Jax Taylor Is the Show’s Biggest Villain

The Valley is a show that boldly asks its viewers two questions. First: Why are you watching this? And second: Why are you enjoying this?

The appeal of the Bravo reality show, which follows a group of friends living in “the valley” — a neighborhood in California where people usually flee from Los Angeles to settle down and have kids — isn’t immediately obvious. Most of the cast are new faces, except for a messy trio who were let go from Vanderpump Rules in 2020. Most of their lives aren’t exactly aspirational, compared to the obscene wealth we’re used to seeing on reality shows like The Real Housewives, and their relationships certainly aren’t. (An alternative name for the show would be The Divorce — more on that later.) 

So what’s the draw? The Valley has an unpolished quality that reminds fans of early reality TV, where the participants weren’t so well-versed in how to act and where the influencer ecosystem of today wasn’t yet up and running. The cast is often seen fighting in corridors or spilling potentially life-ruining secrets about each other, which is weirdly refreshing on a backdrop of reality TV, where scenes tend to feel more orchestrated and controlled. The first season — which has been a ratings hit for Bravo and aired its finale on Tuesday night — was powered by the show’s villains, who greatly outnumber its heroes. In a crowded field, there is no villain greater than Jax Taylor, the former Vanderpump Rules star who has schemed, lied, and insulted his way through his big Bravo comeback. Even his now-estranged wife, Brittany Cartwright, has had enough of his behavior. And rightly or (mostly) wrongly, Jax makes for disturbingly good TV.

In the early episodes of The Valley, Jax and Brittany were the nucleus that held the group together. Most of the cast, like married couple Jesse and Michelle Lally or Janet and Jason Caperna, were friends of theirs with young families. Then we had another blast from the past: Kristen Doute. The eternally chaotic star who was let go from Vanderpump Rules in 2020 amid a racism scandal is now trying to have a baby with boyfriend Luke Broderick — a man who looks like he was born in the 1800s, who dislikes her friends and spends “99 percent” of his time living on a Colorado farm without running water. (Can’t wait to see how this works out.)

Early on, Jax seemed to be on a PR campaign to show viewers just how much he had changed. Despite appearing on House of Villains—an E! game show starring villains from reality TV—he seemed to be trying to rebrand himself and kept telling the cast how much he had evolved as a person now that he was a father, husband, and business owner. (He even popped up on Vanderpump Rules to give some sage advice to Tom Sandoval, who was described by the New York Times recently as the “most hated man in America” after his own villain arc.) On The Valley, he made early moves to paint other people as villains in order to get the attention off himself: Kristen gave him plenty of material, so he threw her under the bus and orchestrated an awkward on-camera run-in between her boyfriend Luke and one of her exes. In his confessional interviews, he identified Janet as a potential puppeteer and spent a lot of time talking about other people’s supposedly unhappy marriages.

But even after Jesse literally put his hand up to stop his also now-estranged (noticing a theme here?) wife Michelle from speaking mid-sentence, or when Kristen repeatedly caused total shambles by misquoting people, Jax couldn’t stop his mask from slipping. He was successful in convincing the cast that Kristen was to blame for various controversies this season. (She found herself iced-out of the big cast trip to Big Bear, California, and generally felt adrift from most of her co-stars by the end of the season.) But that’s the thing about reality TV: No matter how hard reality stars strategize, the audience usually sees what’s really going on.

There is a certain sadism to watching The Valley, which sometimes makes me question my own moral compass. Half of the couples seem bitterly unhappy — trapped in marriages where intimacy has dwindled, and communication has broken down. Before the season premiered, Jax and Brittany announced their separation, with Jesse and Michelle following soon after. The show is a grim portrait into the “Instagram vs. Reality” of millennial marriages, which often seem just as burdened by gender roles as previous generations. The men, in particular, look lost, and they’re laying it all out there for us to judge them. (But truthfully, what is better than passing judgment on other people’s relationships from the sidelines?)

In a show where there were a lot of options for an arch-villain — Kristen and her Civil War-era boyfriend, chaotic gay bestie Zack, devious schemer Janet, and, of course, outburst-prone Jesse — Jax has still taken the crown. It’s a somewhat impressive feat, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been comfortable to watch. His relatively harmless pot-stirring and gossiping make good TV, yet some of his behavior has undoubtedly crossed the line. Over the course of the season, we’ve seen him constantly verbally putting down his wife, Brittany, and berating her in front of the group. Throughout the season, Jax called Brittany’s drinking into question as a way to publicly shame her and question her ability to be a mother. Often, when I’m watching him publicly shaming her on the show, I think: If this is what he’s saying with a mic on, how must he behave when the cameras go down?

Some might have little sympathy for Brittany. The relationship, which began when they were both on VPR, has given her a reality TV platform that she has profited from. Over the years, Jax’s behavior was revealed time and time again, including a cheating scandal with VPR guest-star Faith Stowers. She has had plenty of opportunities to leave, but, as Kristen put it: “Jax stumbled onto a saint who was willing to put up with his bullshit.” Still, it has been heartbreaking to watch her try to make it work with someone who seems checked out and, truthfully, doesn’t act as though he likes her very much.


In the season finale, we saw Jax gushing about Brittany during the opening of their long-awaited low-tier sports bar. (It is called “Jax’s,” even though she seemed to do most of the work.) “Right now, the future’s Looking pretty bright,” Jax said before the episode fast-forwarded to the present day, where they’re no longer together. Throughout the season, Jax’s castmates tried to warn him that his marriage was on shaky ground. In the penultimate episode, he insisted that he would never “let” Brittany leave him — but that’s exactly what ended up happening months later. In the finale, Jax seemed totally blindsided by the dire state of their marriage. “I never thought I’d be in this position right now,” he said before breaking down on the confessional interview couch, while Brittany said what most fans have been saying for years: “What was I thinking, staying with him this long?”

With The Valley renewed for another season, amid speculation that Jax is now dating his PR representative, it looks like he will get another shot at a redemption arc. And we’ll keep watching and waiting for his mask to slip yet again. “Why haven’t you changed?!” Brittany shouted at Jax during a post-separation sit-down where it felt like her eyes had finally been opened. Perhaps it’s because Jax Taylor isn’t actually playing the villain role on a TV show. Maybe that’s just who he is?

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