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Hey guys. Welcome back. It’s been a while, but this week we’re going to talk about new beginnings. Let me back up.
Last year around this time I started writing episode recaps for a show I knew nothing about. Hopefully that explains the title of this series of articles: “Confessions of a Southern Charm Newbie.” Now, those articles were met with near universal praise. The nation’s elites would wait on bended knee for the latest installment, while those miles away from an internet connection would dump the village water supply from the yokes on their backs to race toward the nearest terminal to read about last night’s episode of Southern Charm. Of course, this is a joke. Do not take any of this too seriously as Southern Charm is a lot like life: a series of hapless events put upon us for the cruel enjoyment of some distant observer.
Now that we are back for another season, the natural question is “How are you still a ‘newbie’ after watching an entire season of the show?” Well, in this new media-driven economy in which we all live, a strong personal brand trumps logic any day. That’s why I’m sticking with the name of the column. But allow me to spin this.
Have you ever eaten microwaved fish? Like from the freezer section at Wal-Mart? When you first buy it, you think, “Oh, the delicacies of the sea enjoyed from the comforts of my home. So affordable. So convenient. Don’t mind if I do.” Then you eat your frozen salmon samplings and feel very sick. That’s what Southern Charm is. It’s a convenient way to experience the fanciful Charleston lifestyle from your home. And while you may have suffered from mild nausea and fish sweats the first time, you still eye that yellow box in the freezer aisle every time you pass. Well, now it’s time we all open ourselves back up to the inevitable indigestion that is to come. Welcome to season four of Southern Charm.
We open this season premiere with Thomas Ravenel approaching the home of Landon with a rose in hand. Landon is quick to remind Thomas that orchids are her favorite, which is the best way to accept a romantic gift. They take a walk to Colonial Lake where Thomas says he wants a partner and asks Landon to “take a chance.” I am assuming that Thomas takes all his romantic cues from Swedish pop sensation ABBA.
Everything then cuts to black and the words “Three months earlier” flash across the screen. This is exactly what happened last season. At that time, I asked if we should expect a Breaking Bad-style story structure where flashbacks play a well thought-out role in delivering information. That was not the case. That will never be the case, and I am dumb for entertaining the idea.
We are then shown a montage of our familiar cast of characters. Thomas is stalking through his massive, empty estate like some male Southern equivalent of Miss Havisham. Shep, everyone’s favorite everyman, is attempting to iron a shirt. He looks at his iron like he’s doing long division. Shep’s befuddled glare represents us all — grasping in the dark, looking for just a glimmer of understanding to illuminate our paths through this world. I will now institute a running gag where Shep always appears on the show with a noticeable iron burn on his clothing.
Patricia is — I shit you not — lying in bed, putting on her newspaper-reading gloves so the ink doesn’t stain her hands. What must the news of the world look like to someone who wears gloves to read the paper? It really is fascinating to consider. Does Patricia wear a poncho to eat a grapefruit? Does she use a bellows to blow out candles? I picture an archaic diving suit hanging in Patricia’s closet with a tag reading “For Pie-eating Contests Only.” What is the white glove budget for this household?
Meanwhile, it looks like Craig is building coffins or something in his backyard.
Hopefully, this will be explained.
Then we cut to the ever-responsible Cameran, who receives a call from Shep. He is driving around to bars, looking for his lost credit card. Good thing he ironed his shirt for such an auspicious outing. I am glad to have these two back in my life.
We soon learn that Cameran is en route to Craig’s house, and we are shown a clip from last season’s reunion show where Craig revealed that he never finished law school. For a bit of background, Craig said he applied for the Bar exam, but ventured off to help run a hotel/bourbon business. This all ended badly, and Craig seems to have taken up the pastime of building random nonsense in his backyard. Maybe, just off camera, Craig has constructed a scarecrow courtroom in which to practice bird law.
Shep reveals that Craig has gotten really into gardening. Cameran arrives at Craig’s home to learn that he isn’t building coffins like I previously thought. Instead, he is building some sort of grilling platform, which is like a coffin to less proud men.
“It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet,” Craig tells Cameran as he looks upon his works.
You know what you can’t learn on the internet? How to be a lawyer. Probably. Anyway, Craig has found zen in his backyard. He says he has become a professional gardener and carpenter — just like Jesus — and Craig is just waiting to take the Bar exam.
Back at Thomas’ house, he says his life has really changed. Thomas’ kids are now living with him. Walking about 90 yards from his main home, Thomas meets up with his children in his guest house. He says the kids have been situated in the guest house because children are “messy and destructive.” There will be no more wire hangers in the Ravenel home if Thomas has anything to say about it.
Thomas says Kathryn, the mother of his children, can’t see the kids until she passes a drug test. This is horrible to hear, but one of the more “real” moments of this “reality” television program. I feel like the main debate during situations such as this is that the children are being exploited, but maybe there is value in airing this sort of familial dilemma. Thomas begins to opine about how his children have caused him to consider his own mortality and what happens to them after he’s gone. Well, they will probably move into the main house, for one thing, and get Craig to build a suitable coffin with his newfound carpentry skills.
We then catch back up with Shep, an iron-shaped hole burned clear through his shirt, as he meets up with who I assume to be our newest cast member, Austen. Austen and Shep appear to be the exact same person except Austen’s name is Austen, and Shep is named after a colony founded by beagles. Shep finds Austen chatting up a few ladies at a bar. Shep first asks if Austen has been “behaving himself,” which seems innocuous enough. Shep then says that he is much more concerned about competing with Austen for a woman’s affection because Austen has that “killer instinct.”
Now, I know we’ve just met Austen, and he seems like a nice guy, but is he a serial killer? Is Shep trying to covertly tip off the FBI with this subtly-coded language? “Oh, my buddy Austen, he’s a real lady killer. One drink with him and the next thing you know you’re dissolving in a bathtub full of lye,” I imagine Shep saying to the camera as he blinks to reveal “Send Help” written across his eyelids. This is a joke I will be continuing for as long as I’m allowed.
We start the next morning in Austen’s apartment, as a young woman who spent the night manages to escape his den alive, which may be a perfectly normal thing. Who’s to say?
Anyway, Austen just got out of a long relationship with a woman. She wanted to get married. He wasn’t ready. Now he’s enjoying the single life.
The camera keeps focusing on the large amount of beer around Austen’s apartment, daring you to question if Austen has a serious drinking problem. Then the show coyly reveals that he is a rep for a beer company and not someone who is debilitated by their addiction to alcohol. That’s good news.
We then see a brief clip of Austen’s parents telling him to find a better career or something because they don’t want him living “hand to mouth.” Apparently they didn’t notice the cameras and film crew surrounding their dinner table. Austen likes to promote beer and he is on a TV show. Good for you, Austen. Whatever it takes to ease your fictional bloodlust, I am all for it.
Returning to Patricia’s home, where she is embroidering a picture of her pug fit for the Czar’s court, Patricia’s son Whitney is paying her a visit. She decides to show off the newest addition to the home. Patricia has replaced the bell that was once used to summon her butler, Michael, with an electronic buzzer. After a few failed attempts to call Michael, Patricia notifies him of the trouble with the buzzer. Michael replies that he’s sure the batteries are “worn down,” and it is the funniest thing that has ever happened on this show. Michael’s delivery is so damn dry and the entire scene is so WASP-ey that somewhere in the world Wes Anderson is foaming at the mouth. Patricia and Michael are truly the Nichols and May
of our generation.
Whitney says he recently traveled across Tulum and decided to smoke weed for the entirety of the trip or some such nonsense. This doesn’t matter at all, except it is enough to spur Patricia to recount the story of their “Uncle Philip.”
Apparently, Uncle Philip had a huge job “with the government,” until he started “smoking grass” and ended up working at a Blockbuster. Now, here’s the beauty of Patricia’s wording: My mother worked at the DMV her entire career. But if I describe her as someone who had a “huge job with the government,” it makes it sound like she was an FBI agent chasing D.B. Cooper through the pines. The life lesson is sell yourself like Patricia sells Uncle Philip.
Later in the episode, Cameran and Shep meet up at a surf shop to purchase new swim clothes for an upcoming pool party, because every episode is required by South Carolina state law to end with a party of some sort. Shep, his outfit an intricate tapestry of iron burns, says he’s bringing Austen to the party. Cameran asks if Austen has replaced Craig, who has clearly fallen out of favor with his fellow castmates. Shep says that a “cadaver could replace Craig,” which just adds to the list of death imagery that Shep intertwines with any mention of Austen. Austen probably doesn’t have a photo album full of eyelids and a thirsty blade that calls out his name, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to Shep.
Our entire cast reunites at a pool party, which is usually how adults see each other after large spans of time apart. It’s all just pool parties, science fairs, and spring flings that bring us all back together. Kathryn remains the ghost at the feast, her name on the lips of everyone in attendance. “Is she better? What is happening with her?,” they ask. Thomas, meanwhile, continues to tell all the women to take their clothes off.
The scenes of the pool party are intercut with closeups of Kathryn getting into her car and driving to some unknown destination. The entire sequence is filmed like Kathryn is some pool-party assassin on her way to ruin everyone’s good time. While viewers are led to believe that she is headed to the party, the show hits us with a surprise twist as Kathryn pulls up to a medical facility, where it seems she is ready to submit to the much talked about drug test.
In the season four premiere, Southern Charm has set up multiple redemption stories. Everyone, it seems, is looking for their own new beginning. Will Kathryn regain her parental rights? Will Craig realize his goal of becoming a lawyer? Did Shep ever find his credit card? We’ll just have to watch to find out. Or you can just read about it here.
Want exclusive early access to these Southern Charm recaps? Sign up for our 'Morning After' email newsletter to get it in your inbox on Tuesday at 10 a.m., hours before it's posted online.