The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Season 4: A Retrospective

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In which Lisa Vanderpump finally gets what’s coming to her.

 

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The New Girls: BH4 replaces the departing Taylor and Adrienne with a pair of one-and-dones, Carlton Gebbia and Joyce Giraud de Ohoven. Carlton is the real star here, unfairly maligned for her sincere dedication to turning RHOBH into a reboot season of Passions. If the people weren’t ready for a spell-casting nymphomanic witch to go all Thinner on the execrable Kyle Richards, then frankly they don’t deserve her. As for Joyce, she doesn’t let you hate her fully. She’s vapid and irritating, but absolutely in the right versus Brandi’s disgusting treatment of her, and immensely graceful following the death of her father. She did herself proud even if I have no desire to see her again (although having said that I did watch the entirety of Siberia; give it a spin if you thought Lost was a little too coherent and high-minded). Post-show, she also gave us the vicarious horrors of Rica, Famosa, Latina, the Spanish-language Housewives knock-off that has had multiple stabbing incidents.

 

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Brandi on the Rocks: Season four is nothing if not a deep dive into the dark miasma that constitutes Brandi Glanville’s soul, for better or worse. For better: I find her damaged relationship with her father telling and deeply affecting (smooth-talking Brandi’s dad into reconciliation is the best charity work Yolanda ever did for her menagerie of the broken). Her slow coming to Jesus about LVP and her manipulations is the beating heart of the season and the engine that drives the much better second half of S4. For worse: she could not be more of an ugly racist mess in her interactions with newbie Joyce. It becomes explicit over the course of the show that she’s going through some sort of serious depressive episode, and I sympathize, but there is no excuse for her to treat Joyce the way she did other than being a bigot, full stop. The kind of thing that deserves to be explicitly named, even on a franchise as rife with casual racism as Housewives.

 

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Hold My WerePup: Season four is the first and only season of pure Kim Richards sobriety (season three almost qualifies but for the hiccup in Paris). You might think there’s reason for concern — what will Kim do if not show up late and hiss 25-year-old grudges at Kyle? — but she mostly acquits herself as a charmingly daffy sideshow who makes weird noises in talking heads and falls off her chair. Yes she’s sober I promise.

My favourite Sober Kim story, and the one that best sums up my fascination with her child actor pedigree, is Kim Goes to the Fan Convention. She meets her public. She receives a bejeweled turtle brooch. She holds a bespoke WerePup doll. She encounters her teenage flame, Jimmy McNichol (brother of Kristy), and meditates on some faded incident where he slapped her ass and she wrote about it in her diary and then Kyle read it and used it against her. It’s a swirl of nostalgia that’s honestly a bit touching in its sheer weirdness, which is a flavour of RHOBH Kim always did best.

(Sidebar: in the montage of fans taking pics with Kim, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of her with Jeff Turner, the subject of I Think We’re Alone Now, the documentary about people who stalk the pop star Tiffany. Exactly the kind of person I’d expect to be interested in Kim.)

 

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Sweet Dreams: I have mixed-leaning-negative feelings on the Vanderpump Strategy Era of RHOBH, but at its best it can feel like a heist thriller. So here, as things are set into motion for an attempt on LVP’s life.

Early S4 sees Lisa’s continued domination, building off her resounding success in S3. This is the era of The Dream Team, a title bestowed by Yolanda in a wonderful fit of subconscious passive-aggression when she marked only Brandi, Lisa and Carlton’s place cards with hearts at dinner. Kyle is still scrambling for a counter-alliance, but with a newly sober Kim disinterested in strategy and Faye Resnick yet to claw her way out of her shallow grave, she’s left with a marginalized Joyce as her squire which is no way to conduct a strategy. Kyle is fucked, plainly, and starts experimenting with surrender. There are worse things than a life spent tucked under Lisa Vanderpump’s gaudy magenta satin wing.

But then the pieces slowly but surely start to fall into place. The first and most critical domino is Brandi, who notices her strings getting pulled, observes the casual cruelty Lisa inflicts upon her former #2 Kyle, and starts to pressure Lisa for accountability. With Lisa’s chief alliance imperiled, the other Wives begin to conjure up excuses to get in on the inevitable ambush.

Both Yolanda and Kim contrive reasons to go to battle out of thin air, to do with missed parties. These are smokescreens. Yolanda has clearly always regarded LVP as a treacherous phony (per her private remarks to Kyle that were aired out at the S3 reunion) and, perhaps more saliently, as a competitive alpha. Yolanda is a creature who thrives on manipulation and dominance and LVP is in the way. As for Kim, I think she just smelled drama in the air and wanted a piece. She and Vanderpump have had conflicts in the past, but aren’t as intertwined as you might imagine given both of their close ties with Kyle. I think this is because they don’t really speak the same language so their conflicts go nowhere. But Kim has never been one to let everyone else argue while she sits on the sidelines. She spotted her opening and took it.

All of this served as the preamble to the Puerto Rico trip, the second of three great ambushes of Lisa Vanderpump in RHOBH history (so far).

 

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Blood on the Beach: The 17th episode of season four, “Lines in the Sand,” is for my money one of the best post-S3 episodes of RHOBH if only for how meticulously it lays out the case against Lisa Vanderpump. Lisa, as the central tenet of her strategy, deliberately plans her schemes so that 1) they take place mostly off-camera and are nearly impossible to trace back to her and 2) those moves she does make on camera, taken in isolation, are subtle enough to either be chalked up to pettiness on the part of the victim or outright denied. But now that we’re four seasons in, there’s enough footage of Lisa in action to make a coherent case. So they do. “Lines in the Sand” is full to the brim with long montages of Brandi, Yolanda and Kyle explaining, A-to-Z, how LVP’s scams work, with exhaustive supplementary flashback evidence provided by the producers. If you are interested in hearing, clearly, how the LVP Thing works, this is the episode. It is the most lucid and thorough explanation of her game.

One very important event that precipitates the bloodbath in Puerto Rico is Brandi Glanville’s account that LVP tried to coax her to bring along tabloids alleging that Mauricio cheated on Kyle. There are multiple schools of thought on whether this is true. I unreservedly believe it. It’s completely in line with other accusations made against Lisa, and it’s not Brandi’s style to outright lie. Brandi is an emotional terrorist, a victim-player, a rumour-spreading shit-talker, but she doesn’t make up ornate lies and present them as fact. This is a bad play by LVP, a greedy miscalculation that will come back to bite her hard. It’s also how you know she had no idea she was about to get done en masse. I think she would have played it a lot cagier.

The way it goes down: Yolanda can’t wait until the group dinner, so she draws first blood on LVP during a random beach outing. This is a gore-soaked spectacle and a very aggressive move from Yolanda. She ropes in everyone — Brandi, Kyle, Kim, Mauricio, Ken, everyone. This means that LVP is on alert coming into dinner that she’s about to get dogpiled. She makes a pre-meal attempt to manipulate Brandi back on-side, but it’s over. At dinner, for the first time ever, Lisa Vanderpump gets killed at the table. It’s beautiful and shocking and climactic.

I’m interested in the formation Yolanda/Brandi/Kim take here, sort of a brain/heart/gut (Kyle has the most straightforward case against Lisa, which she handles well, and Joyce is uninvolved). Yolanda is the de facto strategic engine of the LVP resistance, and she orchestrates beautifully: manipulating the entire suite of arguments from top to bottom, jumping in at various points during dinner to keep everyone on message or demand specific answers. Her star moment comes when LVP is about to corner someone, I forget who (either Kyle or Brandi, someone she has particular emotional sway over), and Yolanda jumps in out of nowhere to attack Ken, redirecting the focus of the fight and giving LVP’s would-be victim the time to collect herself and formulate her counterattack. It’s fantastic work from Yolanda, and it’s a shame that she’ll pay for it with her life in season six. Brandi, of course, is there for the raw humanity — LVP’s most recent BFF betrayed — and then there’s Kim, taking her moment where it comes to deem Ken a stubborn old man whose goddamn mouth she is tired of!

The whole thing ends with LVP and Ken sharing a teary cigarette on a balcony and wondering where it all went wrong. It’s a great collective effort and one that will leave LVP permanently scarred. She’ll never be unguarded, trusting, or honestly even happy on the show ever again. That’s a net negative — modern BH too often gets sidetracked by Lisa’s paranoia and petty revenge schemes — but in the moment, it’s one of the most potent climatic images I’ve seen on this show (that doesn’t involve an artificial limb).

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