The Real Housewives of New York is back for Season 13, and the women who run the circus are as delusional as viewers left them in the early days of the pandemic. Actually, I retract that; some of them are doing much, much worse.
Of course I’m talking about Sonja Morgan.
Let’s get Tuesday night’s premiere of The Real Housewives of New York out of the way first. It was even more ridiculous than the gossip press had hyped it up to be these last few months. Fan-favorite Leah McSweeney made her entrance at the top of the episode, which generally means the editors favor a cast member as the protagonist of a season. The honor was once reserved for the likes of Luann De Lesseps or Bethenny Frankel, but this is the new generation of The Real Housewives. McSweeney runs the show now, and from the looks of her edit in the premiere, has also taken Dorinda Medley’s place as the season’s narrator after that fan-favorite “took a season off.” (Read: Drank too much and pissed off producers.)
Next up was Ramona Singer, famous for flaunting lockdown protocols for much of the pandemic with the Trumps. She invited ex-husband Mario over for a chat, which makes sense because her on-and-off relationship with the man is pretty much the only interesting thing left in her life. Luann De Lesseps, who came in at a shocking third place in the introductions, moved across the street from her ex-husband Tom, and in her first confessional of the season, called masks a “fashion faux-pas.” Ok, Lu. We later meet newcomer Eboni K. Williams, the first Black cast member in the franchise’s history, who tries to explain what exactly her job is and fails in the process. She is either a lawyer or a broadcaster or a businesswoman. She wants to build an empire, she tells the camera, but also had her belongings repossessed a few years back because she bet her entire net-worth on a new career as a broadcaster. She explained it a bit further in an interview with Interview:
Trying to transition from a practicing courtroom lawyer to a national broadcaster, no one tells you that a lot of that work you do in order to get to that level as a broadcast talent is not paid. For four to five years, I was doing all these hits. I looked great! I was on CNN. I was on HLN. I was on Fox News. I was on NFL Network. And it was all for free.
Regardless, her energy is perfect for the franchise, and I think she will be a standout this season for her quick wit.
The rest of the episode follows the now-predictable format of a new season of The Real Housewives of New York: The women are mad because they haven’t kept in touch that summer while jetting around the world. Some have been in the Hamptons, some have been in Florida, and some don’t have enough money to do either. They meet up at Sonja’s townhouse—more on this in a minute—and lightly argue in front of their new friend about it. Sonja makes a thinly veiled “PC culture” joke in front of Eboni, who is unfazed. Eboni later stuns the women into silence when she tells them Sag Harbor was one among the first places on Long Island that allowed Black people to own property. The neighborhood of Eastville to be specific. In a New York times piece on its history, Sandra E. Garcia wrote that Eastville “had been a forerunner in welcoming Black men who were formerly enslaved,” adding that it is “one of the most enduring Black beachfront communities in America.”
Luann De Lesseps is the first to break the silence. “I never heard that before.” (Of course she hadn’t.)
Besides Eboni’s breakthrough entrance into the cast, I’m mostly stuck on Sonja’s behavior for most of the episode. For 10 seasons, she has delighted fans with her zany and out-of-touch theatrics. Once the wife of a banking billionaire, John Morgan, she lives permanently in the past, and when drunk enough, even believes she is still a fixture in the “Morgan Clan,” as she so often refers to it. Her Upper East Side brownstone castle, which she got in the divorce, has slowly fallen into disrepair and is staffed exclusively by a hoard of unpaid interns she scoops up from NYU and her rich friends. Coming into Season 13, I was most curious about her time in lockdown, after she’d been grilled by castmates at the reunion for her bizarre behavior and binge-drinking. As she explained it at the time, she was on “water pills,” and they affected her appetite and tolerance for alcohol.
I wonder what excuses she’ll come up with for whatever I just watched last night.
In her first scene of the episode, an intern trails her around the house while she explains how she doesn’t have enough money to keep it from crumbling to dust. It’s a good thing she doesn’t pay her assistants, I guess. Upstairs, she demands her “intern” learn how to draw her a bubble bath. They are clueless, so she tries to teach the poor kid how to operate her century old clawfoot tub. This fails, but eventually, she does get a bath running. Once inside, she talks to herself for a while, then Facetimes with Leah, and then hangs up and talks to herself some more.
Later in the episode, at a party she hosts, she berates her staff again for not properly cleaning the “spunky” flagstone on the patio. At one point, while picking up leaves, an unnamed staff member tries to hide the tag on Sonja’s blouse. Leah and Eboni are soon the first to arrive, but Sonja makes them wait inside while she crawls into her Koi pond to do... something. It wasn’t really clear. Eventually, Eboni joins her at the Koi pond, and Sonja says the following: “I’ll try to be PC, but if you notice, my fish are every color. I have black, white, yellow, orange...” She trails off, and Eboni quips that she is the queen of “fish diversity,” later confessing in an interview that Sonja is “trying to connect on the racial diversity element of the moment, but I think the fish effort is a bit lame.”
The episode soon ends with a newer trope in Bravo’s editing arsenal. Whereas before, seasons began with a flash-forward to eventual drama, editors now coyly insert said flash-forwards at the tail end of a premiere, while all the women are cooing about how much they love each other. In that flash-forward, we see Sonja drunkenly yelling in Ramona’s face in what appears to be a physical altercation between them, presumably in Sag Harbor.
The thing is, though, that I don’t know how much more I can stomach of this woman’s decades-long undoing. It can’t be healthy for me, and it certainly cannot be healthy for her.