Love and Light: The Danielle Staub Journey

The Real Housewives of New Jersey kicked off their 8th season this week. Notable this year is the return of Danielle Staub (tragically only as a Friend of) whose brief two season stint made her one of the original housewife icons. I didn’t watch RHONJ during its original run so I just blazed through the first two seasons to get myself up to speed on all things Jersey. If your memory of Danielle is fuzzy, you skipped those early seasons, or you’re a Danielle-aholic looking to worship, I’m here for you. Let’s take a trip to Franklin Lakes, NJ circa 2009…

Woman on a mission:

Danielle is introduced to us as a recent divorcee with two teen/tween daughters attempting to maintain the luxurious lifestyle she can no longer afford. She’s looking for another man to support them so that they can continue living in their hideous Jersey mansion. Danielle is overtly sexual with stories of her numerous engagements, stripper past, and husband-snatching swirling around making her the obvious black sheep of the group. Naturally, her search for a benefactor leads her to dating some doughy 26 year old douche named Steve who is bros with the Laurita/Manzo crowd. A sex tape of the two will later be released, which Danielle claims was filmed by Steve without her knowledge. He will successfully sue her for $100,000 at a later date but her bankruptcy allows her to slink away unscathed. Sadly, the relationship doesn’t work out.

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In case you forgot what 2009 looked like.

Friends and foes:

The first season of NJ focuses heavily on Danielle’s beef with Dina. Its basis predates filming and is never very clearly explained, likely because it makes no sense. It seems Danielle has been attributing any and all gossip about herself to Dina, while Dina just kind of floats on ignoring her. One might say obsessive paranoia is a defining trait of Danielle Staub. For what it’s worth, Dina is shown making a bunch of snarky remarks during Danielle’s botox party so I don’t think it’s all in her head but…probably a lot of it is. Danielle’s only solid friend from the cast is Jacqueline. The rest of the wives are constantly begging her to ditch the friendship with Danielle, but in perhaps the only good thing she’s ever done on this show, she stays by Danielle’s side. As a result, between S1-2 Dina and Jacqueline have a falling out and their relationship remains irreversibly damaged to this day. Danielle’s legacy truly extends off screen!

Coming on strong:

Danielle is a suffocating personality. She desperately wants to be friends with the ladies (including Dina) and comes on incredibly strong. All throughout season one the ladies remark on how intense she is and their need to take a step back. Fun dance class events (punctuated with casual Joe Giudice homophobia) are taken too seriously by Danielle and she is routinely mocked. Her intense energy is palpable any time she’s on the screen, whether it’s with other housewives or alone in a talking head. While Danielle is clearly off-putting in certain (up to this point, harmless) ways, the other ladies take glee in bullying the outsider and I’m sympathetic to her ostracization.

Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card:

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Rumours of Danielle’s sordid past are being bandied about and Caroline decides to drop by the library (literally, this is not a joke) and check out a book she caught wind of. “Cop Without a Badge” is written by Danielle’s ex-husband and details her time dating a drug dealer and arrest for her involvement in a kidnapping/extortion case while she was known as Beverly Merrill. Danielle won’t be the last housewife with multiple identities (hey Taylor Armstong!) nor some skeletons in her closet, but I can’t summon to mind any other housewife with a backstory this dramatic archived forever in the libraries of America.

Tables flipped:

Eight years after it aired, the table flip still remains potentially the most iconic housewives moment of all time. Frequently giffed, with “prostitution whore” & “fucking engaged 19 times” endlessly quotable, it was a true breakout moment for the Real Housewives series. These memories focus on Teresa though, and the dinner scene is truly a treasure trove of Danielle tics. Probably my favourite moment is when she pulls the book out at dinner and there is an eternal silent pause, literally at least 60 continuous on-air seconds, as the camera pans to each member of the table and Danielle silently stares them all down. As the parents try to evacuate the children from a conversation involving drugs and prostitution, Danielle insists her girls stay so they can be witness to the life lesson. Queen.

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A New Danielle:

Between season one and two a shift takes place. Danielle has put all the negativity behind her and is moving forward. Chris doesn’t want Jacqueline associating with Danielle anymore and Dina becomes superficially friendly with her. She’s still firmly on the outs with the group and is denied an invitation to a Manzo party in the premiere which leads to a truly deranged Danielle deciding to do a drive-by of the event while her daughters beg her to abort mission from the backseat. She’s blacklisted from every other housewife event until…

Cancer babies:

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Danielle is invited to a charity event taking place at the Manzo Brownstone for a baby afflicted with some sort of tragic cancer. In her mind, she is the guest of honour at the event bringing the most influential people with her and the most cash. In reality, she rolls up with Kim G. and her darksided Team Sonja cast of goons for security. Now Danielle’s invite didn’t come with a plus 10, so her entourage of Danny, some Hell’s Angels (in their gear), and other assorted ex-cons don’t have a table. She makes a big scene demanding their own table and ends up storming out (actually they’re kicked out) after a weird, intense exchange with the parents of the baby and Danny calling Chris Manzo a faggot. Things will be weird and dark with Danielle for the rest of the season as she is excluded even further from the group, with only Kim G. to connect her to the cast.

Chasing them off:

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Dina meets Danielle mid-season for a sit down to tell her she’s done engaging in any of the drama which comes out of left field as they had been relatively friendly up to this point. It predictably goes horribly and we later cut to an extended solo scene of Dina at home with her cats which is her send-off as she abruptly leaves the show. Watching it play out on the show without context her exit doesn’t really make any sense but at the reunion we learn that Danielle was trying to have Dina’s daughter taken away. Seems reasonable.

A finger too far:

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Danielle heads down to Posche to talk to the other heavyhitter Kim, Kim D. She is met with a heinously rude receptionist who deigns to hold up a finger to Danielle and be mildly curt with her. It becomes a glorious scene with Danielle storming out and blowing up Kim’s phone to tell her how awfully her receptionist treated her. When Kim D. arrives, she takes the side of her receptionist causing Danielle to flip out and decline to spend any more of her numerous riches at Posche. I was going to say this was just a random one-off scene I enjoyed immensely of Danielle, but it seems she has returned to get vengeance on Kim D. this season so it’s actually essential viewing.

Victimized:

The Posche fashion show is one of the most memorable moments of the season, what with accusations of foreclosure, cocaine use, and Ashley yanking out a chunk of her hair extensions. Prior to the attack the whole scene is brilliant, though. Danielle is pissed at everyone so she passive aggressively takes calls throughout the show and calls Ashley a coke whore. I should make it clear that in spite of this, Danielle is 100% the victim in this instance. She’s been on the outs for a season and a half now and Teresa insisting on talking to her was not with friendly intentions. Sadly, Danielle only brought Kim G. and one body guard for security (not Danny) so she’s left vulnerable to the attack. Guess her paranoia wasn’t without merit.

Shouting into the wind:

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Danielle decides to press charges against Ashley and for the remainder of the season, she’s even more excluded from filming with any other housewives up until her lacklustre sit down with Caroline in the finale. This might sound awful, and trust that all the Manzo/Laurita/Giudice scenes are boring as shit (especially the snooze of a trip to Italy, which might be the worst housewives trip I’ve sat through), but the tone the season takes on is hilarious. All of Danielle’s footage is now her obsessively ranting about the Manzos or Ashley to anyone who will listen: Kim G. (up until they fall out over her duplicity, in the beautiful “square tit” scene), the random coven of women she brings to the courthouse to press charges, Danny, her daughters, and… no one. Sometimes she’s just in her kitchen bitching to nobody. Every talking head is ranting and raving about how she has been maligned and fears for her safety. She insists on Danny and his sidekick escorting her everywhere and spends a few scenes filming in some seedy diner making me think we’re watching a low-budget Sopranos spinoff. It’s the weirdest shit I have ever seen on the Housewives and I loved every minute of it.

A reunion to remember:

Housewives reunions can be some boring ass tedious shit. This one is not. By now the truth about what Danielle did to Dina has come out and everybody is in a Teresa flipping tables rage with her, including Tre herself. Literally like 5 minutes into the reunion Danielle says something to Teresa causing the epic Andy toss moment. The whole reunion is a great character summation of Danielle with her making all sorts of vague and grave accusations, attributing random things to people who aren’t there to confirm or deny, and making everyone else froth at the mouth with fury just by existing. We’ll miss you for the next 6 years, D!

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Danielle’s journey on the show really can’t be matched. An outsider from the beginning, she managed to turn a fluffy housewives reality TV show into some strange true crime thriller punctuated with criminals, spurring the most memorable rage-blackouts, and giving us some timeless quotes. Will her return as a friend of allow her to reach such dizzying heights? If anyone can do it, it’s Danielle. Love and light, my bitchy witches.

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