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'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Underground parties

November 1, 2011 | 11:35 am

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Was it with a particularly ghoulish tongue in cheek that on Monday night, All Hallows Eve, Bravo producers chose to show us, for the first time, the show's real-life walking dead?

I'm speaking, of course, of Taylor's now-departed husband Russell Armstrong, who tragically committed suicide this summer. But Monday evening, he was quite in the flesh, making his chain-rattling debut this season as the flesh-and-blood host at what looked like a very awkward couples dinner party with Kyle and Mauricio.

The implicit purpose of the party was to pump the Richards/Umasky duo to find if Lisa VanderPump was responsible for that day's Us item which claimed the couple was separating. In true Kyle and Mauricio form, the pair deflected the inquiry by kissing and nipping affectionately through the first course of cioppino, while the Armstrongs, false smiles firmly in place, tried their best to get it on film that, that day, at least, they were the very picture of a happy, still-married couple.

But it was masks all around. First, there were the Moroccan-themed dancers -- and one very floppy mermaid -- at Mohamed's engagement party for Lisa's daughter Pandora. There was the very real fright mask -- one rivaling Jason's -- sported by Kyle's mother-in-law after Mr. Maloof gave her a mini-facelift. (It looked pretty maxi.) There was the "Western-themed" party Taylor began planning for daughter Kennedy, an intimate gathering for 200 with a $1,000 horse-shaped cake. And, most provocatively, there was the revelation of Kim's boyfriend, a troll-like figure (I say this with affection, camera-man) she's apparently been hiding under a bridge.

But the greatest mask of all is Taylor's, and I'm always trying to figure out if the costume is her own or of the producers' choosing. At best, she appears a woman driven to distraction by her abusive, distant husband, doing her best to keep up a brave face while simultaneously breaking down -- one whose problems could probably all be solved by a little less party planning and a real-life J-O-B.

But at worst, her life is an arid, desperate attempt at appearing normal -- one constantly undermined by her desire to be the victim. She reaps all the rewards of her lavish marriage (later revealed to be, at least fiscally, bankrupt) like private chefs and 40K birthday parties, while planting rumors about her husband's alleged abuse. When confronted, whether about her thinness or her hysteria, she'll deflect, but it doesn't stop her from dissolving into drama -- or starvation -- on a dime. She's that most maddening of friends: the one who wants to have her 1K cake and eat it too.

Taylor stands in stark contrast to Lisa, whose life positively brims with genuine familial love and good cheer, especially now, with ripe daughter Pandora's impending marriage to a doe-eyed fiance. She's got Ken, her devoted husband, and Max, her sweaty son with the charming half-English, half-American accent. (Pandora's got it too, and I will master it, one day.) Striding across her YMCA-sized bathroom in a fluffy pink robe, Lisa barks orders at various friends and family to attend the party that night, puts on a dress matching her daughter's, then presents her, before they depart, with a diamond heart. Ken gifts the fiance with his own 32K watch. Both couples, unlike Taylor, don't only have all the love in the world. They have time.

There's a saying that we wear our real selves on Halloween, and it's the rest of the year that we're in costume. If so, we've got an excellent set of Bravo Rorschachs. On "Watch What Happens Live's" Halloween special following the show, Andy came, of course, as Jiggy. Chris March appeared as an enormous Lisa Vanderpump, replete in purple chiffon, while the lady herself called in via Skype as a purple Playboy Bunny from Villa Blanca. Gail Simmons, of "Just Desserts," was an excellent "Flipping Out's" Zoila (complete with accent), while Teresas, of course, abounded.

But amid all the pomp for the dressing contest of turtle Tramona, there was a spectre no one dared to revive. Russell Armstrong has been the invisible, if very present, ghost looming over the entire season, and Monday night, he wasn't just a guest. He was the unspoken guest of honor.

RELATED:

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Face-off

'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' recap: Grass houses

Complete Show Tracker coverage of 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills'

— Lizzie Skurnick

twitter.com/lizzieskurnick

Photo: "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast members, clockwise from upper left, Lisa Vanderpump, Adrienne Maloof, Taylor Armstrong, Kim Richards, Brandi Granville, Dana Wilkey, Kyle Richards and Camille Grammer. Credit: Richard McLaren / Bravo

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