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Review: ‘UnREAL’ Takes Aim at Confederate Flag Controversy

Rachel reminds us all why she's the star, as "UnREAL" exposes racism as clear as can be.

UnREAL 202 Lindsay Musil B.J. Britt

Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘UnREAL’ Season 2 Premiere Makes History

This Week on ‘UnREAL’…

If Episode 1 started a war, then Episode 2 pulled the pin from the grenade. After getting manipulated by Jay into thinking she’ll never be a real showrunner as long as Quinn is around, Rachel went to visit network head Gary and demand control of the show. Ill-fated from the start, considering her public breakdown not even two years prior makes her a pretty poor on-paper candidate for the job, the gamble backfired and introduced a new power player to the mix: Coleman Wasserman (Michael Rady). Worse yet, those “Money, Dick, Power” tattoos likely aren’t strong enough to ward off the upcoming brouhaha between Quinn and Rachel.

Meanwhile, in the world of “Everlasting,” all the key players made the first cut, including the Confederate Flag-sporting Beth Ann and the “I Can’t Breathe” “Blacktivist,” Ruby (Denee Benton). All this came after two opposing productions tried to turn everyone their way, as Chet tried to cut his manly version of “Everlasting” (preposterously titled “Everblasting”) and Quinn attempted to prove her tried-and-true formula would bring home the bacon. Somehow Chet ended up on top, as Coleman preferred his fellow man’s lewd spin on the long-running series and the entire “UnREAL” audience at home screamed, “Burn the patriarchy!”

How’s Rachel Doing?

UnREAL Rachel is sad yellow

While, yes, Rachel’s overall emergency level is lower than last week’s, there was one moment in Episode 2 that bumped her up almost to orange: Quinn’s quip of the week. Well, it would be the quip of the week if it wasn’t so cold-blooded. From the second the words, “Maybe your mother was right,” escaped Quinn’s lips, we knew Rachel was in for an emotional beatdown. And boy, did Quinn deliver.

Still, Rachel’s reaction to the borderline-unforgivable “You’re great, until you’re not” wasn’t to down a bunch of pills and go bone in the back of a production truck. She took a calculated risk to go see Gary; a calculated risk that has already come back to bite her once and will undoubtedly hit her again when Quinn finds out, but a business decision nonetheless. Quinn tried to manipulate Rachel, and Rachel responded by going over her boss’ head. It’s a fair move in the world of “UnREAL,” even if it’s not what a wholesome, upstanding, totally sane human being would do. Hence, Rachel earns a yellow card this week.

Quinn’s Quip of the Week

UnREAL 202 Constance Zimmer
“I can shoot ping pong balls out of my vagina,
but no one wants to see that either.” 

Honestly, without the benefit of closed captioning, I’m not sure if Quinn said “shoot” or “chew,” but either way, her early precedent for what should and shouldn’t be spoken, seen or heard carried all the way through to the end. A punchy quote right before the title card, the line kept “UnREAL” on target in terms of tone, but it also applies to what happened at show’s end: A man, who thinks he knows what’s best for a woman, is given too much leeway to do just that. First, it was Graham trying to propose a singing element to his hosting duties while blindly supporting Chet’s ugly new vision for the show. Later, it was Coleman backing Chet after Gary backed Coleman. The patriarchy rages, even if we’d all rather let Quinn — and her “fantastic” talent — go forward however she pleases.

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

If there’s anything that can make “Everlasting” look like Rosie the Riveter, it’s “Everblasting.” Chet’s homage to tits and ass was painfully familiar, as pretty much everything on reality TV focuses exclusively and exhaustively on those two things — and only of the female persuasion, of course. It’s a man’s world, and “Insurgent” was a rough reminder of that. It’s doubtful Coleman’s preference for it is as simple as “straight white man backs straight white man,” but if this marks the start of “UnREAL” addressing how the patriarchy reinforces itself — again and again, even when women are more than qualified, clearly producing better content and ultimately the better choice — then bring it on. Rachel’s quest for respect is now on the same level as Quinn’s, and, while that may cause a few personal problems for these two tattoo sisters, here’s hoping they find a way to topple the male gaze once and for all.

Top of the Call Sheet (Episode MVP)

UnREAL 201 Lindsay Musil
You can say I was manipulated all you want, but exemplifying the confounding argument supporting the Confederate Flag with a tongue-tied, stubbornly proud Beth Ann worked wonders for me. Though Rachel wasn’t dumb enough to engage at a higher level of discussion, most of the contestant’s defensive statements could have been chucked aside with ease.

For instance, why does it matter if she wears her Southern pride bikini in front of a black man she likes versus one she doesn’t? “I was not raised to rude,” Beth Ann said when Rachel asked why she panicked upon seeing Darius when she already knew a black suitor was on the way. “I like Darius. I’d like him to like me.” So shouldn’t the fact that you’re hiding who you “really are” tip you off that maybe you do, actually, have something to be embarrassed about?

“Racism is confusing.” It is indeed.

The Real Behind the Reality

UnREAL 202 Shiri Appleby & Christopher Cousins
We’re early on in Season 2, but the possibilities set up in the first two episodes are vast. Quinn and Rachel’s relationship has been put front and center; fitting for a series committed to its feminist spirit and creatively sound given how volatile each can be. Chet has been established as an imposing, undeserving and nonetheless powerful presence, representing the inexplicable male dominance in the entertainment industry.

And then there’s Darius, the black suitor. Easily the most cited and obvious example of “UnREAL’s” attempt at biting social commentary, we got a good look at his decision-making process in Episode 2. Why did he choose who he chose, other than for the good of “UnREAL”? We’re not sure. The man himself has yet to be as fully defined as last year’s suitor. But there’s plenty of time left for that.

More importantly, Episode 2 showed the power behind Rachel’s fractured self. Yes, she was yet again on the verge of tears when Quinn turned on her, but seeing her make a savvy, manipulative move on her own behalf and not the show’s reminded us why Rachel is the star, no matter who’s got the power. With those two on a collision course and “Everlasting” in transition, Season 2 seems primed for a wild war. Bring it on.

Grade: A-

“UnREAL” airs Monday nights at 10pm on Lifetime. Season 1 is streaming on Hulu. 

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