The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City recap: The bus from hell, part 2
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Is there only one Sprinter van in the entire state of Utah? Is a limited supply of light commercial vehicles like one of those random state laws where you're only allowed one thimble or vodka in your Moscow mule? And further, was this singular Sprinter van assembled on an ancient burial ground, destined to curse its inhabitants for eternity? Is this van's driver, Kevin, some sort of chaos demon — maniacally grinning in the front seat, happily cruising down the Utah highway as Jen whips herself into a righteous fury in the back?
Of course, we know that Jen doesn't need Kevin or that cursed Sprinter Van of Beauty-Lab's-Parking-Lot Past to get whipped into a fury. She doesn't even really need one particular thing to be angry about — Jen is happy to start clawing reasons out of the atmosphere until, suddenly, she's screaming that Lisa is somehow a bad friend because Meredith had an affair two years ago? Jen Shah is the living embodiment of that Michael Scott quote, but for the Housewives scene: "Sometimes I start [a fight], and I don't even know where it's going, I just hope I find it along the way."
But watching Jen try to reasonably explain why she was screaming at her friends with all her might was all the more startling this time because — much to the viewing audience's surprise, Jen has mostly laid dormant since her arrest. During the previous weeks where we've mainly seen Jen sit quietly at group gatherings and crack a few jokes in a few bedazzled military jackets in her testimonials, it was easy to forget what Jen Shah is actually like. But, rest assured, whether Jen did the things she's been accused of in a federal court or not, the Bravo audience knows these things to be true:
- Jen has never had an argument that did not involve her screaming some variation of the phrase, "What about me?!"
- Jen is always going to find a way to shout at her friends that they're being terrible friends while exhibiting one of the single worst friend-behaviors: shouting at your friends, in earnest, to shut the fuck up.
- Nothing is ever enough for Jen Shah (a mindset that can get you into some pretty sticky situations, even outside of terrorizing your friends!).
Yes, even after a few months of laying low, the true Jen Shah was always bound to come back out — and no one brings out the worst in her fellow Housewives quite like Lisa Barlow.
If you'd told me at the end of season 1 that I would eventually come around to — well, not necessarily liking Lisa Barlow as a Housewife, but at least respecting Lisa Barlow as a vital Housewife personality, you could have absolutely knocked me over with a self-tanner-stained Taco Bell wrapper. But sometime around "Hi baby gorgeooooous," I just let myself sink into the feeling of loving to watch someone that I technically despise (yes, I know that's a late-in-life achievement of a Housewives recapper!). So, while I personally feel that Lisa is stuck between a rock and a FaceTuned hard place in this Jen and Meredith situation…I must also recognize that it is a hard place of her own making. Lisa is the only one who made the wild decision to befriend Jen Shah—a notoriously terrible friend — and she must also be the one to realize that it is absolutely time to jump ship (or…jump van, as it were).
And I simply cannot believe this all began with the sentient midlife crisis that was Seth's horror show of a birthday party …
Which raises a question that's been weighing on me for most of the season: what's, uh, up with this guy? Is there some compulsive reason Seth can't stop talking about women? He's like the inverse Bechdel test! If he's not talking about how horny their bodies make him, he's talking about how repulsed he is by their presence. If he's not performatively ogling boobies, he's willingly offering up his own mother's "vee-jay-jay" as a conversation topic in order to explain how biological brothers work. He is an honest-to-goodness Succession character — which means that he both entertains and horrifies me, much like his birthday party where one lone woman is paid to dance on the narrow step of a hot tub for three hours.
Seth and Meredith keep their sunglasses on for most of the event, even inside the dark elevator, which should tell you all you need to know about the, uh, state they arrive in. Behavior-wise though, the birthday party goes off without a hitch, mostly because Meredith is the only one following her own rule to not invite Jen to any parties that she'll also be attending. But Whitney and Heather are sure to drop a few more breadcrumbs that something else must be going on for Meredith to not want to be seen with Jen, and whatever it is, she must have told it to Mary, and that's why they both weren't on the bus when the feds came looking for Jen.
And while Bad Weather is pushing that narrative with, at best — what Whitney's Legally Blonde testimonial impression might call — "circumstantial evidence," this episode is a good reminder that Meredith sure did do a whole lot of "I-told-you-so-ing" after Jen was arrested, considering that she had just claimed to forgive her.
Sure, Jen has never owned up to what she did to Meredith and Brooks in a way that felt at all genuine, but I also understand her point of view regarding Meredith: she thought their friendship was intact before Homeland Security took their honorary snowflake halfway through the season, and arrested her. So, it's only reasonable for Jen to surmise that Meredith's claims that she can no longer be her friend are a direct result of her being arrested, not how she's treated Meredith and her family in the past.
Personally, I'd say being a good friend to Jen right now is just agreeing to be seen with her at all — but that's not how Jen sees it. You're not a good friend to Jen unless she is the number one priority in your life, a fact we're soon reminded of when the women board …
You guessed it: the exact same Sprinter van they took to Vail on the day Jen was arrested, including the exact same driver, Kevin. Even the seating arrangements are the same, including the fact that Meredith and Mary are mysteriously absent from this van ride to the Zion National Park, a trip that's been allegedly thrust upon them by their husbands as a collective Mother's Day gift. (If you've noticed that this recap skips over some chunks of the episode, that is because Househusband-gatherings simply do not register with me on a fundamental, spiritual, or metaphysical level.)
Now, as much as I want to believe that Meredith and Mary have something to do with Jen's arrest and that said-something is somehow tied to their continued absence on this Sprinter van chartered by Hades itself …
Jen makes quick work of proving exactly why no one should want to be on this bus. It's actually wild that anyone would agree to strap on their finest leather shorts and get in a moving vehicle with just about any one of these women, no matter how many PopChips flavors the producers provide!
Still, Jen starts this trip off in great spirits. She's got her microphone, she's pumping everyone up for her the Cinco de Mayo party she's going to throw in Zion — but simply from the tenor of her excitement, a seasoned Housewives watcher should be able to tell that things are about to go south. As she totters around the van with her microphone, Jen is the definition of overcompensating. She teases about having PTSD from the last time they were on the van, but she also seems to be performing the idea that she's absolutely fine with what happened, she's doing great, there is no problem here …
And then the minute Kevin cranks the engine (and offers a blood sacrifice to something, I feel sure), Jen's wholesome excitement turns into smug grievance airing. She sarcastically says that Meredith and Mary probably aren't there because Mary called Meredith to see when she was arriving, "and Meredith was probably like, I'm not riding in the bus with Jen, and Mary was like, I'm going with you!"
I mean, yeah, probably.
But somehow this frustration with Meredith avoiding her turns into Jen accusing Lisa of treating Meredith differently than she treats the rest of her friends (re: her). Jen is angry because she found out that Meredith hired a private investigator, and no one seems plussed about it. As compared to the time that Lisa told Jen she was concerned about hearing that Jen was trying to dig up dirt on the rest of the cast (and then immediately taking Jen's word for it that she wasn't doing that, and befriending her when literally everyone else was rejecting her because she's a terrible friend who was almost definitely trying to dig up dirt on everyone).
Lisa says that she doesn't want to be held accountable for anyone's actions but her own, which is a little overkill if you ask me when she could just say: of course, I treat each of my friendships differently because it is a-okay to have a different value in different relationships! Both things would make Jen scream at her, obviously, but one is more reasonable.
Jen's anger begins escalating because she thinks everyone gives Meredith the benefit of the doubt but crucifies her — which is a pretty wild stance to take with the four women who have willingly gotten on the same bus where they once had to speak to federal agents because of you. But Jen's personal favorite accusation is that everyone, especially Lisa, is "weak as f---" for still being friends with Meredith after Meredith "slandered [her] name" (cue the montage of Meredith accusing Jen of doing things that she absolutely did).
Lisa tells Jen that she doesn't want this tension with her, and Jen screeches back: "THERE'S NO TENSION!" Lisa points out that she's repeatedly had Jen's back, more than anyone else in the group, but it's never enough. Jen insists, at the absolute top of her lungs, with rage-tears streaming down her face, that she has not been afforded the same grace that Meredith has, and that Lisa has not held Meredith accountable for what she's done to Jen. Lisa says that she has held Meredith accountable and that they are in a very rocky place because of it!
That's when Jen starts screaming at Lisa, "THEN SAY IT! THEN SAY IT! SAY IT OR I'M OUT!" Unfortunately, absolutely no one knows what Jen is asking Lisa to say, so Jen storms to the front of the bus, but then immediately storms back to scream "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" when Lisa finally breaks down and starts screaming herself. Lisa is screaming that's she shutting down, and you can actually see her fight-or-flight response as Jen gets closer and closer to her…
Unfortunately, Lisa's attempt to take "flight" might just result in an actual "fight," given the way that hands begin to fly. I'll leave the speculation to Whitney and Heather, but it looks like next week might just turn this Sprinter van into the steel cage match it's always aspired to be.
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