UnREAL: “Insurgent” Season 2 Episode 2 Review

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Everlasting‘s first night of shooting gets off to a wild start, spelling out trouble ahead for Quinn and Rachel.

Mid-way through this week’s episode, Rachel declares to Romeo that, on a show where everyone is trying to manipulate one another, she’s the one doing it for the right reasons. It’s clear that Rachel really believes this, and to an extent it’s true. Yet, the genius of unREAL lies in its many, many layers of subversiveness that hold a mirror up to the contradictory and often dangerous ways reality TV can make a statement.

The most prominent example of this is Rachel’s dealings with Beth Ann, the girl who has an Instagram picture of herself wearing a Confederate flag bikini. Rachel, in her quest to ensure that the revolution is televised, coerces her into putting it on during Chet’s new bikini-clad introduction ceremony. Yes, having a white woman wearing the Confederate insignia in front of a black people would certainly make for shocking and thought-provoking TV. But then there’s the fact that Beth Ann knows how bad this will make her look, and the fact that Rachel is hoping to not only hoping for a conflict between her and Darius, but a conflict between her and the other women as well. On top of that, there’s the fact that Beth Ann is so uncomfortable in her outfit when she’s put in front of Darius, that she feels she has no other choice but to take her top off on-camera. Every decision Rachel makes, even if it is for some greater good, has severe consequences, and the fact that she’s so deeply immersed in this world where there’s no right answers is starting to weigh on her.

On the other side of this is Jay, who seems to have become UnREAL‘s conscious this season. Jay is honest with Ruby about Rachel’s intentions for her on the show, and promises to help her stay on until the final rounds; something that, he says, would be revolutionary in and of itself. But the ugly flipside to this is that he asks Ruby to remain virtually silent when Beth Ann emerges in her bikini—because the “angry black girl” always gets cut from the show. UnREAL‘s dark and twisted point seems to be that there’s no real winning in this particular slice of show business. You just have to survive and hope to come out the least scathed.

“Insurgent” is a jam-packed episode, which is surprising given how intense the season premiere already was. In addition to the fascinating race relations being created on Everlasting—and Rachel’s well-intentioned, but poor handling of them—there’s Quinn’s struggle to keep Chet from stealing her empire. Quinn is a strong woman who likes to be in control, so when she feels her power being threatened, she responds in the only way she knows how: by exerting her remaining power over Rachel.

This, of course does some serious damage to the sisterly bond the two had cultivated by the end of last season, and the strains on their friendship are already starting to show. The truth is, that both women probably feel equally as trapped, but since the patriarchal system they work in won’t let them be fully in charge, they tear at each other down instead.

Rachel is a master manipulator, but she clearly learned her best tricks from Quinn. In a truly devastating moment, the mentor attacks her mentee where it hurts, bringing up Rachel’s complicated relationship with her family, and her clearly resurfacing depression. Still, UnREAL is always ready to steer things in an unexpected direction, and so Rachel’s reaction is to fight back by going above Quinn’s head to the network executive.

This, of course, doesn’t go as planned either. Rachel and Quinn’s teamwork is what got them to their higher status in the beginning of this season, but now that they’re apart, all bets are off. The network ends up firing both Quinn and Chet, but brings in a new head honcho instead named Coleman (Jane the Virgin‘s Michael Rady). He appears only briefly at the end of the episode, but two things are immediately clear: he and Rachel have an instant connection—which, based on her history, is probably not a good thing—and he’s clearly going to piss Quinn off.

In other words, I can’t wait to see what happens next. UnREAL had such an amazing debut season, that it would be understandable to wonder if it could reach the same heights its second time around. Well, consider those heights officially surpassed. By a lot. A thrilling take on a popular reality show format that both plays up and dismantles the searing gender and racial stereotypes that surround it? Now THAT is revolutionary television. Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

  • The show has spent a lot of time focusing on Quinn and Rachel’s relationship—which I do not have a problem with in the slightest, by the way—so many of the Everlasting contestants are underdeveloped…for now. So far, the most interesting ones are Ruby, Tiffany the football girl, and Yael aka “Hot Rachel,” who seems to know how to play the game just as well as the real Rachel does.
  • Another reason this show has so many layers is thanks to Shiri Appleby’s nuanced acting. There were so many moments this week where the smallest facial tick or smirk would make you wonder what Rachel’s true intentions were or who she was playing. The only time she seemed truly herself were during her scenes alone…and even then she convinces herself she doesn’t need her meds. Such an excellent, multifaceted performance.
  • My one complaint about this episode is that all of a sudden Jeremy is concerned for Rachel’s wellbeing again? Last week he was a major tool. I really hope she doesn’t fall for him again, that would be super disappointing.
  • Speaking of major tools, Chet’s idea to make Everlasting into EverBlasting was hilarious…but also, not that different of an idea from other low-brow Bachelor knockoffs like Flavor of Love or A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.
  • Also funny: all of Quinn’s interactions with Graham, the host. I love that he has a bunch of ideas for the show and that one of them involves him singing.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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