Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 5, Episode 19 of Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New Jersey."
... And just like that pesky herpes flare-up that your friend claims she got from "sharing drinks in college," the reunion is back!
The entire cast plus the Joes and Rosie are present, and the stress of lobbing insults at each other looks like it's starting to take a toll. Melissa's no longer capable of smiling and Caroline's face is continuing its quest to escape down to her neck. Kathy's developed a blood clot from sitting for so long and her legs are swelling up like Sunday dinner sausage. Joe Gorga has lost a button on his shirt, and we're treated to a tiny peek at his delicately masculine physique.
To capitalize on everyone's obvious irritation, Bravo rolls a clip of all the nasty names they've called each other this season. Cue "douche bags, poopy-head, whore whore, 'fat girls are blowjob queens', Horsey Face, evil step-sister, happy witch, sociopath, butchie boys and Josephine." And, since Kathy is known for her wildly inventive imagination, she also throws in "jerk" for good measure.
Andy asks Teresa if she knows what "sociopath" means now, and true to form she has no idea (the Internet tells me that sociopaths tend toward self-deception). Then, she takes the opportunity to say that Melissa deserves to be called Mr. Ed from here to eternity for all the nasty things she's called Joe Giudice: namely, a cheater. Melissa apologizes, and though her mouth says she has no proof that he's a scumbag, her eyes don't look so sure. After his little phone convo at See You Next Tuesday Vineyards last year, he's given us all the evidence we need anyway.
Joe Giudice explains that though he said c*nt last season, he's also "never said it before." Teresa further clarifies that since he didn't say it to her face, it doesn't matter. Though Andy could have a field day with this idiocy, he decides to drop it and move on. Guess he's not into kicking a dumb horse.
Next, we flash back to the explosion of emotion that was Arizona. Rosie says it was a "life-changing" retreat that allowed her to finally quit smoking and face a lot of her self-esteem demons. Then, there's kisses all around and a real face-orgy between Rosie and Joe Giudice, who I've decided is her male alter-ego. "What did we give Rosie during the break!?" a very perplexed Andy says, sweating as he visualizes the ratings plummeting with every move that doesn't require EMS to step in. At this point, if anyone flips a table it'll be because Rosie decides she's giving up clam bakes and is ready for a sausage-fest.
Speaking of people who are confused about how they feel in their pants, it's time to talk about Joe Gorga and Joe Giudice's confusing relationship. Things start off on a positive note, with Joe Gorga explaining that Joe Giudice often is just stuck in the middle of the mess Teresa has made. I think he's attempting to absolve Joe Giudice of some guilt, but it's backfiring because now he's getting very defensive of his sister. Joe Gorga comes right out and says he still staunchly believes that Teresa is behind all the drama, and Joe Giudice says they are both being "jackasses."
Then, he says she never started anything; rather, it's all been manufactured by "Johnny the Greek and you got this friggin' Penelope Cruz or whatever her name is ... Penny. So now you got Penelope coming in." Watching him struggle to connect his thoughts is so sensationally depressing that Teresa is starting to look like Einstein's protegee. (You know what they say: Confusing heads of hair might think alike).
Kathy makes a really insightful comment about Teresa ("in spreading the poison, you're as guilty as the person who made it"), but since nobody acknowledges that Kathy exists, it's totally ignored. In fact, at this point I'm not sure if anyone at the reunion even remembers that she's there. Maybe she's like a dead person that only those of us with a sixth sense can see? It would certainly explain the attendance at her cannoli party.
Melissa and Joe Gorga try to make the point that Teresa didn't need to air their dirty laundry on live TV, but this time Teresa's actually got the upper hand. Finally, she does something I wish they'd do more often: break that fourth wall and discuss the fact that they are on a reality TV show, and as such can pick and choose what happens in front of the cameras.
She reminds them that within four hours of their first day filming, Joe Gorga threw that terrible tantrum at the christening. "I felt like you guys came on the show to take me down and make me feel like the villain."
Joe Gorga explains that for two years, Teresa cut him out of the life. "I heard you finally signed the contract that day. How I felt was that you wanted nothing to do with me, but then when the cameras were on ... you faked it." Joe says maybe he didn't get on the show to get fame -- maybe he got on it to get close to his sister. Joe says that his parents will no longer film with him, and he not-so-subtly blames Teresa for that, too.
Since they're not getting anywhere, Rosie the Riveter jumps in to give everyone's nuts a good tightening. "Admit your part, Tre," she begs her cousin. "Move on with it!"
Though it seems like a good fight is brewing, Andy moves on. He asks Caroline if she was stunned by her husband's admission to the ass whisperer in Arizona. She says that her father-in-law never laid a hand on the kids, but that his punishments were "extreme." For instance, if Albert was asked to shovel the snow and it didn't happen immediately, he was handed a tablespoon and told to get working. "Can that be construed as abuse? Yes it can, but the love could be just as big. It was a see-saw," Caroline says vehemently.
To this day, they don't know what caused Albert's dad's death, but Caroline gets very angry when anyone suggests that it was in any way mob-related. Her frustration almost moves her to tears, but she keeps it together. "It is certainly suspect, the facts are the facts -- but I think that'd be the worst part of my life if I ever found out. I don't want to know."
Andy notes that this is one of the first times he's seen Caroline shirk the truth, but true to form she has a damn good response. She explains that on her birthday, the cops came to her door at 4:30 in the morning. Albert, her then-fiance, went out and picked up her birthday present and apologized for ruining her day. "I don't want to go back there," Caroline says angrily. It's an incredibly interesting and devastating window into her world, and suddenly, something is quite obvious: we really know nothing about this reality TV family's reality.
Perhaps the version of the Manzos we see every Sunday -- thick-as-thieves, our-biggest-problem-is-our-quirky-sister's-pig -- is the happy story they wish was the truth. That's the tale that hurts less.
Finally, it's time to delve into the plotline that Teresa and Joe wish was scripted: their pending legal issues. Joe Giudice freezes, staring straight ahead like the Statue of David's slightly demented half-cousin.
Teresa's very reluctant to call this whole situation "karma," and seems completely dumbfounded by the 39-count indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, bank fraud, making false statements on loan applications and bankruptcy fraud. Her party line is the same one she used during the Penny saga: we have no idea how we got involved in all this. She says she has no control of the situation, but Andy presses her on that. "I feel like it's in God's hands" she says finally, which is the same thing as saying nothing.
Joe Gorga admits that the news put him into a depression, and that it's difficult for him to even address the impossible situation his sister's mired in. "It's a hard thing to swallow," he says, and he looks so sad that I can't even bring myself to make a really good "that's what she said" joke.
Kathy tries to jump in and share her heartbreak over the situation, but -- shocker! -- nobody cares about her pain.
Melissa and Joe's pain, however, is fair game. Joe tells a real tear-jerker about his night with his nieces, and how difficult it is to see their little loves trying to cope with the confusing drama their family is in. That begs the question of who will take care of the Giudice kids if something happens. Melissa and Joe say they'd be there in an instant., though Joe Gorga still can't find the words to express his feelings to his brother-in-law. Teresa quickly comes to his defense, saying that the mentality of Italian parents is to "kiss the kids when they're sleeping," in lieu of showing affection outright.
It's a really interesting admission, and one that makes me think Teresa is perhaps a bit more multifaceted than we realize. I'm not saying she hasn't been a miserable trollop over these years, but I'm sure that a childhood spent wishing mommy and daddy said "I love you" can change a person. Across the board, it seems like the Gorgas struggle with the placement and control of their emotions.
We see the juxtaposition more viscerally in Joe. He'll smash a glass and hurl his fists just as quickly as he'll break down into little boy tears, and Teresa's vicious diatribes often end in pitiful blubbering.
Perhaps their anger is just a much louder expression of deep sadness. Or maybe they're just assholes.
Teresa chimes in and says there are many nights where she cries herself to sleep, but she's trying to be strong. "If I fall apart, then the rest of my family's going to fall apart. I put a smile on my face every day, and I don't want them to feel any pain." She says she's just like any other mom focused on getting her girls ready for school.
Joe Giudice tries not to let himself go to a dark place, and says he's just thinking positive and waiting "for it to go away." He seems a bit delusional, but it does make sense: he's got four little girls all capable of turning on the TV, and he can't scare them by showing fear.
True to form, Jacqueline is the hottest mess of all. She says she's had hives over the situation, and she gives Teresa credit for her strength. Andy decides to really twist the knife (something Jacqueline's really used to), asking Jacqueline if she worries that Teresa will be a single mom. Jacqueline says Teresa has plenty of support, and Teresa stares at her lap, willing herself not to break.
Teresa thanks everyone for their support, and the room oozes support and unity ... though a teaser promises that won't last long, thank God.
After the break, the women are faced with an intriguing question: If they could do one thing differently on the last five seasons, what would it be? Jacqueline would have been more quiet last reunion, Caroline would have been sick all season four, Melissa would have filmed more with Teresa and the kids, Teresa would have reached out to Jacqueline, and Kathy.
When Andy asks them for final remarks, Teresa decides to make up for her quiet time by inciting a riot. She says that Caroline really hurt her by calling her 'superficial' in a blog, which was made more painful when everyone else (except Jacqueline) jumped on the band wagon. She says she doesn't think anyone else really wants to move forward. Caroline is totally perplexed, calling for a time out. "You have decided to take everything that I have done for you and your family and just sweep it under the carpet because I told you my truth!?" she yells. This reunion has more twists and turns than the underground tunnel that will take Teresa and Joe from the court house to their new 6x8 homes!
It is the weirdest 180 turn we've seen this entire reunion, and I wonder if it's Teresa's last desperate attempt to change the reunion headline from "Teresa Speaks About Pending Charges" to "Blowout on the 'Housewives' Reunion!" Whatever the motive, it's totally weird and makes her look a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
"Can you admit I have a good heart?" Teresa says to Caroline. "No. I can't say that in all honesty," Caroline says, completely flabbergasted. "I have no animosity toward you, I consider you somebody that I used to know," she says, quoting the great Gotye.
With that, the turbulent reunion is over ... and though I am (pretty) sure that I didn't lose consciousness at any point, I still feel like I have no idea what went on. One thing's for sure: no matter how many tears this cast cries for poor, potential jailbird Teresa ... it doesn't seem like she'll have many visitors.
Readers! Thank you for all your kind comments this season. You made writing this column so worth it. Let's stay in touch 4ever! Tweet me @sydneyraylevin, and share your reactions in the comments!