Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Shiri Appleby directs herself to an excellent return to form for UnREAL

Illustration for article titled Shiri Appleby directs herself to an excellent return to form for UnREAL

Now this is more like it. After a few weeks of this show featuring not much aside from awful people doing awful things, “Casualty” shows some results from some horrible actions. It kicks events up several notches, resulting in the most enjoyable watch in a while, despite some really disturbing developments.


I am so fascinated by this show and the differences between this season and last, that I went back and watched all of season one. Adam was not quite as boring as I remembered (fortunately, as it turns out), and Rachel and Quinn, especially, were more sympathetic. Instead of just ruining people’s lives for the sake of good ratings and cackling like a mad scientist, Quinn was actually devastated when she spied Madison giving Chet a blow job, leading her to add another steel wall to her impenetrable exterior. The bond that Quinn and Rachel forged at the end of the season was fraught with tension, but also necessary, as they rely on each other to succeed in this sordid business.

This season they’ve done little else but plot against each other, so one of the actual “positives” to come out of Jeremy’s attack on Rachel (although we really can’t consider anything related to it positive) is that it reminds the two what they mean to each other. Quinn fortunately tosses most of her previous antagonism aside (almost, but we’ll get to that), when it comes to defending Rachel. Her grabbing Jeremy by the scrotum is by far her greatest moment so far this season, probably ever. So if nothing else, at least these two are on their way back to each other again.

But the main difference between the two seasons appears to be the contestants. Season one had lovely, complicated Anna, tragic Mary, but also irrepressible Faith, alongside a few villainous types to keep things interesting. Rachel and Adam encouraging Faith to come out was the most positive this show has ever gotten. Aside from Ruby, who we’ve spent a lot of time with, none of these other contestants this season have really resonated. Yael and Chantal just seem advantageous, and Tiffany has hella daddy issues. It’s hardly enough to keep us interested, although the “Mirror Of Truth” segment (that name alone!) was interesting, as these women said everything they were thinking without a filter, finally. But even at this late stage, contestants like Jameson pop up practically for the first time, and we’re already halfway through the season.

Of this year’s crop of contestants, Beth Ann appeared to be one of the most interesting selections: a Southern racist in a contest to win the heart of a black man. A black man she was actually interested in. But aside from a Trump joke or two, the show didn’t do much with her. She complained about rooming with Chantal at first, so whatever happened there?

So Beth Ann’s blowup this episode feels like too much, too late. Of course Darius is going to be less than enthusiastic about visiting a farm featuring a Confederate flag on the barn (Jameson’s comment about cops and black men was also, and sadly, spot on). So Darius being welcomed into Beth Ann’s family was practically heartwarming, even on the shooting range, showing a “post-racial South” that Rachel believes will be anathema to the ratings. But we never really got to know Beth Ann past the stereotype, and now she’s pregnant? And in love with Darius? Manic Rachel is even better than regular Rachel at setting up people by telling them exactly what they want to hear: She’s so good at it and sounds so convincing as she makes these ladies believe Darius is into them. Poor Beth Ann actually gets led to believe that Darius would be in for her new, makeshift family, and when she tells Coleman she’s going to follow Rachel’s advice, even he looks absolutely dismayed. Rachel is the last person who should be giving advice to anyone. So the blowup, when it happens, makes Rachel gleeful and everyone else traumatized, but because Beth Ann has been set up as a villain character, it’s not as devastating as what happened to Mary, Brandi, or Ruby. (Many people last week said they didn’t see what the big deal was over the stunt with Ruby’s father. I thought it was absolutely heinous, one of the worst things the show has done, to put a father and daughter in that position and damage their relationship, possibly irrevocably. Ruby’s father is never going to be able to unsee that image. Beth Ann will be fine, as her family is sure to rally around her. Ruby’s family will need some time to rebuild.)


Beth Ann’s blowup is inconsequential, though, compared to the simmering breakdown just beneath Rachel’s surface. She’s been up and down for awhile now, so it’s not surprising that this attack by Jeremy would set her on a downward spiral. We’ve seen her depressed before, but now she’s manic, and only Quinn would know exactly how to deal with her. Which makes the most troubling development of the episode the fact that Quinn and Chet convince Rachel not to press charges. It makes sense why: They care about Rachel, but the show is the moneymaker for all of them. And nothing would sink the reputation of a romantic reality show faster than reports of a woman getting assaulted on set. So the decision is understandable, but no less awful, and no less damaging for Rachel. She starts out the episode empowered, ready to take Jeremy down, even taking her own evidence pictures, which she’s deleting by the end of the episode.

There’s a knowing glance between Quinn and Rachel as this decision is discussed: Rachel has nowhere else to go, and Quinn knows it. At this point, by protecting her by firing Jeremy, Chet and Quinn are acting as parental stand-ins for Rachel. One of Coleman’s most annoying traits is his white-knight insistence that he will be the one to save Rachel from Everlasting. That wouldn’t even help her at all. Rachel needs to save herself.


Stray observations

  • This episode is even more impressive when you consider that it was directed by Rachel herself, Shiri Appleby. Usually when that happens, the actor in question hardly appears in the episode, but Rachel is front and center for at least half of this one, and pulling off a realistic manic episode to boot. For her first time helming an UnREAL episode, it’s impressive. She had some really lovely shots, like the sun setting behind Beth Ann and Rachel during their talk, or the white fluffiness of the Mirror Of Truth set. And I just can’t imagine what it’s like to direct your own sex scene.
  • Like Rachel and Coleman, Quinn’s relationship with the bizillionaire seems to be traveling at warp speed. They’ve had one date, and it was to a funeral, and they’re already like, “Check in with you later, okay?” Rachel and Coleman also act like they’ve been together for years instead of a month tops.
  • I kind of like Chet now? Even the dog had a great moment in that scene with Tiffany.
  • “Niche cable channel”: meta burn!
  • Adam looked way too happy to be back on that set. His return is seemingly out of nowhere (what will he possibly do there?), but I think it will be fun.
  • Many thanks to Joshua Alston for filling in for me last week when my satellite went out.