Monday, June 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'UnREAL' - Rachel Pushes 'Everlasting' into Exciting and Bold Directions for Its New Season in 'War'

Lifetime's UnREAL - Episode 2.01 "War"

Quinn promotes Rachel to produce Season 14 of Everlasting. Rachel sets out to change history by casting the first African American suitor. Chet arrives on set to reclaim control of the show.

It's time for yet another season of Everlasting with Quinn and Rachel hoping to create a much better show than in years past. They start the season with so much confidence as well. It's honestly just fun watching the two of them play off of each other as they embrace the success and power of their positions on the show. Quinn has taken over Chet's job and Rachel is now the showrunner for Everlasting. Those are some major promotions. Both of them finally have what they want. The show is still absolutely everything to them. It is the only thing of importance in their lives. And now, they are producing the show the way they want it to be done. They are confident with the changes they're making. Yes, some of them are forced upon them because of the twists of last season - Madison is now a producer while Dr. Wagerstein will have on-air segments. But Rachel is really proud of the power she has this season. And she's planing on using that to change the direction of the show by casting Everlasting's first African American suitor.

Rachel's personal life is still a mess. Adam is still calling her and wants back in on her life. Meanwhile, she still has to work with Jeremy who refuses to quit because this is his job. He considers himself a professional. But it's largely just an excuse to keep an eye on Rachel to see just how self-destructive she will get. Jeremy and Rachel's mother are expecting her to explode. They believe she's having a sexually manic episode that will only lead to her hurting herself and others. But she doesn't care what they think. Now, she has real power. She had it last season. She was the producer who actually got things done that helped make Everlasting a better show. She caused her fair share of problems too for Quinn to handle. She ended up falling in love with Adam. Their twisted romance of love and hate was one of the most compelling things to watch last season. And yet, this season makes its intentions known right away. Rachel has power as showrunner and she's not afraid to wield it over the set as she prepares to make the best season that has ever been produced of Everlasting.

It's still an adjustment for Rachel though. She has to learn how to act like a showrunner and not just a producer. She still wants to be hands-on to get the contestants to react the way the show needs them too. Quinn has promised a lot of crazy for this season to the network heads. The network's president, Gary, is very hesitant about Darius as the suitor. It could lead to quite the controversy - something he doesn't want right now. Quinn convinces him it will be an excellent season with millions more viewers than the past few years. But it was still Rachel's idea to get Darius. And now, she actually has to produce the crazy that Quinn promised to the network heads. She has to learn how to delegate work while still reigning over her kingdom. She is in charge of everything now - not just a handful of the girls and the suitor. It's fantastic seeing her take charge though. She's not afraid to throw her power around to get what she wants. In fact, she shows that she may be even darker and more manipulative than Quinn in the role. It's something that makes Quinn so proud. She has trained Rachel into being the woman she is today. The two of them are so close as friends because they have the same values and determination to make the show a success. But their actions frequently get everyone else to recoil in horror.

All of this effectively builds to the sequence where Rachel has to whisper in Madison's ear in order to get the on-camera interview she needs for promos. A promising contestant named Chantal has a tragic backstory of her fiancé being killed in a car accident. That's something that Rachel needs to come out early on in order to build sympathy as the other craziness of the house manipulates the women. It's not something that Madison knows how to do. She got this promotion because she sucked Chet's dick. She was just a humble production assistant last season. And now, she is responsible for half of the contestants. That's a lot of added pressure for her. She doesn't know how to approach things with the interview. So now, Rachel is the one guiding her just like Quinn has done with her. It's an absolutely brutal sequence. Rachel so coldly and calmly pushes for Madison to question Chantal's story about what happened when her fiancé died. Madison is so resistant because it's all building to the question of "Did you kill him?" That's such a huge and declarative statement that Rachel says so bluntly. Madison is successful in getting Rachel what she needs but is sick to her stomach by what she has done. And yet, it's not a tragic moment either. Jeremy wants Rachel to see the cost of her manipulation. But Madison actually liked what she just did. That hints that she'll get the producing itch just like Quinn and Rachel. And that's something that should rightfully scare any sane person.

Despite all of this hard work though, the premiere episode of Everlasting's new season doesn't go as smoothly as last season's did. It's more of a struggle with Rachel and Quinn in charge of things. That's entirely because Chet returns as a new man. He was such a lousy person last season. He couldn't produce a good show nor was he satisfied with his sexual needs. It got so bad that Quinn essentially forced him out in order to take over the show. That's a move the network supported because of her track record of delivering a good final product. But now, Chet has returned from hiatus as a newly rejuvenated man. He has worked on himself during his months away from the show. He's gotten into shape. But more importantly, he has a new life philosophy. It's one that could produce so much behind-the-scenes tension for control of the show. He has come to embrace that he lost his masculinity over the years. He was presenting America with a generation of wimps and losers. And now, he has returned with a misguided belief of what qualifies as typical gender roles. He has returned more masculine and ready to take control back. He believes he made Quinn into the person she is today because she had to take on the male role. That's not true at all. This is something she enjoys. She is proud of the person she is today. But it's still what Chet believes. And he is able to use this newfound lifestyle to really throw a wrench into the taping of the premiere episode.

Chet steals Darius in order to throw a party for him, his manager Romeo and Gary that really reinforces the male gaze. It's a party where the men have all the fun and power while the women are scantily clad and there to serve as sexual objects. This is what Chet believes needs to be on the show in order to reaffirm the gender roles of society. Darius' place in this situation is almost completely irrelevant. Quinn and Rachel need their suitor to do the show and Chet has stolen him away from them. In the process, he has made nice with Gary again which will ensure he'll have a major presence on the show once more. Quinn and Rachel are losing the power that they have because of a male-dominated industry. Chet is able to just walk back in and be in charge. Meanwhile, Quinn and Rachel had to work hard to get to their current powerful positions. They aren't going to stand down without a fight. And yet, they need to make a compromise in order to hit their filming deadlines. So that leads to a premiere episode of Everlasting where the women will be in swimsuits to appeal to the man. That's sexist and very manipulative. But it's still an agenda Quinn has to push to start filming. That pushes Rachel aside a little bit. Quinn needs to handle this threat from Chet. She has more experience as showrunner handling these problems. So now, she is doing instead of teaching which could create even more wonderful tension for the rest of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "War" was written by Marti Noxon & Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and directed by Peter O'Fallon.
  • Rachel also finds herself in a potentially unhealthy sexual relationship with Romeo. That's how she was able to lure Darius into doing the show. She thinks it's a mutually beneficial relationship to both of them - until Romeo screws her over in the end by embracing Chet's ideas.
  • For all of the issues the production team have with each other, it was still so nice and rewarding to see all of them collectively making fun of Everlasting's host Graham together.
  • One contestant named Yael quickly gets the nickname of "Hot Rachel." That's largely a one joke premise that happens a lot in this premiere. But the payoff in the end with Quinn realizing it to be true is pretty great.
  • Rachel also makes quite the effort to get a social activist named Ruby on the show. She refused to come after the scheduling conflicted with her graduating from college. But Rachel convinces her because of the platform the show can provide. Now, she just has to follow through on getting Ruby to the end to make it all worth it. She probably won't because she just wants this season's angry black contestant.
  • But Rachel is also building conflict between the various black contestants and the one white blonde, Beth Ann, who also happens to be a racist. The show isn't really subtle about that either - with her quickly complaining about her roommate is.
  • Race is an important conversation UnREAL is choosing to tackle this season. It's important to Rachel as well because she had the idea for the first black suitor. But then, she too falls prey to promoting racial stereotypes by asking the one Middle Eastern contestant to wear a head scarf.
  • Quinn and Rachel start the season by getting matching tattoos proclaiming "Money, Dick, Power." Let's just see if they'll be able to hold onto any of them by the end of the season.
  • Rachel to Madison: "We're not camp counselors. We don't solve problems. We create them. And then, we point cameras at them."