UNREAL Review: “Espionage”

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This week on , the competition for Darius heats up, Rachel’s natural talent (which in reality is pronounced “sociopathy”) gets her back into Quinn’s good graces, Jay and Madison continue to duke it out for the title of Dark Horse of Season 2, and Constance Zimmer works harder for that Emmy than a Girl Scout camped outside a Weight Watchers center works during cookie season. Holy shit, does she act her ass off this week, you guys. And you know, I kind of hope she does get the Emmy for this — at least at some point — because another thing that became abundantly clear this week is Zimmer will never not be the best thing about this show. With one episode left until the finale and an entire season anchored thematically in war strategies (just look at the episode title), UnREAL has a substantial amount of cleanup to do on the battlefield before buffering some important armistice talks.

The battle for Darius’ heart on Everlasting gets no less complicated as the contestant pool dwindles. Darius, who’s only talking to Jay now, remember, mandates that Jay get Chantal to drop out of the competition because he already knows he’s picking Tiffany (whose dad owns a football team). Jay agrees and talks to Chantal, who seems poised and ready to drop out while she can still save face. The catch? Chantal is Madison’s “girl,” not Jay’s, and Madison, who’s quickly emerging as a rebel force with surprising strategy and strength, has her eye on the spot Rachel’s left wide open at Quinn’s right hand. Madison talks to Chantal and, working her expertly, gets Chantal to jump into a hot tub naked with Darius rather than throw in the towel and leave him. Not only does Madison wrap Chantal around her little finger this week — she also manages to get a hold on Rachel, who’s clawing her way back up the Everlasting totem pole, one mindf&*k at a time.

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Madison spies Yael, aka “Hot Rachel,” plant a smooch on Coleman as they meet to secretly conspire to bring the show down. She uses this information on Rachel later, planting a bee in Rachel’s bonnet that results in a revenge plot so shocking that only the UnREAL gang could dream it up. Rachel arranges for Yael to have a romantic date with Darius consisting of dinner and dancing at sunset, then poisons her ponzu sauce and locks Yael out of the house, forcing her to shart in front of Darius and the entire camera crew in her tight white dress.

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This obviously leads to Yael getting cut — because nobody can really un-see that kind of thing at the end of a first date — and Rachel’s impressive show of cunning and ruthlessness makes Quinn feel all the feels for her protege all over again. Suddenly, before Jay or Madison can say “Where’d my cash bonus go?” Rachel is back in Quinn’s right-hand position. This couldn’t be better timed, either; when Quinn finds out at the end of the episode the fertility testing she and John Booth did shows that she can’t in fact have kids, Quinn has a meltdown of epic Edward Albee proportions, kicking everyone out of the control room and going on a “breaking shit” spree until only Rachel is brave enough to step in and calm her down. In by far the most compelling scene in the episode, and maybe one of the most compelling scenes all season, Quinn comes undone in front of Rachel, at one point telling Rachel she’s firing her because she loves her and wants Rachel to go away with Coleman, have a life outside of Everlasting and be happy. Simultaneously, Rachel’s appeals to Quinn for help because she realizes Quinn was right; she should have never trusted Coleman. She tells Quinn everything, about how Coleman knows about Mary and is planning to expose them. The two have a tearful reunion and vow to bring Coleman down…hopefully, they’re not already too late.

Coleman and Yael are already thick as thieves and are only getting more comfortable with one another (and yes I do mean that in the Biblical sense). She comes onto Coleman hard in the beginning of the episode, knowing he’s with Rachel, which made me wonder why Yael has a weird vendetta for Rachel? Why she wanna get up on all of Rachel’s mans? First Jeremy, now Coleman, it does seem like Yael’s capable of taking her “Hot Rachel” doppleganger identity to creepy Single White Female extent. Rachel publicly humiliating Yael by making her shart on national Television understandably gave Yael pause about going full Barbara Walters on Everlasting, but at the end Coleman, the “totally great guy who just wants what’s best for Rachel,” persuades Yael to continue her story because people will take her seriously, due in part to her being “sexy as hell,” and then he initiates sex with her.

This was almost a relief to me, in a way, because it made me like “okay, now Coleman is acting like a typical single guy.” Before, when after like 2 dates he wanted to take Rachel away on his white horse to a safe happy place where only he knew how to protect her, I was like DEMENTOR! DEMENTOR! I have single friends in this city who can’t get a guy to commit to monogamy after several months. No way did I buy Coleman practically being ready to house-hunt in Mount Washington after 2 rounds of secret office sex.

Coleman is kind of shady, anyway, and I wasn’t sure at first whether that was because he wasn’t well-rounded enough as a character or just rife with ulterior motive. Now I know it’s a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B.  Going into the season finale, it looks very clearly like the main battle we’re ringside for is Coleman and Yael vs. Rachel and Quinn. Coleman and Yael have justice on their side. But Rachel and Quinn have, well… Quinn. So I’d say it’s a pretty even match.

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All in all, “Espionage” had the right mix of OMGs and LOLs to feel like UnREAL at its best; the UnREAL of last summer, a fresher, ballsier show that was ruder and more refined at the same time, kind of like Hilary Swank in The Next Karate Kid. There are still fundamental problems, and at Episode 9, it’s clear that the show is choosing to plow through them rather than fix them, but hey, this is UnREAL’s second year and let’s be honest, we all kind of barreled through sophomore year a little bit. My biggest issue at this point is with the Everlasting storyline. Not only do this year’s contestants just not pop as much as last year’s but I also really don’t care about the bachelor. I didn’t particuarly like Adam, but Darius is just plain annoying at this point. Especially with this whole “I only talk through Jay but will still be a diva” routine. I think the angle the writers were trying to go for is that Darius just has a severe bullshit allergy and just can’t hang with the dehumanizing tactics of Everlasting, but that’s not how it’s landing most of the time. More often than not, he seems like a diva — especially with the shit he tried to get Jay to pull with Chantal this week, just so he could wind up with a football heiress who could best secure him a future. This blatantly self-serving agenda seems to go against the good guy image the show’s been trying hard to build for Darius thus far.

Everlasting inconsistencies aside, Shartgate was unbelievable and gross and borderline-too-much in the way that UnREAL does so well, and the extent to which Jay and Madison go to keep their girls in the game is a craftful nod to the vicious cycle of ruthlessness and manipulation that working as a field in reality traps you in. But this episode also had the show’s trademark injection of heart and soul, mostly coming from Rachel’s reconciliation with Quinn.

What I love about this season is, especially as Coleman emerges as more and more of a selfish agenda-driven little pissant, the main relationship arc we’re watching is, much like Jessica Jones, between the two female leads: only instead of a best friendship, like Jessica JonesUnREAL uses Rachel and Quinn to tackle the story of the mentor/protegé relationship, which is almost more sacred than a best friend — especially in Hollywood. This week we see an important exchange between the two women, in which Quinn acknowledges the extent to which Coleman’s right, Everlasting is unhealthy and it will suck the life out of Rachel. Rachel, in turn, acknowledges that her presence on set is her own choosing, and much to Coleman and her mother’s protest, Quinn isn’t trapping her or forcing her to be there. Once both women recognize to one another that they are on dangerous, volatile ground — much like in espionage, har har har, look at that — they band together to fight alongside one another, because if this show believes anything, it’s that in Hollywood, like any branch of the corporate sector, women are stronger when they work together.
TB-TV-Grade-B+
Season 2, Episode 9 (S2E09)
UnREAL airs Mondays at 10PM on Lifetime

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Ellen is a writer mostly because she can’t be a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Keep up with all Ellen Duffy’s reviews here.
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