The ladies gather one last time after a short, strange season.
Credit: Randy Shropshire/Bravo

Well, we made it. After a short and sometimes disorienting season, all of the Real Housewives of Orange County made it to the finale free of COVID, if not of conflict.

The ladies' contractually obligated end-of-season party is a bit of an awkward demand this time around, but Emily rises to the occasion by throwing a beach picnic (at Elizabeth's house???) to host the ritual farewell freeze-frames. She spreads the word by sending message-in-a-bottle invitations, but, in an egregious omission on the part of our friends the Bravo editors, we were sadly robbed of the pleasure of getting to watch everyone try to open theirs.

Before we get to the party, we tie up loose ends with a few members of the cast: Shannon and her daughters and John toast to a college-bound Sophie, whom Shannon lovingly identifies as the most like her of all of her daughters: "She's a handful. She's a lot of drama." In her own confessional, Sophie confirms that "my mom's done a great job raising me." Congrats to Sophie!

Then we check in with Kelly and Rick discussing their upcoming nuptials. Rick recommends a small ceremony on their preferred date with a huge party down the line, once it's safe to gather again. I brace myself because I've seen this exact argument before (down to the date, 10/10/2020) on this season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, but Kelly — Kelly Dodd herself! — replies, "I think that's the right thing to do." Yes, Kelly! Best wishes to you and Rick! Great finale so far!

We move on to Elizabeth having therapy for the first time in her life, which truly amazes me considering she is a person with the means to afford therapy and more than enough experiences to necessitate it. As she explains, though, she's always avoided opening up to anyone — least of all a therapist — because of how consistently and terrifyingly it was drilled into her as a child not to speak or write the truth of her experience in any way. She confesses that what she really wants is just to be accepted. "I have a feeling that Elizabeth is probably worth being accepted," the therapist replies, and Elizabeth starts to cry. I loved her for saying it and was glad to see Elizabeth talking to someone — but with certain kinds of emotional trauma, I can't help but just hope the Housewives take this work offscreen. Not because I don't want to see it; I just am not completely convinced that nationally broadcast therapy sessions are necessarily the best approach when you're trying to overcome a terrible lifelong fear of sharing your story.

It's time to dress for the party. To my horror, Shannon has deemed multi-Spanxing insufficient for disguising her "COVID 16," so she wraps her stomach in black electrical tape, which she declares "very effective." Braunwyn is getting dressed with the help of her friend Shari, her relationship with whom is the source of great interest to the other ladies. Sean comes in and says she looks hot, but Braunwyn, it seems, isn't really trying to impress him. "Being around Shari made me realize that Sean and I have to have some very big conversations. There are some… things that I'm feeling that I need to talk to him about," she says in a confessional. "I love Sean. But being in love with someone — you know it when you feel it."

The production aspect of the party really shows when they can't conceal it by including other people. The event goes down in two clearly delineated halves, the first being just the 'wives inside Elizabeth's home, where Shannon gifts them all with personalized face masks, which is funny because we almost never see any of them wearing one. The best one has to be Gina's, which just reads "Not Sad or Depressing," which of course refers to the meaningless drama over her small house but regardless is still one of the saddest, most depressing things I can imagine a person wearing across their face.

Speaking of Gina, I just want to give her a huge shoutout as the MVP of this episode and in fact this season. Things were rocky with her at the beginning, and I admit that I was outraged that she kept acting scandalized by Sean sending an emoji along with his extremely kind text making sure she got home okay one night. She has been a voice of truth, however, throughout this bizarre 2020 OC journey, consistently asking questions that extract real answers from her costars and also just generally telling it like it is. I'm guessing if I were ever to tell her that directly she'd say it was a Long Island thing. It's definitely not an Orange County thing, so that checks out.

Anyway, after a photobooth sesh — which feels slightly unnecessary for a group of women who are usually followed by professional cameras whenever they're together anyway — our hero Gina sits with Braunwyn (whose face mask reads "Cheers to Good Choices," which was annoying even back when it was bad choices), who says she's on step nine, going to two meetings a day, and is about to start school to become an addiction therapist. Their conversation is interrupted by the other ladies yelling from outside; Kelly ("Foot in Mouth" face mask) has been complaining about Braunwyn all episode and is ready for the inevitable fight to erupt at any moment.

It will have to wait until the picnic portion of the afternoon, however, because they all adjourn to the water for the carefully compartmentalized second half of the day, for which their husbands/boyfriends/Fox New fiancés join them. En route, Shannon ("Una Amiga") talks to Gina and Emily ("Very Fun Emily") about her and John, just saying that she had really clung to the delusion that it was a perfect relationship before COVID hit, which made the challenges of the pandemic that much harder, but it's a messy moment tying up a drama that never really took off.

A lot of this finale feels that way; there are half-storylines that never picked up (Gina's conflict with her ex-husband, almost anything with Rick and/or Jolie), probably due to the weirdness of the pandemic, which has a way of overshadowing everything else going on, or at least putting it on hold. I'm guessing that's why the season was so short — they were the first Housewives, after all, who had to shoot amid the crisis, so Bravo was making it up as they went along — but it still feels slightly unsatisfactory.

The drama begins on the beach. Let's start with the easy one: Elizabeth ("Richest Bitch in Newport") is a liar — or is she? The best part of the episode, absolutely no question, is when she says she almost booked Vince Neil from Mötley Crüe for Shannon's birthday, then volunteers to call him right then and there. Okay, here we go, a celeb(-ish) cameo! Eat your heart out, RHOBH! Oh wait — the man who answers the phone, who has had that number for 11 years, is not Vince Neil from Mötley Crüe. The moment is "so representative of Elizabeth overall," Gina says in a confessional, once again speaking for everyone.  

Anyway, she means well, so let's move on to Braunwyn, who is the main object of criticism this afternoon. I don't even know how to sum up this conversation, so quickly does it zip between speakers and accusations. She didn't tell Gina about Rowan. She's spreading vicious lies about John which nobody will ever believe anyway, because nobody would ever think for one second that John so much as watches golf, much less plays it. She's digging up information about Elizabeth and then blaming it on Shannon, the mafia boss. My head is spinning! But then Kelly spots a dolphin, then a few more. "There's a whole pod of them!" she says. So that's something.

Back to the point. Braunwyn's hiding something! What's this about her friend Shari always hanging around the house? Gina asks if Braunwyn's in love with Sean, and Emily asks if she's in love with Shari, to which she replies, "I love him," and then "I love her." When Emily brings up, not for the first time, that Shari's continued presence in Braunwyn's house is a problem for Sean, Braunwyn says she needs to be selfish right now but is working on her relationship with her husband. She admits that she doesn't have everything figured out, but she's being honest about where she's at in the moment.

While we've known for a while now that Braunwyn is a lesbian, she wasn't out yet when this was filmed, though she does say so in her final confessional. (Interestingly, her where-are-they-now card at the end mentions her 29-year-old girlfriend Kris — and says she and Shari aren't speaking anymore.) Basically, this argument doesn't get anywhere. It devolves into Kelly being mad — furious! — that Braunwyn doesn't like Newport Beach for being too conservative, and then Shannon mercifully changes the subject by begging them to help her out of her electrical-taped stomach.

That's a wrap on this season. Emily gives a little speech about each of them, and they finally close out the episode by toasting "to 2021!" Who wants to tell them?  

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