‘Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’ Returns for a Brisk Walk Out of the Mormon Church

Fred Hayes/Bravo
Fred Hayes/Bravo

Oh! Feel that? There’s a nip in the air, which means it’s time to meet our friends for another wild and winding journey through the snow-capped mountains of Utah. And by “friends,” I obviously mean the housewives of Salt Lake City.

Three seasons in, Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City has already provided so much explosive drama that it makes the early seasons of other franchises look like a PBS Kids show. Well, except for our ladies over in Potomac. There’s something special in the water there, and I don’t mean the radioactive river.

And yet, after a second season that managed to stretch from September 2021 to March 2022—with producers drawing out the drama of Jen Shah’s arrest with all the speed of a German expressionist film—these Latter-Day Ladies had us exhausted. Even longtime Housewives devotees like yours truly found themselves fast-forwarding through last season’s repetitive reunion.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>(From left:) Whitney Rose, Lisa Barlow, Jen Shah, Meredith Marks, Heather Gay.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Chris Haston/Bravo</div>

(From left:) Whitney Rose, Lisa Barlow, Jen Shah, Meredith Marks, Heather Gay.

Chris Haston/Bravo

But there’s nothing like stepping back into that fresh mountain air after some time away. And this time, RHOSLC is unencumbered by the pressure of its first two seasons. It’s no longer a baby franchise, experimenting with production choices and a slightly too opportunistic cast. It also doesn’t buckle under the weight of a landmark television event like Jen Shah’s on-camera arrest, which we all knew was coming but waited months to watch play out. Now we get to sit back and enjoy this cast of wackadoodle characters just doing their thing. To no one’s surprise, they’re naturals.

The Salt Lake City wives are also down two women, the smallest the cast has been so far. They’ve lost Mary Cosby, who spent last season trapped in her dollhouse of a home, wandering around her many closets, fondling dusty couture. There’s also no Jennie Nguyen, who was swiftly axed after last season completed filming ensconced in scandal: She had posted racist memes, photos, and statements to her Facebook page after the 2020 murder of George Floyd. While Nguyen had been a promising addition up until these vile revelations came to light, the leaner cast is much appreciated—though who among us won’t miss Mary Cosby’s baseless accusations of “hospital smell” and alleged cult leader status?

Tonight’s premiere began with a montage of raw confessional footage from the first season, where all the women were shown praising one another, stitched together with clips from this season of them screaming and fighting. God, it’s good to be back! But that’s not the only editing trickery at play. We’re soon made to believe that now-mortal enemies Meredith Marks and Lisa Barlow are gathering to have lunch after Lisa, in a blind rage, accused Meredith of all but not limited to: sleeping with half of New York, having a family of posers, being married to a deadbeat husband, and about one million other hilariously debasing things.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. We should know resolution never comes easily. Lisa is actually sipping margaritas with Heather Gay, in front of a sign that says “Cowgirls are Forever.” What was not forever, unfortunately, is Meredith and Lisa’s best friendship; Meredith cannot seem to simply let Lisa’s Tennessee Williams-esque rage monologue go.

“I’m still trying to figure out where I stand,” Meredith says. If she were smart, she’d let Lisa’s words roll off of her and capitalize with some “Garbage Trash Whore” t-shirts, as Jen recommends. I’d pay up to $30 to drink from a mug that says “Fake Meredith is a piece of shit.”

Explosive ‘Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’ Premiere Teases Jen Shah Drama: ‘Who Tipped Off the Feds?’

We then get to catch up with Whitney Wild Iris & Beau Rose, somewhere in deep space, where she has found herself after performing a self-guided, meditative sound bath. Harshing her vibe is her daughter, Bobbie, who is making a pros and cons list “about boys,” broadly. As if called down from the mountains like a love witch herself, hearing someone needed boy advice, Utah’s biggest flirt Heather Gay swoops through the door and tags in to help with her cousin’s daughter. She will later turn this into a tight 15 for a small tour of comedy clubs along the west coast, or so I assume.

Heather moves down Bobbie’s list of cons, crossing them out one by one as zingers fly from her perfectly pulled and plumped lips, courtesy of her founder’s discount at Beauty Lab + Laser. “It’s going to be hard to get any cons from me,” Heather says, pulling up a chair like she’s in the Situation Room. A magic marker line through “Dresses well” and “Always listens to what I say” and Heather quickly brings Bobbie Rose back to Earth. Sometimes, you gotta take what you can get. “‘Not attractive,’” Heather says, reading one of the cons. “Ugly sex is going to change your life. Let’s switch that one too.”

When the adults move downstairs, Whitney tells Heather that she’s been considering taking the final step to leave the Mormon Church for good. That last hurdle? Entering her name into a database on Quitmormon dot com—a very real site that helps members leave the church without unwanted hassle from its leaders. After three years in the limelight, Whitney came to recognize the church’s misdeeds. Finally, she’s decided to leave…with the encouragement from her energy healer, who looks like Meghan Trainor slapped on a Wynona Judd wig, naturally.

The producers are clearly teeing up Whitney and Heather’s continued drama with the church as one of the season’s main storylines. Heather’s reluctance to leave the church entirely, at the risk of alienating the devout half of her family, continues to weigh on her mind, even if she’s already got one foot out the door.

“I’m doing this for Bobbie and Brooks, so that they don’t fall into my cycle of limited beliefs, not being good enough, and not being heard,” Whitney tells Heather of her reason to renounce her faith.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Fred Hayes/Bravo</div>
Fred Hayes/Bravo

But in her confessional, Heather reveals that she’s still working through her own relationship with the church and how it contends with her family dynamic. “I’ve done a lot of shitty things to Mormonism,” she says. “I’ve hurt my family in so many ways that I feel like [leaving] would be the final knife in their back, and I’m not there yet.” Thus far, Heather has been entirely supportive of her cousin’s choice to leave the church, but it doesn’t take fresh LASIK to see the crackle of envious tension that lies beneath their family dynamic.

Meanwhile, with Jen still awaiting trial, the dust has finally settled for a moment at the downsized Shah Chalet. Seeing her putter around her kitchen, trying to make sense of a newfangled mystery contraption like a single-cup Keurig machine, might be harrowing, but watching the invisible countdown clock tick while she and her husband Sharrieff relish their time together is heartbreaking. Jen may very well be guilty—by now, we know she’s pled as much, though at this point in filming, she’s maintaining her innocence—but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch a couple that loves each other this much silently acknowledge what they know is coming. Sorry, I have a heart!

Seeing Sharrieff keep a stoic front around his wife is remarkable, but watching the wall come down for a moment later in the episode was arguably more compelling than any of the premiere’s other dramas. “The one thing that can bring me to tears almost instantly is thinking of life without my wife by my side,” he says. Kid you not, I’m crying again just thinking about it. The way his voice breaks while he says, “That’s hard to stomach” is the kind of palpable love that can’t be performed. Jen’s money may have been fraudulent, but the couple’s love would hold up against any FTC (Fondness and Tenderness Commission) investigation.

Andy Cohen Grills Alleged Fraudster Jen Shah in Tense ‘Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’ Reunion Finale

The remainder of the episode repeats a trope we’ve seen 16 times too many on Housewives: a flapper-themed party, where everyone’s got beef with someone else. Still, is there any better sight than a Housewife walking into a party and being spotted by another Housewife they’re feuding with from across the room? Of course not. It just doesn’t make for much to note. Heather’s continuing her quest for the biggest and burliest suitor in the room; Meredith’s words are slurring to the point where I’m certain she’s a medical anomaly; and everywhere we look, we’re threatened with the crippling sight of another felt fedora.

The premiere petered out with a strange, sloppy apology from Lisa Barlow. Not to Meredith, of course, for calling her a garbage whore who slept with half of New York who has a family that poses. But to Meredith’s husband Seth, for saying he changes jobs every five minutes. In classic Barlow fashion—and this is the mark of any good Housewife—she makes her apology all about herself. It’s really a masterclass in How to Not Take Responsibility. They haven’t given any Presidential Medals of Honor to Housewives yet. but I have a feeling one is waiting in the wings for Lisa Barlow; the damn engraving machine is just on the fritz again.

The premiere may have been a slow start for some, but it’s exactly what we needed after last season’s bombshell opener. Pacing is an important skill that all Housewives franchises must learn. Thankfully, someone finally figured out that these women don’t need to be sprinting right out of the gate.

A softer start to what will surely stretch well into the new year is exactly what this show will benefit from. After 50 episodes, these women have proven that they’re more than capable of creating urgent television, must-see moments, and indelible memes. Now they can be allowed to set the tone for themselves. With Jen Shah’s slow-burn court drama, Whitney and Heather’s impending fallout, and Lisa and Meredith’s continued vocal-fry battle royale, it’s not hard to see that there’s a stacked season ahead, even with a smaller cast. The most historic Housewives seasons have all had humble beginnings, anyway. Throw five women, some alcohol, a couple of bobby pins, 200 CCs of Botox, and a few ugly tracksuits into a lawless state like Utah, and you’re bound to capture some magic eventually.

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