The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City recap: Jen Shah has fled the scene
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (TV series)
Ahead of episode 10 of season 2 of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, we heard Andy Cohen say that this may just be the greatest episode of Real Housewives ever put to film. And he was not kidding. Over the course of eight hours, condensed down into one hour of programming for us, we watch the women of RHOSLC try to wrap their minds around the fact that their party bus was just swarmed by Homeland Security because their friend and co-worker, Jen Shah, has been arrested on the side of the road and charged with running a fraudulent telemarketing scheme.
It is a truly unhinged hour. And what's wildest is that, for me, the most fascinating episodes of the Real Housewives are usually created from many tiny moments — the nuances and eccentricities of this franchise that make us fume with anger, or laugh in chaotic awe…
But this episode is something else entirely: it is one big snowball barreling from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Vail, Colo., picking up traction and trauma as it goes along. There is no one moment to latch onto, no singular nuance to sink our teeth into. Watching this episode is like climbing a wall without holds… like flying by the seat of one's leather pants that one chose to wear on a seven-hour bus ride… like taking a bubble bath with a rapidly decreasing bubble source. The audience is flying as blind as the women onscreen — except, of course, for Whitney, who apparently has her aviation license in fraudulent marketing practices — and it is riveting, breathless stuff.
What I wouldn't have given to be on that bus as everyone frantically tried to get the facts! What lengths wouldn't I have gone through to be at that dinner table once the facts were in place and the gossip started rolling out in hopes of bridging the gaps! At one point, Heather says that coming into this trip, she was worried about what might happen with the tension between Whitney and Mary, and Mary and Jenni, and Jen and Meredith: "But now, all we're worried about is if Jen's going to jail."
And with that line — and two recent seasons of Housewives that have revolved around the stress of a federal court case — Heather may have just ushered in a new era of Housewives. Gone are the days of worrying about how everyone would pick a room and get along on a group trip; here are the days of calling six lawyers on a party bus absolutely brimming with different snacks, wondering if your friend and co-worker is about to go to jail for 30 years… and if you could be next.
9:33 AM — Vail Travel Day
The editors attempt to add some structure to this chaotic journey with timestamps, and so too shall I. We pick back up in the Beauty Lab parking lot with a fast-forwarded version of the final scene from last week's episode. Everyone is gleefully boarding the bus to Vail until Jen gets a call, steps outside, and when she comes back, tells the other women that her husband is in the hospital with internal bleeding. She leaves; a team of federal agents shows up; Heather asks what "HSI" stands for, and the women realize that these Homeland Security officers are looking for Jen.
Of course, while watching all of this unfold onscreen seven months after the fact, we all know exactly what's going on — but the women experiencing it live do not.
No one has less of an idea what's going on than Heather, who is shocked by each new reveal of something that I — and most of the other women, it seems — thought should be clear by now. When Whitney says on the phone to her husband that Jen lied to them about Sharrieff being in the hospital, Heather gasps, "Wait, you think Jen got a tip-off call that this was happening and left?" Girl. A few minutes later, Heather attempts to assure the other women that the very nice HSI agents repeatedly told her that they just wanted to make sure Jen was okay, so they must be trying to protect her from something…
To which the other women are like, "GIRL." It's also worth noting that Heather has debuted a new Givenchy testimonial look during this storyline where she legitimately looks like she's wearing a graduation robe. This is an unusually off-kilter performance for The People's Housewife.
10:12 AM — VAIL
Meredith totters up to the Vail vacation house in a hot pink double-breasted blazer dress and white go-go boots — so, business as usual there.
10:57 AM — THISTLE, UTAH
An hour into their trek from Salt Lake City to Vail, the women have to inform Heather that Jen won't be texting them back, and they need to pool their collective knowledge to figure out what's going on. Lisa says she knew the internal story bleeding wasn't real from the beginning because Jen was far too calm. Lisa then calls her husband to tell him that she's been in contact with their lawyers — cue amazing montage of Lisa talking to six different attorneys (take note, RHOBH Housewives!) — and they all said not to speak with law enforcement without a lawyer because this could be big, and they don't want them to get involved. And then the Queen of Sundance & Mess cups her little hand in front of her little mouth and stage-whispers to John: "But, um, I think Meredith might know something… because of other stuff."
11:35 AM — PARTY BUS STOP
The women stop for a bathroom break, and after Jenni and Lisa have deboarded, Whitney hisses at Heather: "Lisa's acting guilty of something." They think it's weird how she keeps noting that someone must have tipped the feds off and wonder if she could be implicated in whatever is going on with Jen.
Weirdly, Whitney is the Housewife who seems most knowledgeable about Jen's job and how it could potentially have gotten her in trouble. She says in her testimonial, "The entire way people do online marketing is through legal lead generation… I was always really curious because of the lifestyle Jen leads and the things she buys — it doesn't really add up to what I know these marketers actually make."
Well, what else do you know, Whitney? And Lisa? And definitely not Heather, who is clueless. (Jenni, for the record, seems almost entirely disinterested in what is happening, but perhaps she's focusing on keeping circulation in her feet, which she has strapped into six-inch heels for a seven-hour ride).
12:05 PM — PRICE, UTAH
Whitney sees the headline first. She starts gasping, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh," and then reads from her phone: "Real Housewives Star Charged in Massive Fraud, Money Laundering Scheme." Lisa and Heather jump onto their phones then, see that Stuart has also been charged, and immediately start weeping. When they read that Jen could face up to 30 years in prison, Whitney pulls Heather and Lisa into a hug; Jenni eats from a giant bag of Cheetos and drinks from a number of mysteriously shaped bottles.
The emotions become a little less Jen-centric when the weight of what Jen's allegedly done — and who she's allegedly done it to — hits. Whitney reads aloud from the Department of Justice's statement: "Jen Shah and Stuart Smith allegedly profited by generating lists of victims… building their opulent lifestyle on the expense of vulnerable people, elderly, and working class."
And a hush went over the bus. Jenni asks why on earth they would take advantage of elderly people, and Whitney once more explains that the more vulnerable a person is, the more likely a telemarketing scheme could get them subscribed to a fake product that will charge their credit card each month until the end of time without them knowing how to stop it. Jenni finally notes in her testimonial that it's suspicious how much Whitney seems to know about defrauding people. But to be fair, I could tell you a lot about what makes a good cult leader, a good Real Housewife, a good forensic analyst, or a good superyacht stewardess lead without ever wanting to be one — I just watch a lot of TV!
(But I'm with Jenni, it is suspicious. And I do want to be a superyacht stewardess.)
1:20 PM — PARK CITY, UTAH
The police finally descend upon Jen's house. In a continued bout of police/Bravo producer cooperation, we're told that they're executing a search warrant on the house.
2:36 PM — VAIL
As Meredith hangs up a slew of blazer dresses, Lisa finally FaceTimes her to see if she's heard about Jen. The women all lean their little heads into the FaceTime screen and tell Meredith about the SWAT team and the Beauty Lab parking lot, and finally that Jen was arrested for fraud. Meredith blinks at the camera, and then in the driest, Meredith-iest voice you can imagine, oozes out: "Honestly, I'm not surprised by this."
This was not the reaction they were expecting. They pass the phone to Jenni, whose reaction has also been more on the shoulder-shrug side than the weep into a bag of mint Milanos side, and Meredith says that she's suspected something was going on for a while because too many things didn't add up. The ghost of Lisa Barlow whispering, "I think Meredith may know something," echoes through the air.
Lisa croaks out that she feels like they don't know Jen at all, and Meredith agrees that they don't; she, however, has been onto Jen for a while, but no one wanted to listen to her. And then, without missing a beat, she throws a few jazz hands and coos, "Love you guys, can't wait for you to get heeeere!" This is just another vacation Saturday — and landmark downfall of a foe — for Meredith.
3:16 PM — SALT LAKE CITY
Jen Shah and her box braids leave the courthouse where she's been charged with fraud and money laundering.
4:13 PM — VAIL
In, hands down, one of the loopiest scenes I have ever watched on the Real Housewives, Mary arrives at the vacation house just ahead of the other women and goes looking for Meredith…
Meredith calls out to Mary, instructing her on exactly where to go, and when Mary finally arrives upstairs, she finds Meredith in a bubble bath (light on the bubbles). Now, the idea that Mary — a woman who kicks at least two people out of every party she hosts — would have a lot of rules and regulations on how other people should entertain is a little absurd. But I guess I have to agree that more than a few bubbles should be covering your nipples when you welcome someone into a home (depending on what kind of party it is, of course). But it all starts to make a little more sense once Meredith starts talking.
Because, as it turns out… Meredith is in full celebration mode. She is positively gleeful while exchanging information about Jen with Mary. We have genuinely never seen her act like this, except maybe when she and Seth first made up and were no longer acting like the beginning of a bad psychological thriller.
"Why did we not have an inkling?" Mary asks Meredith, who husks back: "You didn't?" Mary's entire demeanor changes, like, Oh, we're going to acknowledge THAT? As Meredith sinks lower and lower into the tub, she sinks deeper and deeper into the persona she's adopting now that Jen has been taken into federal custody: a tea-spiller of the highest order. She tells Mary, "I have been traumatized and terrorized — me, my family, my business — for almost two years by this woman." Meredith says she didn't want to point fingers without facts. But now, as the facts are rolling in and things are suddenly adding up, she's ready to point.
4:56 PM — VAIL
Even though Meredith ended her conversation with Mary by saying she needed to get out of the tub before the other gals arrived…
She is still in the tub when the other gals arrive. We've never known Meredith to be much for drama — in fact, when drama arises, she usually hits her "do not engage" button. But with Jen in a state of turmoil, she's ready for her close-up, Mr. Cohen. She welcomes Heather, Whitney, Lisa, and Jenni to the house from her tub of honor, where Heather tells her, "Rub-a-dub-dub, get your buns out of that tub."
6:11 PM — VAIL
You see, Heather is a gal's gal, and a gossip's gossip. Even though Jen is her weirdly co-dependent bestie, Heather has been waiting all day for an all-hands-on-deck debrief. And, as opposed to the other women, she doesn't have a husband to pre-debrief with while everyone puts on their comfy cozies for dinner…
8:41 PM — VAIL
Finally, it's time for dinner from the private chef and a private event coordinator who come with the house — if only the house came with a private paralegal!
Because, for the most part, the women are flying blind on what Jen has done, what it could mean, and what could happen to her because of it. For goodness' sake, when Heather finds out that Jen was tracked down and arrested on the side of the road, she gasps, "I thought she left us and went to turn herself in?" It's almost admirable how naive she is about all this…
When Mary says that she's never seen any good in Jen, Meredith takes the opportunity to tell the women something that she's kept to herself until now. Apparently, about six months ago, Meredith was in New York with her family when she saw that she had around a dozen missed calls from Jen. When she called back, Jen told her that she was just trying to get into Meredith's store to buy a few things. Eventually, the manager let Jen in the store, and indeed, she bought a few things and left. But then… the manager called Meredith. She said that when Jen and her entourage arrived, there was a green clutch in the store, and when the entourage left, it was no longer there. Meredith tells the women that when the manager texted to see if they knew anything about the clutch disappearing, "Within 30 seconds, my manager's phone is ringing, and on the other end is [BLEEP], and [BLEEP] says, 'I'll bring it back tomorrow.'"
Meredith has video footage (that the editors then play) of the entourage departing with the clutch in hand, and one of them — presumably [BLEEP] — bringing it back the next day. Now, is some petty theft — or maybe even an accident — indicative of federal fraud and money laundering?
Meredith Marks certainly thinks so. See you back here next week to find out what Lisa knows about who Jen may be evacuating Ubers to go see in the middle of the night — I literally cannot wait.
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