After 12 years of The Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny Frankel is gone. OK, gone again. The SkinnyGirl magnate and straight-shooting star of Bravo’s funniest reality series left once before — after Season 3, only to return in Season 7. But her departure feels more dramatic this time, partly because it came so abruptly, and partly because it was followed by news of her new show on HBO Max.
But watching this week’s Season 12 premiere of RHONY, what really makes the departure different is how quickly the world of the show moves on without her. When Bethenny left before Season 4, the show spun off its axis, requiring a near-entire cast reboot in Season 5. Now? The remaining women have their own relationships and their own dramas. They don’t need Bethenny as their guiding light.
To wit, let’s break down the premiere’s five biggest takeaways, and see what’s up with the remaining five 'Wives — Luann de Lesseps, Dorinda Medley, Tinsley Mortimer, Sonja Morgan, and long-surviving OG Ramona Singer — along with their new castmate, Leah McSweeney.
A two-year ordeal that started with an arrest in West Palm Beach, Florida finally comes to a close at the start of the episode. Luann and Sonja leave the courthouse and embrace as Luann declares her long national nightmare is finally over. She celebrates by having a drink — and from the season’s trailer, we know she’ll imbibe at some point this season.
The past couple seasons of RHONY have been very focused on her legal trevails, which have been both fascinating and somewhat exhausting! So we celebrate Luann’s emancipation alongside her, and hope this means even more cabaret for the Countess. (Especially since Bethenny’s not around to declare that “life is not a cabaret!")
A remarkable amount of the premiere focuses on newbie Housewife Leah, especially considering past precedent is that we don’t fully meet newbies until a few episodes into their first season. (On the most recent season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Denise Richards appeared in the premiere, but didn’t get so much as a confessional until episode 2.) In this case, Leah gets the full gamut: We meet her through Tinsley at their boxing gym, then we go off on our own with Leah to meet her 12-year-old daughter, Kiki. They have a very close, Gilmore Girls-esque relationship, except instead of being surrounded by Connecticut foliage, they’re both born-and-raised New Yorkers.
Perhaps underlining that RHONY’s strength is the way its ensemble is so intertwined, the show makes quick work of getting Leah enmeshed with the group at Dorinda’s party. Leah isn't shy about sharing her opinions and her history, bonding with Luann over fighting cops in their day and having to Google who “Jovani" even is when Luann’s song plays. There’s something refreshing about Leah, but here's hoping the show doesn’t focus too intensely on her being an outsider. This group works best when they’re on the same wavelength.
Did you hear Tinsley and Scott broke up? Because they’re broken up. And Tinsley is happy to tell everyone they’ve broken up. That’s definitely the truth, yes ma’am. This relationship is one of the more frustrating ones in the Housewives canon, so inconsistent and on-and-off as it is. But for now they’re apart! We’ll see just how long that lasts, though...
Dorinda gets the same sense we do about Tinsley and Scott, and wonders how much of the story is actually being told. Tinsley asks Dorinda to not spread any more “conspiracy theories" about her life. These theories seem to mostly be Dorinda trying to understand Tinsley’s life, but nevertheless, Tinsley’s frustrated. Meanwhile, Dorinda is irritated that Tinsley doesn’t see the problem with her holding her cards so close to her chest.
This fight is a conflict as old as Real Housewives itself: How much of her life should a Housewife be required to share with the cameras? And is it a failure of your duty if you don’t? Considering the reports that Tinsley is leaving the show either during or after this season because she’s gotten back together with Scott and they’re moving to Chicago, it would appear that Dorinda may lose this round. Tinsley may be more willing to move than she is to open up.
Bethenny’s departure is addressed in the breeziest way possible. All the 'Wives are filmed getting the news (it’s as inorganic as it sounds), and reacting to it in their own time. Sonja is sad to lose her friend, while Luann is glad that her friend-turned-adversary is gone. There are some headlines posted on screen, and then... that’s it. The rest of the episode carries on as if Bethenny were never there. I didn’t expect the show to spend too much time on her, but the quick move past her feels purposeful. RHONY isn’t saying goodbye, it’s saying “see ya!" and moving on with its life.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.