Tonight Shiri Appleby makes her directorial debut on UnREAL; perhaps this has something to do with Rachel having a clear and trackable arc for perhaps the first time this season. Sometimes you can tell when actors are directing themselves in a bad way, but that was not the case tonight; Appleby’s work behind the camera grounded Rachel more clearly and empathetically than the writers have managed to so far this season, and the episode felt like it was driven by Rachel rather than like it orbited around her.
In “Casualty,” Rachel goes through the motions of normalcy in the wake of Jeremy’s attack on her. In a depressing scene that’s probably happened in the back of more than one production truck, Chet convinces Rachel not to go to the police and press charges against Jeremy so that Jeremy doesn’t spill Everlasting secrets that could get the plug pulled on the whole show. Rachel must struggle through one of the most grueling aspects of production — the hometown date sojourn — keeping this terrible and disturbed secret to herself. Coleman and Rachel get the bright idea to pressure Darius to choose Beth Ann as his hometown date, because they think it would be good for ratings to drop him in the redneck swamp of Alabama. Darius bucks the idea at first when Rachel presents it to him, but she melts down in a way that’s too convincing to be just a tactic — she’s so hysterical that the crew gathers around to watch — and Darius caves and agrees to go to Alabama with Beth Ann mostly to placate her.
Meanwhile, Chet sneaks off to call Quinn out of concern for Rachel. He interrupts Quinn’s whirlwind date with John Booth to drag Quinn back to set — and Quinn’s pissed, because she’s falling for Booth in spite of herself. When she hears about what happened to Rachel, though, she snaps back into Prison Mom #Formation immediately and calls Rachel on set in Alabama. After talking to Rachel and concluding she is definitely not okay, Quinn gets on a plane.
Things go from curious to curiouser in Alabama when Beth Ann confesses to Rachel that she’s pregnant. Rachel convinces her not to quit the show by convincing Beth Ann that she and Darius really have some chemistry and convinces her to tell her parents on camera that night. Back on set, in a delightful scene, Quinn corners Jeremy in a production truck and nearly twists his balls off, banishing him. She finds Booth, who’s shadowing Jay and Madison while they try to drum up a bonus sequence with Wagerstein, and sends him away. Wagerstein’s new segment, called “The Mirror of Truth” is totally awful and just tacky enough to be believable. The girls pass around a drugstore mirror, look into it, and talk about why they think Darius didn’t pick them. Chet feeds Madison the info about Tiffany hooking up with Darius’ manager Romeo way back when, and Madison lets the cat out of the bag to the other girls. Chaos ensues. Meanwhile, Quinn covertly calls Coleman, tells him what happened, and alerts him that Rachel’s a loose cannon and shouldn’t be on set. Coleman confronts Rachel, who’s acting more and more volatile, about maybe not outing a pregnant girl on national Television. But Rachel will hear none of it; she’s a time bomb that keeps ticking.
Things go from bad to worse on set in Alabama when Rachel orchestrates the perfectly disastrous redneck bun in the oven BBQ, complete with Beth Ann’s on-camera confession, her redneck boyfriend’s surprise appearance and shocking proposal, and Beth Ann’s dad brandishing a shotgun. Coleman tries to stop Rachel from setting these wheels in motion but she’s elated, manic, and can’t be stopped. Back in LA, Chet strikes a deal with Tiffany (whose Dad, remember, is a football owner) that if Tiffany introduces Chet to her father, Chet will get her to the altar. Tiffany engineers a heart-to-heart with Darius where they bond over being manipulated by the producers and crew and Tiffany spills the beans about her tryst with Romeo. Tiffany’s spared the guillotine this week as Darius cuts poor, crying, knocked-up Beth Ann instead after promising to set money aside for her kid’s college fund.
After shooting in Alabama wraps and everyone gets back to home base, Coleman lays into Quinn and Chet about not letting Rachel go to the police about her assault. Both bosses hold firm and bully Rachel into silence. Rachel’s clearly lost at this point; aimless, hopeless, and without much of a grasp on reason. She’s doing what Quinn says because that’s the voice of authority she trusts (no coincidence that the voice is female). Coleman convinces Rachel at the end that he really loves Rachel, sees her potential, and wants to save her from this environment, whereas Quinn is only grooming Rachel to forever stay under her thumb. Quinn, meanwhile, walks a plank of her own when Wagerstein the shrink gets to her and she realizes she is falling in love with John Booth. In a brilliant move, the episode ends with an emergency set of hands Quinn calls in to help with Rachel — and it’s none other than Adam, our pretty British bachelor from last season.
This episode was hailed all week as a “must-watch” and UnREAL’s most explosive and intense episode yet. I’m not sure about all that, but the most interesting thing to me about “Casualty” was how it told the story of Rachel, after being violated, assuming agency over another woman’s body — i.e. controlling when and how Beth Ann disclosed her pregnancy — as a way of regaining control, and ultimately how that backfired. Interestingly enough, this cycle echoes itself in a way when Quinn pressures Rachel to stay silent about her attack for the sake of the show (that, technically, Coleman took from her). In a season that’s been heavy-handed overall, this episode thematically had the light, subtle sociopolitical touch of the UnREAL Season 1 that I know and love. The handling of Rachel’s assault may have felt harsh, but I appreciated the harshness. In entertainment, that scenario goes down several times a day in several different ways, and I think handling this moment for Rachel’s character with either kid gloves or rose-colored glasses would be shying away from the opportunity to really dig into why, systemically, we live in a world that keeps women afraid to assert control over our own bodies.
Aside from the sociological importance of tonight’s episode, there were some character inconsistencies I had significant trouble getting behind, notably Quinn’s turn for the Nicholas Sparks in her new relationship with John Booth. This storyline was what prevented “Casualty” from landing in the A- range. It’s not that I didn’t buy this growth spurt for Quinn’s character, I just question whether or not it was the appropriate time. In juxtaposition with what’s going on with Rachel in “Casualty,” it felt tonally dissonant and also not consistent with Quinn’s relationship with Rachel. I both agree and disagree with Coleman on the Rachel and Quinn of it all. I believe that in Quinn’s mind she really does love Rachel, but I also believe that in reality Quinn loves the reflection of herself she sees in Rachel, so this is not about Rachel at all so much as an extent of Quinn’s own narcissism as she clings to the footholds of her own youth and faded potential while staring down the autumn of her career. Madison’s losing her green nicely, and the contestants are also distinguishing themselves at a sensible pace. Coleman is becoming more likable on paper but — and I get that this is super “meta” of me, you guys — I resent that the virtuous White Knight who is going to save crazy damaged Rachel from this awful place is a privileged white man. I’m sure the UnREAL mind-hive has their reasons for this; it’s a power dynamic too overt to be unintentional. I’m just not sure what that reason is yet, nor am I sure that I’ll agree.
Season 2, Episode 6 (S02E06)
UnREAL airs Mondays at 10PM on Lifetime
Ellen is a writer mostly because she can’t be a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Ellen Duffy | Contributor