Poor Rachel just can’t catch a break.
Episode Two of UNREAL (“Relapse”) opens with Rachel’s morning routine: Purell and a change of clothes in a make-shift bunk bed on the back of a truck. She turns on her walkie just in time to be summoned by the arrival of a visitor on set: her pissed off roommate delivering all her stuff, along with an ultimatum. So Rachel starts her day knowing she has 24 hours to pay three months worth of back rent, or risk the personal files on her laptop being emailed to everyone in the crew. (Good morning, sunshine!) Luckily, she is immediately presented with an opportunity to win the money she needs, as Quinn challenges the show’s producers to find her a new “bitch” to build the season around, with $5,000 going to whoever can turn their contestant into the most convincing villain.
What I find most interesting about this series so far is how the characters deal with the challenges of the job. Because it’s not just about being a good producer and making “good TV.” If the goal of UnREAL is to tell the world that shows like The Bachelor are manipulated and staged, it would make for a pretty boring premise (hate to break it to you, but I think that ship has sailed). What makes it interesting is a character like Rachel, who is talented at strategy and manipulation, but also motivated by something other than ratings. We get to see her be a terrible person and achieve exactly what Quinn wants, but we don’t have to hate her for it. Placed in an impossible situation, she has to fight her way out using her professional talent. Even though she’s being cruel and manipulative, she also looks for ways to be kind, and clearly feels guilty when she has to pull the trigger and do something morally corrupt.
“Relapse” also reveals more information about Quinn and her romantic relationship with boss, Chet. Turns out he has a wife, who also happens to be knocked up. I have to say I’m a little disappointed with this turn of events,, as it seems a bit too stereotypical and takes a lot away from Quinn as a character. As a powerful boss who tears apart her employees and gets shit done, she has a lot going for her. But now there’s another layer that shows her as the vulnerable other woman, waiting around for a man in a position of power to throw her a bone. I’m happy to see her take a stand and shut him down, but upset that her storyline seems to be less about a career-driven boss woman and more about the bitchy woman who yells and insults people to hide her secret heartbreak. Here’s hoping Episode 3 brings her back to the better story, the one where she’s a badass, politically incorrect puppet master running a ridiculous but entertaining reality show.
When it coms to the Everlasting contestants, I’m on the fence about who these characters are really supposed to be. When the limo pulled up in the pilot, they seemed like a group of stereotypically idiotic women, screaming and fawning over the rich British bachelor in hopes of beating the other girls, winning his affection and becoming rich and famous. This is a formula that makes sense, but presents some problems in terms of what UnREAL is trying to achieve. For audiences to feel conflicted about how the producers are treating the girls, the contestants need to be just as likeable and sympathetic as the main characters. So rather than slutty bimbos, we’ve got a single mother looking to build a life for her daughter, an intelligent lawyer who cares about her family, and a sweet, but simple southern girl who probably didn’t fully understand what she was signing up for.
Maybe I haven’t watched enough seasons of The Bachelor, but I can’t decide whether I believe that these women would actually sign up to be on this type of show. Would a girl who went to law school and wants to take care of her younger brother after a family crisis really be fooled into staying in the competition after being lied to and tricked? It seems like a bit of a stretch.
I’m interested to see where the show will go next, hoping to see more development of the real “villains,” the characters that will be fun to hate (because really, what reality show is complete without a few fame whores and a little scandalous behaviour). As much as I love seeing Rachel struggle with her conscience, it would also be great to see her powers be used for good, and to see her deliver a comeuppance to someone who actually deserves it.
Right now I feel pretty neutral about the storyline with Jeremy and Lizzy, but there are signs that this might be blowing up soon. I’m really hoping there turns out to be more to Lizzie than the sweet naive fiancée who is willing to turn the other cheek and take a passive approach to Rachel’s obvious flirtation with her ex.
Either way, with the end of “Relapse,” it’s clear that shit is about to hit the fan among the personal lives of the Everlasting cast and crew, and I’ll definitely be watching next week to see how this plays out.
UNREAL airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime and Lifetime Canada.