There’s a lot going on in the Jersey Shore Family Vacation finale. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and Ronnie Magro have a sweet heart-to-heart over rehab. Jenni “JWoww” Farley and Deena Cortese join the “Spiral Squad” after a very mimosa-filled drag brunch. But none of those exceedingly GIF-able moments are actually the most important parts of season-ender “The Final Supper.”
No, that honor goes to something that could have been a throw-away scene: the reappearance of “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio’s “stalker” from the original seasons of Jersey Shore. It’s a moment that very easily could have allowed the controversial MTV reality show to back-slide into its darkest impulses, but the adults of Family Vacation showed an unexpected level of mature thought. Those kids from Seaside have finally grown up.
Viewers first realize something is wrong during the group’s final strip club visit, when Jersey Shore strips the scene of all of its EDM-blaring music. In its bass-heavy place is the creeping, escalating sound of a Jaws-like attack. The beat would only get such disrespect if an actual emergency occurred. That’s when you start seeing flashes of Vanessa Sky Ellis, Pauly D’s “stalker” during the later seasons of Jersey Shore. First she’s in profile, with just a small percentage of her face visible. Then, as the music crescendos, you realize she is lurking right behind Pauly in the DJ booth, where he is isolated from his reality TV family. Vanessa is wearing an “I Heart Pauly D” shirt; the heart is naturally the colors of the Italian flag.
JWoww is shocked. Deena is shocked. The cameraman is shocked. “Yo is it Vanessa?!” a drunk Deena screams. That’s when we get a quick flashback of Vanessa during the old Jersey Shore days, smirking at the camera while “Pauly D” wearing a trucker hat that’s so 2010. In an old confessional, Pauly predicts she might kidnap him and trap him in her basement.
Considering Pauly’s history of describing women as “grenades” and “stalkers,” you expect him to be similarly mean to Vanessa in the present. But he surprises everyone. Rather than tossing the fan out, he gives her a huge hug and introduces her to everyone over the loudspeaker. In a confessional he asks, “I have a moment. I’m like, ‘Is she a stalker or a super supporter?'” After detailing all the Pauly D paraphernalia Vanessa is wearing and has tattooed on her body, the DJ concludes, “Vanessa is the real MVP.”
Then, footage shows the pair fist pumping and quietly chatting in the booth. “Good to see you,” Pauly says without a hint of sarcasm. Vanessa, whose appearance has the distinct whiff of producer involvement, looks genuinely happy over how kindly Pauly treats her.
Almost 10 years after Jersey Shore’s premiere, the cast’s persistent misogyny became one of the hardest things to accept about a mostly harmless reality TV show. The idea of a bunch of men calling women they deemed unappealing “grenades” might have somehow flown in 2009, but, in 2018, it’s simply offensive. The same goes for the MVP crew’s old habit of describing the women who actually called them out on their nonsense “crazy,” “stalkers,” or both. Even the group’s behavior towards the women they pursued — like hiding two sets of competing ladies on separate sides of the house without their knowledge — now seems creepy rather than hilarious.
But, so much of Jersey Shore Family Vacation has been about reversing some of that damage. Now, the cast gets annoyed with random club-going women when they try to start beef with one of the ladies of the series, rather than for simply being over a size four. No one is being labeled a “grenade.” This growth probably has something to do with the fact that the entire cast is now in a totally new phase of their lives. Pauly is a father, Vinny Guadagnino is no longer trying to fit in (and had a girlfriend at the time of filming), a very sober The Situation is engaged by the end of the season, and Ronnie is Sad. I mean, Ronnie also has a girlfriend and a baby on the way (one of which is now precarious at best and the other is fully arrived).
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