UnREAL: “Ambush” Season 2 Episode 7 Review

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UnREAL tackles a timely and controversial subject with mixed results.

Rachel’s crusade to make a “revolutionary” show and break racial barriers has always been, to me at least, just another one of UnREAL‘s multilayered critiques of reality TV and the people who make it. For several episodes now, the writers have made it clear that Rachel and Coleman think they’re being these amazing trailblazers, but really they’re causing chaos the more they try to help. What’s more, nobody seems to want to actually help the black contestants, or even the suitor on Everlasting. No one is listening to what they have to say. All of this is just so Rachel and Coleman and whoever else can pat themselves on the back.

This examination of the entertainment industry is fine, but the show entered some murky waters this week when they tried to take things a step further. Rachel makes her worst move yet, and calls the cops on Darius, a recently returned Romeo, Yael, and Tiffany, after they steal a car to go on a joyride. Things turn sour quickly, and when Rachel tries to intervene, Romeo ends up getting shot.

There are two lenses through which to look at this plotline from, and each of them offer a different perspective. The first is through the world of the show, in which this harrowing turn of events finally breaks the camel’s back for Rachel. She and Coleman orchestrated this whole thing, and the fact that it went awry after she jumped out of the bushes to stop it means that Romeo’s blood is on her hands.

Rachel began to unravel in “Casualty,” but this week fully sets her over the edge, enough to make her call her mother—someone who doesn’t have her best interests at heart either—just to get herself out of the hell she’s created. Shiri Appleby is once again fantastic this week, and the final shot of Rachel taking her meds and numbly lying back in bed sticks with you long after the credits roll. Within the context of this week’s story, I think everything fits together nicely. Rachel has finally realized that her attempts to make important work have been helping no one but herself. Now she’s done way more harm than good and she can’t live with herself any longer.

When you look at this week’s episode through the lens of what UnREAL is trying to say about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, however, things get a little more uncomfortable. This show worked well when it’s racial issues were a way to show how self-involved the producers were. But, this week took things further and featured a black man getting shot by a police officer. The only thing that follows this is the reaction of the white woman that saw it all happen. UnREAL appears to be wise to this, however, because they gave Jay the most important line of the episode when he looks at Rachel point blank and says, “This is not your story to tell.” With this line, he effectively illustrates how self-serving she’s been this entire season.

I’m hoping that, with, the show’s awareness of this, we’ll get to see Romeo and Darius’ side of the story next week. Still, their lack of presence after the shooting made me think about their presence on the show overall. The truth is, we don’t really know much about Darius other than the plot devices—his injury, his strained relationship with Romeo—that the writers have set up to keep him relevant throughout the season.

The return of Adam makes it even more apparent how little we really know about Darius. Right away, he’s causing rifts between Rachel, Quinn, and Coleman, simply because he carries so much emotional history with him. Overall, I don’t think his return to the show was impactful as it could have been, but he does have some great scenes such as the one where he calls Rachel out for how fake her show is (the fact that this happens during a date on a fake gondola is amazing). Additionally, the ending scene in which he tries to comfort Rachel and she has a PTSD reaction from her altercation with Jeremy is grippingly intense. UnREAL might be in shaky ground when it comes to their messages about race, but their dealings with the effect of domestic violence have been spot-on.

“Ambush” is easily the most dramatic episode of UnREAL yet, and a part of me worries that the writers are getting too much pressure from Lifetime to appeal to the network’s core demographic. Still, I have to commend the show for at least attempting to tackle such topical issues when many others won’t even go near them. Jay might be right in saying that the country’s current racial climate is not Rachel’s story to tell. But UnREAL is Rachel’s story, and the way it’s handling her character right now is immensely fascinating. “Savior,” the episode that followed Mary’s suicide in season 1, was a really positive step after a dark turn; making sense–in the show’s own, twisted way, of course—of a totally horrible situation. Hopefully, next week’s episode will do the same with Romeo. Grade: B

 

Some Other Notes:

  • The most terrible thing about Romeo’s shooting is definitely series creator Sarah Shapiro’s tweet about how they wrote this episode six months ago and they were “hoping it would be dated by the time it aired.” I am glad that UnREAL chose to go with this very real subject, even if they didn’t handle it in the best way. At the very least, it can start a discussion, and it’s so much better than just ignoring it completely.
  • Quinn and Jay ogling Adam when he gets in the pool is so great, and one of the many subversive treats of this show. Is it justified for them to objectify Adam after all of the female contestants have basically been turned into glorified bikini models, or are they just as bad as Chet?
  • I am so obsessed with the fake gondola date and how ridiculous it was. When Chantelle decided to spill her ex’s ashes, I lost it.
  • Quinn and Rachel’s relationship doesn’t get too much airtime this week, but what we do see is great. Rachel’s line to Quinn “you need to get over me,” clearly hit Quinn more than she let on. Equally as captivating is Quinn’s genuinely frightened look when she sees Rachel’s mother on set.
  • Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapment is excellent this week as Jay. His absolute look of horror after he finds out Rachel had called the cops was perfect.
  • The scene with Yael and Jeremy at the end makes me think that she might be an undercover journalist as opposed to an opportunistic contestant hoping to be the next suitor. Either way, she’s probably the most interesting contestant on the show right now.
  • No Chet this week, you guys!

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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