UnREAL Recap: Aftermath

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Photo: Bettina Strauss/Lifetime / Unreal 2 North Productions In. credit: Bettina Strauss
UnREAL
Show
UnREAL
Episode Title
Casualty
Season
2
Episode
6
Editor’s Rating
3/5

At the beginning of this episode, Chet tries to convince Rachel to not go to the authorities about Jeremy’s assault. In the process, she says something that stuck with me and I wish the rest of the episode explored further.

“I’m not going to be another silent woman, so I’m just going to go to the police.”

History is full of many silent women who didn’t or couldn’t get justice from the men who attack them, for a variety of reasons. Because it’s easier to stay quiet. Because of the blowback they would receive as a result of their honesty. For Rachel, she’s forced into a corner. As Chet says, Jeremy knows where the bodies are buried, including the real reason Mary killed herself last season. “This has to stay in the family,” Chet tells her. So it does. But is the price for this Rachel’s sanity?

“Casualty” gives Shiri Appleby, who also directs the episode, plenty of stellar moments to stretch herself as an actress. She bounces between mania and frightening depression. She’s a whirling dervish of emotion, a bomb about to go off, a tragedy waiting to be written. There’s a lot of greatness in her performance and the way she handles the material. As someone who deals with bipolar disorder, there were moments watching this episode that I felt like I was looking in a mirror. It genuinely scared me. Her nervous tics, confused speech, and endless frantic energy create a moving portrait of the way mental illness can subsume someone’s personality. Like Rachel, I have unraveled publicly. Just look at the way the cast and crew watch her in confused silence when she goes off on Darius to choose Beth Ann for the at-home date.

The camera is unflinching as Rachel catalogues her bruises with the same discerning glare she uses to look over the contestants in their sequined gowns. She circles each ugly mark and takes pictures of them. Here’s her proof. But in this case, proof and trauma don’t really matter. She’s got a show to run and protect. And despite Appleby’s deft understanding of Rachel’s mentality, she can’t fix a script that frankly feels like a mess.

I have been generous in my grading of UnREAL this season. It has been a bit all over the map, which is a shame. “Casualty” should be a powerful, incendiary piece of television. We know the writers behind UnREAL have that in them. But it’s too unfocused to work. There are a few major issues. For starters, we really don’t know the contestants all that well. A few personality traits and some snarky comebacks do not make a character, which is why the loss of Ruby is so deeply felt. She was the only contestant who felt like a human being. While last season presented us with archetypes at first — the hot single mother, the small-town girl, the wifey — it turned them inside out, revealing the person underneath; this season is only surface level. Which is why the hometown-date episode of Everlasting this week feels rushed and unearned, even though we’re on episode six. Pretty much everything that happens with the contestants is fun in a juicy, soap-operatic way, but it fizzles out on an emotional level. We don’t know enough about these women to care. Oh look, Chet is manipulating Tiffany so he can get closer to her powerful father! Yael is conniving and underhanded again! Chantal continues to act like the perfect wifey! I even completely forgot about Jameson (Karissa Tynes), the black cop, since she has only existed in the background until now.

The hometown date brings a lot of drama when Beth Ann reveals to Rachel that she’s pregnant with her deadbeat ex-boyfriend’s baby. Beth Ann’s father draws a gun on the felon after Rachel ruins the rather boring date. (There’s no racist drama, as she and Coleman expected.) At the very least, Beth Ann is eliminated when everyone returns from Alabama, leaving Darius pissed off at Rachel about the optics of the situation. This all distracts from what should be the focus: Rachel’s mental state. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of fascinating things happening. But watching UnREAL this week, I felt like there was a better version of this episode we weren’t getting. How different would the drama be if Rachel was still on set rather than filming the hometown date in Alabama with Coleman in town? What if her current standing with Quinn were a bit more fleshed out? Asking various “what ifs” doesn’t do the show any favors. But I was left with a lot of questions, especially when it comes to Rachel’s relationship with Quinn.

At this point, Quinn has become so toxic toward Rachel she’d be a parody of herself if it weren’t for Constance Zimmer’s assured performance. Yes, seeing her interact with the dashing Booth gives us a different side of her. But is Quinn seducing him for her own gain or is she actually into him? Both options are equally valid. Regardless, it seems like she’s really rushing into this and that they’re developing very quickly as a couple. I’m not sure if that’s bad writing or meant to be reflective of Quinn’s loneliness. After Chet lets Quinn know what happened to Rachel, she gets the best line of the night: “When I see him I’m going to rip off his balls, deep-fry them, and force him to eat them.”

When Quinn asks Rachel if she brought her medication with her to Alabama, it feels like she truly cares. For a moment. But by the end, Quinn is doing things that can only be seen as a way to harm Rachel. (Sure, seeing Quinn grab Jeremy by the balls and threaten him is pretty great. But it doesn’t actually help Rachel, does it?) Chet, Quinn, and Coleman have a mini-intervention with Rachel over what happened with Jeremy. Rachel decides grudgingly and against her own best interest to not report Jeremy to the police. Chet mentions that he’s never seen Rachel like this, and that she may very well be in love with Coleman. Quinn laughs casually, mentioning that, hint hint, she has seen Rachel like this before.

Last week Quinn pointedly tells Rachel she should watch out for Coleman. That he’s her version of Chet. I wavered on whether this was genuine or not. After seeing how Coleman cares for Rachel, his concern over her mental state, and his proclamation at the end of the episode, I think he is invested in their relationship. (Although when Coleman takes his glasses off for their heart-to-heart about how he truly sees her, it felt like a potential sign of disingenuousness.) But that doesn’t mean Quinn isn’t being honest — I just don’t think it was about warning Rachel. I think it comes from a place of fear about Rachel moving on, and she’s sabotaging her so that she remains dependent on her.

“Casualty” is bookended by extreme close-ups of Rachel’s face in completely different emotional states. At the beginning we see her makeup smeared, still wearing the gown from the night before after crashing into the wardrobe truck. She’s at her lowest point. At the end, she’s in utter ecstasy as Coleman goes down on her, likely still riding the manic episode that marks her actions throughout the episode. It’s a smart way for Appleby to underscore Rachel’s arc and the mess she finds herself in. It’s an astounding performance, if only the writing could live up to it. I felt Rachel needed to completely explode or set in motion a sense of healing. There needed to be a better, cathartic payoff for the dramatic scene we ended on last week. With Quinn getting Adam to return, maybe we’ll see that next week. But will it be enough to help bring UnREAL back to top form?