What is it about the inherent shallowness of Bravo's Real Housewives franchise that accommodates close readings so well? Perhaps it's the low stakes that make it so much fun to dissect Lisa Rinna throwing a drink at Kim Richards (or Aviva Drescher throwing her leg onto a table) as if it's the Zapruder film. What's even better than dissecting the Housewives moments that were more likely to go viral — fights, revelations, fights — is dissecting the ones that went viral for being just plain bizarre. Because, as much as Housewives is a soap opera about social climbing by combat, it's also a comedy about the ludicrous lives of the filthy rich. Which brings us to the moment we're talking about today: the time on The Real Housewives of Potomac when Karen and Gizelle's sit-down argument was derailed by the presence of a mime.
The mime incident happened in the 13th episode of Season 3 of The Real Housewives of Potomac (titled "Mime Your Own Business"), so we were two and a half seasons into arguments, allegiances, and tomfoolery happening all around the greater Potomac area. Here are the two primary beefs that you have to understand in order to prepare for this moment:
The frenemy-ship between Karen Huger and Gizelle Bryant has been the bedrock of the Potomac branch of Real Housewives since the very beginning. Each series seems to arrive at its central pair of love-hate ladies before too long; your Ramona/LuAnns, your NeNe/Sherees. The women who knew each other before the show started and who probably would have gone the rest of their lives making nice at social functions and ripping each other behind their backs if not for the amplification factor of TV. The energy that Karen and Gizelle bring to Potomac is unique among these relationships. Theirs is a self-aware combativeness that celebrates itself even as they're tearing into each other, and it allows their cattiness and petty squabbles to take on a particular flair for the dramatic.
Karen Huger has so adopted the (sarcastically applied, at least at first) title of "grande dame" of Potomac that she's made it her personal brand, and everything you need to know about her personality radiates from that fact. Gizelle, meanwhile, lives to burst Karen's bubble. They're the Tom and Jerry of Potomac, in that one cannot exist without the other. Without Karen's haughtiness, Gizelle's addiction to messy drama would feel over the top. Without Gizelle's open rebellion, Karen would have no check on her most self-aggrandizing impulses. What's great about them is that every now and then they'll let slip just how much they actually appreciate each other, and acknowledge that it's more fun to poke and prod at each other than it is to feud with anyone else.
At this point in Season 3, Gizelle had crossed the line, as far as Karen was concerned (Gizelle is always crossing a line as far as Karen is concerned), after needling her and her husband about their tax woes. In retaliation, Karen had begun to bring the ex-wife of Gizelle's then-boyfriend Sherman into their social circle. This was the infraction that the two had decided to hash out when they met in the middle of the afternoon at Black's Bar and Kitchen in Bethesda.
Meanwhile... Monique Samuels was busy organizing the ladies's upcoming out-of-town excursion, a trip to the south of France to celebrate Monique's birthday. Monique was always feuding with someone on the show, and at this point she'd just gotten into a shouting-and-shoving altercation with Robyn Dixon, having threatened to choke Robyn with an umbrella. So Monique knew that she had to put some extra enticement into her invitations to this trip. (For the sake of entertainment, we can suspend our disbelief and pretend we don't all know that these mid-season vacations are mandatory and set up by Bravo, so these invitations are purely for show.)
Sticking with the French theme, Monique sent her invitations out to each individual wife, to be delivered by an authentic(?) French(?) mime(!). Before the Karen and Gizelle scene, we got a glimpse of how this mime delivery system was supposed to work, with Robyn receiving said mime on her doorstep, her boys running away from the mime in fear, and Robyn ultimately opening the invitation after some "who is this man in this makeup?" business on her front lawn.
First, a disclaimer: For some silly reason, this scene does not exist in its entirety on YouTube. When stitched together, the following two clips get most of the job done, but for the optimal experience you'd be best served hopping over to Hulu or Peacock and watching the scene in its entirety (it starts 17 minutes into the episode).
Opening pleasantries: After Gizelle arrives to find Karen already seated at the outdoor patio at Black's, we get a talking-head from Gizelle saying how she misses being friends with Karen, mostly because of the drunk phone calls from Karen at 3:00 AM. Classic Gizelle. After complimenting each other's outfits and hair, the women order their wine and appetizers. The table is literally set.
The argument: Gizelle wants Karen to stop bringing Kendall, Sherman's ex, around to group functions. To Gizelle, this goes beyond the fun shade they throw at each other and into the realm of disloyalty. Karen, meanwhile, is still holding on to her anger from last season when Gizelle showed up in her "Free Uncle Ben!" t-shirt when Karen was holding a mock press conference to address the rumors that she owed the government tax money. (It would take an entire other article to explain that whole situation, just know that it was a full year prior to this.) It's actually not that terribly interesting of an argument, substance-wise. The pleasure here all comes down to style points, as the two women posture and pose through this airing of grievances. Karen characterizes Gizelle's "wack attacks," and Gizelle breathlessly repeats Karen's phrasing as if it's the most peculiar and fascinating pair of words she's ever heard.
Enter Mime: Karen is only just getting going about how Gizelle and Robyn stormed into Karen's brand event and demanded to speak to her (it didn't happen like that) when, in a moment of serendipity that could never be scripted, she calls Gizelle "a clown that comes into someone's sponsored event." The moment the word "clown" leaves her mouth, the camera cuts to an angle where we see, on the sidewalk behind Karen, Monique's courier mime has arrived. Gizelle, never one to miss her moment, notes, "No, that's the clown."
Poise Above All: Karen, having built up a head of steam, refuses to acknowledge the invasive presence of this mime. "I'm not gonna do that," Karen tells Gizelle, "that's disrespectful." It's not entirely clear whether Karen thinks acknowledging the mime would be disrespectful to the mime or that she thinks the mime is being disrespectful to their conversation. But Gizelle has found the needle that will puncture Karen's balloon today, so she keeps pointing him out.
The camera then cuts to a truly glorious dead-on shot of the table in profile, Gizelle on the left, Karen on the right, and the mime gliding from side-to-side to their periphery.
"He's in our conversation, Karen," Gizelle says, "just tell him to leave." Karen refuses, as the mime traipses around. Without looking directly at him, Karen tosses off a "thank you, love" in the hopes that will get him to shoo, but she is adamant to Gizelle that they not give him any more attention. "He's a mime," Karen says, "let him do whatever he wants to do, let him mime."
What's crucial in this moment is that the women don't know the mime is there for them. For all they know, he's just a street performer who's in their shot. Karen thinks she's being steadfast by refusing to break the fourth wall, but we in the audience know more than she and Gizelle do. Gizelle is cracking up by this point, but Karen soldiers on through her argument, all while the mime is literally doing the hands-on-an-invisible-wall thing.
Normalcy Returns: It looks like the mime is gone, and it's back to petty squabbling, including an accusation that Gizelle showed up to Karen's event in a "used Liberace jacket," which Karen punctuates by flopping her head sideways at a 90-degree angle. And then when Gizelle defends the jacket, Karen switches tactics and says "It was gorgeous, and it should be worn twice, but not in the same year." Whether it's the mime or the fact that her arguments against Gizelle's decorum have gone off the rails, Karen is now making the strangest faces to punctuate her sentences. We need someone to intervene.
Oh God, He's Back: Just as Karen is accusing Gizelle of being a bad friend, the mime returns, and though they both try to ignore him at first, it becomes impossible. Gizelle is fully laughing, and Karen is deeply annoyed that this street mime wants camera time, and so finally addresses the clown-painted elephant in the room. "Can you move on?" Karen asks as you can hear someone in the background (a producer? A fellow diner?) laughing loudly. "This is some bullshit, who are you?" Karen continues, as the mime begins mimicking her expressions.
Space Invaded: It's when the mime climbs over the barrier and into the restaurant space that Gizelle stops laughing, and she and Karen get up to flee this invasive presence. They don't know he has a pair of invitations to France to deliver on Monique's behalf, so they just hightail it away from the table, the mime's task left tragically unfinished.
So what did we learn from the mime incident on The Real Housewives of Potomac? Well, sometimes an invitation to the French Riviera can come in a package you'd like to refuse. Sometimes when you do clownery, the clown comes back to mime. And sometimes two feuding friends can be united in their terror at an invasive French street performer. Mostly, the lesson Bravo learned was that the inherent theatricality of Karen and Gizelle's frenenemy-ship could accommodate just about any kind of foolishness and still be deeply entertaining, which ultimately was a good lesson for us all.
Real Housewives of Potomac Season 7 returns January 1 on Bravo. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.