know who you are.” I don’t know who any of these women are…
Except Sheree, who is Bone Collector by night, and San Francisco Segway tour guide by day. At the Fisherman’s Wharf, NeNe explains to the Porsha haters that Sheree’s incarcerated boyfriend is a con man who was arrested for conning a company out of “like $4 million.” In my very favorite line of this season’s extended preview with the very least vocal inflection possible, Kandi says, “I hope he don’t con her out of Chateau Sheree.” Come on Kandi — put a little hustle in it. Kenya adds on, “Well, it’s not in her name so he can’t do that,” because Kenya will be as shady as an oak tree ’til the day she dies.
Over in Chinatown, Porsha is asking if fortune cookies are vegan and explaining that she loves Chinatown because “I feel like I just stepped out the trolley, and now I’m in Tokyo!” Imagine my face as the emoji with the horizontal lines for every facial feature. Since there’s only so much content they can get out of fortune cookies, Porsha, Sheree, and Marlo decide that they should do something nice for Kenya that night since she’s having a hard time. They decide on throwing her a fake wedding since they didn’t get go to her real wedding that they’ve all been questioning the validity of constantly — all agree this is an idea that stands about a 50 percent chance of making her really mad.
But, perhaps recalling that she threw Phaedra an unwanted surprise Divorce Party (and perhaps willfully omitting that she was 100 percent doing that as a dig at Phaedra), Kenya is a good sport about it. She walks down the aisle with the cardboard cutout of a man wearing a tuxedo T-shirt, and allows NeNe to scream, “Through richness and in richness, through restaurants and restaurants” at her, doesn’t ask why there are a bunch of male strangers whom Porsha recruited to be guests, and shares her cake at the end of it all. This was a good episode for Kenya…
Except for when they’re on the train to Napa and she won’t stop talking about her husband, always the least interesting conversation piece possible. Of course, she’s probably just trying to fill the silence because somehow Kenya, Kandi, and Porsha ended up seated at the same table together on their fancy train, and you can almost see the words “contractually obligated to sit here and not be on Twitter” stamped on their foreheads. The tension is perhaps a little eased by the fact that Porsha awkwardly pulled Kandi aside at the fake wedding the night before to say, “I want to stop and take a moment and just say I apologize again to you. I know it’s a situation where you were hurt, and I want to accept any wrong play whatsoever.” Kandi, bless her, is basically like, Okay. Those are words and I heard them. (Recap continues on page 3)
This train ride is another dose of that “reality” I was talking about at the top of the recap. Sometimes you get seated at the fun end of the birthday dinner group table, and sometimes you get the weird corner spot where you have to talk to a second cousin and a friend from work, and worse, listen to how much fun they’re having over at the other end. In this case, that’s everyone else crammed into one tiny train booth, laughing and quizzing Sheree about her boyfriend. When NeNe says he was incarcerated for tricking the stocks, Sheree laughs, “It wasn’t stocks that he went in for — it was security fraud and wire fraud!” Oh, we have fun, don’t we?
Finally, at the vineyard, the women meet the owner, Jean-Charles, who is very flirty, inadvisably lets Porsha saber a champagne bottle, and attempts to feed grapes to Marlo, who instead decides to deep-throat the bunch, eating like, I don’t know, 100 grapes in the process? I screamed.
Everyone stomps grapes in barrels with their feet, and oh how I wish things had gone the way of old-school internet classic “Grape lady falls!” but alas, everybody just makes more sex jokes. All those grapes seem to have fermented nicely in the ladies’ bloodstreams and dinner that night, in what can only be described as a carnival-dungeon-Eyes-Wide-Shut-nightmare, is a very rambunctious affair. Kenya has left early for her grandmother’s funeral, so conversation immediately turns to Kenya’s new marriage and how weird it is that Cynthia hasn’t met him, a chat mostly spearheaded by Marlo. Cynthia is clearly bothered and says in her interview, “These girls are a trip; they rained on Kenya’s parade when she didn’t have a man, they rain on it extra hard now that she does have one.”
And that’s true — Kenya’s new marriage is supremely suspect considering how vague and shady she’s being about it, but there will most likely never be any pleasing these women for her, and as a real one, Cynthia gets up and leaves the table when they won’t lay off. Or more specifically, when Marlo says, “Let’s play a game: How many believe that Kenya is really married? Raise your hand,” which is not a game, or at least a really inactive one. Marlo asks why Cynthia’s running out of the room and Cynthia snaps without looking back, “I’m not running off to anywhere, I’m walking out of the room because I don’t want to hear any s— about Kenya right now.”
I get that that other girls just want to have a good time and sometimes that means talking s—, but I also appreciate that Cynthia is not trying to hear any of that s— about someone who is obviously her real-life friend. She tells NeNe that she doesn’t have a problem with them questioning Kenya, but she can’t tolerate them making fun of Kenya in front of her. And I was all prepared to be mad at Marlo for not just laying off, but when Cynthia comes back to the table, she does at least voice her inner monologues, which went like this: “You know what Marlo, maybe she walked away because she was hurt too: ‘Why wasn’t I invited, why didn’t I at least get a phone call?'”
And apparently Cynthia is feeling hurt deep down that a friend she is so willing to stick up for didn’t tell her about such a big life decision, but she also says she can’t force Kenya to do something she’s not ready to do. Which, I’ll have to check my records, but I’m pretty sure is the first time in RHOA history that one of these women has understood they could not impose their wants on someone else simply through an artisan cocktail of sheer will, high volume, and violent hand gestures. Look at season 10 — making franchise herstory left and right!