When Bravo first announced that it would be bringing the Real Housewives franchise to the state of Utah, there was one glaring thing that piqued the interest of the average viewer: the potential to take a peek into the lives of modern-day Mormons.
If there’s anything Andy Cohen has taught viewers, it’s that rich white women are generally the same no matter where you look. However, with The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, there was a chance to observe rich (mostly) white women through the new fresh lens of religion and, more specifically, a religion the average American only understands through pop culture pieces like Big Love or Three Wives One Husband.
The first season of RHOSLC was an interrogation of the Mormon religion’s focus on perfection — a topic frequently brought up by the show’s favorite Mormon pioneer princess, Heather. However when it comes to polygamy, a long-standing topic of controversy in the Mormon church, the ladies have made a joke of it or avoided the topic entirely. The few times polygamy has been brought up has usually been in conversations involving Whitney, who traces her ancestry back to Shadrach Roundy, a close associate of Joseph Smith.
On Sunday night’s episode, the show’s newest member Jennie Nguyen and her husband, Duy, had the first practical discussion about polygamy in the series. Instead of focusing on the history of polygamy or its secretive status within the Mormon church, the couple unpacked their personal feelings on such an arrangement over an oyster dinner. On a show filled with Mormons and ex-Mormons set in Utah, this pivotal and necessary conversation came from two Catholics.
Two episodes earlier, Duy made a comment in passing to Jennie that they should consider bringing on a sister-wife. Duy wanted more children and Jennie, who has had several miscarriages and a traumatic stillbirth was adamant that she would not be having any more children nor was she interested in adopting. A sister-wife was offered up as some sort of solution to Duy’s dream of having a larger family. On Sunday, the couple dug deeper.
It was an open conversation on the logistics of bringing in a second wife. including reasonable questions about scheduling, expectations, and of course, religion. “Have you spoken to the priest,” Jennie asks Duy at one point. He answers in the negative and tells her that there is nothing in the Ten Commandments that dictates a man shouldn’t take more than one wife.
Technically, this is true and many important figures in the Bible are polygamists, but the Catholic Church has notoriously staunch teachings about marriage and teaches that it is between one man and one woman. Mayhaps, Duy missed that day in catechism. However, Duy’s belief that a second wife is a viable option for himself isn’t rooted in religious teaching but is instead tied to his and Jennie’s shared Vietnamese culture. Duy’s grandfather has multiple wives and many children, which is what Duy wants for his own life. Never mind the fact that plural marriage is not recognized in the United States, a point that Jennie brings up to Duy which he waves off by saying it’s legal in Utah. It’s not.
While the conversation is also part of a larger issue between Jennie and Duy involving failed pregnancies and the death of one of their children shortly after she was born, it was, arguably, one of the most honest few minutes of television Bravo has put forth in years.
It can be easy to dismiss the Real Housewives franchise as trash television meant to fill the hours in our meaningless lives, but the shows act as fascinating sociological experiments made accessible to the larger public. They’ve compelled analytic viewers to consider things like wealth and power in America, classism, racism, groupthink, and the varying dynamics of religion. It’s not just table flipping and buying diamonds.