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UnREAL - Treason & Infiltration - Review: "Advanced Sadistics"

Not long after UnREAL premiered last year, I called it something like “the world’s trashiest Milgram experiment” on Twitter. It was a complimentary statement; I didn’t expect the psychological dynamics of the show to be so interesting, and I think that was the beginning of what made this show so watchable for so many people. This season though, like many sophomore seasons of good shows, is focused on upping the ante, going balls to the wall with what was enjoyable about the first season. And that is apparently utter sadism.

“Treason” was a crisis-driven episode, revolving around three major issues: Darius’ secret injury dominating Rachel’s focus, Chet’s crazy baby-snatching on the back burner, and Quinn’s more internal disasters- the death of her father and Rachel’s betrayal. All this is set among the weekly crisis that is “Everlasting”, more specifically Chet’s dumb “powder puff football” date. The opening scene has Jay walking up to Rachel looking for a feminist ally to rally against the trashy, hot pink football bikinis he has to dole out, even tossing her a “What would Hillary say?” but her problems far outrank his and he has no idea.

The best drama comes from these individual fiascos bleeding into one another. Knowing she’s been outed by Gary, Rachel walks on eggshells, wary of Quinn's massive ass-kicking that’s surely waiting around any corner. Sure, she felt justified going to Gary, but Quinn sees it only as a cold-blooded power play, compounded by the fresh wound that is her father’s death. The loss of someone dearly beloved is awful, but losing someone you hated can be even harder, the worst memories of your life suddenly forced back into your mind. Quinn spends the first half of the episode holed up her office, drink in hand, figurative black cloud forming overhead. What eventually drags her out, storm cloud in tow, is the discovery of Darius’ injury, what Rachel was so desperate to keep hidden. In this, she sees a weak spot, a way to get her show back.

The latest step Chet has taken toward what I can only hope is institutionalization is big one: he kidnapped is own kid last episode and is now just parading him around the set, with no place better to be apparently? I mean, the saddest part of this is that he’s clearly just trying to cling to a normal life and has completely rationalized snatching his own kid in the night, which is how actual parental abductions often work, unfortunately. The plus side is that this makes him easy to catch, but we’ll get to that later. Chet’s on-set wanderings lead to Quinn, per usual, and he zeroes in on her desperation, helping form the plan to sacrifice Darius, scrap the season, and start again in firm control. I was physically uncomfortable with the amount of times Chet and Quinn said “we” in that scene, and though I don’t think Quinn actually wants to work with him again, I do think in that moment she’d rather have her old life back than the one she’s stuck with currently.

Rachel and Coleman rapidly form a plan B, calling in a sports med specialist from Coleman’s speed dial. Rachel convinces Darius to get an epidural so he can finish the show, or at least complete a few more episodes, even though it may end up paralyzing him. Another horrifying achievement in manipulation in service of the show, and it’s another moral thread left hanging; will this fall back on Rachel or anyone involved in worsening Darius’ injury or is it just another ruined life they don’t have to think about ever again once the season wraps? That’s assuming the epidural will end Darius’ career, maybe it won’t, but I can’t imagine he’ll walk away from this show A-okay.

As much as I liked the ever-shifting conflicts in “Treason”, UnREAL basically turned into the weirdest Dateline ever in “Infiltration”. Things got pretty sinister. Though I’d hoped Chet would spend the rest of the season in prison, or at the very least seeing a qualified psychiatric professional on the regular, he is already bailed out of jail, roaming the set, free to haplessly pursue Quinn and rope Jeremy into a side plot about being “a man”.

Jeremy is firmly on the backburner for the bulk of the episode though, which would be a decent bit of plotting if the entire arc wasn’t such a mess. Yes, the episode begins with Rachel finding a bullet hole-riddled photo of herself in Jeremy’s trailer (that Hot Rachel thinks is hilarious for some reason), and ends with her being physically attacked by Jeremy not 5 yards away, but the bulk of the episode centers on who does or doesn’t have tickets to the Impact Awards and Ruby’s relationship with Darius.

One of the perks of dating the boss is that their even tickets become your event tickets. Rachel jumps on the chance to attend the Impact Awards with Coleman, not only to rub it in Quinn’s face, but also as an opportunity to rub elbows with top bananas in the TV biz. Coleman seems to genuinely like Rachel, but to her he seems to represent a way out of her nightmare life on “Everlasting”. When he whispers sweet nothings it’s about producing meaningful work, teaming up to change the landscape of television: all sweeping romantic tales to a workaholic. In Coleman, Rachel sees a ticket to a better life, and your boyfriend’s tickets are your own, right?

Quinn is quick to point out the myriad ways this dream could come crashing down on Rachel at any moment, but Quinn is 90% venom at this point so her words fall on deaf ears. Rachel and Coleman set off for the awards after tanking Quinn’s plan to get Yael the coveted overnight date with Darius. Her gambit pays off and Darius chooses Ruby, fresh off the heels of their “Nubian lovefest” last episode. Rachel leaves Jay in charge, but more importantly she leaves Quinn alone with the show. Um, never leave Quinn alone with anything you care about.

It’s at this point that I start to wonder if maybe UnREAL is actually just Quinn’s supervillain origin story, and a couple seasons from now she’ll be brooding in a dark castle, sending huntsmen into the woods to retrieve Rachel’s heart. As soon as Coleman and Rachel are out of the building, Quinn fires up the monitors in the control room revealing brand new cameras in the Suitor’s Suite, just in time for the overnight date. As someone who never watched The Bachelor or any similar type of reality show, this did not seem like a big deal to me, but apparently it’s basically heresy? I mean, it’s clearly an invasion of privacy, and Jay plainly stated that Ruby didn’t think she’d be filmed so I understand that it is a total violation, I just wasn’t all that surprised by it. Everybody on this show will do anything for any reason, anytime, to get ahead. Duh.

Quinn shows up at the Impact Awards because she can, and also to flirt with the new jillionaire owner of their network, John Booth (do you think he murdered Lincoln before buying the network?). It turns out he is team “Everlasting”, ride or die, which seems to put potential control of the show back in Quinn’s court. If he's looking for the status quo of campy mayhem, no one will deliver that better than Quinn, right? Of course, this just reinforces all the underhanded shenanigans that continue to escalate. The latest misdeed is Quinn calling Ruby’s proud father in to see her at the worst possible moment... ahem, in bed with Darius. As soon as Rachel hears there are cameras in the suite, she knows something is up and rushes to the set just in time to see the action unfold. But when she could shut it down, she chooses instead to film it, again trashing a decent woman’s reputation in service of what are sure to be great ratings. This is not new.

Darius predictably cuts Ruby soon after this confrontation, citing the idea that she’s just too good for him, or her family is too good for him or something like that. As much as I liked the concept of Ruby’s character, there wasn’t really anything explored beyond the surface level of a character description that reads “black rights activist”. Her brief romance with Darius culminated in a conversation about teaching him how to better stand up for their cause, and though their interactions were sweetly entertaining, they never felt fleshed out in a way they deserved.

The roughest part of the episode, though, was Jeremy’s psychotic seething in the background. Now that Coleman and Rachel are an “item”, as the kids say, he takes it upon himself to handle the problem with her ex. He brings in another DP and demotes Jeremy, though not in so many words. The entire thing is so by the HR handbook it’s almost difficult to tell anything bad has happened at all, but Jeremy jumps right to Rachel, assuming she sent her new boyfriend off to have him fired. It’s just one more car on a train that’s about to crash. Chet fuels the fire, getting Jeremy to admit he still loves Rachel by repeatedly slapping him in the face, which would normally be a :thumbs up emoji: moment, but it all leads to a truly uncomfortable scene where a drunk Jeremy corners Rachel and incites a fight, assaulting her, knocking her to the ground.

I really enjoyed the layered machinations of “Treason”, but “Infiltration” felt like a steep slide into the mud for everyone, without much contrast or complexity. This season keeps trying to up the ante, but stakes can’t be raised if there aren’t consequences. I do trust these showrunners, so I like to imagine that said consequences are simply delayed and will come crashing down in due time. But in the first half of the season, repercussions have come only in the form of professional wins and losses; points to Quinn here, win for Rachel there, up and down, back and forth. The show is slowly shifting into some kind of weird morality play where characters stab each other in the back for basically no reason. Obviously everything is in service of The Show, but the actual show is less enjoyable when actions don’t have more complicated ramifications. I thought it was really interesting how Jeremy’s escalating rage was so particularly prodded by seemingly random events, a perfect storm that will undoubtedly shape the story going forward, but if things keep going the way they are now who knows if he’ll be out on bail after five minutes like Chet was at the beginning of this episode, status quo maintained.

Post Script:

Oh Madison, what a precious cinnamon roll, thinking Quinn was "just starting to like her."

Does anyone else think there should be more focus on Madison's descent into darkness? I thought this would be more a bigger focus after the premiere, but it hasn't been explored much at all. 

So long Romeo, we hardly knew ye.

So long Ruby, we hardly knew ye, either.

I love Jay, but I'm getting tired of his sense of personal betrayal at EVERYTHING Rachel does. He was so mad that Ruby got cut, but Rachel also got her in the room in the first place.

What do you think of Booth? I like him with Quinn, but am also terried and unnerved. #Goals?

Yael is so much trouble. I really hope she's next season's bachelorette.

About the Author - Lindsey
Midwest native, Los Angeles transplant. Reader, writer, bartender, and film/TV nerd. Salad bar enthusiast. Watch this space!
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