‘Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’ Recap: Does Meredith Do Ketamine?

For three long years, a bronzer-caked cloud hung low over Salt Lake City. It cast a shadow so wide and far-reaching that it cascaded over the Mormon church steeples and the tippy-tops of whatever the mountain ranges in that part of the American Southwest are called. Its presence instilled fear in every last resident of Utah’s capital city, leaving them trembling as soon as night fell. That cloud’s name was Jen Shah, and it was wearing a silly little hat.

But the skies have parted, and the cast of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City is singing a triumphant song. Jen Shah is gone, serving an almost seven-year sentence behind bars after being found guilty of fraud. Now, Meredith Marks, Heather Gay, Whitney Rose, and Lisa Barlow—along with new cast members Monica Garcia and Angie Katsanevas, the latter bumped up from friend-of status—can breathe a deep sigh of relief in Season 4, which premiered Sept. 5 on Bravo.

Any fans who thought that RHOSLC might become rudderless without Jen Shah steering the ship—as she did from the moment her shaky stiletto stepped out of a car and into a pile of snow in the series premiere—will be delighted to know that this franchise never needed Jen. She was merely an added bonus, a histrionic diamond amid a wealth of other reality television treasures. In fact, the only reason that I noticed Jen’s absence at all while watching the Season 4 premiere was because her prison sentence is still a major topic of conversation among the ladies.

But even with Jen on the mind (significant trauma will do that to you), the women of RHOSLC seem invigorated, back in fighting shape, and ready to take their farce to new heights now that Jen’s personal drama is no longer driving everyone else’s narrative.

The Season 4 premiere begins with a one-two punch of a staggeringly dramatic cold open, followed by a convoluted scene-setting sequence that left me squawking with laughter. Sometime in an upcoming episode, during a cast trip to Bermuda, Heather gets a phone call and takes it off camera. “Hey, what did you find out?” she asks whoever is on the other end. “Are you kidding me right now? Shut the fuck up. I’m trembling, I cannot believe it’s her. How could she do this to us? I’m freaking the fuck out!” At this point, producers barge into Heather’s room, and Heather tosses them right back out. We have absolutely zero context for what any of this could possibly mean, and we won’t get any for a while, but what does it matter when the editors have another gift waiting in the wings?

A photo including Heather Gay, Monica Garcia, Whitney Rose, Meredith Marks in the show The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

Heather Gay, Monica Garcia, Whitney Rose, Meredith Marks

Bravo / NBC

The voiceover of Heather’s phone call echoes over a shot of snow-covered mountains: “How did we all fall for it?” Then, there’s a smooth transition into what I will confidently say is one of the single most hilarious montages that the Real Housewives editors have ever put together. The cast, in pairs of two, recite literal bible verses in a voiceover while mind-bogglingly great, staged shots of them crossing paths in Salt Lake City dissolve into one another. Whitney traipses over a crosswalk, while Heather spies on her from a black SUV; Angie walks her pink-eared poodle past Meredith, who is sitting by a fountain; and Lisa and Monica brush shoulders on the street, looking back to exchange death glares.

The scene is so patently elaborate and unnatural that it circles back around to become gripping. “Whatever that just was, I want more of it,” I said to myself. I was happy to be surprised, given how lukewarm I felt on Season 3, which became so tangled in Jen’s antics and her varying allegiances that I found it almost unwatchable compared to the excellent two seasons that preceded it. But though RHOSLC was basically founded on petty digs that escalated into violent spats, there’s a lightness that has returned to the crisp winter air.

The actual episode kicks off with Lisa staging her next Sundance Film Festival party, which she’s only got a 30-minute turnaround window to accomplish. It’s nothing compared to the heaviness of her son, Jack, deciding he wants to put college on hold and go on a Christian mission for the next two years. The less I say about that, the better. Meanwhile, Heather splurged on a new McMansion, while Whitney splurged on new sew-in bundles. Just like the bob that once sat atop her head, Whitney, too, has grown. The two cousins have decided to put last season’s animosity aside to start anew, and I give their truce three episodes max before the cracks start to show.

A photo including Whitney Rose, Meredith Marks in the show The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

(l-r) Whitney Rose, Meredith Marks

Bravo / NBC

Meredith arrives at Heather’s abode, snow shovel in hand, with her fatigued expression suggesting that her cargo is going to be the headline on a nightly news break about a savage shovel-related crime. Meredith fumes about an interview that Whitney gave to the New York Post, suggesting that she and her husband Seth’s eerie mutual bathing session in Season 3 was going to infect their bathtub with toxic DNA. But Meredith can’t stay for long, she’s got to dash back to her boutique in town, where she’s waiting for the premiere’s guest of honor: Mary M. Cosby, returning this season as a friend-of.

Mary walks into Meredith’s store as frazzled and frenetic as ever. I have never in my life seen someone do such an accurate Paula Abdul impression who wasn’t Paula Abdul. Mary and Meredith head out to lunch, where Mary grills her friend about how the group dynamics have shifted during her season away from the show. When asked about Jen, Meredith brushes it off. “Jen said she’s guilty and she’s going to serve her time,” she says. “Everyone can start healing and moving forward now.”

Moving forward seems to be the one thing that all of the cast can agree on, even if it’s much easier said than done, especially with Season 4’s wildcards ramping up the tension. At a separate group lunch, Angie strolls in, trying to give her best Nicki Minaj look in a pair of heinous shield sunglasses. Angie, who herself looks more like the human personification of an idea, cannot pull it off confidently. Her friend Monica, however, is a breath of fresh, unpretentious air.

A photo including Lisa Barlow and Meredith Marks in the show The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

(l-r) Lisa Barlow, Meredith Marks

Bravo / NBC

Monica soon reveals to Angie and Lisa, who has also joined them, that she was a witness for the federal government in Jen’s trial, and that she’s harboring an extensive amount of secrets about every single one of the cast members, supplied to her by Jen. I expect great things from Monica, and not just because she got married, divorced, remarried, and re-divorced to the same man and her voice sounds like that of a Midwestern pediatric nurse obsessed with Dunkin Donuts—but not not because of those things.

The episode wraps up with a group gathering, and though it was the end of the premiere, it was the start of this series’ new beginning. Relationships between the entire cast are still strained, so Heather rounds everyone up for a boozy brunch. In the spirit of starting over, Meredith attempts to clear the air with Whitney, and their conversation devolves into a glorious rehash of past, off-camera events.

Meredith accuses Whitney of starting the rumor that she does ketamine, which is why Meredith’s speech is so marble-mouthed and garbled. Never in my life did I think we’d get to watch two Housewives stare blankly into each other’s eyes while one denies rumors of ketamine use and the other denies they spread those rumors. Meredith transitions into slamming Whitney for her comments about Meredith and Seth’s special bathtime, claiming that Whitney was insinuating she has a filthy, disgusting house.

A photo including Meredith Marks, Whitney Rose in the show The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

(l-r) Meredith Marks, Whitney Rose

Bravo / NBC

“I would never assume that Meredith has a dirty house,” Whitney says in her confessional. “I don’t even know where you’re living right now, I don’t know what vacation rental you’re staying in!” The editors then throw up a visual aid of Meredith’s four separate rental homes, complete with the years that she stayed in each one. Then things really start circling the drain (pun intended) when Whitney transitions into her stilted baby voice and begins to spout off random lines about bathroom hygiene. “Mer-dith, eye take batts all da time, but I pre-per to take my batts owl alone, which is true,” Whitney—or the scary spirit of the little Dutch boy who fell down a well and now sometimes possesses Whitney—says. Meredith looks as perplexed as the rest of us watching at home, and Heather diffuses the situation with a call to arms.

“This is your last chance to take out any hurt feelings, any resentment, any anger, leave it all on the field right now,” Heather says, standing before crates of professionally made snowballs. A whistle is blown, and the women pretend to throw a few balls before trying to tap out. That is, until Lisa gets hit in the head with a snowball, and the battle really begins. This premiere is bookended by two brilliantly deranged editing choices, and the snowball fight turns into an all-out, slow-motion biblical war, set again to a gothic opera worthy of a Bayonetta game. At one point, Monica literally tackles Angie, and the two roll down a hill. The only thing Angie’s mic pack can capture is her final, desperate howl: “My hair!”

I’m a simple man who loves simple pleasures, and the snowball fight was the perfect way to close out the premiere. I couldn’t help but think that, if Jen had been there, she would’ve gone DEFCON 1, ready to turn a snowball blow to the dome into an exhausting grudge held throughout the entire season. But it’s a new era, and with Jen serving her time, the story can finally progress. The only things that aren’t locked up are her secrets, and if what Monica is alluding to is true, Jen’s manipulative influence will be felt regardless of whether she’s there or not.

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