UnREAL Recap: Kingdom Come


Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
UnReal Season 2
The contestants. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov

Rachel is trying to become Quinn. And everyone knows it. As Jay bluntly remarks when he sees her smoking for the first time, “You can stop trying to out-Quinn Quinn. She’s back, you know.”

It’s clear Rachel is desperately trying to pretend that she’s okay with her forced demotion. She has adopted Quinn’s characteristics part and parcel, from her venomous tongue to her bleak morality. But it’s all a farce. Rachel has lines she can’t cross — or, at the very least, it cuts her deeply when she does cross them. She tells herself she’s manipulating people for the right reasons. Quinn knows the truth, though: She manipulates everyone around her for her own gain. That’s their central difference; the best case as to why Rachel can’t become Quinn is Quinn herself. When will Rachel realize that Quinn isn’t mentoring her, but destroying her?

Throughout “Insurgent,” an episode that continues the strong start to UnREAL’s second season, Quinn gets a kick out of using the name “Hot Rachel” to describe Yael. She’s downright happy watching her erstwhile protégé squirm each time anyone mentions it. This is no joke. It’s another way Quinn undermines Rachel’s authority. It’s also the sort of disgusting behavior that we shouldn’t find surprising. It’s always been clear that Quinn thinks of Rachel as a tool to be used and wielded whenever needed. She’d gladly set Rachel on fire to keep herself warm. And yes, I’ve often felt that Quinn’s manipulations were her way of making Rachel in her own image, shrewd, acid-tongued, with carefully guarded emotions. I don’t feel that way anymore.

In the control room, the bitter fumes between Quinn and Rachel finally ignite. Every time Rachel tries to defend herself, Quinn strikes back. Whenever she expresses anger about essentially losing her showrunner position, Quinn cuts her down. It wasn’t until Quinn evoked Rachel’s mother, however, that I realized how little empathy she has actually has for her.

Quinn: It takes an iron spine and steady hand to do this job. […] Maybe your mother was right. […] You’re great until you’re not.

Like Jeremy and so many others, Quinn uses Rachel’s mental-health issues against her. After she leaves, Rachel’s tears are devastating to watch. What are we supposed to make of this relationship now? If one of UnREAL’s most important themes is matriarchal inheritance, where do we go from here? The dynamic between Quinn and Rachel underscores what women will forgo (or sacrifice) to find and maintain power. (Notice how Quinn slightly tenses up when Chet suggests she can’t fulfill the wifey role.) Quinn seems to have the iron spine she accuses Rachel of lacking.

“Insurgent” juggles quite a few plot lines, which hurts the episode’s pacing in a noticeable way. It’s a forgivable issue, though, since all of that setup adds depth to the various conflicts and, crucially, to the war between Quinn and Chet. To quote a cameraman, it feels like “mom and dad fighting again.”

Let’s talk about Chet for a moment. Both Chet and Everlasting are misogynistic creations, but his hatred of women is next-level this season. He’s a walking advertisement for the men’s rights movement. He hurls insults at Rachel and Quinn — especially Quinn — with egotistical bravado. He sees them as “harpies” trying to control “his” kingdom. There is no humor in his toxicity. Chet even uses this behavior to get close to Jeremy — who, surprise surprise, chooses to side with him. Jeremy has his own (one-sided) battle going on with Rachel, whom he insults to Romeo and anyone else who will listen. If “Insurgent” is any indicator, the misogyny that UnREAL critiques has become even more virulent. That’s why, although I’m a bit angry with Quinn’s pointed insults toward Rachel, I really can’t wait to watch her take Chet down. Let’s hope Jeremy falls with him.

Quinn and Chet’s power struggle reaches new heights, as they film their own versions of Everlasting to present to the network. Only one can win; the network will choose. It’s absolute mayhem. Conflicting camera crews try to get juicy moments, like Beth Ann taking off her Confederate flag bikini top in front of Darius or Yael smartly “falling” into the pool to finally get his attention. Each has a very specific vision for the show. Quinn believes in building the fairy tale. Chet wants to rebrand the show as a frat bro-esque extravaganza fueled by booze and wayward libidos. For all their cunning, neither Quinn nor Chet can see how their battle is tearing the show apart.

Chet plows ahead with his plan, gleefully filming Romeo as he licks salt off of one girl’s neck. He even manipulates Quinn’s “wifey” figure, Tiffany (Kim Matula), the daughter of an NFL team owner, into making a big mistake. Tiffany joined Everlasting to get out of her dad’s shadow, and it’s this desire — the desire to be her own woman — that Chet perverts to his advantage. I don’t think giving Romeo a blowjob is the best way to establish your own identity, girl.

Meanwhile, Rachel may be a mess, but she is still exceedingly good at her job. After breaking up Romeo and Tiffany’s hookup, she lays down some ugly truths. As she explains, Darius needs a woman like Tiffany at his side: “The girl is blonde, beautiful, rich, and white. If a girl like that forgives you, America forgives you.”

Rachel acts like she’s televising the revolution by casting Darius as this year’s suitor. But let’s be honest: Her revolution only goes so far. It’s okay to have a black man as a love interest on Everlasting, but black love apparently doesn’t make for good enough ratings. This raises a lot of questions about what will happen to the show’s black female contestants. They’re all vying for Darius’ affection, but will these women get a fair shake? Most of them haven’t really come into the spotlight yet, save for Ruby and Chantal.

The Ruby issue fuels a lot of Jay’s animosity toward Rachel. He knows that Rachel is setting her up to be the angry black woman who gets cut in three episodes. After all, she’s the one who manipulates Beth Ann into putting on her Confederate flag swimsuit. Unfortunately, since Everlasting is going off the rails, that moment gets lost. And what a good moment it would have been. Beth Ann is a generically cute, racist Southern girl who masks her ignorance with conversations about “state’s rights” and “Southern pride.” She even says that she doesn’t want to wear the swimsuit became of the “other kinds of people here.”

Beth Ann goes on and on about how the Everlasting suitor will admire her bravery. (Wait, when did racism become brave?) In a hilarious moment, Ruby takes the opportunity to say, “You dumb bitch. He’s black.” Which nearly blows up Rachel’s plans for a catfight between the two women. Jay finishes the job by telling Ruby she should ignore Rachel and only listen to him. I honestly thought Darius would cut Ruby since their interactions were heated in such an unfun way. At the closing ceremony, though he beams when he calls her name, as she wears an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, nodding to Eric Garner’s murder. Darius’ decision to keep Ruby and Tiffany shows that he isn’t easily manipulated — even if Romeo did tell him what happened. He makes for great television, sure. But he’s also a liability.

As “Insurgent” so strongly illustrates, UnREAL is an essential show because it peels back the images people project, revealing the true ugliness underneath. It attacks the patriarchy from all angles, offering cutting critiques of how it can destroy interpersonal and professional relationships. And, of course, the show is never more keen on this topic than when it focuses on Quinn and Rachel.

At the end of the episode, Rachel makes a bold move: She goes to Gary. It seems Jay’s warning that Quinn would never leave Everlasting has been taken to heart. She tells Gary that Quinn and Chet’s battle is derailing the show. Who better to steer than ship than her? While Chet and Quinn keep causing problems, Rachel has been fixing them. It’s a smart play for the showrunner position, but it ends up backfiring. Yes, Gary puts someone else in charge — someone who isn’t Rachel. She’s crestfallen when she sees Coleman (Michael Rady), a hotshot documentary filmmaker, walk into the control room. He’s essentially getting the position she’s fought to earn. Also, Coleman knows that Rachel is the one who complained to the network, which definitely will drive a further wedge between her and Quinn.

Rachel shouldn’t be surprised. All too often, women aren’t handed the power they deserve — they have to seize it. To get this power, Rachel will have to put her relationship with Quinn and even her own sanity on the line. But is the risk worth it?

UnREAL Recap: Kingdom Come