Photo: Bettina Strauss (Lifetime)

We’re only at episode four of the season, but already UnREAL has landed in a superdark place. Junkie Alexi might be the most painful contestant we’ve witnessed on this show since Mary went off her meds in season one. What’s worse, Jay, usually the only voice of reason on Everlasting, has sold his soul by enabling Alexi’s drug habit to get his pilot off the ground.

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Meanwhile, Rachel is our stand-in for the #MeToo movement, as again UnREAL tries to capture the “zeitgeist” of the moment, like the #BlackLivesMatter episode last season. Her mom’s sexually abusive patient has been alluded to before, but what a twisted monster Rachel’s mother is set up to be: servicing her experimental therapy clients in her own house, then heavily medicating her own daughter after she’s attacked by one of those clients. It was interesting, and rather horrifying, to hear the asshole’s side: somehow convincing himself that 12-year-old Rachel was not only 17, but an instigator.

At least Rachel’s backstory makes a lot more sense than the trumped-up joyride/police stop of season two. Like Dr. Simon says, Rachel has to figure out where the darkness is coming from; as yet another person who can also say #MeToo, that incident has scarred her life, made her incapable of trust, and ready to latch on to possibly the wrong people, like Quinn. After all, Quinn doesn’t want Rachel to get better until after the season, because for whatever reason, a hopped-up Rachel is great at her job (which is, officially, manipulating people). Rachel still really has no one to turn to, but it’s Quinn’s lap she finds after discovering that in her fucked-up family, her father attached her attacker but never followed up with his own daughter to make sure she was all right. Not saying there aren’t some families out there who could be like that, but I bet one worse than Rachel’s parents would be hard to come across outside of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Still, I’m willing to suspend some disbelief here, even though I’m still not on board with genius mogul Serena still believing that she will find true love on a television show. But even dumbkopf Chet has to realize how idiotic it is to bring a reporter onto the set responsible for the deaths of two, maybe three people. Why doesn’t he grab a cop while he’s at it? Perhaps a private detective? It only takes the reporter about two seconds to reveal that she’s actually there to take the whole show down. Her cat-and-mouse game with Quinn is pretty funny, actually, and how do people entertainment industry not understand the difference between on-the-record and off-the-record?

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Also- I know next to nothing about drugs, and even I could tell the marked difference between pre-go-off-with-his-friend-who-conveniently-shows-up-for-five-minutes Alexi and post-friend’s visit Alexi. Mainly, that he was hugely coked up. Alexi falling of the wagon is pretty terrible and the show is playing it as bleakly as that situation deserves; frantically setting up lines on a mirror, crashing on the floor afterward. I expect him to be shooting up or something by next episode. Russian dancer Alex Sparrow is doing a bang-up job as Alexi, though. so much that it’s hard to look away, even though things are bound to just get worse. It’s Jay’s devastation that might be even more effective, though: after all, Alexi’s stumble isn’t exactly unexpected, as he was in rehab before he came on the show. Jay, though, for the most part, has tried to do the right thing; even he is stunned when he pushes his pilot by procuring drugs for Alexi, and slinks to the floor as well, just as undone by his own actions.

With Rachel out of commission, Quinn attempts to take devious Madeline under her wing, continually obsessed with her pilot, #Adulting, and clued in finally by the dastardly duo that Gary’s just using her anyway. Madeline is another character whose ethical line is extremely wobbly, depending on when it suits her. Still, Quinn tries to explain she’s verbally abusive to her staff to help them, not hurt them. But when her staff is as damaged as people like Rachel and Madison, who is Quinn really helping, besides herself?

After all, Rachel, Jay, and even Madison all make some sort of sacrifices this episode for a career in television: Rachel her mental health, Jay his core decency, Madison the relationship she thinks she has with Gary (she really doesn’t). Everyone seems so corrupt, it’s no wonder that Serena finds that she can’t even trust the one guy she thought she could (August). Maybe the problem is, in season three, it would be great if we were actually seeing these characters getting better, instead of (especially Jay) so so much worse. To that end, Rachel finally confronting her attacker might actually benefit her in the long run, even though it makes her completely unravel by the end of the episode. But at least she’s determined to find out what’s wrong with her, unlike Quinn, who tosses off Simon’s attempt to get her to even talk about her “mean mommy,” and visibly flinches over the reporter saying that Quinn hates herself and is determined to tear women down. Again, this is dialogue that no one would tell an almost-perfect stranger in real life… but it sure appears to have given Quinn something to chew on until next week.

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Stray observations

  • I know it was supposed to be, but man was the Man-bun Inquisition dumb.
  • The very last thing this show needs is a Jeremy storyline, especially a romantic Jeremy storyline.
  • Nice double-barrel by Quinn: “We’d have a better chance of selling Passport To Anal Bleaching. Hey! Do not laugh when you have pins around my vagina!”
  • Also: “Do I look not-shocked, because that was what I was going for.”
  • Why does Bobby think the toothpicks are a good idea?
  • You’ll notice that Rachel is still stress-eating.
  • August’s cardigan and beads seem even more ridiculous without the man bun. And that’s his pitch for a dream date? The stars? I think Serena is just kidding herself when she tells the reporter that she has real options here.
  • It is impossible to deliver words like “zeitgeisty” and not seem like an asshole.
  • “Just produce the show, don’t kill anybody, and you’ll be fine.” These are all big ifs.
  • The parting gifts are killing me: the hair trimmer after the man-bun incident.

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