UNREAL Review: “Friendly Fire”

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This week, on the Season 2 finale of UnREAL

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Fonzie jumped the shark. Or at least, the UnREAL equivalent. A season that already felt like it’s been spiraling out of control ends with a literal spiral out of control… and maybe vehicular manslaughter…? What happened this season on UnREAL has already been a topic of much discussion, with theories of all kinds coming to the surface about why perhaps the structure of the show was inherently self-sabotaging, in that a “show-within-a-show” sets itself up for direct comparison. Whatever happened, “Friendly Fire” brought home the point that everything we liked about UnREAL‘s first season — its grounded satire, its scathing and singular tone, and its scary-because-it’s-probably-real hook — is gone now. Now we’re at the mercy of a full-on soap, arched so high Desperate Housewives might not even try to touch it; an empty rind of the show that took last summer by storm.

This week’s episode comes out swinging, for sure; right away, Rachel leads a raid on Coleman’s office, in which all his drives and data he’s collecting to ruin Everlasting are rounded up and destroyed. Rachel’s firmly back on Quinn’s side and Coleman’s not even pretending to try and be a good guy anymore; in fact, we find out his -making documentary on Cambodian sex workers is a fake; he paid extras to appear as the sex workers in the film. On one hand I am like “YAAAS I knew Coleman was shady!” but on the other hand, Coleman’s total 180 in this episode doesn’t make a lot of sense. He and Rachel go at each other multiple times, getting personal and nasty to the point where Rachel accuses Coleman of running away after he found out about her rape and Coleman agrees, basically calling her damaged and unlovable. Coleman’s response seemed cartoonish and hyperbolized here. Men running and hiding when they hear about a girlfriend’s past assault certainly does happen, but it’s not the norm. Not in an era when one in three women college-aged and older is the victim of sexual assault.

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Anyway, the Rachel and Quinn v. Yael and Coleman battle continues when Coleman and Yael decide they’re going to the press immediately after the live finale and exposing everything that goes on behind the scenes at Everlasting. This would mean Rachel, Quinn, Chet & the gang will all go to jail. Knowing that Coleman and Yael will call Checkmate any second and this is their last Everlasting finale, Quinn’s control freak level is at an all-time high. She’s got a rock-solid plan that will screw everyone over in the end; she lies to both Tiffany and Chantal, saying Darius wants to pick them and not just propose to them that night, but get married right there on national . She convinces both girls to invite their families and convinces Rachel to persuade Yael to appear right after Darius picks Tiffany and drop the bomb that Tiffany’s been sleeping with the executive Chet. Everyone will go home loveless, exposed, and ashamed — which I’m guessing is how Quinn feels every night lying awake and alone in bed, and that’s probably why she’s doing this.

Quinn’s evil plan is thwarted by the only altruistic candle left on this cake — Jay. Rachel enlists Jay’s help to back-engineer the ending they both want at the last second, and Jay works his magic to get Ruby to crash the wedding and not Yael, since Rachel’s got her locked up in a room on set after finding out she’s a reporter (more on that in a minute). Darius admits to Ruby, in front of God, his two brides who’d walked down the aisle with a curtain between them only to be genuinely surprised to see one another at the alter (which… really? On this show, you’re surprised? Ladies. I mean damn), that he loves Ruby and wants to marry her. Ruby sensibly says no, but they can date, and now it’s Quinn who goes home crying as her last finale of the show she’s dedicated the best years of her life to slips between her fingers.

Ruby’s 11th-hour cameo was a nice refreshing surprise, and it was great to see Darius wind up relatively on his way to happiness, after an entire season of watching him blatantly exploited. My love for Quinn, every second of her, might be the only true rose left on the Everlasting set tonight, and it’s a rose that will never stop blooming. However, there were major problems with “Friendly Fire” that ultimately made it an alienating finale to a lukewarm season, surely a recipe for trouble if not disaster. The first of these such problems is Jeremy. Jeremy, remember, was Yael’s source, and this episode seems poised to join Coleman and Yael in a massive Everlasting takedown, but once he learns of Rachel’s rape, he flip-flops entirely. He tips Rachel off that Yael is a reporter, so Rachel is able to stop her from outing them all on the live finale. Then he tries to reconcile with Rachel, saying he still loves her and he’d do anything for her. This felt especially weird and out of character given his recent assault on Rachel. If Jeremy really cared about Rachel, after finding out about her past, you’d think the last thing he’d want to do is behave in a manner that in any way intimates he’s forcing himself on Rachel. But nope. Jeremy, with his crazy new mountain man beard and all, is trying to use his newfound knowledge of Rachel’s rape as a way to rekindle their tenderness for each other, which is just kind of f&*ked up if I’m being totally honest.

When we find out Jeremy’s rigged Coleman’s car at the end so that he and Yael get into a possibly fatal car accident, that just seems like it came out of either left field or convenient field, to be honest. We haven’t seen Jeremy in so long — and got to know him so little, really, up until that point — his sudden motivation to solve all Rachel and Quinn’s problems (on a show he got fired from, no less!) seemed forced rather than earned. That’s the way a lot of twists on UnREAL felt this season — forced, not motivated by their characters. But Jeremy’s one of them now, as evidenced by the final shot of the season — Jeremy lies on pool chairs with Chet, Quinn, and Rachel, nervously pondering the size of the body count this motley little crew shares.

Another big problem with Season 2 of UnREAL is Darius (and, by association to an extent, Romeo). In a season that clearly tried, with the best of intentions, to focus on the nuances of exploitation of black bodies by a white patriarchal media, Darius and Romeo ended up becoming part of the problem instead of escaping it. Darius did not have a clear character trajectory, and Romeo kind of appeared in this episode without much ceremony, considering it was his first time back after Rachel got him shot. The handling of Romeo’s shooting was somewhat problematic anyway, especially since in the episode following, the story became more about the shooting’s effect on Rachel, in essence embodying all the problems with white feminism at one time. What “Friendly Fire” made crystal clear was that UnREAL’s fatal flaw with Darius’ storyline this season was it denied us his point of view. Darius felt detached and inconsistent as a character because we were watching his exploitation through the eyes of those responsible rather than Darius himself — ironically the very faux pas that I’m sure the show was trying to avoid.

Finally, the handling of Rachel’s mental illness this season felt heavily generalized and borderline offensive. The number of times Rachel is called “crazy” as an insult, and yet that’s never thrown at Jeremy, even after he and his new unibomber makeover cop to attempted vehicular manslaughter — which is mind-boggling but also not surprising at all. Most of the characters in Rachel’s life also react to her mental illness in two-dimensional ways, either wanting to save her or condemn her for it. The exception to this rule, of course, is Quinn, who emerges at the end of Season 2 as Rachel’s most skilled and faithful shepherd. I’m okay with this only because Quinn is the least openly insulting towards Rachel about her condition, not because I’m necessarily convinced their relationship is healthy.

When Rachel and Quinn exchange a foreboding glance at the very end, by the pool, with Chet and Jeremy lounging between them, I kind of agreed. Like, wtf is right. Where does UnREAL go from here? How can it possibly re-ground itself with all this blood on everybody’s hands? The show was, luckily, renewed for a 3rd season before this one even aired, and I’m genuinely curious to see how they’ll righten the ship next season — almost as curious as I am about what’s in store for Quinn’s wardrobe in Season 3. See you guys next summer!


Season 2, Episode 10 (S2E10)
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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