UnREAL :: The season ends by making the female leads the only ones to care about

Lifetime

Lifetime

It’s been a pretty great first season for newcomer meta-reality/drama show UnREAL, and I will provide the following spoiler for this review: I liked the finale too. Coming in to the finale, we had a few plot threads. What will happen with Chet and Quinn? Quinn has her business deal with Brad, the network guy behind Chet’s back, but Chet is working with on-set therapist Dr. Wagerstein and Meredith the PA behind Quinn’s back. Mary committed suicide, Faith was eliminated, Britney ran off the first episode, Anna slept with Adam, and Grace wants to win badly.

Rachel is trying to stick it out with boring Jeremy (again, I’m not referring to me, but the character), while simultaneously being intensely drawn to the suitor Adam Cromwell, who’s a bit of a prat as they say in the UK. So how does it all end up? These are the plot threads that are at all interesting, after all.

The episode starts with Rachel leaving the note “I don’t deserve you” to Jeremy before disappearing; the note could be interpreted multiple ways too. She meets up with Adam privately, who himself left Anna in her bed. But at the last minute, Adam can’t do it. He compares the relationship to heroin and flees back to the set, where Quinn confronts him. She claims to be protecting Rachel “from herself,” and the ending of the episode may actually support this seemingly crazy assertion.

Rachel can’t take it at first, letting Shiri Appleby show off some excellent subtle face acting, pain, hurt, embarrassment, and resignation. The intertwining of the plots continues as Jeremy overhears Grace snarking at Anna that she heard Adam left her bed in the night. Immediately we suspect he’s suspicious, which makes what he does later kind of awful. I’ll get back to that.

Continuing the thread of protection and self-preservation, Quinn and Rachel plot to get one over on Chet. But he had his own plans, bringing back “bad girl” Britney from the first episode, so wasted that he forgot it had already been done on the show multiple times. Fascinatingly, Chet defends his cheating to Quinn, because he’s such a bizarre character. I think he cares for Quinn, but he is ruled by his urges, so he can never keep Quinn happy.

The Britney thread doesn’t really go anywhere though, not really. I was glad in a sense to see her again, but it didn’t really do anything until the very end. But getting back to the main plot, the girls meet Adam’s risqué and pragmatic grandma, who also reveals herself to be a bit of a racist. “We don’t marry brown people,” indeed. This contrasts with Adam’s consideration of Grace because she recognizes him as a “male whore.”

Rachel does a lot of manipulation this episode, some failed (Grace) but some more than succeeding (Anna). But that second one is driven by the culmination of the Rachel/Adam storyline. When Adam proposes to Anna, Rachel is done with him. And then Jeremy plays horribly unfair, getting down on one eye to publicly humiliate Rachel for sleeping with Adam. Perhaps she treated him badly by cheating on him, but in fairness (a) he cheated on his girlfriend with Rachel and (b) it wasn’t done publicly. This paints him as quite the villain, and then … well I’ll get back to that.

Anna flees the wedding, but when Quinn catches up to the runaway bride, suddenly Anna gets a glint of something interesting in her eyes. And she walks down the stairs, giving a perfectly written speech to the camera about how terrible Adam is and how she deserves better. Considering we know UnREAL will be having a second season, I get the feeling she’ll be coming back. Quinn and Rachel use this opportunity to get back on top, even Quinn getting Brad to agree to her terms. A nice move.

So then there is a scene of Quinn and Rachel lounging together, and Quinn once again implies she did it all to protect Rachel, the lies and manipulation. She could’ve made Rachel a tabloid freak, Quinn argues, but she didn’t. Despite the ratings, that’s the implication. And Rachel realizes this, but manages a flip remark that’s horribly dark: “We killed someone didn’t we? Let’s not do that again.” When Quinn agrees, Rachel gets a horrified realization and tells her mentor she loves her.

A lot of layers there, that’s for sure. Rachel suddenly realizes that Quinn is a protector and mother figure, but this is mere setup for the terrifying end. Jeremy the jerk telling Rachel’s emotionally abusive mother that Rachel needs help, and her mother smiles. It’s not a pleasant smile. But it’s one that implies all sorts of interesting possibilities for season two.

Now, did every storyline work? No. But the female characters on this show were constructed with such complexity and care, it was a joy to watch. I can hardly wait for the next season, can you?

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