Much of the drama and conflict that's been driving UnREAL all season comes to a head in “Espionage”.
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, Ioan Gruffudd
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 9 - "Espionage"
Air date: 2016-08-01
Rachel: Let me entertain you.
Rachel: Because I want back in.
Quinn: I'm listening.
Rachel: Okay, well you need something that you can build an episode on, a moment that people will be talking about tomorrow.
Quinn: Mm. I know that look. Who's your target?
Quinn: Oh, Real Rachel versus Hot Rachel. Go for it.
Rachel: Quinn, suck it up. I need you.
Quinn: We're taking that asshole down.
Much of the drama and conflict that's been driving UnREAL all season comes to a head in "Espionage". The distance between Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby), especially as it relates to Coleman (Michael Rady), Quinn’s burgeoning relationship with John Booth (Ioan Gruffudd), and the onscreen competition for Darius (B.J. Britt), all move forward in dramatic ways that make the anticipation for next week's finale even greater.
Right away, Rachel takes Quinn's side over Coleman's when he once again pushes to take down Everlasting, and Quinn with it. He's been consistently playing the morality card in trying to convince Rachel, but his argument falls apart this episode when he secretly records a conversation between the two, and continues to work with Yael (Monica Barbaro) too closely. Although he's been saying the right things all along, he's also clearly more concerned with his own agenda than Rachel's well being. It's another disappointment for Rachel (and a validation of what her mother's been saying for years), but it's also the catalyst that brings her and Quinn back together. There's no more formidable opponent than the two of them against a common enemy, and next episode promises to deliver on their combined revenge.
As for the actual competition on Everlasting, the final three women, Tiffany (Kim Matula), Chantal (Meagan Tandy), and Yael all get dates with Darius, and the production team continues to push for their favorites. Darius' mind is already made up to pick Tiffany, which leads to plenty of backstage scrambling to either change his mind or help the women save face. Unfortunately for Yael, Coleman's betrayal leads Rachel to lash out directly at her, in one of the cruelest and most humiliating stunts in the show's history. Quinn's gleeful reaction to someone else's pain is unabashed, yet in a twisted way it makes her protective instincts over Rachel stand out even more ("That's the difference between you and I. I limit the number of people that I care about to, like, two.").
For all the duplicity that’s essential to creating Everlasting, the kind of brutal honesty consistently on display behind the scenes makes for a complex balance that can be equal parts frustrating and satisfying. Whether it's Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Madison (Genevieve Buechner) fighting dirty to keep their contestants in the running, or Quinn’s running commentary during taping, UnREAL revels in showcasing the ugly side of creating wish-fulfillment television.
When Quinn gets the news that she's unable to have children, it’s no surprise that she immediately breaks things off with John. The same kind of protectiveness that she shows towards Rachel, she applies to herself, so when there's such a huge roadblock in her relationship, she doesn't give anyone else the opportunity to hurt her first. She's heartbroken and trashes the control room, but it's also a glimpse into an emotional Quinn rarely on display.
Quinn's breakdown is a thing of raw beauty, and Zimmer is mesmerizing. Rachel's unraveling has been a gradual process that we've seen play out over both seasons (and Appleby has been excellent throughout), but the contrast with the impervious Quinn coming undone, only to be pulled back by Rachel, is a powerful moment. It may appear to be a role reversal, yet it still exemplifies their dynamic beautifully; although Rachel is frequently the one in need of support, it's not a one-sided relationship. If anything, it's a moment that cements them as equals.
UnREAL has been setting things up for a huge finale all season long, and "Espionage" certainly does the job in bringing its two leads back to a place of power. Rachel and Quinn have been at odds for almost all of season two, so when the end of the episode reconnects them so completely, it's a perfect setup for the takedown of the smug and superior Coleman. The series has been very smart in revealing his true colors gradually, but now that’s he’s clearly in the way of their show -- and if this season proves anything, it's that Everlasting is undoubtedly their show --Rachel and Quinn will never allow him to gain the upper hand.