'Real Housewives of Atlanta' recap of final season 7 reunion episode: NeNe gets real

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Sunday, May 10, 2015

NeNe Leakes during season 7 spent much of the time acting like she was really tired of being on the reality show that helped turn her into a star six-plus years ago. She would attack, try to fix things, then get defensive. She alienated herself from most of the cast with the exception of Phaedra Parks and Porsha Williams. She walked out of a therapy session she created in a way that perplexed most everyone.

And for during much of the three-part reunion shows, NeNe acted passive-aggressive, telling others they were right and she was wrong in the most insincere fashion possible. Her walls were up for much of the night. Her apology for calling Claudia Jordan a "half breed"? She offered to the cameras one of those  "I'm sorry if you were offended" apologies nobody takes seriously.

Then Dr. Jeff Gardere showed up again and what is often a show filled with petty arguments and comical "shady" comments, suddenly turned real. Really real.

"I don't want to be a victim," NeNe said. "My mother didn't raise me. My father didn't claim me. I was lied to. I have been cheated on. I've had an abusive relationship."  She said the other women didn't get her, didn't get that she wasn't Super NeNe all the time.

Dr. Jeff said he had set up the therapy session during the season in a way that would have given NeNe space to address the other women's beefs against her. Instead, NeNe felt like she was being ganged up on. (Kandi Burruss said ti seemed like NeNe got defensive before things even had started.)

This time around, NeNe's pain - usually hidden behind sass, trumped-up confidence and occasional nastiness - reached the surface. She began crying.

The other women instantly softened, seeing NeNe in rare vulnerability mode.

Cynthia Bailey, her former friend, was quick to show compassion. "Whether we're good friends or not, I'm always happy to see her success. I am so proud of you. I know your life has not been easy. I am extremely close to my mother. I cannot imagine growing up without my mother. My heart completely opens to you. I can't imagine having to make some of the choices you've made. [Stripping?] Look at you. You are so blessed. You are so talented. You made it. Doing 'Cinderella.' That was your moment."

Even Kenya Moore sounds incredibly sincere when she said she can connect with NeNe's disconnection with her mother, that they both felt abandoned. As she spoke, NeNe got up.

But she wasn't angry this time.

"I can't talk about my mom," NeNe said softly, over and over again, no longer playing to the Bravo cameras.

Several of the women console her. (Kandi looked distinctly uncomfortable and stayed off to the side.)

NeNe was guided to the bathroom with Dr. Jeff, Porsha, Phaedra and Cynthia. Kenya, Claudia and Kandi stay behind with host wAndy Cohen here Kenya marveled over NeNe's vulnerability. Kandi looked confused, wondering what triggered NeNe's emotional response.

"This is real," Porsha said to her. "We're proud of you."

"You're not a super hero," Claudia said.

"You won," her husband Gregg said.

"You're now soaring," Dr. Jeff said.

NeNe calmed down, then had her makeup re-done. Outside, Cohen arrived and asked NeNe's husband Gregg what really happened to NeNe as a child. Gregg said NeNe and one of her brothers were sent to Athens to be raised by her aunt. Her mom kept the other three kids. NeNe wondered why she was abandoned and that pain has never been resolved.

Dr. Jeff's diagnosis about the pain: "Pain is power but it begins to break you down." Her breakdown was a breakthrough, Cohen said, and the fact the women were largely empathetic should make NeNe feel both less defensive and so over-the-top boastful around them.

"I just think I've been misunderstood," NeNe said. "It's really hard to talk about my mom or my dad. It's just hard. Kinda of like, leave them in the past, don't look back."

Cynthia said she respected NeNe for her vulnerability and NeNe accepted her compliment without shade or defensiveness.

Andy asked why NeNe was so defensive to Dr. Jeff.

The therapist figured NeNe never felt like she was ever given the respect due for her hard work and success. She instead has felt betrayed by people on the show in the past, causing her abandonment issues to bubble up. He said these women want to respect her.

"You are really showing strength by being vulnerable," Kenya said.

Claudia: "Watching this makes me feel emotional. If there weren't cameras, we could have a serious talk and cry, probably laugh about it later and just be supportive. I don't want to fight with you with anybody anymore. What do we get out of that?" (We as viewers of these shows know what we get. Entertainment!)

Dr. Jeff encouraged NeNe to be more open with her closest friends or it will continue to infect her relationships.

Cohen forced a group hug to end the season.

How long will the afterglow of this reunion last? We'll find out in five months when season eight begins.

Production begins soon. Now we'll have the annual what ifs about who will stay and who will leave. Ratings fell off from season six, which was the best ever. But the show remains incredibly successful, the biggest program on Bravo.

There are plenty of questions: Will Bravo bring in anyone new to shake things up? Will NeNe stick around? Will Porsha return to full-time status? What happened to Demetria McKinney?