Season five is the first season of RHOBH to be plagued by the lingering, slow-boil malaise that afflicts the franchise to this day. Strings of episodes will elapse with nothing happening. Grudges are dealt with via sniping talking heads and, if absolutely necessary, one confrontation every nine episodes. Welcome to Beverly Hills, a sprawling quicksand of passive-aggression dotted with the Chanel bags and Fendi sunglasses of those unfortunate enough to wander through.
Soapdish: Christening this new era of RHOBH are soap staples Eileen Davidson and Lisa Rinna. I’m not a fan of Eileen’s S5 gambit, a stuffy and self-serious season of dogging Brandi Glanville over her creepy soap superfandom and a theatrical wine flick that’s bizarre but not evil. Rinna will do better work in later seasons (hide your coke, Dorit Kemsley) but does a decent number on Kim Richards here, debuting her signature tactic of cravenly going after the most infirm member of the cast and having a smarmy panic meltdown when it inevitably goes sideways.
Thelma and Louise: The best thing season five has going for it is the new alliance between Kim Richards and Brandi Glanville. Collectively, the pair of them drive 100% of season five’s meagre story, and they make every bit of sense as a friendship: both square pegs in the round hole of Beverly Hills society, social exiles who approach every interaction with the other ‘Wives with deep fear and anxiety, problem drinkers… and of course, it pisses off Kyle, which is just gravy. I think Brandi/Kim are commonly regarded as an alliance of convenience but I’ve always read their connection as fairly genuine, if only for their openly worn damage and terror of the world. They have a lot to bond on.
All In: Unfortunately for Kim and Brandi and their young love, they are unambiguously the villains of the season, as best exemplified by Poker Night. Kim, overwhelmed by the sorrow of her children leaving her and her ex-husband dying of cancer, treats herself to the comfort food of mysterious pills and bleary-eyed death threats slurred at Lisa Rinna across the back seat of a Little Family Van. Brandi keeps it a little more low-key and defaults to drinking too much, insulting Eileen Davidson’s home, and calling all the other women idiots for no good reason. Kyle attempts to intervene and the whole mess ends with a tear-drenched driveway shoving match. A piece of pizza is sacrificed to a tile floor. A senseless tragedy.
Making Up is Hard to Do: Her scuffle with Eileen Davidson about her administratorship at soaps.wikia.com notwithstanding, the majority of Brandi’s energy this season is devoted to her paltry attempts to reunite with Lisa Vanderpump. This is a tough one to watch because it features Brandi at her most socially inept and LVP at her most spiteful and withholding. The would-be reconciliation predictably goes nowhere, because Brandi could not possibly fulfill LVP’s quota of bowing and scraping. Still burnt by her S4 exposure as puppetmaster and correctly sensing that the proper way to dispense with Brandi is to passively let her self-destruct, Vanderpump doesn’t even deploy one of her trademark labyrinthine Machiavellian nightmare schemes, so the storyline is a real slog. The above-pictured image, featuring Brandi trying to be cute by offering Lisa a literal olive branch and in the process defacing her beautiful olive tree, offending her further, sums up the dynamic nicely.
The Dam Bursts: I went to Amsterdam with my family a few years ago and loved every second of it, even the time I was fading in and out of consciousness smoking a cannon joint at a coffee shop while an 18-year-old girl and her 65-year-old boyfriend made out in my lap. So obviously I was thrilled to see the ladies of RHOBH touch down in such a beautiful city, and even more thrilled that they promptly razed it to ruins like so many Twisted Metal 2 contestants.
The ridiculous Rinna/Kim clash remains legendary. My takes: Rinna was deliberately antagonizing Kim by bringing up her addiction issues at the table and deserved every second of trauma. #whatdidharrydo is a wonderfully absurd non-accusation that Kim devised out of thin air to make Rinna lose her shit and it worked so GJ, Kim. Kyle Richards sprinting out of the restaurant in livid horror is the optimum Real Housewives Facebook cover image.
Even the minor conflicts of the trip delivered: Brandi outing Kyle as a pot-smoking hypocrite prude at the coffee shop felt like the best possible way to get under her skin, and the much-ballyhooed Brandi/LVP slap fit nicely into Brandi’s S5 portfolio of half-joking violence vis-à-vis her jagged downward spiral.