"I want to see that invitation": D.C. 'Housewives' recap and fact-check (#8, Oct. 1)
Friday, October 1, 2010; 7:41 AM
Finally, the penultimate episode of "The Real Housewives of D.C." It's the one that brings us to the night of the White House state dinner, as Bravo draws back the curtain on the machinations of its own surreality, and basically throws the Salahis under the bus. Bravo lets the camera roll as Michaele Salahi gives an increasingly elaborate account of how they supposedly got invited to the White House -- an account that, in real life, was later largely contradicted by the couple's own legal team. We also see producers prodding them -- but is it for honest answers, or just for better TV? Were Tareq and Michaele aggressively stepping up their usual levels of bluster here -- or were they just being dutiful reality stars, acting out the poses and themes required by the unscripted script? Actually, most of the episode has nothing to do them. It opens at Lynda Erkiletian's modeling agency in Georgetown, with a casting call for a fashion show -- "officially endorsed by the Burkina Faso embassy," she tells us, "which is where the designer is from." (Oh, hear that, bloggers? All you smart-alecks who snarked about Lynda's episode-one boast that her agency "caters to the ambassadors, to the dignitaries"... and got a letter from her lawyer ordering you stop implying she runs a brothel. See? She DOES cater to the ambassadors, in a perfectly wholesome way.) She assesses the latest talent through cute reading glasses. A favorable nod to a strapping African-American fellow (quirky music to make us think she LIKES-likes him), but thumbs-down to a dude who's grown his hair into a Marlo Thomas flip. This merits an interjected moment of Michaele telling the camera, "Lynda is very much a bully." (Hey, I think we all hated the hair.) At Stacie Turner's home, she and husband Jason peer at a laptop. Since her Anglo birth mother isn't helping Stacie find her Nigerian birth father, they've tracked down the birth mother's son on Facebook. Jason drafts a message: "You will not believe the mutual acquaintance we share. Please reach out as soon as possible." (Totally wrong approach: It sounds like he's about to offer Kind Sir a share of the 750,000,000 pounds he needs help transferring out of a Congolese warlord's bank account. Delete!) Stacie worries that her Caucasian half-brother will be put off if he gets Jason on the phone. "I will speak with my absolutely diction-correct voice," Jason reassures her. "I will be racially agnostic. No 'yo, whazzup!'" (They really do give all the good lines to the husbands.) Lynda meets Mary Amons and Cat Ommanney at the Madison on a snowy day. (This is your tipoff that the Housewives are, as usual, time-traveling. In the fake Bravo chronology, the Nov. 24 White House incident hasn't quite happened yet, remember? And yet it didn't snow in D.C. until December 5.) The talk is of how stressed Cat is, with her husband Charles traveling so much. And of all the crazy stories going on about the Salahis. (Again, stories that they would have seen in The Washington Post and other fine outlets... only AFTER the White House incident.) Lynda proclaims that Michaele never modeled for her agency. Cut to the Salahis, in yet another limo, champagne in the back seat, on their way to the Inn at Little Washington. (She's wearing a tank top, the sun is shining, the trees are verdant, soooo... guessing this is at least two months earlier? Yep: The Salahis dined at the Inn the last day of September that fall.) And cut back to the Madison: Cat wondering "how does a couple exist like this for so long." Ominous music. Lynda alleges that the Salahis' home is in foreclosure (that was reported by one of the New York tabs in the days after the White House incident, but never confirmed) and that Oasis Winery had declared bankruptcy. (Both the winery, controlled by Tareq's parents, and Tareq's own business based at the property filed for bankruptcy, after being locked in litigation with each other for years.) Cut back to the sunny day at the Inn at Little Washington. (Located 70 miles from D.C. in small-town Washington, Va., it is widely considered one of the best, and most expensive, restaurants in the region. Unclear if the Salahis paid or if they were comped in exchange for the free Bravo publicity.) They greet general manager Kaan Caglar with hugs and kisses, and join their friends "Daphne and Stewart." (Hey: Call us! Or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. So much to discuss.) Chatter about the America's Polo Cup, and how they're going to play India next. The Salahis go on about their recent "several weeks" visit to India -- a "major press conference" at the embassy (you can actually find some bland little press-release style write-ups of this apparent event in Indian publications from summer 2009), a meeting with "the royal family of India." (There are so many no-longer-ruling royal families around India, it's a hard one to check.) And most exciting, Tareq tells the camera: "President Obama is hosting India at the White House state dinner." Lynda goes to the Burkina Faso embassy to meet with the designer -- an elegant woman named Clara Lawson Ames (don't worry, you're not supposed to have heard of her) -- and the ambassador's wife, Araba Yonli. (Not a bad score for the D.C. "Housewives," which has had a hard time evoking the power and influence it so badly craves. You may have never heard of her -- but before her husband got this gig, he was the prime minister and she was the first lady of Burkina Faso. So, hey!) Lynda is touched by Mrs. Yonli's desire to show that African isn't just about poverty and war, but also great fashion. Back to Cat's house, where she's asking Charles to print one of his photos of Obama -- she wants to give it to the president at the White House Christmas party. (As a photographer on the presidential beat, it's typical that he and his plus-one would be invited to annual party for journalists, one of the couple dozen cast-of-hundreds receptions hosted by the White House during the holiday season.) He tells her that Obama is looking forward to meeting her, and she glows: "Charles has bored Obama senseless with chat about me and photographs of me for years." (Yeah, that one's hard to fact-check... The Ommanneys gaze at each other warmly, belying the overtones of doom that producers have tried to layer onto their scenes in an attempt to catch up with the news -- not made public until June 2010, in our column -- that they had split.) Quickly now: Stacie and Jason, frustrated not to have heard back from the half-brother, decide to go to the Nigerian embassy for help finding her father. Lynda calls Mary (on speakerphone, of course, as required by reality-TV regulations) about the Burkina Faso fashion show -- and tells her she has "posted a picture of Tareq and Michaele with security," to keep them out. Mary, as you remember, doesn't want to see them after they humiliated her and leveled false accusations about her daughter at their "grape stomp dinner." Michaele tells the camera that those other 'Wives are "destructive and cliquey... I'm all about big love for everybody!" And finally, a brisk yet rich scene in which Lynda Erkiletian shows D.C., if not the entire world, how a true Bravo Housewife DOES IT! She dons a shiny dress, calls in her stylist and assistant: "Katie, can Ishmael have some chardonnay please?" She admits she'd never heard of Burkina Faso. She beckons her boyfriend Ebong "for a little scotch on the rocks, pretty pretty please, oh, gosh, thank you!" And tells him, "you're so hot, I'm having a hot flash right now!" She has Ishmael put a big flower in her up-do. to go with her chandelier earrings. And then before she leaves for the big fashion show, requests her astrological charts. We're on notice: Lynda is the alpha Housewife, the uber-Housewife, the Housewife 3000, and she should have the spinoff. ("Can Ishmael have some chardonnay please?" I practice saying it myself, but I just can't do it right.) Stacie and Jason meet with a Nigerian embassy staffer, Stella, at Sova Espresso Wine Bar. (Never thought it would happen! A Housewife has ventured into Northeast Washington, all the way over to the edgy H Street corridor.) Stacie still doesn't know her father's name, but her mother did send her photos, and damned if Stella doesn't recognize his tribal garb: "This could be a chief in my village." Stacie's dad taught in Owerri? That's the region Stella's from! They might even be kin. And Stella knows some people to call. (This is great stuff. Hmmm, Stacie should have the spinoff!) The fashion show at Union Station, and brief impressionistic moments of contrived drama. Lynda asks security to watch out for the Salahis -- because they crashed the Congressional Black Caucus gala, she reminds everyone. Cat complains that Charles doesn't like to go to these kinds of things, though he's there. Cat blanches at the sight of Erika Martin Hughes (of last week's star-making catfight), and won't sit next to her. Mary tells the camera it's not her problem if her friends don't like each other. D.C. Councilmember David Catania impresses Lynda with his talk of how hard he's pushing for gay marriage, which prompts "celebrity colorist" Jason Backe to one-up him with a story about how he and Ted Gibson got gay-married sooo long ago that even their gay friends were shocked at the time. (Backe clearly views Catania, now making his third "Housewives" appearance, as a rival for the role of so-called "seventh Housewife," after undisputed "sixth Housewife" Paul Wharton, who is here, too. His hair is flat-ironed, and again, the producers are trying to curtail his spinoff bargaining power by cutting his lines.) More talk of Lynda barring the Salahis from the party. (And we're all thinking this is more time-travel, right? Another one of those tricks -- last week's episode was so egregious -- where we're made to believe that post-White House revelations about the Salahis are actually happening ahead of time to these super-perceptive 'Wives? But no! Turns out this fashion show actually WAS taped before the White House incident, on Nov. 20. For once, we're exactly where we're supposed to be in the time-space continuum.) The absent Michaele tells the camera that Lynda is "jealous" of her. "I'm the prettiest, I'm the hottest, I have the most friends, I'm Miss D.C.!" (On first viewing, I assumed Michaele was saying SHE was the prettiest, etc. - whoa. On second, I think she's mocking Lynda, claiming this is what Lynda thinks of herself.) And now, here we are. History will reflect that it was Nov. 24, 2009, when Michaele and Tareq Salahi stepped into the Erwin Gomez Salon Spa of Georgetown, as we see them do here, with Michaele-hugs for everyone. Big night tonight, huh? "Oh my gosh," she says, "this is the state dinner." (The following scene at the salon unfolded in real life over about six or seven hours. Why that long for makeup and a blowout? Many takes and retakes, apparently; and then the Salahis had to wait for their limo.) Erwin Gomez himself is doing her makeup. (Erwin has been very good for our column over the years.) She explains: "This is his first state dinner... It's to reach out and just make relationships stronger." Some random bluster and name-drop: "In 2005, we sponsored Rock the Vote, [garbled, something about wine], we got a chance to connect with President Obama then." (We've been over this already: They went to that party, and got themselves into a crowded grip-and-grin with the then-senator, and who knows if maybe some free Oasis wine opened doors, but even if so, "sponsored" is a big stretch.)... Then more about polo being a special "bond" between India and the U.S. (I think this must rank third, after concerns about Islamic extremism in Pakistan and the increased outsourcing of U.S. jobs to Mumbai.)... And, ohhh, will President Obama remember them? (No.)... And will Oprah be there? "She's been a big part of both of our lives." (Really, how so? While the Salahis got a nice photo-bomb shot with Oprah during the Inauguration, her people maintain she doesn't know them.) ... Michaele says she called the White House social secretary's office to see if it's okay to wear a sari. "They were like, wow, that's great." (The White House denied any such contact when Salahi friends floated that idea early on.) But you don't want to promote this kind of thing, she says: You want to be humble! (Mwah-MWAH! Bravo knows you know what's coming, the legendary Facebook-posting binge.) Moving on to the chair of hairstylist Peggy Ioakim (along with Erwin Gomez, Ioakim later was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating the White House incident), who gets another earful. "The president will be there. I can't wait," says Michaele, "being there with the prime minister, Mr. Tata and his wife, and the ambassador of India." (Mr. Tata actually appears to be a surprisingly arcane and sophisticated name-drop: Ratan Tata, head of India Motors, was a guest at the dinner that night. India Motors owns Land Rover, which of course was at one time a sponsor of the Salahis' troubled America's Polo Cup, though they cut loose by the time the India match was in the works.) Then she says this is homecoming of sorts: That she used to go to the White House all the time as a makeup artist. "I used to work with presidents, first ladies... It's great to go back." (Don't know what to tell you; it's certainly the first time we've ever heard that story. Michaele did indeed do makeup back in her pre-Tareq days, but that was at a cosmetics counter in the Tyson's Corner Nordstrom.) When did she get the invitation? At first, through a phone call, Michaele says. "I want to see that invitation," says Peggy. "Do you have it?" Sure, says Michaele - and heads out to the limo. This is when things get weird. Michaele's earnest rooting through the car in search of a (non-existent) paper invitation is a bizarre sight for those who have followed this story closely. (Not only did the White House deny inviting the couple; emails that the Salahis' own legal team released after the state dinner scandal erupted show that the couple knew they had no formal printed invitation. They had pestered a Pentagon official to help them get in, and the official gave them mixed signals about their prospects -- but ultimately a sorry-but-no... and then, they told her in an email, they headed on over the White House just "in case." What happened at the gates of the White House remains a baffling lapse of security. But their own records suggest they did not have a formal invitation and knew they did not.) Weirder still: For the first that we've seen in this series, Bravo suddenly pulls back the curtain to show Michaele's exchange with a producer. Producer: "You're still looking for it, right?" Michaele: "Well, I don't know. Who has it?" Producer: "I don't know -- I thought you were going to run out there and bring it here." Michaele: "What do you want me to look for?" Producer: "Remember, your invitation, you said, you'll look for it, and I'll bring it back to show you." (God help me, this is like the Zapruder film! I've watched it so many times, trying to probe its secrets, but I still don't understand. Is the producer prompting Michaele what to do and say for the camera? Or is the producer simply trying to restore focus and calm for a cast member who has started to zone out under stress? And why is Bravo showing us these interactions? Do the producers think it gives insight into Michaele's demeanor during this moment? Or do they think it helps exonerate Bravo and Half Yard Productions against accusations they were in on a scam? Half Yard maintains it had no idea the Salahis were not actually invited to the White House.) Michaele seems no more concerned about the missing invitation than about an also-missing bra and pair of shoes. (Bravo seems to bleep out the brand or designer name of the footware, unless those were actually some [expletive] shoes.) A producer nudges her, sounding a little tense or excited: "You lost the invite, why is that not a big deal?" Says Michaele, calmly, "It's probably safe at my house, is what I'm thinking." Tareq tells the camera, apparently at some later date (but when?): "An invitaton to the White House is a formality really. It's something you keep, possibly frame... You do not need the invitation to get into the White House." Suspenseful music, like something out of a chase scene, kicks in. (Bravo knows you know what's coming.) Erwin helps Michaele wrap her dress properly. "You work hard, you give a lot of love, and you end up at the White House," Michaele says. The music turns a little poignant as they climb into the limo. Stacie is on the cellphone. "We are going to the state dinner!" says Michaele. Coming up next: The headlines, the cable news. A confrontation with the other 'Wives. "Crashers, crashers, crashers!" says Mary. (Must be what inspired the "don't call them crashers" letter that the Salahis' new lawyer sent to the rest of the cast, according to TMZ.) See earlier D.C. "Housewives" fact-checking recaps: The imposter Redskinette (#7, Sept. 23) For better or for worse (#6, Sept. 16) Archive of episodes #1-5 See The Salahis at the state dinner -- what happened? See The Washington Post's coverage of "The Real Housewives of D.C."