The black body may be the most commodified figure in American history. What would fashion, music, dance, and sports be without the contributions of black people? The black body has been demeaned, exploited, and praised, yet black people are rarely compensated enough. UnREAL’s latest excellent episode brings these dynamics to the fore by making Darius its focal point.
Watching Darius’s body be put in danger, manipulated, treated like eye candy, and racialized — by white producers no less — shows that what he’s losing for the sake of good PR isn’t worth it. “Treason” reveals that Darius isn’t just here to rehabilitate his image. There’s much more on the line. The hint of an injury in last week’s episode is fully explained when Rachel brings Darius’s doctor onto the set by disguising him as a delivery guy. (The levels of subterfuge on this show continue to amazing me.)
Everlasting provides a great cover story for Darius’s back injury, allowing him heal up and clean up his persona in the public eye. This injury isn’t minor, though: His doctor stresses that one false move could leave him paralyzed. He needs a risky surgery that might not even fix the issue. Meanwhile, Romeo finds Rachel’s entrance into the inner circle an uneasy trade-off. He knows she will put her career before Darius’s well-being. Rachel likes to remind everyone that she fought hard to get a black suitor on the show, that she’s responsible for something revolutionary. But you have to wonder: Who benefits from this revolution? Does this humanize black people in an era when we’re being gunned down in the street? Or is Darius just the latest in a long line of black people exploited for the entertainment of white audiences to line the pockets of white producers?
At one point in the episode, Darius tells Rachel, “I support a lot of people.” His body isn’t just his livelihood: It also supports Romeo, his mother, his nieces, and the rest of his extended family. Which is why it’s so abhorrent that Quinn jeopardizes his future to boost ratings.
Look, I know Quinn is a straight-up villain. She’s always been willing to concoct heinous events to benefit Everlasting and, by extension, her own career. That’s nothing new. But potentially paralyzing Darius is a new low. It’s made all the more painful to watch because Darius is so easy to root for. He’s an utterly fascinating character, thanks to B.J. Britt’s charismatic performance. Last season’s suitor, Adam, was cut from a more traditional mold. He was also fun to watch, but I wouldn’t say I felt invested in his trajectory.
After Jay notices that Rachel and Coleman have changed things up for the date without explanation, Quinn realizes something is up. Rachel tells Coleman the truth since she can’t do everything on her own. As the showrunner, he’s able to sneak a doctor friend on set for a second opinion while helping to distract an Entertainment Weekly reporter. Coleman continues to underestimate Quinn. Which is dangerous. Once she pieces together what’s really happening, she teams up with Chet. Yes, that Chet. The same guy who has been spouting MRA talking points, spewing sexist insults, and parading his kidnapped baby around the set. I love Quinn, but an alliance with Chet shows that her thinking is impaired, to put mildly.
I should cut her a little slack. Her alcoholic father just died and Rachel stabbed her in the back. Quinn’s a woman with a spine of steel, but even she can get hurt. The alcoholic-father tidbit comes out of nowhere, though, so the story line doesn’t fully work. If anything, Rachel’s betrayal is what truly gets under her skin.
Quinn expects loyalty from Rachel, but she never offers any in return. It’s a toxic relationship, plain and simple: Quinn relies on keeping Rachel in her grasp. And that is pretty much the opposite of what a mentor should do. Everyone must outgrow their mentors at some point. Also, if their positions were reversed, Quinn would have made the exact same power play that Rachel did when she went to Gary.
When Rachel tries to comfort Quinn about her father’s death, the conversation immediately turns to her betrayal. Rachel refuses to own up, then tries to make it seem like she did it for the good of the show. It’s a weak defense, and it’s less about comforting Quinn than it is comforting herself. Rachel thinks of herself as different: She’s a feminist. She has altruistic reasons for doing really ugly things. Admitting that she did an underhanded thing would ruin that pretty lie. Quinn isn’t having it, and her fiery monologue proves once and for all how Quinn sees Rachel.
Quinn: Now, you think you can do this all on your own. Well you can’t. ’Cause the truth is you need me behind you. Guiding you. Pushing you. Propping you up so you don’t crack. But you’ll always crack. You’re unstable, you’re ungrateful, and you can’t make this show without me.
Rachel: Watch me.
That scene is undoubtedly one of the season’s most brutal so far. Constance Zimmer nails the monologue. Shiri Appleby projects defiance through Rachel’s tears, making it all the more uncomfortable to watch. And, of course, the confrontation has a ripple effect for everyone else on set. Quinn’s vulnerability is what lets Chet swoop in and get on her good side. “This show is our baby. You’ve got to fight for it,” he says. Would she have bought that line even a day earlier?
Together, Quinn and Chet work against Rachel and Coleman. Take this week’s brilliantly sexist date idea: The scantily clad contestants play football while Darius flirts — er, I mean does mock commentary — with Tiffany on the sidelines. So, how will Quinn hurt Darius so she can screw up Coleman’s good graces with the network and get a dramatic ambulance shot? Chet manipulates London to tackle Darius on the field. While he’s writhing in pain, Rachel and Coleman scramble for a solution.
When Coleman’s doctor friend arrives on set, Darius faces a difficult decision: Get an epidural, block the pain, and potentially wreck his back to stay on Everlasting? Or take Romeo’s advice and leave?
Romeo tries valiantly to convince Darius to put his health first. But Rachel acts like the devil on his shoulder; her arguments work because they’re seductive. Like every great con artist, she knows what her mark wants and uses it against them. Want that sportscasting deal, Darius? Stick with Everlasting, regain favor with the public, and heal up. It’s no surprise that he gets the epidural. It’s a decision that will haunt him.
And so, Darius strolls outside without a hint of pain. His swagger undeniable, his smile gleaming as he reassures the women that he’s not hurt. Quinn’s scheme is dead. Rachel can do it on her own after all. But at what cost?
Romeo refuses to go along with Darius’s decision and gets himself fired. Darius may be gaining long-coveted independence, but he’s lost his one true ally. Before he leaves, Romeo tells Rachel, “You just poisoned the best thing either of us ever had for a television show. And you have to live with that.” Add it to the list of regrets, Rachel.
One thing is abundantly clear about Everlasting: It makes people forget the world beyond the set. We see as much when Rachel tries to express her love for Quinn by saying, “I know we’re fighting over work stuff,” and immediately gets cut off. Quinn’s response is blunt: “Work stuff? What other stuff is there?”
The episode ends with breakdowns and hookups. Moments after declaring his love for Quinn, Chet gets arrested for kidnapping his son. (Notice the tears welling in her eyes?) Rachel and Coleman hook up. Yael continues to prove herself to be one of the most conniving people whom no one seems to notice. Why is she so interested in Rachel? How will sleeping with Jeremy get her closer to her endgame? The most interesting connection, however, seems to be the most honest.
Ruby approaches Darius, seemingly by herself. They talk about who they are; they share their quests for independence. It’s a sweet flirtation, and it leads to a very genuine kiss that gets a bit steamier. That honesty gets called into question when we see Jay grinning in the distance, a cameraman filming the whole thing by his side. Darius’s body has been put on the line yet again, his dark skin commodified yet again. This sweet moment with Ruby carries a different sort of weight than it would have if he hooked up with almost any of the other girls. Once Jay and the cameraman were revealed, I thought of only one thing: Black culture is pop culture. But does Darius realize what he’s lost by colluding in his own exploitation?