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Normally, I would dread an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that takes place entirely in one location, on the opening eve of a trip where Kyle has once again dragged everyone to the desert. But season 11 of RHOBH has given us all sorts of things we couldn't have expected from this franchise.
For example, I never would have anticipated a candle the size of a toddler entering Kyle's villa before Garcelle did. It shocked me to my absolute Bravo-watching core to find myself laughing out loud at the Richards sisters clanging stale bread together like castanets and attempting to sweep up spilled paprika with a grill brush. And those are all just the result of adding Kathy Hilton into the mix, for which I wake up and thank Andy Cohen — and surely Kathy's accidental signing of a contract while not wearing her glasses — every single morning.
No, we haven't even gotten to Erika performing one half of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf to a rapt dinner table, giving us more to sink our teeth into during one night in La Quinta than the last three seasons combined. Part of that intrigue comes from the actual things Erika is saying — and perhaps the larger part comes from the way she's saying it. Erika has a very distinct physical tell wherein she starts talking very low and keeping her mouth so still that if you had the TV on mute, you would simply believe she was staring at you silently.
Now, in most human behavior, a tell usually means lying. But I don't know for sure if that's what Erika's tell means — maybe it means she's truthing. Or, more likely, perhaps it's just the signature of a very strong sedative. All I know for sure is that Erika does a lot of still-mouthed talking in this episode both at the La Quinta dinner table and in that unfortunate new all-blue confessional look where the camera seems to be positioned on the ground, in what I can only assume is the camera crew finally attempting to sneak their opinion into the editing room as the Jan Brady of the franchise (the editors are Marcia, Marcia, Marcia; the producers are Cindy; Sutton is Alice).
If you can believe it, the packing montage for La Quinta was nothing more than a packing blink, and not because the women packed lightly — Dorit was, inexplicably, outfitted for the Disney Channel Original Movie, Motocrossed — but because there was simply no time to spare. Before we know it, the women are arriving at Kyle's house, doing performative air kisses that I do not understand. They're all about to sit down to dinner in this house together and eat lasagna that Kyle has almost definitely lost an earring in.
Before Erika arrives, everyone catches up on the current headlines. As in, the very day that they're all arriving at Kyle's desert home, the government froze all of Tom's assets. Dorit repeatedly attempts to empathize with what Erika is going through because she also had her bank accounts frozen when PK owed creditors a large debt, saying, "Imagine not being able to take out your own money from your own account." But surely she understands that, in the case of Tom, the money has been frozen because there's good reason to believe it's not his own money.
Of course, the whole bit about frozen accounts being entirely the fault of the husbands (PK's, Tom's), and not the wives (Dorit's, Erika's)… is a little more complicated altogether.
Throughout the episode, Erika seems to have a pretty giant misunderstanding of what "people" are saying about her, and what "everyone" is attempting to figure out in regards to Tom. Before she heads to the desert, Erika closes up the Erika Jayne Club House as it's no longer an expense she can afford. She tells the camera that since she's left, "I have not received one dime from Tom Girardi, despite what everyone seems to think." But surely she understands "everyone" isn't interested in what she's been doing with Girardi's money since she left, but how it was being handled before she made the surprising move to file for divorce.
Then, as she solemnly turns off her "Pretty Mess" neon sign, Erika declares, "I can take care of myself — people seem to forget that." Who is saying that?! I mean, there's certainly a narrative that she was supported and catered to by Tom — because it's one she painted for us, and she can't just ask us to forget it now. But the viewing public isn't persecuting her for her present circumstances (which are, as a reminder, a $9,000 a month house, two bedrooms full of shoes and clothes, and an assistant and creative director forced to move glam to a large counter instead of a full dressing room) — they're wondering about the past that only she (and/or a motivated team of lawyers) can answer: what did she know, when did she know it, and what did she do about it?
And that story gets a whole lot more interesting as Erika arrives at Kyle's house and begins weaving a narrative of brand new information about the last few years of her marriage to Tom.
Things start off slow as Erika arrives, immediately starts crying, and everyone gives her a hug and tells her she's brave for coming. But by the time lasagna rolls around, Erika is ready to let loose a few emotionally numb details. Not about the $2 million in allegedly misappropriated funds, or her signature on any suspicious documents — but about Tom's mental state over the last few years. And I guess I'm just going to make a list of the things that Erika reveals because they are so all over the place, but please know that she does so via a lot of nodding, husking, and slowly lounging further and further down into her chair… which, as I'd think anyone would have learned from Denise Richards last year, is not an incredibly trustworthy look:
After Kyle asks about Tom not driving himself to work for the last few years, Erika slowly reveals that in the car accident from three years ago where she said Tom broke his ankle, he actually…
Drove off a cliff, broke his ankle, broke his shoulder, broke his clavicle, was ejected from the car, was unconscious for 12 hours, and suffered brain damage.
The last bit is part of the larger narrative in play at the dinner table that Tom has been losing cognitive function over the last several years, which also happens to be part of his legal strategy.
And as for the "drove off a cliff" and "was ejected from the car" bits, details are sparse. Erika's not really saying if Tom went through the windshield, or just kind of… fell out of the car. And she says that she found him unconscious… but also, that he called her after he'd been missing all day, during which time she assumed he "was just with some other woman."
Kyle gasps, "What woman did you think he was with?" Erika practically drools out: "I don't know, you can take your pick."
Erika intimates that Tom has had many affairs and cheated on her for many years, which she discovered when she was inspired to go through his phone after Yolanda divorced David Foster. "It was text messages, it was pictures, it felt like it was years' long," she says.
"Why would you not leave if you knew he was cheating on you?" Kyle asks. "Where am I going?" Erika drawls. "Where am I going…"
So. That was a lot! And also nothing. It doesn't give "people" any of the answers they're actually curious about, but Tom driving off a cliff and having affairs certainly paints a different picture of the man who was always described to us in past seasons. As Kyle says in her testimonial, "Tom was very much the one in charge, controlling everything — he supported her career and her dreams, and that was the price she had to pay."
But the challenging part of receiving all of this information now is the knowledge that apparently other people also had to pay for Tom's behavior. And got nothing in return. If Erika's tortured relationship with Tom was at least somewhat mutual, it was in part because Tom was a parasite to others. And even if that's not Erika's fault, she benefitted from it. It's the definition of privilege, which I think is at the root of "people's" suspicions toward Erika: her complete resistance to acknowledging that other people have been greatly harmed by her privilege….
But, for now, I guess acknowledging that Tom once drove off a cliff and she never told anybody about it will have to do. I think Sutton says it best, as her own skepticism seems to be growing within the confines of her testimonial green screen: "This divorce is something out of a movie: part horror film, part film noir. And it's a movie I wouldn't want a starring role in, that's for sure." See you back here next week for Erika's continued close-up.