UnREAL continues to tell the story of two complicated women, navigating their complex relationship, in ways that are frequently imaginative and always riveting.
UnREALAirtime: Mondays, 10pm
Cast: Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, Craig Bierko, B.J. Britt, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Michael Rady, Genevieve Buechner, Monica Barbaro, Kim Matula, Meagan Tandy, Denee Benton
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 10 - "Friendly Fire"
Air date: 2016-08-08
Jay: So that it, huh? This is just what we do at the end of every season now, just humiliate the suitor?
Quinn: Now that's a show that I would watch.
Jay: Can’t you see how unfair this is to Darius, Quinn? After everything we put him through, he deserves an ending.
Quinn: This is an ending, just not a happy one, but it's about as real as it gets.
Jay: Now that is true love.
Quinn: True love. Who gets that?
"Friendly Fire", the final episode of UnREAL's second season, brings a great deal to the surface, some ugly and messy, some satisfying and well-earned. It's been a season that’s tried to balance several major story arcs, not always completely successfully, but one that’s wisely always put its leads, Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby), front and center. They're the real draw of the show; their relationship is undoubtedly the heart of the series, thorny and complex though it may be.
This episode picks up on the thread of Coleman’s (Michael Rady) betrayal of Rachel with Yael (Monica Barbaro). Coleman's played it smart most of the season, but once his true colors were revealed at the end of last episode, he's stopped trying to act as if he has any moral high ground on which to stand. His naked attempts to bring down Everlasting (which could potentially land Quinn and Rachel in jail) bring out a cruelty in him that he’s hidden well for most of the season. He's so blinded by his vendetta that he fails to understand that his once-ally Jeremy (Josh Kelly) actually had real feelings for Rachel. When Coleman makes a passing comment about Rachel's rape ("Hey, you dodged a bullet on that one, am I right?"), it cements just how heartless he really is, while also giving Jeremy a reason to back out of their plan.
As Coleman and Yael are attempting to bring down Everlasting and everyone associated with the show, Darius (B.J. Britt) has one final choice to make between Tiffany (Kim Matula) and Chantal (Meagan Tandy). Because of the major stakes involved in the behind-the-scenes drama, Darius' choice seems much less interesting and important, but that doesn’t mean that the same level of producing manipulations aren’t at play. That Jay orchestrates the surprise return of Ruby (Denee Benton) offers Darius a genuinely unexpected happy ending, but it also highlights how much more compelling the backstage drama is in comparison.
In fact, if "Friendly Fire" proves anything, it's that whatever appeal there may be in the outcome of Everlasting's season, it's ultimately less significant, regardless of any real feelings that may have developed between the suitor and any of the women vying for his affection. Quinn and Rachel are the ones we care about, above anyone else. Even when they're at odds with one another, even when there are weak attempts to woo them by the men they’re surrounded by, and even when UnREAL tries something new in using race as a lens for the season, the dynamic between Quinn and Rachel is what makes the series consistently enthralling. Their relationship will never be a simple one, and that's part of why it's so engaging. Apart from whatever differences and difficulties they have, they remain connected with one another, more so than they do with anyone else.
When Rachel admits that she shared something deeply personal with Coleman and he reacted as poorly as her mother always warned her, it’s Quinn’s support that gets through (in quintessentially Quinn fashion): "Screw Coleman. And screw your mom. 'Cause believe it or not, all that crap that happened to you made you exactly who you are. And you're perfect." It's difficult to imagine a more absolute way for Quinn to communicate to Rachel that she’s not the problem; the people around her are. It's also impossible to imagine anyone else being able to comfort Rachel so matter-of-factly. Zimmer and Appleby always play off of one another so beautifully, but this moment exemplifies their unique intimacy, and it’s to their credit that they convey that connection so effortlessly. Every scene between the two is a highlight, but this is one of the best.
UnREAL has had some missteps this season. The race angle had many promising moments, yet it ultimately failed to really deliver in any real way. If it had been more focused, to the exclusion of some of the extraneous plots, such as the unbelievably quick relationship that sprouted between Quinn and John Booth (Ioan Gruffudd), it could have made a more lasting statement. Unfortunately, it ultimately came off as more of an idea than a fully fleshed out arc. Similarly, the return of Adam (Freddie Stroma) seemed misplaced and a waste of time when he was so easily dispatched. Still, even with these mistakes, UnREAL managed to continue to tell the story of two complicated women, navigating their complex relationship, in ways that were frequently imaginative and always riveting.