Happy New Year to our wastrel brides. And what a new year it is! Camille and Kyle are at peace, imbuing the show with a strange and oddly unsettling sense of calm. (So it's really not calm at all.)

Yes, something wintry descended on our Housewives last night, making everyone gather and huddle together for warmth, the nasty, persistent cold gnawing sharply at their edges. Though, as sometimes tragically happens in nature, one poor creature was left outside the pack and forced to freeze.

We'll get to her eventually, but of course we must start at the very beginning. The lovable Lisa was in her enormous garden pruning the rose bushes, a very expensive-looking basket by her side, dressed all in white and soft pink. What a gauzy, pleasant life she seems to have! Beautiful rose bushes, clothes that always seem lit somehow in portraiture soft-touch, and a sexy young thing lounging by the pool, glugging glasses of wine in the middle of the afternoon without a care in the world. Well, OK, so that last part, the Cedric part, is causing a slight blemish to grow on Lisa's otherwise perfect life. It's not that she and her husband don't love Cedric, they do of course, it's that he's been mooching around for a year now and Lisa's husband is upset that he doesn't fill the gas tank, and it's basically like having a college-age kid home for the summer. "I love him, I do. And he's always welcome here, obviously. But I want him the fuck out." Lisa feels far less strongly about this than her husband does, but she wants to maintain peace, peace is always her pursuit, so she tries to be diplomatic about the whole thing. And, truth be told, the "fights" that she and her husband have are really hardly fights at all. They just sort of chirp at each other Britishly and then chuckle and that's basically it. And from the edge of the pool the Cheshire cat Cedric smiles a curious, knowing smile and things ripple a bit in this otherwise perfect picture, as if to show us, very briefly, a sinister world hiding beneath the billowy, sun-splashed exterior.

The mysterious nature of Cedric the Permanent Houseguest was deepened at Pandora's birthday party. No, "Pandora's birthday party" is not some hilarious 1960s avant-garde play about the ills of the world, it was actually a birthday party for the Roald Dahlianly named Pandora Vanderpump, Lisa's 24-year-old daughter who is a few scoops of blonde all piled atop one another. She has a charming boyfriend who is handsome in the way handsome used to mean, Glass Menagerie Jim handsome — a neat haircut, warm and boyish smile, a twinkle of ambition in his eyes. He's America's older brother, a Pleasantville guy next door who all our mothers wish we would marry. Including Lisa! Apparently this boyfriend keeps making these strange and permanent-sounding declarations of love at various events and parties, but then never follows through with a proposal, and this frustrates Lisa so. Pandora said that she thinks her boyfriend does it just to tease Lisa and we realized that there's a streak of mischief in this Eagle Scout, the winsomely sexy kind of derring-do that will almost assuredly get him killed when he goes off to fight in WWII.

Anyway! Cedric. So Kyle was there being as blockish and blunt as always, and at one point she leaned across Lisa and said to Ced, "You promised me you were going to tell me about your childhood," which she'd heard had been difficult. Expert timing, Kyle. Sincerely well done. At this crowded party for Cedric's landlords' daughter's birthday, this is a good time for Kyle Richards and Cedric the Entertained to talk about his terrible, Le Dickensian Parisian upbringing. Cedric was clearly reluctant to talk about it, but feeling that magnetic whir of the camera on the side of his face, he ultimately decided to divulge. And it was a tale of such woe! Like, genuine street urchin woe. He never knew his father and his mother was a prostitute. (My temptation to riff on the SNL skit "Old French Whore" is great, but seeing as this is a real sad story, I won't.) She and her beautiful gay son lived on the streets for a stretch and then one day mom up and disappeared, and Cedric was left all alone. Luckily his life didn't devolve into an even more tragic tale of a bubble-butted Paris street boy who has to use what God gave him to keep himself in cat food (which is apparently what he ate). No, he was swept up into the foster system (no paradise, but better than Blowjob Alley for sure) and then eventually met Lisa and her husband and they took him under their feathery wings. It was hilarious to watch Kyle hear the various beats of this story, as she realized with a lame kind of dread that this really, truly was not birthday party conversation and she'd totally stuck her foot in it. But Cedric didn't seem too fussed about it, it was his story, the only one he had, so why not be upfront about it. Kyle smiled and gave him some platitudes and then she said to us "I hope Cedric is sincere." Which might have meant something entirely different, but for me it planted the smallest seed that maybe this scrabbly, almost baroquely squalid origin myth is indeed just that — a story dreamt up one day by a lonely gay Parisian boy, a tale of picturesque grit and serial novel tragedy. I don't know. Maybe that's cynical, but I don't think the mystery door has fully been closed here. There's a small, slight suspicion nagging, still clanging faintly like a ship's bell far off in the distance. Who are you, Cedric?

Anyway. So Kyle kind of stepped in it there and she just kept on stepping in as the episode went along. Granted, of course, it wasn't entirely her fault. As always, there's Camille. Camille Grammer is the kind of stupid nouveau riche lady who thinks that because she's suddenly sitting on a pile of sweaty money, that she now has to be all classy-like and play tennis. Do some rich people play tennis? Sure, definitely. Do all rich people, by requirement, have to play tennis? No, don't be ridiculous. Camille, if you don't really want to play tennis, if you're bad at tennis and don't enjoy it very much but feel like you have to because you're a rich white lady, just don't worry. No one cares. No one expects anyone to play tennis. This isn't 1950s Newport ("Whaaaat? You don't play tennis?? Ohh how dreadful."). It's 1990s Malibu and you are your own woman and you don't need to play tennis if that's not your thing. And it's clearly not her thing. And it's clearly not really anyone else's thing, but Camille decided to have the gang over for a tennis party anyway. She called it a tournament, but from what I could tell there was exactly one tennis game played and, really, only three people showed up dressed for tennis. One of those people was Mauricio, for whom Camille has an enormous spite-boner, and who plays tennis. Camille called Kyle up and told her to come over for tennitch and Kyle was all "Reeeally?? Hm...." but she did come in the end, because, I'm beginning to suspect, Kyle is chasing the camera-time dragon something fierce. Ohhh mama needs a sweet, sweet camera fix more and more frequently as time goes on. Mama needs that cold glass glow, baby! Lady likes her camera time. So if she has to pry open the Hydra's mouth and stare down one of its many throats in order to get camera time, well them's the breaks. She's gonna do it. She's gonna go to tennis parties at Camille's house.

The party was your usual bone-chilling Camille affair. Nick the tennis pro was there in a strange wig (yup) and his sour wife stood by while Camille cooed and stroked his wig and kissed him on the mouth. Honestly Camille might as well have lifted her leg and peed on Nick while staring his wife in the eyes and smiling. When it comes to men, she is the most creepily territorial person I've ever seen on a reality show. Something reeeeeeeeeeeally bad must have happened to her when she was young, males-wise. Like, really bad. Sorry Camille. Anyway, this made everyone uncomfortable, as did her jugs-jiggling tennis performance, while Mauricio sadly flirted with her and all the girls (plus Maloof's batlike husband) watched from the sidelines in flowy, draped fabric and enormous bug-eye sunglasses. Then there was a hilariously WTF English tea service, because sure, and as they sat there of course Kyle had to bring up the fights and the tension and you just wanted to shake her by the shoulders and yell "STOP BRINGING THIS UP. LITERALLY, NEVER MENTION IT AGAIN!!!!" This sentiment was reflected on Mauricio's face, which was gnarled and tangled in a look of such shock and revulsion I hope never to see it again. Kyle reeeeally needs to stop awkwardly bringing up the topic of her tension with Camille when Camille is sitting right there because it makes me want to put bamboo shoots in my eyes. And I don't want to have to do that again. Then all the children went to play in the pool, including the blonde, big-breasted child Camille, while all the men went "Ooga boooga boner" at her bikini. Or so she hoped or something. This clearly made Kyle uncomfortable, and then Camille was taunting her cruelly, saying "Get in the pool, c'mon, get in the pool," and finally Kyle did the only cool thing she did all episode, which was she just up and jumped into that motherfucking pool in her clothes. Good for her. The Maloof's husband was excited by this so he went "Huh huh pool" and pushed his wife in. They were all electrocuted by their mic-packs and floated facedown in the pool, gently bumping up against each other as someone in the distance screamed and screamed. Everyone laughed and the sun sparkled in the 'bu sky and the afternoon ambled away from us. So, no major blowups. Just Kyle fiending something fierce but not really getting her fix.

Speaking of not getting one's fix, Taylor. Ohhh poor scrambled-egg Taylor. There was a sad interlude scene with Taylor and her family having breakfast and didn't it just break your heart? First there was the little rugrat Kennedy (ugh) being cute and climbing all over a chair and then Taylor had to be all "Honey did you touch the dog? Hm? Well, let's wash you off just in case," because their small child has a dog that she is seriously allergic to and nothing has been done about that. Congratulations. Then Russell, Taylor's strangely distant husband, came shambling downstairs and Taylor served him scrambled eggs and coffee and he only paid attention to the daughter, not to poor beaming Taylor, who said under her breath "Jack Twist? Jack nasty..." and Russell said "I'm sorry?" and Taylor said "Nothing, nothing. I didn't say anything." And then it was time, as always, for Russell to go to work. So he gave Kennedy (barf) a big smoochy raspberry kiss and Taylor a curt head nod and then he was gone and Taylor was left sitting there, sunlight streaming in through the french doors, making the glass breakfast table glow with a cruel heavenly aura. Taylor wanted everything dark and bleak and stark and cold to reflect her mood, but instead it was all chipper and dapple, bouncy blonde baby and pristine white dog. Instead of breaking the glass table, instead of hurling something heavy and valuable through it and reveling in the satisfying smash and din, Taylor got up from the table and put the rest of the eggs down the disposal and gripped the marble countertop so hard she swore she almost heard it crack.

All of this sadness and anguish led beautifully into a White Party, for white people, that Kyle was having at her home. Apparently it's an annual Mauricio/Kyle tradition, but this year was special because it was also Mauricio's fortieth birthday. (Party with the Hay-tee-ans in ten years!) So it was a big ol' do, with Kyle hiring shitty djs and shitty party decorators who set up shitty white tents and shitty white couches and a shitty projection screen and shitty plastic illuminated tables. It looked really shitty, is what I'm saying. But it didn't matter, because Mauricio and Kyle are genuinely in love so there was nothing shitty about that. The guests filed in and oohed and ahhed as is expected of guests on this show. The ugly ones skibbled away from the cameras, the children stood awkwardly swaying on the edges, and the star attraction adults grinned and blinked under the lights. Taylor showed up with Russell, who was wearing a see-through white adventurers shirt or something, and he immediately started pouting and acting strange. Taylor was off somewhere at one point and Russell was talking to Lisa's husband, who was telling a story about one of his swan's (yes) escaping and running down the road, and Russell said, strangely, "I'll bet Cedric left the gate open." Fact is, Russell spends a lot of time thinking about various things that Cedric does — how he combs his hair and buttons his shirts and walks into a room and instantly owns it with that brown magnetism of his. Russell has crafted whole romantic yarns for Cedric in his head. Tales that devolve into moments of heaving physical grace, Sunday afternoons that stretch on forever, two people twined up in one another, the strong gushy thump of Cedric's purple French heart beating under his warm chest. The truth is Russell thinks about all of these things, thinks about the careless boy leaving the gate open, letting a beautiful white swan escape the property, trill down the street, such a strange sight. This wonderful beautiful thing, this delicate swan, out there on the street where no one thinks it belongs. Russell thinks about that while he's standing in sallow corners of parties, chewing on french fries, staring occasionally with cold lump eyes at his desperate wife.

Taylor looks back at him and she sees mostly nothing. Throughout most of the party she stayed by Russell's side and tried to get him pepped up about the party, but he couldn't. Just couldn't do it. (He was too busy noticing, maybe, how Cedric talked to a thin blonde waiter, put a comfortable hand on a shoulder, laughed, leaned in and whispered something friendly but dangerous.) So she tried to dance and laugh and have fun, but mostly she peered sadly at Mauricio and Kyle, a happy couple in love, and she felt the strained pull of longing in her heart, she wanted that so badly. So, so badly. Tears brimmed in the taut corners of her eyes and she swayed to the music and imagined the millions of stars above her suddenly swallowing her up, taking her somewhere lovely and different, somewhere warm and forgotten.

The Maloof showed up to the party looking like the staff call girl at Caesar's Palace, a white toga dress with thick gold metal lashing on one side, hair in a precarious up-tumble on top of her head. Kim was there too. Aw-shucks, downtrodden Kim. Lisa told her that Martin, the Crimean War veteran she'd set Kim up with a few episodes ago, was going to be at the party and Kim smiled that squiggly smile of hers and she said hoarsely "Oh fun. How fun." And when Martin did arrive, clanging up to the house in his steam-powered Hudson Landau, they shared awkward hellos and he asked if she wanted a drink and there was a brief moment, a swallow dipping slightly in the sky, where you could see that she wanted to scream "YES!!! A drink would be perfect," but she caught herself and said no thank you and he shrugged and shuffled off, twirling his ebony cane and whistling a Legionnaire's marauding song. Kim sighed and Lisa sighed and Kyle sighed and Kim filled her pockets up with rocks and walked into the swimming pool.

Of course Camille came, seeing as she and Kyle can never miss an opportunity to be passive-aggressively horrible to one another. Camille came armed with a present for Kyle and Kyle raised those architectural eyebrows of hers (tiny dust mites operating a tiny crane to lift them) and said "Oh really?" And she opened it and it was a book called How to Behave, some little etiquette book or something. Ha ha. Get it? Because Camille furiously hates Kyle and vice versa. Camille said "I'm pretty self-deprecating and I assume that Kyle is too." Except, Camille? You can't force someone to be self-deprecating about themselves. That's just deprecating, I'm pretty sure. But oh well. Miraculously, Kyle took it mostly in stride. There were a few awkward comments and a few strangled guffaws, but the moment passed and there was no explosion. Camille had a case of bronchitis or some other lie, so she had to leave soon after and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the war, the Grand War, the war to end all Camille and Kyle wars, was delayed for another day. Oh happy party! A song was sung for Mauricio and he and Kyle danced while Taylor looked on with watery ache.

Russell said he wanted to leave. He was bored he said, though really of course he didn't know if his muscles and bones and guts and skin could stand any more immediate exposure to Cedric, Cedric who had disappeared, giggling, into the house for a few minutes with the thin blonde waiter and reemerged looking placid and fuzzy. Russell, not a dumb man, knew that it is bad to look directly at a solar eclipse, though one wants to desperately, so he thought he should extricate himself from the situation. Wise, Russell! Wise. But poor Taylor wanted to stay and she decided that tonight she was going to hold her ground, find her own happiness, actualize her joy. So she said "Do you want the car to take you home and then it can come back to get me?" And Russell said the cruelest thing: "It doesn't matter." So he left and Taylor stood in the doorway, the party humming and cheering behind her, and watched his car disappear into the night. She went back in and found Kyle changing the baby and she wanted to say so much, let all of her unhappiness spill out of her like a broken Dutch dam, but she didn't. She just said "I don't know... I don't know..." and Kyle took her hand and it was a genuinely nice friendship moment on this show, seeing the comfort of friends when one is sad. If only it wasn't twinged with Taylor's strange, jealous yen for Mauricio. If only the whole show wasn't twinged with that! (Well, actually, I'm glad it is. It makes for despairingly fascinating television.)

Pretty soon after their conversation, Taylor decided that she really should be going. So she was sent off, bizarrely, with a big piece of cake and was made to stand there on the curb waiting for her car, holding the sad cake for sad folks, wishing so many things. Taylor got a really cruel edit this episode, but it was cruel in such a good way. Poor Taylor! Oh poor Taylor.

Once the car arrived she folded herself into it and watched as LA — its orange-lit desert hills, its long strips of mini-marts and gas stations — rolled past in the window. She was tired but didn't want to sleep. She wanted to clap her hands, yell one thing loudly, and have everything be different. She wanted to plop her face down into the piece of cake and scream and scream. But she didn't. She just sat there — good, well-behaved Taylor — and took long sighing breaths.

And when they pulled up to her house the driver said "Miss? Are we there? Do you live here?" and Taylor looked at the darkened house and she sat there. She sat there and sat there and sat there, trying to find, to dig up from some buried place inside her, just the right answer.