UnREAL :: It’s time to finally fall in love with these monsters

Lifetime

Lifetime

I find that sociopathic or monstrous characters are difficult to deal with in pop culture. Why should I invest time and energy in the adventures of a despicable person? So the trick is to make them “complex” but that’s easier said than done. UnREAL has had mixed results with this sort of mixed morality portrayal, meaning that not all the complexities are served by the story and script. Shia is driven to criminal activity by a desire to be loved and respected by Quinn, but to viewers she just seems cold and confusing. Jay has a deep desire and ambition to be sometimes conflicted with his guilt at pushing racist caricatures, but it’s easy to see him too easily as a caricature himself.

With Rachel, Quinn, Adam, and Chet, it goes back and forth. First you see them do terrible things, then selfless things, then selfish, etc. If it’s not based on legitimate conflict, the characters become muddled and impossible to care about. Luckily this hasn’t happened lately, with the exception of Chet, who has become impossible to connect to at all. But I’ll get back to that in a bit. First, there’s a theme in this episode of the difference between “toys” and “grownups,” which is a way of showing the problematic nature of these reality shows to turn people into trophies. It’s understandable that Adam cares more about Rachel who seems more “real” and isn’t being presented as a prize.

But his ethical boundaries (and everyone’s) are pushed in this episode, and everybody fails. Even poor, stupid Jeremy (the character, not me) destroys his healthy relationship because he doesn’t get the meaninglessness of his hookup with Rachel last episode. His fall isn’t one of ethics as much as it is foolishness, as he is the fool of the show. But despite his great name, I find it difficult to care much about him and his drama, as he has always seemed just another temptation for Rachel to deal with. I won’t be shocked if the season ends with him being involved in some way, but so far I doubt I’ll care.

Moving on to Chet, his arc is truly bizarre. He leaves his wife and gives away 50 million dollars, pushes Rachel to break her ethical boundaries, and almost gets them both in a lethal car accident. Yet he seems to be happy about it. Too happy, as he gets a PA to service him in a back room, which Quinn sees (naturally). This is so stupid, it seems like it should be out of character. But what I have decided instead is that Chet is just a bad person. You could make an argument that he sees something of Quinn in the assistant, but that’s way too nice to him. And unfortunately, I don’t know if the show realizes this confusion. That said, I really did like Quinn’s arc through this, and the fact that she agreed to a quick wedding after seeing Chet cheat on her means she has something in mind.

That’s the sort of cliffhanger I appreciate. And Constance Zimmer continues to be epic in this role, no question about that.

As for the ladies, it’s a mixed bag. Shamiqua, and therefore Jay, are out but Shamiqua was never that developed. So it’s not a very big deal that she’s gone. Faith isn’t as interesting now that we know her closeted secret, so it’s not as relevant now. Grace and Anna though are a different story. Grace has gotten a few hints of a weird and dangerous personality over the season, so I predict something quite bad very soon. And Anna continues to be the most interesting “contestant” so far, with Johanna Braddy killing it with a new twist on her character. She’s jealous, a bit sneaky and conniving, and she’s really playing the game. Her attacks on Grace and blatant throwing away of any values so far have cemented her as someone to watch.

Adam is thrown off by it all, of course. He pushes back against everything, saying he thinks marriage means something. But despite it all, there’s a hint of wanting something, and Rachel just has to figure it out, which she does. She tells him it’s not about faking, but about “getting what you want.” That’s the trigger to Adam, of course, because they finally hook up after an entire season of build up. It’s a dangerous, stupid move, unethical in so many ways. So they’ll have to pay for this mistake soon, but how … ? That remains to be seen.

My feeling now is that these three actresses are keeping me invested past any weaknesses; Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, and Johanna Braddy are great here. Since there’s a second season already planned, I hope that means more complexity for everyone else.

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