Monday, June 13, 2016

REVIEW: 'UnREAL' - Rachel, Quinn and Chet Make Their Plays for Power in 'Insurgent'

Lifetime's UnREAL - Episode 2.02 "Insurgent"

Quinn and Chet start producing two different versions of Everlasting, forcing the crew to choose a leader as new alliances are formed. Rachel feels her promotion slipping away as the crew is divided and takes matters into her own hands, yielding unexpected results for everyone.

Well, that was a quick descent from power for Quinn and Rachel, wasn't it? They worked so hard to get control of the show last season. They stood united at the end of the first season despite all of the horrible things they had done to themselves, the show's contestants and each other. That friendship was key to the show's success. And now, they had control of the show. It's all they've ever wanted. But now, that power is slipping away from them. It started the moment Chet reappeared on the set as a changed person from his personal journey. The fabric of Everlasting is in jeopardy throughout "Insurgent." The struggles behind-the-camera are vastly more entertaining and dramatic than the moments the crew is trying to create on-camera. It makes for a very thrilling hour. But the show does a very smart thing in wrapping this war up relatively early in the season. There is still a lot of big and dramatic tension for the future. But right now, control of the show for the season has been settled. And surprisingly, it's not Quinn, Rachel or Chet left in charge. That creates an uncertain future that could have major consequences given what everyone did to try and end up on top.

Chet and Quinn are at war with each other. They both have a version of what the season of Everlasting should be. Quinn wants to produce yet another successful version of the same show she has been creating for years. Chet may have created the show but Quinn's responsible for delivering a final product that has built a strong and loyal audience. Chet saw his descent from last season as a wake up call to his diminishing masculinity. At times, that character shift has come across a little broad and one-note. But it still produces wonderful tension on the set. No matter how much Chet changes, he can still just walk onto the set and demand things be done difficultly. He holds the title of show creator which he can boast around to anyone - even though he's not the reason why the show is so successful. Here, he essentially wants to create a Girls Gone Wild version of the show. It's appropriate for his newfound male gaze of the world. Everlasting has always objectified and manipulated women in order to prop up the idea of finding true love and conforming to typical gender roles and identities. But now, Chet is pushing that one step further to produce a show that may be a bit trashier but more engaging and fun to watch.

It is easy to see both approaches to the show. It's turned into a competition between Chet and Quinn. They are standing firm with their beliefs which essentially divides the crew in half. Both of them want to be in control of the set. So they agree to film the first episode of their version of the show. It produces erratic chaos which leads to great tension for the episode. They are battling it out for supremacy. They aren't afraid to hurt whomever stands in their way. It's essentially a battle of the sexes. Quinn and Rachel are continuing to push forward their show that can be romantic while also pushing a social agenda. And elsewhere, Chet and Jeremy team up to convey fun and a wild party atmosphere where anything can go wrong and destroy any of the contestants' chances of being with Darius. It's a tad difficult to understand what the long term plan is with Chet's idea for the show. It's fun for right now and produces quite a scandalous moment as well. Tiffany believes her father got her on the show in order to sign Darius to his football team. So, she essentially gives up and hooks up with Romeo. And then, Rachel pulls her out of that potentially show-destroying situation and reconfirms that Tiffany is here on her own merits and not her fathers. It's a situation that could only get more awkward as things need to be kept a secret from Darius.

And there is plenty of other big moments that happen here as well with everyone vying for Darius' attention while pushing their own agenda. Rachel convinces Beth Ann that she should wear her Confederate flag bathing suit. She does so knowing that it will cause a fight between her and Ruby. Unfortunately, that moment happens off-camera. Ruby realizes just how much she is being manipulated early on. She does make a friend in Jay who wants her to go far in the season so that she can talk about her social activism. He doesn't want her to simply be labeled as the angry black woman. She is able to hold her tongue a little bit when the cameras are on. But both Beth Ann and Ruby prove to have big moments with Darius. Apparently, Beth Ann is a huge fan of his work on the football field. She's embarrassed he saw her in the bathing suit and then promptly takes it off in front of him. Quinn and Rachel get nudity in their edit. Chet and Jeremy are too busy trying to capture a moment of two ladies making out. It's a sweet moment for Darius as well because he proves that he can be a gentleman and isn't just a player that Chet's edit is making him out to be. Ruby also has a moment of connection when she meets him in an "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt. Again, she's making her activism known - which ultimately helps her stay on the show for one more week because Darius doesn't want to be that guy who would eliminate her while wearing it. That shows just how smart she really is and should be taken seriously in this race.

But again, the conflicts happening with Quinn, Rachel and Chet are much more engaging than the drama happening on Everlasting between Darius, his entourage and the contestants. It's particularly brutal when it comes to Rachel's relationship with Quinn too. Quinn entrusted her with so much power and responsibility this season. She was handing the reigns over to her. And then, she took them back because of the chaos Chet created. And now, Rachel feels like she is once again just a producer going to get the shots that Quinn needs. She had a taste of power and wants that. She wants to be the woman in charge. She believes she has earned that. She trusts the vision that Quinn has for the show. She can produce moments that build that fantasy. She helped the tension between Beth Ann and Ruby happen. She got Tiffany back on track for the wife role that will help America forgive Darius for his "Bitch, please" scandal. And yet, Quinn still talks down to her and suggests that all of Rachel's mental problems may be real after all. Their friendship has been defined by honesty and trust. But now Quinn is taking control once again. It's destroying their pact for power, dick and money. That is so destructive for Rachel. She didn't want to believe her problems were real because it was her mother telling her so. But when Quinn suggests it, it's enough to send her spiraling and questioning her existence.

And yet, Rachel doesn't just sit back and fall in line to what Quinn wants to do. Instead, Rachel makes her own play for power by going to the network president to tell him the chaos Quinn and Chet are causing on set. She has lost her power and is trying to take it back. She's throwing both of them under the bus. She understands this show and knows how to make it a success for the network. Gary was very hesitant about Darius as the suitor. And yet, Rachel has so much confidence in the show's ability to make a difference in the way we talk about race in America. She still has so much optimism with that goal. Quinn and Chet have ended their war and are quickly editing to push their agenda for Gary. But instead, it leads to both of them being forced to take some time away from the show. It's exactly what Rachel wanted. However, Gary doesn't put her in charge. Instead, he brings in a new producer, Coleman, to run things for the season. He's someone the network really likes. He has never been a part of the Everlasting set. Plus, he likes Chet's version of the show. He plans on reinventing the format to make it more exciting for audiences than ever before. He comes into a shifting power dynamic with all of the control. He recognizes the true threat that Rachel poises to his dominance. He's looking forward to working with her and all that she'll be able to contribute to the series. But more importantly, it should be interesting to see how Quinn and Rachel recover from this massive betrayal as well as if Rachel can work as wonderfully with someone new as she did under Quinn.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Insurgent" was written by Stacy Rukeyser and directed by Peter O'Fallon.
  • Yael - aka Hot Rachel - actually reaches out to Rachel to figure out how she can advance far in this game. So far, she has just been a nickname. She wants to standout by herself. But more importantly, she creates that moment for herself. None of the producers manipulate her into attracting Darius' attention. She does that and allows Madison to take the credit. That could be an interesting dynamic moving forward.
  • Madison is so willing to become the New Rachel as well. She got sick during last week's premiere by what Rachel made her do to Chantal. But now, she realizes she enjoyed that high and wants even more of it. That could be such a fantastic and tragic character transformation this season.
  • There are so many contestants to keep track of in the early going. The show pushes the important ones who are likely to last long for the season. But additional contestants include a police officer and an MMA fighter. They get lost in the shuffle a bit because the focus is more on the producers than the show-within-the-show.
  • Rachel and Jay were a part of the same producing team on the show. They sorta came up together even though Quinn took her under her wing and Jay had to forge his own path. But now, tensions rise because Jay can't get Ruby to play along in Rachel's game. Plus, after Rachel is devastated by what Quinn said, she lashes out at Jay.
  • Isn't it a tad surprising that Quinn knows all the details about Jeremy's rise throughout his years on the crew? She boasts that he has gotten so many opportunities on this show that many people don't get. And yet, Chet still believes that Jeremy should be getting more because he's a man.