By Jodi Walker
December 31, 2020 at 01:48 AM EST

The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City is officially Housewives 2.0. Much like Lisa can own a liquor empire while being a practicing Mormon because she’s just decided it’s okay, RHOSLC can break glasses, get wasted, and shout “grandpa f---er” while also earnestly depicting the trials and celebrations of real families living in — of all places — Salt Lake City, Utah.

I know this show and its stories are planned; I know it’s produced within an inch of its life; I know these women have had 12 years to study the ways of Housewives before them. But I really cannot believe the kind of access we’re getting to the inner workings of their lives and relationships. Tonight, I watched a group of Househusbands gather ‘round a shuffleboard table (as you do), exchanging their feelings about what it means to be married to an entrepreneurial woman, and the changes they could make in themselves to be better partners to those women. You know what that is? Growth.

It’s possible I’m falling a little bit in love with everyone on this show (except Mary, who is completely unknowable, and almost entirely absent from this episode), but I must admit that my fire is currently burning brightest for the Sonja-and-Ramona, Kandi-and-Phaedra, Frick-and-Frack of this 2.0 generation:

Heather Gay and Whitney Rose.

This episode opens with Heather checking out the new space for the expansion of her Beauty Labs and Laser clinic. I love visiting Heather’s business not just because it gives big Coto Insurance energy, and not just because we get to hear Heather tell her contractor he has “the soul of an artist” — but because it represents so much of the important journey Heather has been walking since her divorce. Heather tells the cameras that she always wanted to own her own business, and she knew that one day she would, but it wasn’t until she divorced her husband that she felt the liberty to do it.

It’s so hard to imagine this woman ever tamping down her shine, given how easily it pours out of her, but in Heather’s marriage, her worth was defined solely by the kind of mother and wife she could be. All of her efforts to maintain her own passions were shot down for not making enough money to warrant time away from the family when, as Heather says, it was never about the money. Having her business be successful is full-circle redemption: “It’s reminded me of who I was before I got married, and the way I felt that I could accomplish anything, that I had a seat at the table, that I had something to contribute — I’m not all the way there, but Beauty Lab has been a huge leap forward.”

Listen, if you’re going to promote your botox clinic on television, the least you can do is make me cry while doing it.

And speaking of crying: Whitney and her father. This episode finds Whitney on her way to mediation with her father, Steve, who willingly checked into sober living. A few days ago, Steve sent Whitney an “SOS text” because the facility told him he’d be getting a roommate, and she thinks he’s using that as a convenient excuse to exit the program one-third of the way into the 90 days, simply because he wants to leave.

Whitney shares in her testimonial that when Steve went to rehab the first time, he said she should pay for it, handing her a list of every single thing in her life that he ever paid for, “Saying that because he chose to have me as a child, now I owe him 30 grand for rehab.” Whitney says that in that moment, she thought, “f--- you”…and then she paid for rehab anyway. She has continued to support her dad, both emotionally and financially, on his journey to get sober, and what she wants to express to him in mediation is that she wishes she could help him because she wants to help him, and not because he feels entitled to it.

And, wow, she really does express that clearly — it is so impressive. I can never get over the stark difference between the actual words that come out of Whitney’s mouth, and the, ahem, way they sound coming out of Whitney’s mouth.

Whitney tells her dad that she needs to get away from the burden of “taking care” of him because it makes her resent him and want to push him away. She wants to enable him to take care of himself by helping him get a job while he finishes the program so that he can have enough money to get an apartment and work at a salon after he gets out, rather than what he wants: to leave early and get Whitney and Justin to help him get his own salon. Steve does seem to come around, thanking Whitney and Justin for literally saving his life, and telling them that he wants to stop using them as a security blanket so that their relationship can grow.

That raw, emotional honesty — it was a beautiful thing…

So how about a little drama to break things up? Other than those lovely moments with Heather and Whitney, this episode is all about the marriages that make up RHOSLC. Lisa’s sweet husband is still begging her to stop trying to be Warren Buffett and just make sustained eye contact with him for 10 minutes a day, and she is still laughing him off while tapping away on her phone. (And somehow, it’s still fun!)

Meredith is still feeling bad about being part of the reason that Seth missed their son’s fashion show, so she’s invited him back to Salt Lake City to try and repair the damage. But as it turns out, Seth missing Brooks’ one tracksuit go down the runway actually was a good thing, because the time away gave him the space to consider the ways in which he’s failed to grow as a husband while trying to develop his business. “If you want to put the work in to go to the next level, then I’ll put in 10 times more because I want to, and cannot stand being without you,” he tells Meredith. She agrees that being truly separated was awful, and they agree to keep trying. In many ways, it’s very moving…

In other ways, it feels like there’s something else going on here. And I guess those other ways are that Jen Shah keeps telling everyone that something else is going on here.

Jen’s husband Sharrieff is back in town for the first time in a long time, so she gets everyone (except Mary) and their spouses together to go snowmobiling. Heather doesn’t have a spouse on her snowmobile, so she’s considered a “solo rider” which the editors use every opportunity to label her as on her title card. “I have no problem being single,” she says. “To me, snowmobiling is like sex — it’s much more fulfilling if you just do it alone.”

After the snowmobiling and lunch — where Sharrieff charms everyone by talking about how he wooed Jen and nine of her closest cousins on their first date, and confuses everyone by saying he was drawn to Jen because of how “sweet” she is — Whitney pulls Heather aside. She says that she’s confused by Meredith and Seth’s lovey-dovey behavior because just the other day, Jen insinuated that there were a lot of secrets about their separation. Whitney wants to know if Jen has been talking to Heather about it too, to which Heather says that Jen did, but she wasn’t interested, and unless it’s coming straight from Meredith, she’s operating on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

But in her testimonial, Heather says that Jen straight up showed her photos of Meredith with another man, but “acted like this was a dark, dirty secret that we were never going to talk about again.” So now that Heather’s heard Jen was baiting Whitney with her intel too, it’s clear that Jen hasn’t kept her word: “And it just makes me think… this is not what friends do.”

I know Heather is right that Jen is being a bad friend — and yet, I live for the drama this is bound to bring…

But not tonight! I felt sure that when Lisa, John, Meredith, and Seth showed up at the Shah Chalet for dinner that night things would devolve into chaos with Jen rooting around in Meredith’s marriage. But instead, Jen deploys her patented maneuver where she tries to exchange her own vulnerability for Meredith’s — this time, in a hot tub!

But it still doesn’t work. Meredith gives her some canned responses about her marriage moving forward in a positive, committed direction. “I’m opening myself up to Meredith in hope she will see it, and realize you can be vulnerable and talk to me about this,” Jen says in her testimonial. “But it’s almost like Meredith is acting like her life’s perfect and I’m the only one who’s messed up.” I know I’m just a licensed recapper, and not a licensed psychologist, but I believe that’s what we’d call… projection.

Meanwhile, upstairs, around the shuffleboard table, there is an honest and vulnerable exchange of emotions, goals, and growth unlike anything I have ever seen from a group of Househusbands. I sure hope that Jen and Sharrieff can figure out a way to spend more than 10 minutes together a month, because I would really love to see more of him (and, uh, more Sharrieff Jr. while we’re at it).

Sharrieff, John, and Seth all bond over talking about the challenges of their marriages, and the things they’re trying to do to rise to those challenges, both as individuals and as partners. Sharrieff says he’s working through managing his responses to Jen’s reactionary nature; Seth is trying to develop a new kind of relationship after 25 years that might work better for his life with Meredith now; John wants to focus on setting more personal growth goals with Lisa, as opposed to just professional goals…

It is wild — absolutely wild — to see this kind of exchange on Bravo. And while I cherished every moment of it… I will be playing that preview of Jen Shah chucking a glass off the roof of a Top Golf for the next seven days straight. See you there!

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