By the fourth episode of any Real Housewives season, you start to gain a sense of where that franchise is headed. At this point, any minor issue between the housewives will most likely be responsible for the massive blowouts that happen later on.
For a new franchise’s first season, that trajectory is a little harder to predict. It takes more time to get to know the women and the unique dynamics within their group. But we didn’t have that problem with Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. Instead, we rang in the premiere episode with an almost theatrical fight between housewives Jen Shah and Mary Cosby.
In the past, Mary said “it smells like hospital in here” to Jen, whose aunt recently had both her legs amputated. During their argument, Mary promptly flip-flops between claims. At first, she denies the comment was aimed at Jen. Only when their friend Keri joins in and confirms Mary was making a jab at Jen does Mary own up to it.
Thanks to Hospital-gate, I have a feeling Jen and Mary’s feud will be the backbone of this season. The issue became less about the hospital comment itself and has now morphed into Jen’s disdain for any of the housewives fraternizing with Mary. In a franchise’s first season, I usually expect feuds like these to have a slow buildup. RHOSLC has virtually none of that buffer — we dropped right into the action.
In her opening tagline, Jen deems herself “queen bee and MVP.” And so far, she’s proving to be the most valuable when it comes to concocting drama. In the latest episode, Jen pulls housewife Meredith Marks aside, letting her know how betrayed she feels about her growing friendship with Mary. Jen’s all-or-nothing philosophy is responsible for most of the tension between this cast. And when she tells housewife Lisa Barlow “you can either be on my side, or not on my side,” I was immediately transported back to the toxic, clingy friendships I had in high school.
I can’t downplay Mary’s part in all of this, though. While Jen sports her emotions upfront, Mary is more sly and strategic. She also has a backstory I can’t get enough of — her unconventional marriage to her step-grandfather has come up quite a bit, and that’s only half of her story. But Mary’s atypical union was Jen’s closing argument at this consequential 1920s party.
Rather loudly, Jen remarks, “You’re gonna go with Mary, who fucked her grandfather?” And obviously, everyone — including Mary — hears it.
Was the delivery harsh? Absolutely. Was housewife Whitney Rose’s roaring ’20s-themed party the appropriate venue for such a comment? Probably not. But was Jen wrong? Technically, no. She could’ve thrown in the word “step” before grandfather for the sake of accuracy, but it would’ve still been in poor taste, especially since Mary heard it in a conversation that she wasn’t even a part of.
If it weren’t for this incessant feud between Mary and Jen, I’m not sure how successful the new franchise would be. Jen’s tearful exit from this 1920s party alone, when she whisks the train of her elegant gown out of the doorway right before it shuts, gave me more than the veteran Real Housewives franchises have. At that moment, it felt like RHOSLC became performance art. Jen’s dramatics were refreshing. They even topped a franchise I hold dear to my heart, Real Housewives of New York City. In RHONY’s latest season, I felt like I was just watching the women get obliterated and argue with each other in a variety of locations.
Mary’s oddly themed “Met Gala” luncheon in the latest episode was her way of extending an olive branch to Jen. She even gifts each housewife a pair of Louis Vuitton AirPods so they can “hear each other” better. Sadly, Mary doesn’t feel heard by Jen, who ceases to apologize for her pointed remarks about Mary’s marriage. The other housewives are growing on me, but I don’t think they could carry the franchise without this feud. To find a dynamic like this so early on will help cement RHOSLC’s icon status.
The episode ends with a Real Housewives rite of passage: the show’s first cliffhanger. And to no surprise, it’s a standoff between Mary and Jen. As I took in the stunning views of the Utah mountains with a “to be continued” text overlay, it became clear these two are the lifeline of the show.
If you look back at the premieres of iconic Real Housewives franchises such as Orange County and New York City, the women are filmed one-on-one and you can’t get a feel of the group dynamic. Of course, with time, those franchises turned into something explosive and drama-filled. But the series as a whole has come a long way since then. If RHOSLC is outshining its elders this early on, then I can’t wait for what’s coming next.