The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City recap: 'We're looking for Jen Shah'
How dare The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City editors give us a full-fledged episode, complete with a group dinner blow-up, the first real narrative hints at Mary (allegedly) being an egomaniac church leader with a god complex, and a signature Housewives packing montage, and then add on the seven most compelling minutes in Housewives history, as if those seven minutes couldn't have constituted their very own episode, aired six times back-to-back at varying speeds, shown from various POVs.
When season 2 of RHOSLC kicked off with these very same seven minutes — edited down into a tight two, featuring Jen receiving a call moments before departing on a group trip and hightailing it out of the Beauty Lab & Laser parking lot, immediately followed by the statement, "We're looking for Jen Shah" — it felt like watching a horror movie. In that flashforward, the tension ratcheted up with furtive glances at the camera and a request to turn a mic off, until the big bad FBI finally showed up like a classic jump scare. But this time around, when we knew what was coming — it felt more like watching an action film. Each "this isn't about Sharrieff" felt like watching a punch to the groin; each new federal agent arriving had the visceral impact of the Rock propelling himself from a crane into a skyscraper.
Every time Whitney nervously wonders if the presence of Homeland Security could just be a prank, there was a brief break in the tension to recalibrate before the action recommenced…
But it wasn't a prank — we knew it, and Lisa Barlow definitely knew it, because the moment Lisa told Heather she probably shouldn't call Jen to let her know that armed officers from every government agency were currently looking for her, I realized that — love her, hate her, or both — Lisa has survival instincts.
And, of course, the RHOSLC producers have their very own kind of instincts, because even before they knew that there would be a full-on federal sting at the Beaty Lab & Laser parking lot, they filmed multiple scenes of Jen and her first-assistant/alleged co-conspirator Stuart talking about their mysterious business practices while doing winter activities. This week it's snowshoeing while discussing the "sacrifices" Jen made during the pandemic in order to "set up all these businesses and companies" in order to "take care of employees." She says if she hadn't sacrificed time with her own family, "a lot of families wouldn't be eating right now." It's unclear what Jen is talking about, but it's definitely clear that Jen is always happy to martyr herself for both business and pleasure.
Jen says she hopes Stuart realizes that she appreciates him, and she made these sacrifices for him and his family too. (Side note: Jen also says that she's envious of how Stuart gets to spend every day with kids, but we see Stuart with Jen constantly — he is basically the Kroy to her Kim. Side-note-within-a-side-not: two seasons in, I did not see "platonic heterosexual relationship" coming with these two.) Stuart says that he does see Jen's sacrifices: "I know you'll always be there, and I'll always be there for you."
But we'll have to put a pin in that until it can prove true or false when Jen and Stuart are both arrested and charged with fraud and money laundering (so — next week!), because it's time to head to the Park City Culinary Institute for the rest of the non-federal-raid portion of the episode. Mary is hosting an Italian cooking class for the women, which gives her an excellent excuse to tell everyone what to do, berating and demeaning them should they fail to meet her unpredictable expectations. I waffle between thinking that Mary is harmless and hilarious to thinking that Mary is absolutely nasty — today was a nasty day. Because nothing brings out the worst in Mary like hosting an event. A generous reading of that would be that hosting gives Mary an opportunity to exert the sort of power that was taken away from her when she was coerced into marrying her step-grandfather…
And a less generous reading would be that she's a sanctimonious, self-righteous jerk who looks down at other people and takes any chance to belittle those who don't have the power to fight back. But who could really say! I do know that Mary walks into the culinary institute that she has clearly asked to put together this event within the last 48 hours, looks at the beautiful dining table, and immediately sneers that the knives are out of place. "It's just unfortunate when you know," Mary sniffs at the event coordinator: "I'm that person that, if you don't do it yourself, then it's not gonna be done right."
Then here's an idea, Mary: do it yourself! Stop hiring people and then literally telling them they're stupid, as we're reminded of in a flashback to Mary's last inexplicably themed event, the Met Gala luncheon. And while we're at it: stop asking people to pray and then telling them that they're praying incorrectly!
Perhaps this is the mindset that immediately puts me on Whitney's defense when she arrives at the cooking class in a suit that is somehow both pinstriped and tie-dyed. You see, at the top of the episode, we saw Mary inviting everyone to this event by phone and saying she'd follow up with an invitation, which she appears to have ultimately put together in… Microsoft Paint? But apparently, Whitney didn't answer Mary's four FaceTime calls within 45 minutes, so instead of getting the "Italian streetwear" directive that everyone else gets, Mary sends Whitney a special invitation directing her to wear "mafia streetwear." Which Whitney clocks pretty quick was intended to humiliate her when she walks inside and no one is wearing lingerie with tiny neckties and fedoras, as Mary's invitation to her suggested she should.
For her part, Mary looks like she is literally and metaphorically drowning in an oversized blazer as usual, while barking at Whitney about not wearing a mafia costume: "Like, it was supposed to be a joke, and you skipped over my joke and went right to the point." So, Whitney already knows she's in for it with Mary — as we learn later, Mary has already sent her a bunch of nasty text messages after Whitney attempted to apologize for missing her call — but everyone at least has the decency to wait until after the caprese course to start screaming.
The thing about RHOSLC is that it makes you consider that two opposing narratives can be true at once. Whitney can be annoying and insecure, while Mary can also be completely unjustified in the way she berates and belittle Whitney. Lisa can be completely obvious in her attempts to curate a "Mary runs a cult" storyline, while also understanding the assignment and doing what needs to be done at the Fresh Wolf event — an event allegedly organized by children that everyone argues about not being invited to during the caprese course.
So, when Jen says she has Mary's back, and Whitney will not stop repeating that Mary has "missed that Jen actually offered you a very beautiful moment," it is annoying, and Whitney does seem a lil drunk. But the way that Mary keeps lashing out at anyone who suggests she might not be right about every single thing she has ever said or done in her entire life, including but not limited to how Sprite affects reproductive organs. Ultimately, we have to reckon with the fact that the woman who tells Whitney, "You're insecure; you are a little girl," is a pastor…
And, of course, we have to reckon with the rumor that Mary is something more than a pastor entirely. When the fight escalates to the point that Mary tells Whitney she should leave the party (that's two-out-of-two Mary events where she's asked a guest to leave — queen of etiquette, queen of knife placement!), Whitney storms to another room, where Meredith follows her and naturally, Cameron's comments from last week come up. Whitney tells Meredith that no one in their group has been a better friend to Mary, but she should see some of the texts Mary has sent her. This piques Meredith's interest, given that she was just told to be careful with Mary. Whitney tells Meredith that she's also been warned by Mary's cousin never to make her mad (too late!) because her congregation believes she "holds the power of God."
So that ball is officially rolling. But it's going to have to take a break because there's a new ball in town, and it's the size of an unsuspecting party bus. Three days after the disastrous cooking class, it's time to head to Vail for the group trip Meredith and Heather have been organizing. The plan was to take the seven-hour drive together on a party bus, but Meredith ended up going to Colorado the day before, and Mary has chartered a private plane because she claims she has a headache. Which takes the party bus riders number from seven to five…
And then to four, when Jen arrives on the bus idling at Beauty Lab & Laser, all smiles and box braids, and immediately receives a call on her cell phone. As Lisa is loading her bags in the luggage car, and Heather is inside Beauty Lab using the bathroom, and Whitney and Jennie are staring blankly into the ether, Jen answers her phone and says: "Hi baby… no, not yet… I need to go to the house?" She puts her phone down and calmly asks Whitney to turn off her mic pack, which we've seen 100 times in the preview, and then walks off the bus to finish the call, which we haven't seen. In fact, we haven't seen most of what comes next.
This is when I tell you that I normally type out non-stop, stream of consciousness notes while watching these episodes, and for the next seven minutes, I stared in stunned silence, fingers completely still.
"I brought tequilaaaa," Lisa sing-songs as she boards the bus while Jen listens silently on the phone outside. When Heather walks out, seeing Jen for the first time since she arrived in the parking lot, she immediately asks, "Are you okay?" And this is when Jen rolls out a story we've never heard before. She tells Heather, and then all of the women, that Sharrieff had an appointment today where they discovered he had internal bleeding, and now he's in the hospital, so she has to go. Naturally, everyone is worried and fretting over Jen, helping her get her luggage back into her assistant's car, and talking around and around about whether they should wait for Jen to find out more or head onto Vail…
And that's when we see them — armed officers start showing up outside the bus windows, and the women don't even notice for what feels like minutes., But when they do notice, and then when they hear Jen's name, everyone freezes. The producers tell the agents that Jen just left, and far as they know, she's at the hospital with her husband. One of the officers keeps saying they just "want to make sure she's okay," which is a little suspect, given that it's obviously not the truth — they arrived with handcuffs out! But don't worry, Heather Gay will get to the bottom of it…
Oh, just kidding, Heather will squeal like a rat the moment someone tells her what "HSI" stands for. It's amazing! As soon as Heather steps off the bus, she's suddenly telling the entire gathered crowd about every detail of the Sharieff story that Jen just told them. Inside, Whitney is telling the others about turning Jen's mic off. "It's not about Sharrieff," Lisa says solemnly. Heather gets back on the bus, and when Lisa says she's going to call Stu to figure out what's going on, Heather asks if she should call Jen and let her know there are officers looking for her. "Um, I don't think you should do that," Lisa replies.
No matter what Lisa's done to Heather in the past, legally speaking, she owes Lisa for that one. See you back here next week for the Winter Housewives Olympics — I truly cannot wait.
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