If there's a buzzword associated with The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City Season 4, it's "fresh start." After years of living under the dark cloud of Jen Shah's arrest and trial (which culminated in a guilty plea and a nearly six-year prison sentence), the women are attempting to move on from their fraudulent frenemy and all the messiness of the past few years, from Lisa Barlow's "garbage whore" audio to Heather Gay's mysterious black eye. In the show's largest cast shakeup yet, Angie Katsanevas and Monica Garcia have joined the original group — Lisa, Heather, Meredith Marks, and Whitney Rose — as new Housewives. Though Angie has personal history with the ladies as a former "friend," Monica vows to "make [her] own assumptions" about her co-stars, despite knowing "all their dark secrets" thanks to her previous relationship with Jen.
The women are so committed to growth that Heather throws a "Fresh Start Party" for their extended friend group. She hopes the mountain setting and mimosa bar will mend the many fractured relationships in the group — and if that fails, she's organized a massive snowball fight to help everyone get out the last of their aggression. "We all had a really hard year," she tells the group. "The one thing we shared is that we all went through it together. So, let's leave it all at the brunch today."
Heather's plan seems to work: By the end of the premiere, the ladies are playfully launching snowballs at one another and yelling about leaving "the past in the past." The episode concludes with a slow-motion montage of their snowy shenanigans, but the operatic score and the season preview that follows suggest RHOSLC's detente won't last for long.
Of course, viewers hardly need a melodramatic music cue to know that the ladies' new beginning is an illusion. In true Real Housewives fashion, the premiere begins with a flash-forward to a May 2023 Bermuda trip — at least they finally got to leave U.S. soil? — during which Heather receives a phone call with some damning information. "I'm trembling. I cannot believe it's her. How could she do this to us?" she says from behind a closed door, as producers try to get into the room with a camera. When they push their way in, Heather, still on the phone, begs them to leave and slams the door shut. "How did we all fall for it?" she asks. The action shifts back to February before we learn who Heather is talking about or what happened, but it's clearly serious enough that the Bad Mormon author would prefer to keep the conversation off camera.
Other moments remind viewers how difficult it is for the Housewives to chart a new path forward. As is her custom, Mary Cosby, who returns as a friend of the group after leaving suddenly in Season 2, either remains oblivious to or chooses to ignore her co-stars' obvious desire to avoid all things Jen, and she spends the Season 4 premiere asking anyone and everyone how they feel about her prison sentence. (This, a mere 10 seconds after Heather gives her big speech at the party.) And while cousins Heather and Whitney take steps to squash their beef from last season — which began when Heather declined to back up Whitney on a rumor about Lisa giving "blowies" for Utah Jazz tickets — the fallout from an awkward joke about Special K indicates they'll have to tread lightly to regain one another's trust and reclaim their "Bad Weather" nickname.
The episode also sets up a new conflict between Meredith and Whitney, who criticized the jewelry designer for taking a bubble bath with husband Seth Marks in an interview with Page Six. ("Personally, it creeps me out," she said at the time.) Whitney claims she meant it as a joke, though she can't decide if it was a "funny joke" or a "shady" one, but Meredith just can't let it go. "It was a dig on my marriage and a dig on my bathtub, like I have a dirty house!" Meredith says at the party. "My bathtub is clean — maybe yours isn't!"
The outsized reaction is uncharacteristic for Meredith, who spent Season 1 "disengaging" from petty drama and tends to direct her energy toward worthwhile disputes, like her issue with Lisa. But with Jen gone, the cast seems to realize that they must craft new storylines, and until things really get going later in the season, that means latching onto trivial slights. "Oh my god, I am never going to live down 'creepy bathtub,'" Whitney says in a talking head interview. "She'll be bringing this up five years from now. I mean, it's just always something."
Whitney's comment is reflective of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City's big dilemma. Is a "fresh start" really possible for a show that needs pointless drama to survive? Viewers are drawn to The Real Housewives precisely because the score never resets: Snubs from years prior and long-running feuds sustain the franchise through casting changes, marriages and divorces, and legal battles. The women of RHOSLC can either accept that fact, as Meredith and Whitney appear to have done, or they can adopt Heather's approach and pretend a do-over is still within reach. Either way, it's clear that the tentative truce of the premiere is running on borrowed time. The question is, how long will it be before the ladies start fighting with something more powerful than snowballs?
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City airs Tuesdays at 9:00 PM ET on Bravo. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.