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

UnREAL’s suitor and contestants raise the stakes on a dynamic second season

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If this second season of UnREAL is focusing on Quinn and Rachel, at least this episode throws more about the suitor and the contestants into the mix. And it is a fascinating mix, so far including a Southern racist, a black activist, a black debutante, a football princess, and Hot Rachel, who just wants to get into the suitor’s field of play. Yes, we have another suitor trying to make good after a scandal (just like bad-boy heir Adam last year), but Darius is so much more impressive than his predecessor. I went back and watched last year’s premiere, which I remember loving at the time. It seems downright tame compared to this season.


Not only is Darius more attractive and formidable than Adam (that move with the white shirt to cover up Beth Ann was swoon-worthy), the social implications of the various levels of prejudice played out on the show are fascinating. A Confederate flag bikini, which disgusts all the other contestants? Even better, a Confederate flag bikini that its wearer is embarrassed of in front of Darius, because even she understands what that means? I don’t know that I’d agree with Rachel that she’s televising the revolution, but I get what she’s doing is revolutionary, especially since it’s more progressive than Everlasting’s real-life counterpart. As she puts it, in a sea of manipulators, she’s the only one who’s doing it for the right reasons. She really believes that.

And wow, is she good at it. Witness the coaxing she does to get Beth Ann into that bikini in the first place (“You’re not really a proud southerner”), while playing Ruby off about the same issue at the same time (“You need to do that when the cameras are on”). Feigning ignorance about Tiffany’s dad when that surely can’t be the case. Not only is Rachel a great actress; Shiri Appleby is an even better one, adding layer up layer of deception as she lines up all her players. Just focused on Appleby/Rachel and the contestants alone, UnREAL is riveting.

And yet, there’s so much more than even that. There’s Quinn freaking out about losing her empire, and so knocking Rachel back down so that she can keep control of it. If the two are going to rise together, as they did last episode, they’re going to fall together, and Rachel’s ensuing depression makes sense now that she’s once again back in the same place where she’s been for years. It doesn’t even seem to help that she’s so good at it; in fact, it makes it worse, because there appears to be no real chance that she’ll ever get out of it. Who else can do what she does? And what other place would these skills translate into something related to a career? Telemarketing? Politics?

No, Rachel is entrenched in UnREAL, but the smoking and dumping of meds and pouting and hiding from set all indicate that she’s not too happy about being relegated back to her old position. Sensing this, Quinn goes for the jugular. After all, Rachel learned all that manipulation from somewhere. Quinn knows her weak spot. She knows how to make Rachel doubt herself, keeping her in a weakened and vulnerable position.

Except… she doesn’t stay there. In a show full of surprising moves, Rachel’s visit to the network exec may be the most ballsy of all. She effectively throws both Quinn and Chet under the bus: Chet because he’s an idiot, Quinn because she’s instantly turned from ally to enemy. The fact that Rachel herself gets roasted doubles back to the brilliance of UnREAL in the first place.


After all, what do Rachel and Quinn’s matching tattoos say? “Money. Dick. Power.” They had to bond together because they live in a corporate world dominated by a patriarchy. Rachel and Quinn were trying to fight that by sticking together. By splitting up, Rachel loses that power for both of them, leading to the hiring of Coleman (Michael Rady), who is certain to gum up the works while providing a new foil for Rachel.

Because Rachel’s in over her head. By trying to surge ahead of Quinn, she’s wound up at least a few steps further back. It’s maddening that the exec wouldn’t just hand the reins of the show over to the person who’s been working on it steadily for years, but then, it’s that kind of unjust domination that Rachel’s trying to fight on Everlasting in the first place. At one point, she hides behind a piece of scenery, but even that’s soon taken away: Like the show, all her formidable defenses are artifice.


Stray observations

  • I’m so fascinated by our two main leads, that the lack of supporting characters isn’t bothering me too much. As much Madison wants to be the new Rachel, it could be interesting to see that play out. But Jay has turned into the conscience of the show, the only one (besides Quinn) who’s aware of how far down Rachel has fallen. So of course she rails against him too, because she feels like she’s out of options.
  • Also, Jay gets to make entrances with lines like this: “Hey, sorry, I was just helping Tiffany with her nipple covers, what’s up?”
  • Isn’t it weird to see people smoke anymore?
  • Fervently hoping that Jeremy’s protective comments to Romeo aren’t meant to stir something up between Rachel and Jeremy again. We’ve been down this road a few times, show.
  • The continued dismissal of show host Graham is so entertaining: “Stop talking to me!”
  • Of the contestants, I’m most intrigued by Ruby, to see how she’s going to insert her own political agenda into this show past a T-shirt slogan, and Tiffany the tortured football princess. She hates that status, but it’s just that knowledge that makes it possible for her to have the most effective sparring with Darius, railing on a quarterback who doesn’t use his legs.
  • “Close up on Hot Rachel.” “Quinn, stop.” “That’s her name.”
  • “Racism is so confusing, isn’t it?”
  • Two episodes in, I maintain that there’s no show like UnREAL on TV, and this episode is even more intense than the last one. I’m practically tortured between episodes, waiting for next week. If there was ever a show made for binge-watching, this is it.