Finally, after an unexpected three-month delay, it’s time to dust off the institution that is The Real Housewives of Potomac. It’s not really Washington, D.C.; it’s not Baltimore; it’s not even really a city. But Potomac is a census-designated place in Maryland, where half of the Housewives are going steady with their ex-husbands, half of the Housewives have newborns they've somehow trained to use a miniature toilet before learning how to walk, and all of them are, at the very least, pretending to be bathed from head to toe in La’Dame Fragrance by Karen “Business Woman” Huger.

I tend to think of each city within in the Housewives franchise as a snowflake — uniquely designed and special in their own right, even though at a glance, they’re all the exact same thing: rich women arguing about things that only matter if you’re rich. What makes RHOP unique is a cast full of women who are simultaneously impossible not to root for, and impossible to tolerate for longer than one single scene at a time. My allegiances on RHOP fly around like one of Karen’s more free-spirited wigs on a gusty autumn day. Because every single one of these women is as delightful as she is awful; as gorgeous as her khaki dress shorts are tacky; as likely to give you a perfect takedown like, “I invited her into my home, I gave her a beverage,” as she is to flip the switch to total monster, and call another woman seven variants of the word “whore” in one single tweet on the same day that woman is giving birth…

And thank Andy Cohen on high each one of them is back on our television screens.

And an additional thank you to whichever Bravo editor got really into horror movies during quarantine and decided to go back and edit this season with the foreboding vibe of watching someone go check out what that noise was in the basement while you scream at them not to separate from the group because you already know that the basement floor is covered in shattered wine glasses and loose cauliflower.

The premiere opens in media res, dropping into a fight we’ve known is coming since the RHOP season 5 trailer premiered in April, but which we also know still won’t air in-full for months. The camera pans across a floor inexplicably covered in broken glass and scattered crudité; screams ring out overhead; a tussle of bodies, the blurry silhouette of a hair-pull; the scene fades into a flash-forward within the flash-forward of Gizelle sitting in Karen’s new house, solemnly talking about stereotypes. One final scream rings out: “Monique, STOP!” The chaotic scene scrambles into static…

And it’s onto cherry blossom season in idyllic Potomac, Md.! Those editors are going to make damn sure we want the horrors they have in store for us before they give them to us. First, we have to see where the etiquette-obsessed ladies of Potomac have landed since we last saw them in the season 4 reunion. In addition to her three children and giant husband, Monique now has a parrot named T’Challa that she leads around on a leash, including over to Karen’s new home. That’s right: The Grand Dame is back in the great census-designated place of Potomac! And she is suddenly very willing to talk about her personal life, specifically her institution of a marriage with Ray, though it seems like the board members are a little less than thrilled with said institution’s performance right now.

Karen tells Monique that ever since she became a businesswoman — the editor’s helpfully flash a bottle of La’Dame onscreen — Ray has had a hard time adjusting to how much she travels. Karen says there’s a big difference between being a 30-year-old married to a 50-year-old and being a 50-year-old married to a 70-year-old. And it seems, that difference is a perfume made for 50-year-olds.

We’re then directed to another complicated relationship happening in Gizelle’s home, where the lovely ranch-style house may be new, but her love of jewel tones is a constant. Stylistically-speaking, the Real Housewives of Potomac seem to live in a permanent state of 2009. I have never seen more tufted furniture or functionless mirrors in my life, and after five seasons, they still haven’t deviated. I mean, Gizelle is wearing a cold-shoulder blouse while she unwraps new white barstools tufted with crystals for goodness’ sake. As her daughters help her, Gizelle dials up their father Jamal, who she has been divorced from over 10 years, but has recently started dating again. In her testimonial, Gizelle says she doesn’t need to remind us of the “tomfoolery” that happened just after their twins were born because it’s been well documented…but the editors are more than happy to oblige us with a flashback to season 1’s iconic line: “Jamal was a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater who loved to hide his salami.”

But Gizelle has decided that no man will love her children more than Jamal, and she wants to try being a family again. Her daughters are…less enthused. After an awkward FaceTime, Gizelle’s daughters tell her they think Jamal just calls them so that he can tell Gizelle he called them and impress her…which is really sad whether it’s true, or whether they just feel that it’s true. The girls say that when their parents are together it makes the three of them feel like fifth wheels…which is also really sad! “We’re not saying we don’t trust you, but we want the best for you because we know what he’s done in the past,” Gizelle’s 14-year-old daughter tells her mother. I just really hope this all works out for the best, and that those girls get some more comfortable, crystal-less barstools to sit in soon.

The main happening of the episode is that Candiace and Chris are throwing a party for themselves to celebrate one year of marriage. The themes are “Diamonds and Denim” and “We Promise We’re Paying for This Party Ourselves, and You Can Tell Because it’s a Cash Bar.” Monique later speculates that Candiace found an outfit she liked and then made the Diamonds and Denim theme as an excuse to wear it, but I think it was all because Chris wanted to wear his very shiny new earrings.

Before the party, Candiace asks Gizelle to sample some cakes with her at a bakery, and all seems well (despite a small disagreement about carrot cake) until the subject of houses comes up. Apparently, on a Bravo After Show, Gizelle laughed about how she ran into Candiace’s mother, who apparently said of Candiace and Chris’ house hunt: “Girl, she asking me to pay for that too!”

In Gizelle’s (self) defense: “It made sense to laugh.” So, in response, Candiace fired up her beloved Twitter app and said that Gizelle had to rub two pennies together to be able to buy a “$900,000 cabin” for her kids. But Gizelle isn’t the only one Candiace has upset with her tweets…

Monique subs out flying her parrot around town for strolling her adorable 9-month-old son over to Ashley’s house to meet her adorable two-month-old son. Ashley says she and Monique have really bonded over being moms who like oils and various other holistic accouterments. I don’t know if it’s “crunchy” to have your baby potty-trained at nine months, but my eyes about popped out of my head when I saw Monique plop itty bitty Chase down on an itty bitty toilet, where he allegedly took an itty bitty pee because she has been training him to do so since he was four months old. Ashley looks like she is ready to purchase an even tinier toilet and get her even tinier son on it the moment Monique walks out the door.

Monique has managed to mend fences with Candiace since the reunion (which was only a month before season 5 started filming), but Ashley has not. Candiace didn’t invite Ashley to her anniversary party, and Ashley seems fine with that. But Ashley also says she’s having a lot of anxiety about leaving her house right now, so I don’t imagine an anniversary party for a woman who tweeted on the day Ashley was in labor, “WHERE IS YOUR INCOME, ROACH??? You laid on your back to get the two dollars you DO get. I been had jobs whole you turn tricks to pay YOUR MAMA’S rent” would be at the top of Ashley’s social agenda right now anyway.

I shan’t be discussing the scene where Ashely and Michael take little Dean on a walk because I shan’t be discussing Michael unless I absolutely have to, in which case I shall be absolutely wildin’ out about what a nasty, deshelled turtle of a man he is. I will discuss Juan making Robyn cry by telling her he’s made a lot of mistakes, but he’s been fortunate enough to have her in his corner, and he wants to do things the right way now, because some people may find Robyn boring, but I think it’s nice to just take a little break from the chaos every once in a while.

Finally, it’s time for Candiace’s party where she is wearing a bedazzled ice skating costume with knee-high denim boots, and Chris is wearing two earrings and head-to-toe white denim. I truly never know what to settle my eyes on in Potomac. We briefly meet new Housewife Wendy as Candiace introduces her around. She receives a friendly greeting from Karen, who then says in her testimonial: “Wendy and I, we’ve been at events together, we sat on a board together…and I’m not impressed.”

That misdirect? That casual disdain?! I la’live for this version of La’Dame.

And at some point in time, Candiace also began to live for Karen because the two seem thick as thieves now. They pull Gizelle aside the moment she arrives and Candiace asks if they’re fine given that Gizelle seemed upset at the cake tasting. Gizelle says if they’re actually going to talk through this, Candiace has to be able to listen. Candiace agrees, and Gizelle tells her that Candiace’s lack of remorse and refusal to apologize makes it seem like she can’t own anything she does. “Why would I apologize?” Candiace asks. Gizelle tells her it's normal to apologize when someone tells you that you’ve done something offensive. “But did you say that you were offended?” Candiace asks.

It’s decided this conversation doesn’t need to continue right now, and Candiace gets on the mic to make a speech, which is actually just her asking her mother and Karen to make speeches about “marital wisdom.” So Karen gets on the mic and says that after 23 years, and her “rebirth as a businesswoman,” her marriage is a struggle, and she and Ray have become different people who are “dusting off that institution called marriage.” Aaaaalright, then! And how about some inspiring words from Mama Dorothy…

“Chris, you’re a decent human being, we appreciate that, and I’m so happy you were able to…make love with Candiace.” And then, I kid you not, Dororthy rounds out this rousing statement with, “Marriage is a lot of hard work, but you will be okay,” and Candiace is so overwhelmed with emotion, she has to call for an emergency folded napkin. In her testimonial, Candiace exclaims, “We’re celebrating love tonight!” Then without warning, the image turns to sepia tone, freezing on Monique’s face in the crowd as the screen goes wonky again, and we’re suddenly thrust back into the same flash-forward from earlier where it’s become pretty clear that a physical altercation will be taking place between Monique and Candiace.

“Let her go, Monique, let her go!” rings out as the screen fades to black, and even if these women are impossible sometimes, I am happier than ever before to have them back on our census-designated Bravo screens.

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