‘UnREAL’ Episode 3 takes on mental illness, with a dash of ‘Girls Gone Wild’

unreal mother episode 3If the manipulation and backstabbing of the first two wasn’t enough, the third episode of UnREAL (“Mother”) takes the story to an even darker place, providing a glimpse into the dysfunctional family life that brought Rachel to the brink of total breakdown and introducing some serious emotional issues going on behind closed doors for Quinn and Anna.

On set, Quinn gives Rachel the day off to get some rest and wash her hair (because if we’re being honest, the messy bun is starting to get a little played out). Meanwhile, Quinn herself is called away to deal with her own personal life crisis with Chet, leaving Shia in charge of Everlasting, which she runs right off the rails.

Sometimes I feel bad for Shia, always having to take a backseat to Rachel, but then I see her doing a horrible job of pretending to be BFFs with the contestants and giving them horrible advice, which inevitably ends in disaster, and I remember why she’s not my favourite character. Her screw-ups don’t lead to the interesting Rachel-style of disaster; she gives us the sad and awful kind that just gives you bad feelings all around.

Poor Maya, the classy sommelier, was the victim of this week’s shenanigans, ending up half naked and too drunk to walk, in bed with the suitor’s best friend and regretting it immediately. Again, I have to question why a beautiful, successful woman would let herself get talked into making a fool of herself to win the attention of a bachelor, who she barely knows and who isn’t even that attractive. But I guess the contestants aren’t really the characters we’re supposed to be focusing on.

Rachel uses her time off to visit her parents, after receiving a less than substantial pay check and realizing that she won’t be able to climb out of her financial troubles without a little help. Pulling up to a beautiful house, being greeted by a mother who is clearly happy to see her and catching up over a fancy meal seems like a pretty ideal family situation at first, until it comes out that Rachel’s mother is a shrink intent on diagnosing and “treating” her family members for every mental illness in the book. As Rachel lists off the medications she’s been given over the years, it soon becomes clear why she opts for a bunk in the back of a truck over this particular brand of home life, which she characterizes as “in-patient treatment.” She gets the loan on the condition that she returns for “sessions” with her mother, but rips up the cheque as soon as she leaves the house. So it looks like there won’t be any “mother-knows-best” psychiatry for Rachel after all. Alternative solutions to her financial troubles TBD.

Mental illness can be a tricky topic. To trivialize the types of issues that real people struggle with would be a mistake, but for Rachel’s storyline, it seems important that she get away from her mother’s labels and analyze her mental health with the help of a professional outside the family. I think it’s the right move for her to emphasize the fact that she’s seeing a therapist on her own terms. As much as we’re left wondering how much of Rachel’s earlier breakdown was a result of her mother’s prescriptions, the mother-daughter confrontation also points to an interesting possibility: that Rachel’s talent for manipulation is in itself a sign of mental illness, maybe even hinting at sociopathic tendencies. Like I said, we’re heading into pretty dark territory.

Rachel returns to set just in time to shut down Shia’s crazy pool party, complete with loud music and pointless banter deemed “unusable” by Quinn. At this point, we start to see the truth of another dysfunctional relationship as Quinn calls Rachel out on her unwashed hair, essentially telling her to get her shit together and make some good TV. And that’s exactly what she does, playing on her knowledge of Anna’s eating disorder to exploit her insecurities and cause a cat fight by the pool, winning Quinn’s “good TV” stamp of approval.

So, on the one hand you’ve got a woman recovering from a serious breakdown trying to get a handle on her own mental health while struggling to get back on her feet financially, but in the same hour you see her using that emotional capital against someone else. She even goes so far as to use her mother’s words against poor sensitive Anna, who just lost her father and is already hanging by a thread.

As Quinn and Rachel share a cigarette while watching Anna self destruct at the end of the episode, I’m feeling a lot less sympathetic toward Rachel and generally more concerned for her psychological well-being. If she ends up being a psychopath this could end up being a very different show than I thought. Still good, just different.


UnREAL airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime and Lifetime Canada.


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