UNREAL Review: “Infiltration”

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Episode 5 of  felt like watching a great athlete trying to come back from a -ending injury: they haven’t lost their touch, but you can definitely see the effort behind the movement, and that may or may not make you a little sad. This week, Quinn and Rachel continue their battle for the Everlasting throne, and this time tickets to the Impact Awards are at stake. Traditionally, the tickets go to the showrunner, so Quinn’s already picking dresses out  — but this time the showrunner is Coleman. He gets the tickets and invites Rachel as his date and man is Quinn steamed when she finds out. Coleman pisses Quinn off even further when he backs Darius’ choice to have an overnight with Ruby in spite of Quinn’s apprehension that the two’s relationship is bad for ratings. Coleman takes Rachel to the Image Awards (and Rachel apparently can’t be bothered to brush or style her beautiful hair which was a glaringly obvious missed styling opportunity). They meet a British exec named John Booth who’s also a fan and are in the middle of talking about how great of a they’ve done with Everlasting when none other than Quinn crashes their party. Looking stunning and showing Rachel and Coleman up in a way that can only be described as “twirling all her haters,” Quinn gets Booth’s ass in #Formation and makes sure he knows full well she’s the real brain behind the show.

Quinn Forever Guy

Back on set, continuing her hurricane of evil genius, Quinn arranges for Ruby’s father to fly in and interrupt her and Darius mid-coitus; and somehow times it all out so that the camera crew catches it all. (I couldn’t help but wonder here if this was a manifestation of Quinn’s own Daddy issues; the little we know about her relationship with her late father is that it was very strained, and perhaps she never got to have a showdown with her father about her own life choices, like the one she’s forcing on Ruby.) In a telling point of no return moment for Rachel, Quinn gives her the choice to shut filming down or continue rolling on Ruby and her father fighting while she’s naked in a strange man’s hotel bed. Rachel chooses to continue filming, which pleases Quinn but horrifies Coleman. Later, Rachel and Quinn have it out in her office. Quinn warns Rachel about Coleman, saying he’s a user (I believe Quinn) and Rachel blows her off saying she’s just jealous because Rachel will have everything Quinn never could. This really threw me, I’m not gonna lie. Rachel’s pie-in-the-sky response to Quinn spelling out for her that Coleman is her Chet (which in itself is a more heavy-handed choice than UnREAL made in the whole of its first season) felt so foreign for her character I found myself wondering where it came from. I almost wanted to pause the episode and Google Rachel’s dialogue to make sure it hadn’t been ripped off of Charlotte York from an old episode of Sex and the City, and that’s never been who Rachel is. Right…?

Meanwhile, Jeremy finds out Rachel and Coleman are knocking boots at the same time she finds out he schtupped Hot Rachel. Rachel finds a photo of her that Jeremy had been using as target practice (as in with guns. Wtf?) Coleman finds out about Rachel and Jeremy’s history — and about the photo — and goes on a vendetta against Jeremy at work, starting with a demotion. When Chet finds Jeremy day-drunk and pissing on his car later, Chet spirits off with Jeremy to figure out an insurgent plan on their own. In a fireside confessional scene that, much like the bromance it framed, felt pushed and contrived, Chet confesses he stole his own kid and after a lot of slapping around (literally), Chet gets Jeremy to confess he still loves Rachel. This backfires at the end of the episode when, in a disturbed twist, a very drunk Jeremy assaults Rachel in the wardrobe truck. Chet intervenes and fires Jeremy just in the knick of time, before things got much more violent. This dynamic is somewhat mirrored when Quinn and Booth leave set together at the end in a decidedly date-night kind of way (yaaaas Quinn, get it) while Chet glares on from the shadows. Jeremy realizing he’s still in love with Rachel is a step up from what his character’s done so far this season because it sets up a concrete goal for him to drive towards, but I question how necessary that storyline is. The very nature of Everlasting gives us enough suds for a primetime soap, and frankly, if they’re setting up basically the same dynamic for Quinn and Chet this season, their chemistry and prior relationship make that much more believable. UnREAL has an inherent darkness to it that’s a huge part of its appeal. Not everybody needs to be in love.

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This week on Everlasting, Darius must choose between two contestants who are supposedly the “fan favorites” — Yael (aka Hot Rachel) and Dominique — for an overnight. Rachel coaches Dominique to throw Yael under the bus and let the cat out of the bag that she’s sleeping with the crew. In a surprising move, Darius picks neither fan favorite and instead chooses Ruby for the overnight, and Ruby’s thrilled because she’s actually falling for him. Back in the control room, Jay catches Quinn recording Darius and Ruby’s overnight illegally and when she gives him the chance to turn the cameras off, he does not. Ruby and Darius’ date — as well as Rachel and Coleman’s big plan for the episode — goes horribly awry when Ruby’s dad shows up on set just in time to see his little girl mounting Darius in bed on cameras hidden in their hotel suite. After an emotional confrontation in front of the cameras, Ruby ‘s dad tells her he’s ashamed of her and leaves. Later, at the elimination ceremony, Darius spares Yael and her crocodile tears (I do not like Yael. I do not trust Yael) but, in a devastating move that literally all of us have had at least one ex-boyfriend pull, he cuts Ruby essentially because he knows she’s into him and is scared deep down that he can never be the man she needs. In the control room, a shocked Rachel and devastated Jay look on. I was a little confused by Jay’s behavior this week too. Like, really bro? You were surprised when leaving secret cameras on caught juicier footage? You’re surprised by how low Quinn will go to make good and how far she’ll drag Rachel down with her? You’re not the new kid on set, remember? Coleman is. I wonder if some of these “OMG WTF” moments had been given to Coleman, if we do see his surprise at what sociopathy goes into the he’s inherited, we might like him more. Hmmmmm.

If every moment that “Infiltration” had tried to set up were actually effective, this episode would be firmly in A territory. But, to return to sports analogies, this week’s UnREAL felt a lot like a young gymnast at her first senior meet throwing tricks that were just a little too big for her. The technique is sloppy, but the ambition’s there, which does count for something. Complacency is a death sentence for excellence, after all. I like most of the big benchmark moments for our main characters this week, the trouble is I just didn’t believe most of them. Quinn is still the show’s most seamlessly written character; a female antihero of enviable nuance, we hate Quinn but still find ourselves rooting for her because every unthinkably bitchy move she makes has an equally vulnerable counterpoint, usually revealed with comparative finesse, and usually one we can relate to in some way (no? Just me? Brb, firing my shrink). But too often Rachel made choices that didn’t feel earned or didn’t track and that inconsistency is unfortunately something that’s plagued Season 2 so far.

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Rachel had two big point-of-no-return moments in this episode that were probably supposed to feel heart-wrenching for the audience but missed their mark because they weren’t earned. When Rachel cows to Quinn and continues filming Ruby’s surprise confrontation with her father, I wasn’t sure whether to feel betrayed, angry, or sad, because other than feeling bad for Ruby I just kind of felt nothing because, after jumping into bed with Coleman aka The Glass Ceiling all of 5 seconds after he showed up on set, I’m not sure if Rachel still wants to be a good person who’s doing meaningful work or not. I get that Coleman made her that vague pre-kiss “let’s change the world together or whatever” promise to her a few episodes ago, but I’m connecting those two moments — their pre-smooch pact and Rachel’s decision to listen to Quinn and continue filming Ruby and her dad — because I’m choosing to in order to answer my own lingering story questions, not because the show’s laid the pipe to connect them for me. Likewise, as discussed earlier, I felt like I was watching Rachel and Quinn’s squabble at the end from The Twilight Zone. Given the complexity of Rachel and Quinn’s relationship, I just won’t buy Rachel being so ready to hang Quinn out to dry because she’s so trusting of her new brand-new paramour and convinced he’s The One. (And I also don’t buy using Rachel’s mental illness as a blanket excuse for erratic character development, which is not meant to be an observation so much as a precaution.) What I love most about what “Infiltration” sets up is the relationship I’m personally now rooting for the most is Quinn and Rachel’s. Because I believe Quinn 100% that Coleman’s not to be trusted, but I also believe Rachel in that Quinn will choke them both by keeping her on such a short and micromanaged leash. I trust a show that writes complex female characters so well to handle the moment when these two women finally hear, forgive, and rejoin one another with UnREAL‘s trademark finesse and heart.

TB-TV-Grade-B+
Season 2, Episode 5 (S02E05)
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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