Let's GET it out of the way up front: Of course it's Lo's fault. All of it. Had Lo Bosworth not divebombed into "The Hills" last season, Lauren Conrad’s clothes would still be selling at Kitson, Stephanie would have transferred to a fashion school in the Midwest, and Audrina would be harvesting a garden -- fresh basil, heirloom tomatoes, sunchokes -- out by her guest house at Lauren's crib.
Perspective, please. While it certainly seemed like Lo was reintroduced to the universe of "The Hills" strictly to drive a rift between Lauren and her roommate Audrina, the burden of villainy is unfair. Let's be honest: They all probably would have made fun of Audrina back in Laguna Beach. Though her semi-nude pictures and her role as a well-oiled swimsuit-bot in some yet-to-be-released movie and her persistent appearances before paparazzi cameras have given Audrina a public profile even The Amazing Kreskin couldn't have anticipated, her role in the universe of "The Hills," which returns for its fourth season Monday (MTV, 10 p.m.) remains vague at best.
She is a receptionist at a company no one else on the show is connected to or interested in. She is a tenant, living in the house Lauren paid a reported $2.3 million for. She is blank. Even now, after three seasons, the relationship between Lauren and Audrina remains largely beyond the grasp of comprehension.
Consider Lo the corrective. She was largely absent from Lauren's (filmed) life after "Laguna Beach" -- she was in college, first UCSB, then UCLA -- and therefore hasn't been an accomplice to any of Lauren's deeds or misdeeds thus far. And so restoring her to televised prominence not only eases the pressure on the Lauren-Audrina friendship, it also offers Lauren a chance to reclaim her own more innocent self -- before Heidi, Lisa Love, the French guy on the moped.
On "Laguna Beach," Lo was a great third or fourth fiddle, a constant affirmer of the pecking order. She could be tart when necessary but mostly was there to provide fawning comment on the alpha females and to say nice things about the boys they were interested in. Though she occasionally got thrown a hot glance by a shirtless surfer, Lo's sexuality was largely denied while everyone around her was partner swapping with ferocity.
But a subtle intelligence is Lo's saving grace. It's all there in her withering gaze, usually directed away from her target, and possibly in whatever she's always typing into her cellphone. Last season, when she and Lauren visited Audrina in a recording studio where Alkaline Trio, a band on the label she works for, was working, her disinterest was palpable. But really -- Alkaline Trio?
You can see it too in the trailer for Season 4 (a screener of the season premiere was not available by press time). "This is the part where we need to make an effort," Lauren says to Lo, presumably about the troubles at home. Replies Lo, dismissively, "I feel like we are making an effort." She doesn't mean it, nor does she aspire to.
Cut to Audrina, different scene: "Lo's always super-bitchy. That's just how she is." And then Lo, defensively, to Audrina, presumably from the scene where things finally come to a head: "The blame is being put on me for you and Lauren drifting apart, and I don't think that's fair."
"Fair" isn't the word she should have used; "wrong" is. Lo's only doing the work being asked of her -- as is generally the case in war, she views herself as a blameless killer, serving only a higher ideal. In her role as reminder of the path less taken, of the not-yet corrupted, she is the only person on "The Hills" free to comment on its absurdity from within.
She has, of course, forsaken all that now. A life on "The Hills" is unforgiving, and it can't be long before Lo becomes as pathologized as her costars. "I have just been hanging out by the pool," she recently told US Weekly of her life post-graduation (she received a degree in art history from UCLA in June). "I would love to get my own style show or something like that." It could be called "The Disruptor."