UnREAL: “War” Season 2 Premiere Review

Photo Credit: http://www.tvfanatic.com/gallery/what-did-you-say-unreal/

One of TV’s most biting dramas sets the stage for an even more outrageous second season.

If season 1 of UnREAL’s goal was to present an acidic takedown of reality TV and those who run it, season 2 appears to be aiming to revel in the murkiness of its characters’ morally dubious decisions. One of the most interesting things about the premiere episode is how quickly it sets its devilish tone. The opening features Rachel and Quinn getting matching tattoos that read “Money, Dick, Power,” before they fly off to Vegas to sling back champagne and snort lines of coke like two Wall Street pros in an Oliver Stone movie. Quinn is the new Chet, and Rachel is the new Quinn, and these two are loving the perks that come with the power.

Last season, Rachel provided the show a fascinating moral conflict; always second guessing her decisions as she stepped further and further into the darkness of her job. This season, she’s still on somewhat of a righteous quest, but it’s manifested itself in a much different way. Her goal, as the newly minted showrunner of The Bachelor Everlasting, is to “make history” by casting the first ever black suitor—an NFL player named Darius—in the history of the show (something, by the way, that the actual Bachelor and Bachelorette series have yet to do).

Rachel constantly has to remind herself that she’s a trailblazer throughout the episode—so much so that she gloats about “making history” during sex. In a later scene, she convinces a Black Lives Matter activist named Ruby to drop out of her final semester of college and join the show by citing the powerful platform that shows like Teen Mom and The Real World have offered in the past. Her argument does hold weight, but you have to wonder who Rachel is trying to convince more: this potential contestant, or herself?

Still, the events of last season have taken a toll on Rachel, and she’s more hardened than ever. Convincing Ruby to drop out of school is just one of the many things she does without breaking a sweat because, in her eyes, her ends totally justify the means. In a perfectly executed sequence, she coaches Madison—now a producer because of her fling with Chet last season—on how to manipulate a contestant into not only talking about the car accident that killed her ex, but also to saying “I will love again or die trying” on camera. Madison is in tears by the end, and actually ends up vomiting afterward. Then she shouts out, “that was awesome,” and the vicious cycle continues.

UnREAL is an engrossing character study trapped in the body of a nightime soap opera. Its basic premise isn’t entirely original, but its execution is nothing short of groundbreaking. Anyone who was worried that the show wouldn’t be able to top its explosive debut season will have all of their concerns met by the end of episode one. And for those who were hoping the series would show a softer side…you probably should stop watching now. Rachel and Quinn might be making history by casting Darius, but they’ve also filled the mansion with ticking timebombs such as the aforementioned Ruby, a southern blonde who has photos of herself in a confederate flag bikini, and a Pakistani woman that Quinn and Rachel are planning to link to Osama Bin Laden. “History,” it seems, isn’t going to happen without killer ratings.

As shocking, and potentially offensive as this setup is, it’s also immensely exciting. UnREAL is a very smart show, and it proved last year that it could tackle the complexities of feminism within a deeply sexist industry, and the self-loathing and backstabbing that can happen as a result of that. This season, racial issues seem to be the main focus, and I’m sure this show will have a lot of thought-provoking things to say.

Not to worry, though, the gender politics are still here. Rachel’s ex Jeremy has returned with a nasty vengeance. As much as she’d like to fire his sorry ass, Quinn reminds her that he’s a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. The idea of women in power becoming just as devious and corrupt as the men they worked so hard to replace is one that UnREAL loves to play with, especially with the return of Chet, who now believes that women are here to nurture and men are natural-born killers.

He’s actually where the episode’s title comes from, as his return ignites the battle between him and Quinn. He wants his kingdom back, and she’s most certainly not going to give it up without a fight.  Yet, the most interesting relationship on this show continues to be between Quinn and Rachel and, after Chet pulls a slick move of stealing Darius away during peak filming time, there are already signs of strain on this twisted romance. These women are badasses for sure, but their own ruthless pursuit of success—whether for the power or a supposedly more noble cause—could eventually be their undoing. Welcome to another season of UnREAL. It’s sure to be one hell of a ride. Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

  • The fact that season 2 of UnREAL is airing concurrently with the latest season of The Bachelorette is TV scheduling genius. If anyone is interested, it makes for great back-to-back viewing.
  • Something this show is excellent at portraying is how emotional men can get when their egos are bruised. Jeremy is perhaps the absolute worst we’ve ever seen him this week, and Chet’s spiritual retreat in Patagonia (which…what?) is just ridiculous. As annoying as these guys can be, they make for good antagonists to Quinn and Rachel, who are already pretty antagonistic themselves.
  • Speaking of the two ladies, how amazing were Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby? Their chemistry is undeniable, and every scene they have together is totally captivating.
  • The one thing that I didn’t get about this episode is how shocked Jay and Dr. Wagerstein act as they witness Rachel in command. Like, were you guys working on a different show last season? Do you not remember how this works? Get it together.
  • “Turns out being a sexist man-baby on my set has consequences.” Never have I wanted high-five a TV character as much as I did when Rachel spat out that line.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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