Can love blossom in an environment as toxic as the set of Everlasting?
For a while during this week's episode, it almost seemed possible. Rachel and Coleman are actually partners. Quinn has a burgeoning flirtation with John Booth (Ioan Gruffudd), a witty billionaire who recently bought the network that runs the show. But the hope of a true connection is mostly carried by the genuine romance between Darius and Ruby.
Things don't start off well for them, thanks to Yael and Dominique (Elizabeth Whitmere) being named "fan favorites" for the first overnight date of the season. Unsurprisingly, the votes for these fan favorites aren't actually tallied. If they were, would any of the black women get more airtime? But Darius doesn't like being told what to do. And Dominique drops the bomb that Yael has been sleeping with a crew member, which nixes both of them for dates. "I hate it when they go rogue," Quinn says as Darius chooses Ruby for the overnight date.
It's beautiful seeing these two dark-skinned, ambitious black people find love among a pack of wolves. Their love may not bring in the ratings, but it certainly brings some fireworks. Or as Jay puts it, "It's like The Notebook for black people." Darius and Ruby discuss their goals in life, their complicated families, and yes, they finally have sex. When they first get into the suite, which is full of candles and rose petals strewn on the floor, Darius asks Ruby what she would do if no one was watching. But on Everlasting, someone is always watching. Unbeknownst to them, Quinn has rigged the room with camera and audio, giving her (and anyone in the control room) a front-row seat to the action. The deeper the connection between Ruby and Darius becomes, the more every action around them feels ominous. How can they survive with a mastermind like Quinn manipulating the world around them? They can't.
While at the fancy Image Awards, Rachel gets a phone call from Jay about what's going down with Darius and Ruby. The moment she learns about the cameras in the room, she realizes Quinn is planning something heinous. (One of Rachel's greatest strengths is how well she knows Quinn, a skill that she really should tap into more.) A lot of options were running through my mind in regards to what Quinn could do. She goes even lower than I expected by bringing in Ruby's father, Dr. Henry Carter (the talented Carl Lumbly).
Carter sees Ruby having sex with Darius in the control room and carves a warpath to the overnight suite, while cameras trail close behind. Let's break down the various levels of mortification for Ruby. Her father walks in on her having sex? Check. Cameras are recording the entire disaster? Check. She mentions she's in love with Darius for the first time to try to explain things? Check. Her father straight-up says he's "ashamed" of her when she refuses to leave? Check. I could continue, but you get the idea.
Her father does have a point: Ruby will likely realize that her feelings for Darius, which formed only over the course of a few weeks, were overblown by the close quarters they found themselves in. "Whenever someone Googles you, now the first that will come up is this show," Carter says. Ruby hoped to use Everlasting as a way to put a spotlight on the issues black people face in American culture. In her own way, she did. The way Ruby is treated is a clear example of the ways black people are devalued. It also says some sad things about how black women — no matter how beautiful, ambitious, and smart — will never be good enough, especially dark-skinned black women with natural hair. Did you really think UnREAL would be radical enough to explore a black love story like the one between Darius and Ruby? He ends up eliminating two women: Dominique was expected, but the elimination of Ruby throws into question how nuanced UnREAL is in regards to race this season.
Darius eliminates Ruby because he feels like he wouldn't be good enough for her after hearing everything Carter says. Ruby wants to push him to to live up to his potential in ways none of the other women will. I get his thinking, although I don't agree with it. How many times have you seen this sort of dynamic play out in real life? I've seen many friends give up on great relationships early on because it requires them to grow up and not rest on their laurels. Keep in mind that merely moments earlier, Darius was cradling Ruby as she cried in the aftermath of her father's appearance. He pretty much ruins her life by callously eliminating her that same night. It's easier for him to choose one of the other girls, but it's also a lot less worthwhile.
Honestly, I'm heartbroken and pissed off about this decision. Eliminating Ruby is an easy out for UnREAL. It's a completely expected decision. The show touched on racial politics, but is it really grappling with them? By taking Ruby out of the game, are they critiquing the ways black women (those that don't look like Chantal especially) are devalued, or does this inadvertently support that reading? UnREAL shortchanges a story line ripe for deeper exploration to gain short-term drama. Maybe Ruby will come back. Maybe Darius will realize his mistake. Maybe the show will say something new and even revolutionary about blackness. Until then, the racial dynamics the series reckons with feel half-hearted.
Also, the fact that Darius forgives Yael for flagrantly sleeping with a crew member is utterly ridiculous to me. It's also telling. Maybe Ruby dodged what would be an unfulfilling relationship in the long run.
For the record, Yael is a character that has yet to make much sense. I can't really get a read on her. She's conniving, destructive, and smart. She knows what she's working with, too. Just look at how she adjusts her barely there dress in front of the mirror before Darius decides on his overnight date. But what does she want? We don't even really know why she slept with Jeremy. Yael's contradictory actions make her a confounding mystery, but not an interesting one.
Nevertheless, "Infiltration" is the best episode of this season so far. It's a testament to the episode's strengths that it overcomes some major flaws, especially the lack of cohesion between the many story lines. Rachel's drama doesn't thematically reflect what's going on elsewhere, but it does give us the most powerful moment of the night.
During an interesting exchange toward the end of the episode, it becomes clear Quinn actually admires and even respects Rachel. She just has a toxic way of showing it. (We also see Rachel's true nature: She sides with Quinn and brings the cameras into the suite with Carter to capture Ruby's breakdown.)
"Be careful," Quinn says to Rachel. She thinks Coleman is Rachel's version of Chet. On the surface, that doesn't make much sense. Coleman is attractive, supportive, and liberal. Quinn warns her that Coleman will steal her ideas even though Rachel can "run circles" around the guy. But Rachel feels that she's falling in love, that all her dreams of professional and personal fulfillment will come true. Seeing Rachel move on (yet again) sets off Jeremy.
Jeremy physically assaulting Rachel is not shocking or surprising. It was inevitable. Even when he was a clean-shaven "nice guy" in season one, there was a possessiveness about him. This entire episode carefully builds up to an explosion between them. UnREAL has always been stellar at dealing with the painful, sexist expectations women encounter in life. Jeremy is just one of many men Rachel has to deal with. He's also, as "Infiltration" proves, the most dangerous. He's representative of every guy who just won't take "no" for an answer, the guy who blames all his problems on the women in his life rather than himself. Coleman probably thought he was being helpful by demoting Jeremy. His reasoning is understandable, considering he saw the picture of Rachel that Jeremy used for target practice. But the demotion sets Jeremy off. And Chet's campfire man-to-man talk doesn't help either. Chet ends up saving Rachel from getting hurt further by Jeremy, and straight-up fires him.
"Infiltration" ends with Rachel on the floor, still reeling from getting punched by Jeremy. Her life in shambles, just as she began to brim with hopefulness about her career and relationship with Coleman. But things are never easy for women like Rachel. Just when you think your greatest desires are in reach, life snaps you back. Hard. Shiri Appleby completely embodies the devastation of this incident. It's a violation that can wreck even the most stable person. And Rachel isn't stable. How will Jeremy's brutal assault cause her to unravel further? Will Quinn be by her side or will she help pull the thread?