The ladies head to Palm Springs for Braunwyn's vow renewal, where they are denied their inalienable right to tequila.
Credit: Bravo

One of my favorite things about this season of The Real Housewives of Orange County is the opening credits, during which Emily’s tagline is punctuated, absurdly, by footage of her doing a cartwheel and yelling “new hip!” It never gets old. Every week starts on a high note.

My new-hip good humor vanishes almost as soon as it arrived, however, at the top of this week’s hour, as we are subjected to two horrors in rapid succession: First, we see Kelly and Rick lying in bed, cooing back and forth about making each other happy. I was deeply relieved to cut away, until I realized we’d reached… a vintage (seven-month-old) clip of Hoda on Today, telling us that Trump was at this point still insisting that a U.S. outbreak of the coronavirus was “not inevitable,” despite there being a new case in the ladies’ own Golden State. So nobody worry! Let’s move right along!

Most of the episode focuses on the lead-up to Braunwyn and Sean’s vow renewal, starting with a beachside bike ride for Braunwyn and new girl Elizabeth, whom I like more and more every week. It feels like every episode this season, as Braunwyn ticks off more and more sober days and works at reorienting herself in this new phase of her life, her mind has been racing with fresh observations and revelations that she shares in intense heart-to-hearts as if she can hardly say them fast enough.

“I’ve never held my ground against any of these women,” she tells Elizabeth, adding that she realizes Shannon is not her friend — not only for keeping up the crusade about “sad” houses but also for failing to give a heads-up that her housewarming party would be overflowing with tequila, Braunwyn’s trigger. Elizabeth responds with the refreshingly honest memory of how she used to spoil her friends while she was married and filthy rich — and they all vanished the second she wasn’t. They agree that yes-people aren’t true friends and that they hope the upcoming Palm Springs weekend will be all positivity.

Say what you want about Shannon Beador, but she’s no yes-woman. She, Elizabeth, Gina, and their boyfriends go for a triple date where, as soon as they’ve gotten their hummus and Casamigos, Shannon shares that she spent that day stockpiling. “For coronavirus,” explains John, an eye-roll audible in his voice. Shannon leads the group cheers with a cry of “to new friends, to old friends, and to no coronavirus!” Ugh. Pass the Casamigos.

The vibe shifts as Gina tells the group about her experience going to an AA meeting with Braunwyn, but the Bravo editors wisely keep the camera mostly on Shannon, who stays eerily quiet. You can practically see the wheels turning in her head as she re-strategizes how to approach her fight with Braunwyn, now clearly emerging as a sympathetic figure. When she finally says that Braunwyn hasn’t apologized to her, it’s with a low, injured voice rather than a shrill, offended one: “I feel as though I’ve been a good friend to her, so it’s hurtful to me. But I’ll get over it…”

As the group discusses their travel plans, Gina casually throws in that there will be no tequila served at the vow renewal, after which the editors throw in an ominous sound effect as Shannon looks up and narrows her eyes, perhaps having identified a new point of entry into this conflict. She stays silent at the table as Elizabeth expresses her support for Braunwyn’s sobriety, but says in her confessional, backed by tense music: “I am going to be drinking at the vow renewal.”

The stage is officially set for the event, for which Braunwyn and Sean head to Palm Springs a day ahead of everyone else. They are greeted by Braunwyn’s mother Dr. Deb, looking as vibrant as usual — but also, unfortunately, sounding about as sensitive as usual. After Braunwyn laments seeing less of her friends, her mother breezily replies, “You’re not nearly as fun.” She drops the dig with the cruel precision of someone who knows their target’s every button to push. It’s devastating. The scene continues with unspoken tension as Dr. Deb keeps things light, repeatedly telling the couple they’re cute. But her daughter says in a confessional, visibly emotional: “My mom has been using my addiction as a weapon for so long.”

Now it’s time for the rest of the gang to join the guests of honor in the desert. A true high point of the episode, for me, was the fact that Shane somehow missed the memo that all the other husbands and boyfriends would be driving separately, so he must sulk in the back corner of the Housewives-mobile for the duration of the drive. When his wife drops that Shannon still has her blocked on Instagram, he tattles loudly, “Emily checks nightly!” What a gift.

Shannon unblocks Emily, but the real event of the ride is that same old bomb that there will be no tequila at the party. Would it kill these women to try one other type of liquor one time? Apparently it would, because after we’re treated to some classically unkind Kelly-isms — “Why should you punish everybody because you’re the alcoholic?” — they stop off at a liquor store to stock up on Casamigos. I would just like to reiterate: There will be other varieties of alcohol at the party. Don’t people get to choose what they serve at their own parties? No?

No, apparently! They roll into the hotel with the Hérmès soaps to meet up with their plus-ones and dress for the event, where Braunwyn gives Sean another statement necklace and Emily helps us all realize that he looks like Jeff Probst when he wears them. The event is sweet, save for Braunwyn and Sean’s son Jacob’s regrettable teenage attempt at humor during their vows, but luckily his sister Bella steps in to save the ceremony.

Finally, as Shannon seems to have realized that we’re all bored by her indignation over being quoted possibly-inaccurately-but-probably-not, she moves on to a new outrage: Kelly referring to Shannon's new product Lemon-Aid, a tincture, as a “water,” which would be ripping off the brand Kelly partially owns, Positive Beverage. In short: Kelly was wrong and Shannon is overreacting (both pretty standard), though I expect we’ll be hearing a lot about this in the coming weeks. It’s not like there’s some other grand crisis on the horizon.

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