Following a successful, groundbreaking, Peabody-award-winning season one, UnREAL kind of lost its way in season two. After the departure of series co-creator Marti Noxon, series co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro took over, and she lacked Noxon’s knack for creating compassionate characters and a believable throughline. It was hard to stay loyal to show lead Rachel (Shiri Appleby) as she called the cops on the show’s black suitor (B.J. Britt) and his friend taking off in a show car, which resulted in the friend (Gentry White) getting shot, or sabotaged one of the contestants by giving her something that made her defecate through her white dress. On the other end of the spectrum, steel-minded Quinn (Constance Zimmer) decided to spend her life with Ioan Gruffudd’s John Booth after about five minutes, and then said goodby to him forever after discovering she was infertile five minutes later.
The hardest thing for UnREAL to get over, though, is going to be that season-two ending: After Rachel rants to her psychotic ex Jeremy (Josh Kelly) that Coleman (Michael Rady) and Yael (Monica Barbaro) are about to expose all the seedy underbelly goings-on on Everlasting, he cuts the brakes on their car, so UnREAL season two ends with the deaths of two people. (Season one only had one accidental suicide, so the season three cast had best watch their backs).
It’s a hell of a loose end to have lying out there, but there it is as UnREAL season three begins, like a deadly, snaking live electric cable. Jeremy is still walking around on set, because Quinn says it’s important to keep him close. The guilty parties of Rachel, Quinn, Chet, and Jeremy also make a promise to keep the true story of the car wreck a secret, the blood “Oath” of the episode title.
In another giant whip around from last season, Rachel starts season three as a celibate devotee of a goat farm, unlike the drug-snorting, sex-having hellion who began season two. She’s now devoted to the “cleansing fire of truth.” But as with all of Rachel’s phases, as Quinn notes, it’s probably going to last about five minutes, even though Rachel protests, “It’s not a party trick, it’s my life.”
This season departs from the previous two with a “suitress” rather than a suitor (who I am still going to call a suitor, because “suitress” is ridiculous): Caitlin FitzGerald, woefully underused as Bill Masters’ bland wife on Masters Of Sex. With the #MeToo movement and the current reignited wave of feminism, it’s the perfect time for a female suitor, and Fitzgerald’s Serena is a sort of Elon Musk character, a successful tycoon who has everything but a life partner. Unlike the male UnREAL suitors, who were in the game to push a brand or mend a damaged reputation, Serena actually expects to fall in love on this game show with one of her 26 candidates.
From the outset, though, this prospect seems dubious. For their introductory night, the men all dress up as their professions, so that they look like a really large version of the Village People: cowboy, racecar driver, jockey, fireman. It’s the jockey who gets the worst of it, as the statuesque Serena tops him by at least a foot.
Serena functions some sort of hybrid stand-in for Quinn and Rachel both. As Rachel tells her: “You’re smart, pretty, and successful; half of America already hates you.” It’s a nod to Hillary Clinton, new showrunner Stacy Rukseyer told The Hollywood Reporter, as during the 2016 campaign “it became very clear to us that a smart, strong woman is the scariest thing in the world to a lot of America.”
But Serena also personifies the “having it all” conundrum that many women struggle with. It’s not enough to be a fantastically successful mogul: You also have to have the perfect partner, possibly kids, probably pets, white picket fence house like Serena’s friends at those brunches. Even in 2018, a woman who was brought up on The Rules, like Serena was, may still long for those things, which gives her a much more methodical edge to her stint on Everlasting. She doesn’t care that Rachel wants Norman the jockey to stay so that he can offer three episodes of story; she knows he’s never going to be her husband, so off he goes. It’s the kind of logical decision-making that likely helped her rise to the top of her field. Even so, it’s hard to believe that Serena would launch her suitor reign with the tone-deaf hope for a “superior and effective season.”
In that respect, Serena is going to be a harder suitor for Quinn and Rachel to manage, even if they have a lot in common with her. It’s actually kind of fun to see Rachel the manipulator thwarted at almost every turn by someone as smart as she is. Quinn gave up the “having it all” part when she ditched John Booth last season. Rachel didn’t run away with Adam because she wasn’t ready for that kind of emotional involvement. Judging from her goat retreat and the on-staff psychiatrist now hired to solely focus on her, she still isn’t. And at least Quinn decides to highlight the common ground the two have with the Serena quote that ends the episode: “I’m good at my job, and I’m not going to apologize for that.” No reason in the world why she should.
So Serena may be the most promising suitor of all. If only we didn’t have this nasty murder still hanging over our heads. Most of us, when we watch a narrative, are very much used to having the characters in a story receive some sort of comeuppance for doing evil, unless we’re watching The Player or Crimes And Misdemeanors. Which means that oath or no oath, the aftermath of the deaths of Yael and Coleman is a mighty big shoe to have to wait to drop. Quinn says “perception is reality,” but that’s not exactly true in the world outside of TV: Those news reports might all have reported that the car wreck was an accident, but we all know the truth.
- Welcome to UnREAL season three! I am looking forward to a new showunner being able to re-steer this show. And still happy to see Quinn, Rachel, and especially Jay.
- But not you Chet, ew. Isn’t this like his sixth midlife crisis or something?
- UnREAL seems painfully aware of how last year went astray with a few meta comments: Jeremy, the abusive, murderous psychotic, now sober, tells Rachel, “I know there’s no excuse for how I was last season.” And Quinn mutters to herself in a rare moment alone, “Oh god, please let us have a great season.”
- I’m not a profanity prude or anything (far from it), but did anybody else get the feeling that the show was like, “Hell yeah let’s see if we can say ‘pussy’ twice in one episode?”
- Sorry, anyone with a man bun should just be disqualified outright.
- Wow, look at you go, Madison. It’s surprising what the lack of ponytails and overalls can do for a person’s grown-up persona.
- I’m with network exec Gary: Let’s just see if we can just get through this season without a body count.