Real Housewives of New Jersey: Stripped Bare

On last night's episode we saw two people leave. One physically left the show, the other finally cut the tether to the real, rational world and floated up into the New Jersey sky and almost disappeared. Almost.

Do you remember that last week we left off with a CLIFFHANGER? It's true. John Lithgow was going to shoot Janine Turner and Michael Rooker was like "Nooooooo" but he was still mad about his wife dying in the beginning so he kind of wanted to kill Sylvester Stallone. Oh and then Caroline Goodall got shot and so did the old guy and Leon got impaled on a stalactite. It was so thrilling! Hm? What's that? I'm confusing the Real Housewives of New Jersey cliffhanger with Renny Harlin's 1993 rock-'em sock-'em Rockies action picture Cliffhanger? Oh. What a disappointment. Um. You should just fake sick from work and go rent that movie this afternoon instead of reading about this miserable pile of hairless cat feces that Bravo has deemed a show. But I know you won't. So let's go. Let's talk about the real cliffhanger.

Last week Dina invited Danielle to an extreme yoga studio/nighttime bar called Chakra so she could finally break up with her. Theirs had been a contentious relationship — Dina had tried to be diplomatic about the bug-fingered Danielle, but Danielle kept acting nutso because she craves camera time like John Lithgow craves suitcases full of money. So Dina had had enough. She told Danielle that it wasn't about her, that Dina just needed to do things for herself. She told Danielle that it wasn't about the past, it was about the present and the future. Danielle wasn't hearing any of this. Dina accused her of playing the victim. Danielle's antennae twirled with rage and she said "I'm not playing the victim, you're just all conspiring against me and are always awful to me and trying to kill me! I'm not playing the victim!" Dina just kind of sighed and realized that talking to Danielle was like dancing about architecture and then falling down while dancing and getting run over by Angelina Jolie's VW Bug. (DEEP REFERENCE.) It was just entirely pointless. Dina blinked at Danielle a few times and then said peace and left Danielle sitting there, her exoskeleton trembling with rage but also with delight. You see everyone in the hardcore yoga nightclub had turned to stare and with those magnetic eye rays, Danielle felt energized. She needed to keep this high. So she called Scraps/Carrie Fisher.

Scraps had been waiting in his 1982 Buick Skylark in the parking lot, stroking a pistol and psyching himself up to run in there at any minute and just start blasting. But the call hadn't come. He tried to feel disappointed — he wanted to have gangster blood lust — but he couldn't. He just felt relieved. He wouldn't have to reveal his wimpy secret. Not this night, at least. Eventually Danielle did call and told him to come in, so he and Joey Two-Tones went to go comfort Danielle on her banquette of misery and the three of them felt safe and satisfied in their persecution. Life was so hard on them. They had done nothing to deserve such pain, but here it was. Here was something.

Eventually Danielle collected herself and decided that she needed some girl friend time. She wasn't quite done painting a picture of the Chakra Showdown, and Scraps and Joey Two-Tones were off pretending to cheat at the track, so she called up her galpal Debbie Reynolds and told her to meet her for dinner and to bring reinforcements. Reinforcements arrived in the form of various parochial school admissions secretaries and dental receptionists named Donna. They all kinda sat there, dumpy and insecure in front of the cameras, while the glorious Danielle Staub told her tale of Dina. Of course she totally embellished it and all the Donnas' eyes grew wide and they couldn't believe that someone would be so mean to this magical person who was on television. I'd never be mean to her, all the Donnas thought. She's on TV! Danielle liked this. She liked the Carrie Bradshaw-esque camaraderie of having a group of friends whose sole purpose in life is to indulge the protagonist. It felt good. Debbie Reynolds stared hard and cold at Danielle across the table, the ancient wheel works in her brain lurching into terrible motion. She was jealous. She had a plan.

It wasn't some brilliant plan. Basically her plan was to go over to Jacqueline's house (she always keeps bacon in her pocket because she knows Jacqueline likes it) and try to play two sides. Jacqueline welcomed Debbie in because, yes, she could smell the delicious, tantalizing bacon, but also because she likes to give people the benefit of the doubt. If Debbie is friends with Danielle, fine. As long as Debbie doesn't bring Danielle to her house, Jacqueline tries not to care. So the two women went to the kitchen to discuss, oh, many things, but yeah, sure, fuck it, we all give up, mostly to discuss Danielle. Jacqueline just wanted Debbie to know, IF they were going to be friends, that Danielle is a vicious hose monster who is only friends with Debbie so she can meet rich mens. That's all! Jacqueline's not getting involved. She's just telling Debbie that her meal ticket onto the show and her only friend since Eddie left is, in fact, the Jersey Devil. Debbie frowned her ancient, wrinkly frown and looked hard at Jacqueline. She didn't want to risk not agreeing with Jacqueline, because Jacqueline is also on this show. But if she said something bad about Danielle, well... Oh wait! There were no consequences there! It wasn't like she was being filmed or anything! Ha ha, no. There would never be any record of what she said, there was no camera crew hovering over her. So she decided to agree with Jacqueline, to nod in assent as Jacqueline laid out her weary case against Bugarella.

DEBBIE THIS WAS SO STUPID OF YOU. Because there are cameras trained on you! And they record both noise and light! Like, for example, they recorded you when you told Danielle to call the police, the National Guard, the Royal Airsmen, the French Legionnaires on Jacqueline's daughter Bouffant when she was sending nasty sexts to Danielle. So when you said to Jacqueline last night that you "told Danielle just to let it go" about the texts, the television editors at the awful shark-circled Bravo headquarters in Corpus Christie were able to splice in a clip of you doing EXPRESSLY NOT THAT. Debbie Reynolds! You've been in show business for three hundred and sixty-eight years, and you still don't know that something you say on camera can be played back at a later date to prove, in embarrassing fashion, that you are a filthy friend-liar? This is sad, Debbie Reynolds. This is no good, Debbie Reynolds. Sigh. Ugh. Sugh.

So that was that. Debbie Reynolds is a fishy liar. This is not terribly surprising. You know what else is not terribly surprising? That Bouffant is a trundling disaster of a teenager. Ohhhhh god isn't she the worst??? Don't you just hate her in a way that is very special and different than all your other hate? If my hate for Bouffant was a comic in my 300+ Archie Comics collection (this is a thing that actually exists in my life, please kill me) it would be the one where Casey Kasem is there and Archie kisses Big Ethel. Meaning my hate for Bouffant would be the most special prize in the whole collection! That is how much I profoundly do not like Bouffant. Why do I not like her? Mostly because she's so confused about who she is. Which, OK, all teenagers are confused about who they are, but most teenagers aren't so insanely terrible about it. Do you know who Bouffant thinks she is? Bouffant thinks she is a sassy and saucy child of privilege whom the camera loves. Bouffant thinks she has a hot-bot boyfriend and is an independent young Hills type woman who wears floppy hats and lazily texts on her LazyPhone™ and we're all sort of quietly jealous because of her youth and ease and beauty and possibility. These are things that someone named Bouffant thinks about herself, so she acts like a jerky brat and a bratty jerk all the live long day. Just allllll day long she is being exasperated and whatever with her mother and kind stepfather. It's insufferable.

Last night's Bouffant storyline (why are you giving her storylines, Bravo? it is just encouraging this terrible, awful, no good behavior) was all about her boyfriend, Nickels, and how no one likes him. Nobody likes poor Nickels, why doesn't he just go eat worms, is basically the sentiment. Bouffant doesn't get this because to her, Nickels is perfect. And, I must say, Nickels is not an ugly young man! He isn't, really. Bouffant could do a lot worse. I mean, Bouffant could be dating Chris Manzo. HA HA, burn. But yeah, Nickels is just fine, but he's older and Bouffant is probablyyyy living with him and Papa Jacqui doesn't like that. So there was a plan afoot among Papa Jacqui and the other men to "initiate" poor Nickels into the Jersey Bro fold by having him come over for poker. First everyone had to go to Old Man Dooley's farm and ride Caroline or something, and Nickels just kinda shuffled around and kicked at dirt while Bouffant adjusted her floppy hat and sighed at her mother. (Here's a question about that scene: CJ, Jacqueline's 7 year old son. Um, am I crazy or did he not exist last season?) It was boring and silly, but it served to get the poker plan in play. Later on, Papa Jacqui and Albie — radiant honeysuckle alpha fox — went to the meats store to buy various meats and talk about Meats Nickels. They figured they'd shoot him, two in the back of the head, and bury him out under Caroline's Fuckin' Gazebo. This sounded like a plan. So they paid, in cash, for 543 dollars worth of meats and went on their merry way. Nickels lay somewhere, unsuspecting.

Finally it was time for the big poker game. All the gentlemen were there. Papa Jacqui, looking stern and expectant. Teresa's husband Bulldawg, hulking red squat of a man that he is. Albie, borne on a lion, orgasmic sun rays emanating from his chiseled physique, the Johnny Weissmuller of Bergen County. And you know who else was there? Remember Danielle's old boyfriend Dogfarts who she dated last season? (I used to call him Stillwell Angel.) Well, Dogfarts was there. Dogfarts likes to pretend that he's TWENTY-SIX YEARS OLD, when he is cleeeeearly at least in his mid-30s. There is no way that I am one terrible, crooked, withered year older than him. This cannot be. Also, wasn't he 26 last season? Shouldn't he be 27? Anyway, he was there and there was some sorta incident that had to do with a sex tape. Yeah guys, we're going there. The Real Houseweevils of New Jersey are walking into sex tape land. Danielle apparently had one with Dogfarts, who had secretly set up cameras and taped their horrible lovemaking, and then Dogfarts had been trying to sell it or something, so Danielle took him to court. Jacqueline was concerned about this. She shared her concern with Teresa, who was over to help her prepare food for all the men (because this is what women do, young female audience). Teresa shrugged her shoulders and raised her eyebrows (they disappeared into her nearby hairline) and she said, "He's a young guy, that's what young guys do." Meaning that young guys just, y'know, set up secret cameras to tape wretched bug mating and then try to sell it on the internet machine. Like, whatevuh. So what? Who cayuhs? Which is terrible reasoning Teresa! That is not what young men do! And even so, Dogfarts isn't that young! Jason and the Blarghonauts, Teresa! You're a monster!

Jacqueline pulled Dogfarts out of the poker room and into the little pantry to discuss the sex tape matter with him, because that's what one does in classy social situations, and he claimed that Danielle had filmed herself doing things to herself, and sent them to him. Then she later dropped the court case because she had no case, because she had sent him the tape. Jacqueline nodded at this and Dogfarts said "Well, I'm gonna get back to the game... You coming?" Jacqueline shook her head. "No I'm just gonna stand here for a while." So Dogfarts slowly backed out and closed the pantry door, leaving Jacqueline in the dark, surrounded by boxes of food.

Back at poker, the men were hatching AN HILARIOUS plan. They had found some awful vinegar wine that someone had made at home and they were going to trick Nickels into drinking it when he got there. Oh yeah, Nickels was kind of late. So yeah, they were going to trick him and laugh and cheer as the vinegar wine curdled his insides and his spleen fell out of his butt and he fell over dead. Then they'd bury him out under Caroline's Doin' It Porch Swing. All they needed was for him to show up. Then, with the sound of a baked stuffed potato falling onto a hot sidewalk, Bouffant showed up, dragging Nickels behind her. Nickels warily entered the poker room and sat down. The men handed him the forbidden poison wine. "Here, drink this..." Albie said, his once golden and shiny features turning to a strange, dark, alluring menace. Nickels was so scared, he was so so scared. But he didn't have a choice. He didn't want to look like a coward in front of the guys. Plus, Bulldawg was pointing a large revolver at him. So he gulped it down and all the guys hooted and laughed and slapped him on the back and that was it. That's all the initiation was. Just drink the stink-wine, and you're in. That's all. Nothing scary. No blood. "Ha ha, drink the smelly stink-wine, and then we love you." They're simple and unexpectedly kind folk, these Jersey men.

While amity and genteel calamity were going on in the poker room, murderous hell was breaking loose out in the kitchen. Teresa was upstairs shaving and Jacqueline had decided to leave the pantry and watch the boys on her Romper Room magic mirror. It was some kind of baby monitor, but it was very fancy. So she was spying on them with her hidden camera — is she really that different from Dogfarts or any other "young" man in that regard? — and then, with the sound of taco shells crumbling, Bouffant slouched in and was all "What are you dooiinnggg. Gawd mawm, gawd. Mawm. Gawd." And then the two of them got into some terrible bicker about nothing that means anything ever and Teresa stormed down, shaving cream all over her face, and said "You girls wanna keep it the fuck down, I got work in an hour." So Bouffant stormed off, crashing through the poker room door, and sat down in a chair. This was mortifying for poor Nickels. See it was supposed to be just the guys and then here was his orangutan girlfriend busting in and acting silly. Papa Jacqui tried to quell the situation by putting his thumb on her lips and telling her to stop talking — this is actually what he did, in the most Dada moment of the episode — but that didn't work. Jacqueline came in and they started fighting and Bouffant was saying nasty things to her mother in front of guests and finally Jacqueline grabbed her by her neck-hock and forced her out. She kicked Bouffant out of the house. "Well that's a new record," Bouffant said, trying to sound clever and above-it-all or something. Urgh. Meanwhile back at poker, poor Nickels was just trying to hide behind his cards and was wondering what he had done in a previous life to be reincarnated as a spoiled brat's chew toy. To his credit, he stayed. He played poker. There was laughing. The stink-wine flowed like, uh, regular wine. He was in.

That was most of the episode. We found out toward the end that Dina has decided to leave us. Yeah, how about that, huh? She was too sane for this show. She claims that Danielle was the case, that she just couldn't deal with being forced to hang out with her. Which makes sense, fine. Her husband never wanted to be on the show anyway, and she took her daughter off, so why was she really bothering. Good for her, I say. We'll miss you, Dina! You were a voice of reason.

Oh. Before I go. One last thing happened last night that we should maybe touch on. Danielle had a stripper party.

The lights were low as always at the Tit-For-Tat, exit 17 off the Turnpike, when Danielle and her friends (Debbie Reynolds and the Donnas) strutted into the joint, ready to get stripper pole lessons. Because they are creepy demon people, Scraps and Joey Two-Tones were there to watch. Or maybe they'd just happened to be there when the girls showed up. Either one is plausible. Awful, but plausible. So whatever, they were watching and some really horrifying stripper girls were on hand to spot as the old ladies hoisted themselves up on the poles and gave themselves back injuries. Well, see, the Donnas didn't go on. Because the Donnas just aren't like that. At their luncheon earlier, Danielle had made some horrible reference to being wild "in the boudoir" and it was just way too much, too soon and the Donnas all looked extremely uncomfortable. But, again, Danielle is on TV, so they went along with it. And they went along to the stripper class, but they weren't about to go twirling on the pole. They have children, after all. Debbie Reynolds also has a child — remember her little Scottie Pippin son that is good friends with Agony Manzo — but she don't care. Debbie Reynolds is here to win. So she was the first to go lurching up onto that pole and... I don't...

It's amazing that I've been able to type all this claptrap considering that I am blind. Yeah, I went blind last night at the moment when Debbie Reynolds flung herself at the stripper pole and we all got a peek at her butt. Yes, we saw her "butt crack." We'd seen Danielle's earlier at a lingerie party that she'd arranged for herself so the Donnas could stand by uncomfortably and pretend to be having fun, so that was already enough to make us need bifocals all of a sudden. (Just like Danielle has!) But Debbie's butt... I don't think any of us were prepared. Ohhhh now, not that it was So Gross because it's An Old Lady's Ass. That's not why. She's in fine shape for being 112. No I went blind because it as just so embarrassing. One of the strippers actually walked over and manually pulled Debbie's pantaloons up so her poop line wasn't showing anymore. There's something to be said for dignity coming with age, and I just... It was undignified. It was like watching an old koala bear inadvertently get caught masturbating. It just shouldn't have happened. We probably felt worse watching it than she did. Our souls are sick in this country. And Debbie Reynold's stripper butt is emblematic proof. Oh well. What can you do.

Next up on the pole was Danielle. Danielle, as we all know, used to be a professional stripper "back in the '80s." Ohhhh. I'm not sure that there is in this world, at least in the strange world of my mind, a better phrase, a more pleasing invocation of old and dusty spirits, than "back in the '80s." I mean, it's really terrific. And when it's said by a grizzled bug woman and she's talking about being a stripper? Well, my heart just does backflips. Danielle was a stripper, back in the '80s. Oh mercy yes. Well, OK, she was really more "burlesque," she claims, but whatever. Nothing was classier back in the '80s. That's not how history's cookie crumbled, Danielle. So she was a low-down, big-haired stripper back in the '80s and she wanted the Donnas (and Debbie, she supposed, though she was really getting sick of her individualism) to see it and be in awe. Because, you know, stripping is empowering for women. So very empowering, that writhing nude while sweaty money is literally thrown at you. This was Danielle's moment to shine in this episode and she wrapped a wiry leg around that pole and went to town. Scraps over there in the corner with Joey Two-Tones felt his pacemaker spark and fizzle, but he did not care. He threw a pile of Operation money in her general direction and Danielle could feel herself flashing back. There it was, almost there. Teasing at the edges. She just needed to dance a little more. "Present... and entice," she said, or something like that, something better than that, it was just some very technical term for how to strip. She danced more. Her eyes darkened. She was going back. She was almost there. She danced. She felt money rain down on her hair, and with a drone, with the sound of time's great and terrible vuvuzela, she was back. She had traveled back twenty-five years.

It was 1985 and Danielle was the disco stripper coke queen of the world, her hair big and permed and heavenly, her spangled purple one piece bathingsuit firm against her wonderful body. It was nighttime and November and she realized that it was the night that Scraps got put away, the night that Sandy disappeared. And she realized she still had time. That she could fix it all. She could see the crowd, younger, different, but still as hungry. She could see the cocktail waitresses making their rounds, and she guessed it was about 11 o'clock, the busy shift, and she knew she still had time. She could change it, she could save them all, save herself. She could tell them all about the awful, cynical future. She could pin down this place, this time, and make it stay forever. But for now she needed to dance. The groan of a guitar began on the blaring speakers and the light focused on her and she could hear them pounding the bar, pounding the tables, chanting, cheering, calling her name, this was her moment. She stepped out into the light, young and free and about to burst...

And then she was hearing Debbie's voice, all squawky and dreadful. "Danielle? Danielle? Danielle honey, you fell down." And Danielle slowly opened her eyes and looked around and she was just in the afternoon Tit-For-Tat, Scraps' worried, aged face hovering over her. Her bones felt tired. She knew she was old again. That all those years had happened. That the '90s had gotten in the way.

And she knew that the Donnas weren't going to spend time with her after this. This was all too much. Fainting in strip clubs. The Donnas couldn't handle it, they didn't have the energy. They did, after all, have their own lives to tend to. Their own Donna loves, their own Donna passions, their own Donna things, filling up all the empty room in this lonely spinning world.