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Last night's episode of The Tan Without a Face saw everyone preparing for Christmas, hanging stockings with care and trying desperately to not get in another huge family brawl. Well, actually, they weren't trying that hard at all.

Yes, it's Christmastime in New Jersey, when everyone makes their houses gaudy and gilded, just like Jesus would have wanted them to. It's a sacred tradition, one only threatened by the baser instincts toward fighting and Drama that are always burbling just below the surface of these orange-hided gorgons. It's a cheery time of year, but a deeply menacing one too.

Everyone began by decorating their houses. Melissa was putting together a large plastic tree with built-in lights that her husband Knuckles likes because it doesn't shed pine needles. (It only sheds plastic needles that burn and hiss acidly when they hit the floor or the children's soft, sensitive skin, but at least the carpet isn't messed up or nothin'!) Melissa explained to us that she's really into Christmas because, helloooo, it's Jesus' birthday. And, as Melissa is often heard to remark, she is very close to God. Just very close. Pretty much everything that Melissa does is deeply godly, I think you'd all agree. So yeah, Christmas is big for her. She even bought new special musical instrument ornaments to put on the tree because her music career is taking off and everything. Hm, so wait. Is this a Christmas tree or a Melissa tree? It sounds a lot like a Melissa tree! But that's OK. Melissa is embodying the spirit of the holiday in other ways. Namely, she's having an enormous party that costs thousands of dollars and shows off her house. But it's for charity! Yeah everyone has to bring a toy with them to the party, which they'll donate to the children at a local hospital. So I guess that actually is nice. Would it be nicer to spend ten times less on the party and donate that money to the hospital as well? Probably! But hey no one's perfect here.

Knuckles' cousin Kathy gets pretty into the holiday too. She was decorating her tree with the traditional Mardi Gras theme, with big pluming feathers and some sort of creepy mask. Very Christmasy, I say. Outside, Kathy's husband, Jerf Goldblum, was working with the guys they'd hired to put lights up all around the property. Jerf noted with a little shame that he is not the handiest guy out theah, but he tries every once in a while to do the manly household things, like hiring people to do them. He did help out though, cracking wise with the foreman of the Christmas light crew, a surly elf who didn't seem to appreciate Jerf's slightly caustic sense of humor. Soon the project was done and after all that we didn't even get to see the lights turned on. (Did we? I don't remember seeing them.) Back inside Jerf looked at the tree and said "What are the feathuhs? Huh? What are those? And why is that mask cross-eyed? Huh? And what's with the tree? Why is there a tree in the house? Huh? Who are you two people? Why are you so small? You're my kids? Huh? Kathy, why's there white stuff falling from the sky outside? Huh? What's goin' on heah?" He had so many criticisms! Actually, Jerf kind of turned into a jerk in this episode, didn't he? I think he's maybe more of a jerk than his goofy looks imply. That makes it all the more sinister, I think!

Over at the Marble Compound, Teresa, Joe, and the girls were putting their holiday decorations together, the little ones squirming and squiggling around on the floor talking about what Christmas means to them. One of them focused mainly on the presents aspect (which, let's be honest, that's what everyone focuses on always, right?) but Teresa explained to us that they've cut back on the presents since the big bankruptcy, so it might be something of a lean Christmas. A lean Christmas, Teresa told us, standing on a ladder in the Onyx Room, wrapping gold around her emerald tree. After the girls went off somewhere, maybe to play with their marble Legos in the children's wing, Joe and Teresa talked about all the sad things in their life, from the bankruptcy to Joe's little stint in jail last year. Teresa told us that when Joe went to the clink for ten days, she told the girls that their daddy was on a fishing trip. But then when he came back he didn't have any fish and little Alfa Romeo looked at her father and said "Joe Giudice? Joe Nasty." and Joe knew that his lie was exposed. Ah well. Joe told Teresa that he isn't worried about any of it, that it's all going to be fine. Well, except for that brother of hers! Joe really does not like that brother of hers and he thinks that she should stop talking to him. But he knows that won't happen, so he puts on a good face, or at least a halfway decent face, all for Teresa. Teets nodded her head sadly and rested it on Joe's shoulder and they looked at the tree. "It's a good tree," she murmured and outside the snow began to fall.

There wasn't much decorating going on at the Manzo/Laurita household, but there was some gift-giving. It seems that Jacqueline's daughter Bouffant is a Christmastime baby, so Jacqueline crept up to her room to give her a gift. I guess it sort of makes sense that Bouffant's birthday is around the holidaytimes, I guess it sort of explains her constant need to be seen and heard and indulged. She needs to distinguish herself from the month's other big birthday, but it is oh-so hard, because everyone's too busy focusing on bells and holly and Mariah Carey's joyful, plaintive wails. So Bouffant lurks in corners many a winter, uncelebrated and alone. That would kind of explain her acting-out behavior. It's all your fault for getting pregnant in March, Jacqueline. I know St. Patrick's Day is fun and all, and the green beer flows like... green pee, but you couldn't have waited til May or something? Ah well.

Anyway, Jacqueline gave Bouffant some sort of strange clattering protection necklace for a gift. (She'd also had a down payment on a car given to her last week.) The thing was adorned with a cross and other gewgaws and Jacqueline said "It represents four things, Love and Hope and... Comfort... and... Love? I don't know, I bought it from a gypsy. Well, when I say 'bought it from' I mean 'it was cursed upon me by'. But it's pretty, right?" Bouffant nodded quietly, feeling a strange and somewhat scary warmth emanating from the gypsy protection necklace. Jacqueline then said "Oh, and there was a surprise for you but now it's not a surprise. Your dad was going to come up from Texas, but he got the flu." Hm. I almost wonder if it would have been better not to tell Bouffant that? I mean, I understand that it was important that she know that he tried, but also mightn't it be raining on her parade a bit, considering they were practically on their way to her birthday party at the moment? Bouffant basically said as much, but oh well, cat was out of the bag now. Daddy's missed again. She called her father and they had an awkward chat and then it was time to get ready for her party.

She had two bronzed brunette friends over and they just flounced around for a while and made themselves very late to the party. The event was held at one of those ancient Japanese Shinto temples hibachi restaurants, a place that Gregor the Eunuch, Prince Albie and Cousin Fester's trusted manservant, described as "Jurassic Park but Asian." Clever girl, Gregor. Clever girl. Anyway, Greg and Albie and Chris all showed up before everyone else, which gave their sister Lauren some time to say some not-so-nice things about Bouffant. Uh oh! A chasm in Manzo family relations? Not good, everyone. Not good. I mean, Lauren's criticisms were entirely accurate, Bouffant was getting a car a mere year after screwing up her last car-owning situation, but still, maybe not on camera, Lauren. Maybe not while you're waiting to wish her a happy birthday at her big happy birthday party. Maybe not the time for valid and biting criticism.

After many hours and days of waiting, Bouffant finally showed up, carried in her litter like a lazy queen. Everyone cheered and clapped and she said "Yeah, yeah" and waved them away with her hand and instantly started texting on her phone. SERIOUSLY. She seriously did. She seriously sat down at her own stupid birthday party and was just on the phone. What was she even texting? Weren't all her friends there? "Hey at my birthday party. its ok. Whut r u up 2?" "Who is this?" UNBELIEVABLE. I feel like if I got a text from someone saying "Hey, just got to my bday party, what's up wit u?" I would say "Nothing is up with me, go back to your birthday party, weirdo." Were I Jacqueline, I would have walked over and ripped the phone out of her hand and had the chef hibachi grill that thing. I mean, Jacqueline did at least make a public comment about the stupid phone, which is very good, but still. I understand, young people, that your phone is very exciting and that talking with people can be fun too, but the constantly on the phone thing even when there are people sitting down with you trying to enjoy a meal and a conversation is so insanely rude I can't even stand it. I really cannot. (Says the person addicted to telephone Scrabble. But still.) It was just so indicative of Bouffant, wasn't it? Sat right down and immediately, like immediately, started fiddling on her phone. So insanely rude. I can't even believe it.

The rest of the bday party went smoothly, which is more than you can say about the other party. Yes, after a brief detour to watch Caroline and Albert buy $5,000 ForeverFriendz™ power bracelets for their brood, it was time for Melissa's big party. Well, first it was time to get it set up, and getting any big important party in New Jersey set up means a visit from Fabulous Fred. Fabulous Fred is a mysterious party planner who is something of a guru when it comes to, well, fabulous events. He just knows fabulous, this Fred. I like that his name isn't Fabulous Flavio or Fabulous Francesco. It's just Fred. Just plain old Fabulous Fred. Despite his rather pedestrian name, Fabulous Fred really is rather fabulous.

He sashayed over to Gorgon Manor and was greeted with squealing excitement by Melissa and wary friendliness by Knuckles. Knuckles likes the guy, he's fuckin' faboolous after all, but he knows this thing is going to set him back a pretty penny. And he wasn't wrong. Fabulous Fred started the party tour outside, saying "That's where we'll put your carolers." Haha, they were hiring old-timey carolers! That is very silly. Probably the silliest thing we'll see all evening, right? Nope. Then Fred said "And here in the driveway will be the ice sculptures of you two." ... Nothing says fabulous party quite like ice sculptures of the hosts adorning the driveway. That's just about the best party I've ever heard of, right there, right now. I mean, I typically have an ice sculpture of myself at my house, but I don't really have parties. So I guess I've been wasting my time all along. Sigh.

Fred then led them inside and showed them where the casino would be set up (Yes, casino), described a winter wonderland of desserts, and then they sat down to talk turkey. Fred informed the blinking, deer-eyed couple that certain things, if they wanted things nice, which of course they did, would cost extra. Fred sat back in his chair, twisting one of the many jeweled rings he wears on his fingers. "For example, if you want a fat slobbery waste of a cocktail waiter, that is one price. If you want a model, a beautiful person who speaks correctly, that is another price." Melissa nodded her head, but Fred could tell that she still did not get it. So he snapped his fingers and yelled something in a foreign tongue and in tramped a line of people, wearing loin cloths only. Fred smiled, a bit wickedly, at Melissa and Knuckles. "This is a sample of my serving staff." He stood, walked up to one servant, a fat and trembling young man with bulging eyes. Fred grabbed his hair and inspected it. "This filthy pig, sold to me by his whore mother when he was just a babe, will cost you thirty gold pieces. He is hideous to behold, but the pig will do his job." He walked over to a tall, slender, olive-skinned adolescent. "But this..." Fred purred, running his hand along the boy's muscled chest, "This will cost you quite a bit more. But he is a perfect specimen, I think you would agree. Beautiful, dutiful, possessed of all the proper instruments in just the right proportions..." he trailed off, gazing at the boy's loincloth. "So," he said, clasping his bejeweled hands together and turning back to the Gorgons. "Which will it be?" Melissa blinked, clearly a little scared. "We'll... we'll take the pretty ones. The pretty ones." Fred smiled. "Excellent. The price for the entire event will be 50,000. I trust you can pay me in gold?" Knuckles, also scared, stammered "Y-y-yeah, that's- We can do gold." Fred clapped his hands once more. "Splendid. Then I will make my leave. There's much to be done!" He snapped his fingers and the servants filed out. Fabulous Fred bowed, kissed Melissa's hand, and made his exit. The Gorgons sat back in their chairs, let out long, deep breaths. Parties are hard!

Then the event! It wasn't nearly as gaudy and, well, fabulous as I hoped it would be, but oh well. There were the carolers, looking dopey and embarrassed standing in the foyer. There were piles of desserts and a cheesy casino room. But the lighting was far too bright (dang TV cameras) and it looked sparsely attended. Albie and Chris showed up (with the Eunuch in tow, of course) and, as if trying to seduce me and exactly me, Chris said "It looks like the house from Clueless!" Again with these Manzos being likable. It's getting to be too much. I really need them to damage some children with showbiz aspirations or flip a table or something, stat. Get on it, boys. Jacqueline arrived as well, as did Caroline. Melissa greeted them all warmly, pinching the Eunuch's cheeks and saying "I love youuu!" Melissa was doing a decent job of hosting, warmly greeting guests and whatnot, though she was a bit too caught up in her own spectacle. They'd foolishly set up a cheap-looking step-and-repeat outside and so Melissa and her gorgon sisters went out to take some pictures. Melissa said "When I get on a red carpet or a step-and-repeat, oh I just eat it up." And I was thinking.... Wait, what? What are you talking about, you idiot? When has she done red carpet photo ops before? Isn't she just a housewife with sad singing aspirations? Where is this whole celebrity thing coming from? Between this and her prematurely jaded "On display, on display" nonsense song, I think that Melissa thinks she's some kind of famous person. And, heck, why do you even have a step-and-repeat at your Christmas party anyway? Where are those pictures going? What is even going on? Melissa... you're not... I mean, it's embarrassing. I'm amazed that Fabulous Fred even deigned to work with you. I assure you he will not be doing so again. This is just mortifying.

So that was silly of Melissa, but not as silly as it was to invite Kim G. Yes, Kim G. was invited for drama purposes and wouldn't you know who she brought? She brought that lawyer lady who is suing Teresa and her family. Terrific, Kim G! What a terrifically stupid and unsubtle way to try to stir up dramaz. No good would come of that. Plus there was already drama going on inside the house. Kathy had gone up to Teresa to say hi and wish her well and say that she missed her and Teresa was very cold and breezy toward her. "Oh now you miss me?" she said, a line she'd probably been practicing for a while, for just such an occasion. Kathy stuttered and blinked and said "I, uh..." and Teresa said "No, really, I am happy to see you" in her bitchy sing-songy voice. Kathy threw up her hands and stalked off and went into a room with Jerf Goldblum and cry-complained to him. Jerf said scary things like "I'm gonna go out there and burn the whole fuckin' place to the ground" and other things and I just don't think Jerf is who I thought he was! Yikes!

Meanwhile Teresa was trying to keep Joe calm after some mook said "Hey, where's that thousand dollars you owe me?" Somehow Teresa managed to stop Joe from ripping the guy's head off and pooping down his neck, while Melissa, to her credit, gave the guy (her brother? brother-in-law?) a scolding for trying to start shit at her big Christmas party. Then the arrival of Kim G with the lawyer pissed Teresa off even more and Melissa was forced, with great embarrassment, to tell Kim G that the lawyer friend had to leave. Kim was typically insane about the whole thing, because she is an insane troll-woman who should not have been let out of the sanatorium so early. She really is the crazy worst. And when I say "crazy" I don't mean like "Oohhh Kim G. starting fights, crazy bitch!" I mean crazy in that she's so sadly desperate to be on the show that she'll pull any stupid, corny, poorly thought-out trick she can think of to get some camera time. And then the minute she's met with opposition she has nothing to say or do because she's only ever thought as far ahead as the initial shock moment. That a seventy-two-year-old woman is engaging in such behavior is both pathetic and deeply, deeply unsettling. Let's just say that if you were to dig under Kim's porch, I think the question would not be "Is there a body under here?", it'd be "How many bodies are under here?" Kim G is a crazy sad weirdo who should be in jail, probably. Probably jail for Kim G. That's probably what needs doing.

Anyway, Melissa was so fucking embarrassed to tell this weird lawyer lady to leave. The lawyer lady tried weakly to state her case for a few seconds but pretty soon realized that oh god she, an adult, was being asked to leave a Christmas party hosted by other "adults," and man oh man if your life hasn't spiraled dangerously out of control if you've gotten to that point. So she quietly shuffled off to go home, drink an entire bottle of wine, and leave the country forever the next day, but Kim remained, wild-eyed and defiant. Teresa was in a corner trying to calm Joe, and herself, down, and a strong, thick tension hung in the air. And then the episode ended! That was it. We'll get the second half of the party next week. Oh boy.

Man, that must be so tiring. I know Teresa said that it's never happened before, the big brawling fight kind of thing that happened at the beginning of this season, but there is definitely always some degree of volatile anger filling the room when Teresa and Joe and Knuckles and all his pals are in it. It must be so exhausting to be a grown-ass person hosting a party that worries not about the appetizers being cold or the bathrooms staying clean but about whether the adults at the party will get into horrible fights. And that is just every sad party with these people, rage simmering at a bubble, the whine of a single string note getting louder and louder and louder. It's a wonder anybody else comes to these things. That they don't just stay home or go to other parties and leave these warring orange monsters to themselves. Let them tear their houses down alone inside them. I guess they're just there to, ew, watch what happens. To see if blood is drawn, if hair is pulled, if cookie-laden tables are hurled around the room. They're hungry for anger and violence, for the thrill of death. Hey, just like Jesus. Merry Christmas.