For a while, it seemed as if we were going to get through The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills season 4 in the awkward state in which the season began: Some awkward acknowledgement of Russell Armstrong‘s suicide before jumping into a season he’s been cut clear out of. We saw plenty of footage of his wife Taylor Armstrong discussing their marital problems (though not the abuse she kept hidden until his death). Then last night’s episode changed the formula and showed us Russell—but a distorted and strangely cheery version of the character.
When Russell just appeared on-screen with no warning, it was as if we’d seen a ghost. Or whatever you’re called when you’re dead but the archived video footage of you from months ago is just now being broadcast. The scene was a dinner date with Kyle Richards and her husband Mauricio; those two weren’t much help, cuddling and kissing each other during dinner even though they knew that Taylor and Russell were in therapy.
What was truly bizarre about Bravo‘s decision to include Russell in last night’s episode was how inhuman he seemed. Thanks to the editors, his appearance is composed of choppy shots where he’s only smiling or looking vaguely pleasant. His only “lines” come when he pulls out a tabloid article saying that he and Taylor are separated. Even though Kyle and Mauricio deny knowing anything, Russell really obviously hints that he thinks Lisa Vanderpump is behind the story, and he wants to do something about it.
Now that we know how he would bash Taylor’s face against car doors, we could see some of that malice simmering beneath the calm surface. But he also seemed like a malfunctioning robot who could only manage a handful of expressions. Bravo should have chosen one way or the other: Continue to talk about him while cutting out all of his footage, or show him, warts and all, and continue to cling to the disclaimer that this is presenting events that transpired before his suicide in August.
Interestingly, Bravo doesn’t include any photos of Russell from the episode on its official page. It’s as if he were never in the episode.
The way we were used to interacting with Russell this season was when Taylor or another housewife would say something about him that took on extra weight now that he’s dead (mostly all of Taylor’s “what would I do if he left?” anxiety). But as Kyle ponders their awkward dinner with the Armstrongs in the confessional, we’re back to shifting in our seats uncomfortably thanks to this dramatic irony: “Taylor will tell us things that will make us not like Russell. And it’s very difficult, because then when we see him, he’s very polite and seems to be a nice person. It’s very confusing for everyone.”