"Season 1, I had literally no clue [what I was doing]," Meredith admits to ET over Zoom. "I had barely ever even watched Housewives. I was kind of going in deer in headlights, and at least this round, I had a little bit of an inkling of how things work and what happens. And so, I guess things are a little less surprising because it's a bit of expect the unexpected, and that's just part of the process. And so once you kind of get your head around that things are a lot easier."
With that said, though, Meredith adds, "There's absolutely no way anybody could have possibly anticipated things to unfold the way that they do."
She's no doubt referencing the March arrest of cast mate Jen Shah, who is accused by federal authorities of operating a telemarking scheme that, according to documents obtained by ET, targeted "vulnerable, often elderly working class people." In April, Jen pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. She faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty.
"These are very, very, serious charges in a district that has an extraordinarily high conviction rate," Meredith notes. She did graduate law school, though she never practiced criminal law. Jen has maintained that she is innocent and has even poked fun at her ongoing legal entanglement, making jokes about the ensemble she wore the day she got arrested on an Instagram Live this week.
"I would be taking them very seriously," Meredith says of the charges. "I know she pokes fun at things here and there, like the Kim Kardashian comment [about joining her legal team], or whatever. I can't, for the life of me, imagine that she's not taking them seriously. I think maybe that's her coping mechanism. I don't know. ... Her way of dealing with it may just be making light of it."
Jen's arrest plays out in the first few minutes of the season 2 premiere, a two-month flash-forward that sees some of the RHOSLC cast -- Jen, Heather Gay, Whitney Rose, Lisa Barlow and new co-star Jennie Nguyen -- boarding a party bus in the parking lot of Heather's spa, Beauty Lab + Laser. The footage is not what would typically make it to air on The Real Housewives, as the production crew is visible, filmed setting up gear by mounted cameras. Those same cameras captured Jen receiving a mysterious phone call, at the end of which she announced she needed to leave. Moments later, a SWAT team arrives searching for her. Soon after, the cast reads news alerts about her arrest and charges.
Meredith was not there for the bus moment, which has added to the mythos, if you will, that she was somehow involved in the investigation into Jen's business dealings, which dates back to 2012. For the record, she was at a memorial for her late father, who died on the first day of production for season 2. She planned to (and later did) meet her co-stars in Vail, Colorado, where they were headed on the party bus for one of their cast trips.
In sneak peeks at the season, flashes of conversations add to this, with Heather asking Jen, "How did the Feds know that you were at Beauty Lab?," Whitney proclaiming, "It looks like you may have had something to do with the fact that Jen was indicted," and this producer's query: "What do you know that you're not saying right now?" to which Meredith simply offers, "Um."
"Projecting and deflecting," Meredith says of the narrative that she was somehow involved in the case against Jen. She denies having any involvement, including allegedly tipping off the FBI. She's quick to point out she only met Jen in 2019, seven years after the investigation began. "You do the math."
"Jen can be a very intimidating person," she says, "and I think a lot of the women are very intimidated, and it's easy to deflect and project."
Things come to a head between the two in a highly anticipated moment that closes out the season trailer, with Jen screaming in Meredith's face, "I swear to God, if you had anything to do with the bulls**t charges against me…" Meredith gets up, walks away from the outdoor table the group is seated at and into a house, just as Jen calls her "f**king fraudulent."
"Who's calling who a fraud?" Meredith asks, a Cheshire Cat grin on her face. "Love you baby, bye." The jewelry designer has no recollection of making what's sure to become an iconic quote in Housewives canon.
"I forgot that even happened," she confesses. Even before Jen's alleged crimes came into the picture, Meredith and her embattled co-star were at odds, feuding over the fallout from season 1. The two got into it at the reunion over Jen's continued online endorsement and amplification of cruel posts harassing Meredith's 21-year-old son, Brooks, who appeared occasionally in the first season.
"Jen's continued to like tweets about me," Brooks remarks in the season 2 first look. "She likes a tweet that says, 'I want Jen to slap Brooks and call him a sissy b***h.'"
It all stems from Brooks claiming to have seen Jen's private parts in an early season 1 episode, during his first on-camera interaction with the reality star. Jen dropped by the Marks' home for a cocktail hour with Meredith, draped herself across the family's couch and did a series of high kicks while horizontal, after warning Brooks and his sister, Chloe, that they would likely see her vagina. Jen later denied that her anatomy was visible during the scene, a point she made clear at the season 1 reunion and, again, in the season 2 trailer. During a tense moment with Meredith she exclaims, "I'm trying to defend my f**king vagina!"
"He saw her vagina, so did I," Meredith declares. "So don't lie about it. And so did your two assistants who told you to cover yourself over and over and over and over again all night long."
"I think it was like kind of trying and surprising, to be honest," she says of Brooks becoming a central figure in Housewives drama. "I think that's part of why I was so upset with Jen, because I think so much of it was incited by her liking and re-tweeting things. It was like, oh, people are like, 'This makes sense. Let's jump on board,' or whatever. And, in fact, she calls him a liar."
"That really pissed me off," Meredith continues, "because she's publicly calling my entire family a liar. And it really was very hard on Brooks for not a long time, but for a short period of time, he was very, very upset. It was a lot to handle, a lot to go through. On top of the whole world trying to now dictate your sexuality to you when you're on a journey to find out yourself. And as a mother, it was heartbreaking to go through that. It really was."
Meredith teases viewers will have to "watch and see" if Jen offers an apology to Brooks in season 2, something Meredith deeply wanted while filming.
"Jen and I came in, from my perspective, in a very negative place," she says. "And there was a lot of things that had happened that I was just wondering why she would behave this way. Why she would like tweets that were -- and retweet things that were -- really just mean about my son, and try to tell him what his sexuality is when he's on a journey to figure that out. That's just to me... I didn't understand any of it and it seemed terribly mean-spirited to me. So, we really started at a negative 100 and I would say maybe at one point we did get to a zero, a neutral and, things regressed back again."
Meredith does confess to being able to put the drama over the harassment of Brooks to rest, but doesn't clarify if she's pleased with the outcome of it all.
"It's very hard for me to really come to a full resolution when I can't understand it, but I can put it to rest, you know?" she shares. "And move forward. I mean, I'm not someone who likes to dwell on stuff. I like to move forward. I do believe that people strive to do better. They can do better. And that you have to have levels of forgiveness."
"I mean, even if Jen ends up found guilty and whatever else, you pay your dues, you serve your time," she continues. "There's restitution, there's this, that, and the other. It doesn't mean that you're forever scarred by this. We have to move forward. And things do move forward in life. Does it mean that I want to be her best friend? No. But can she make good on these things? If in fact she did do them, to some degree, of course. That's the point. We wouldn't be human if we didn't try to do better."
Meredith makes no secret of the fact that her already rocky relationship with Jen very much informed her opinion of her co-star's legal woes, but does qualify that with the note that Jen is innocent until proven guilty. Meredith also shares that she left filming with more answers than questions when it came to Jen, just not courtesy of Jen herself.
"I don't really know who she is," she admits, saying she doesn't think she's ever had an authentic moment with Jen. In response to Jen's tagline for season 2 ("The only thing I'm guilty of is being Shah-mazing"), Meredith offers a laugh and a curt, "I think that's great. I hope it's true."
"Me and every single one of the ladies -- with the exception, I think, of Jennie ... I don't think Jennie was sent any information -- all of us were DM'd a lot of information that gave us a lot of history on Jen," Meredith goes on to reveal. "And that definitely tied into a lot of my choices. That, in addition to my own personal experiences and concerns on other issues."
She admits to being surprised to see some of their cast mates, namely Heather and Lisa, stand by Jen so steadfastly in the wake of the arrest.
"My issues are not simply from her indictment," she says. "That plays a role because it triggers other issues, but my issues go quite a bit deeper. Does it surprise me that [Heather and Lisa] chose to stand by her? Kind of, only because they had had other issues themselves prior to this. And so, you sort of are like, well, OK... But I can't navigate someone else's friendship or relationship, you know?"
Lisa's friendship with Jen is a major point of contention for Meredith at the start of the season, seeing as Lisa is her good friend of more than a decade. She was the only woman Meredith had history with prior to signing up for RHOSLC.
"Our interactions were always very, very different than they are now," Meredith says. "We've had a very individual friendship. And so us now having more group relationships changes the dynamic between us as well. And so it's sort of me learning, OK, this is how Lisa handles this type of situation."
"Lisa and I were definitely in a little bit of a rockier place, and we had some things we need to talk through and work through, which is part of friendship," she adds. "At the end of the day, if somebody is really your true friend -- truly a good friend -- you are going to work through things that you don't see eye to eye on, and you come to some kind of resolution, whatever that may be, and it's more layers to the relationship."
Meredith's main bone to pick with Lisa, at least at the start of season 2, is Lisa turning a blind eye to Jen's social media behavior when it comes to Brooks. The fact that Lisa compares Meredith and Jen's issues to her own with Heather (over whether they knew each other in college and Heather labeling Lisa "dismissive") only makes matters worse.
"Of course, Lisa is entitled to her opinions and her feelings -- just as I am, as well -- and for me, nobody has gone after Lisa's children," Meredith explains. "And do I think that Heather and Lisa have a messy relationship? Absolutely. Do I think that Heather and Lisa arguing whether they knew each other in college is even close to the same level of calling my whole family liars and liking negative, homophobic remarks about my son on Twitter and trying to pigeonhole him when he hasn't figured out where he stands yet? No, I don't. I don't think those are even close to the same thing at all. But Lisa's entitled to her opinion and I'll respect her opinion on it. I just don't agree with it."
Meredith seems to think Lisa simply didn't know how to handle the situation between Meredith and Jen, with staying on the fence feeling like a safe space for the VIDA Tequila owner.
"I think Lisa wanted to comfort me without-- and she does do that, and she does. She tries. Not only just try to comfort me, she tries to reconcile things between Jen and I, and she 100 percent did, but I also think that in trying to do that, in some way she had to put blinders on," Meredith surmises. "Like, I would say, well, did you see this on Twitter? 'No, I didn't see it.' Oh, I can send it to you. 'Please don't. I don't want to see it.' And so, in her mind, it was almost like, if I don't see it, it doesn't exist. And I think for a long time she was going down that path until she really had no choice anymore than to look at, well, wait a second. Does this exist? Or does this not exist?"
"It was upsetting for me to see that," Meredith divulges. "She has to explain to me why she wants to sit in this space she wants to sit in, and I have to reconcile that with where I stand, or we can't be friends."
"Lisa and I are different people," she adds. "If I had the same information Lisa had at the same time, I wouldn't have handled things in the same way, but I'm saying that based on the information I have. I don't understand Lisa and Jen's dynamic. I don't know what goes on there, so I can't really speak to it, because I'm saying this all from my own perspective."
When asked if she and Lisa end up in a better, worse or the same place as before Housewives this season, Meredith says none of the above. Instead, she describes the current state of their friendship as an evolution, but does call their bond "deeper."
"I would say that we are just in a totally different space," she says. "Sometimes, when things are deeper, it's a lot more conflict. It's a lot more to resolve. ... I think we'll see, moving along in the future, I think we will see it being much better, because I think we've become better communicators with each other."
On the note of conflict and communication, Meredith opted into a lot more conversations this season.
"I am still a proponent of disengaging when things have gone past a level of being productive, and someone yelling and screaming in your face is never going to be productive," she says, hinting at that previously mentioned screaming match with Jen. "Certain name calling is never to be productive, so on and so forth. There are certain circumstances that you know it's going to be a lose-lose. What is the point? And at some level, I am happy with a lot of the stuff I engaged with."
Meredith says she was shocked to find her castmates "weaponized" against her, though she wouldn't reveal who or what about; she does think the audience will be surprised by it all, though.
"There are moments where I feel I may have over engaged," she adds. "It was a very emotional time for me. I lost my father the first day we started filming, which was really very tough for me, and so I think I was a little bit more reactionary than I normally am. I do think that my engagement in most circumstances was warranted, but there are times where I may have pushed beyond what I personally felt was appropriate."
In the Housewives universe, there seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to experiencing a major loss and filming the shows: the women either say they should've taken the season off, or are grateful they had the show to focus on during such a trying time. Meredith says she falls into the latter category.
"It was very, very difficult and it's a lot, and of course, when I say 'the season,' our filming season coincides with our winter ski season, and that's what I'm referring to when I talk about season, and that's my busiest time of year professionally, as well," she notes. "And so I just was in a complete total tornado trying to hold it all together, and it was difficult. It was very difficult."
"I did not take very much time to myself at all," she continues. "I'm a very restless soul. That's just kind of how I'm wired to begin with. I'm not someone who sits still -- that's why I barely watch television -- I have a hard time sitting still long enough. I'm very, very restless, and so for me, sitting at home and crying all day was really... it was almost spiraling me into a worse place. And so that was when I was like, you know what? I got to get myself together. I got to get out and you'll see how that all unfolds. But I think that for me, I needed to plow forward -- and maybe it was a little too much plowing -- but ultimately I did take the time after, you know, the season ended to deal with mourning my loss and coming to grips with it."
Reliving her dad's death is the thing Meredith is least looking forward to reliving in season 2, but there is also a lot to look forward to in the new batch of episodes -- it's not all infighting and federal crime allegations. Meredith is especially excited for viewers to see behind the scenes of the photo shoot campaign for brand's her collaboration with GLAAD. Proceeds from sales of her "LGBTQ Rights? I'm Engaging" merch go toward supporting the non-profit.