Monday, June 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'UnREAL' - A Dangerous Secret Could Ruin Everything Between Rachel and Quinn in 'Treason'

Lifetime's UnREAL - Episode 2.04 "Treason"

Darius reveals his secret to Rachel and tells her he needs to quit the show. Rachel enlists Coleman's help to figure out a way to keep it quiet and reverse his decision. Quinn and Chet find themselves back on the same team as they produce this week's episode of powder puff football. Chet brings his baby to work as a bonding moment, causing a stir with all the contestants. Quinn confronts Rachel about her betrayal to the network and also receives some upsetting news from her past.

These opening episodes of UnREAL have been very strong. And yet, the focus has primarily been on the behind-the-scenes team of producers. It really hasn't centered on the suitor or the contestants. They've had their broad characteristics but that's about it. "Treason" is really the first episode to focus on Darius and his struggle with doing the show. The producers have been using him to push their agenda for the season. Rachel wants to make television history by adding to the racial conversation throughout the country. She sees the season as an opportunity to tell important stories. And then, Chet has wanted to push the limits of female objectification even further. This is the third episode in a row where the episodic story of Everlasting features the contestants running around in their underwear. First, they were in bathing suits in order to meet Darius. And then, they were in skimpy outfits to run an obstacle course. And now, they are in even skimpier outfits to play powder puff football for his affection. To the production team, the contestants are just constructs that need to be manipulated. But now, UnREAL needs to provide more nuance to this season's story. It does so in some interesting ways as well.

Being the first Black suitor has been the overwhelming describer of Darius' character arc so far. He's just a prop that Rachel, Quinn, Chet and Coleman push around on set. The only thing he has done so far is show some trepidation on moving into the mansion in the first place. He had buyer's remorse and wasn't sure if he should be doing this show during his offseason. It was clear in last week's episode that something was up with him. But the mystery of it all wasn't that great because the audience has no real understanding of who he is. And now, the show is finally providing some answers to further round out his character. He has a severe injury. His doctor doesn't even want him on the show. He wants Darius to have a surgery immediately. It's a surgery that could end his entire career. Football means everything to Darius. But he's also using Everlasting in order to show the world that he can segue into an announcer deal. He wants to be a part of the sports world even if he's not the one playing on the field. That's his true strategy on the show. He doesn't care about the "Bitch, please" scandal. His image didn't need to rehabilitated. He's just trying to secure a future for himself no matter what happens with this injury and surgery.

It's brutal to see how Rachel manipulates this knowledge to her benefit throughout this episode. She needs Darius on the show. She cast him with the sole purpose of making history. And now, she needs to handle this new complication while still delivering the show to the network. He can't play in this football game that Chet has created. He needs to be on the sidelines. That doesn't make for a very exciting episode though. Fortunately, Chet and Quinn intervene and really compromise his health. They have the girls tackle him in a bid to get a one-on-one date. And yet, that plays exactly into Rachel's hand. She is able to expertly handle this situation because Darius needs to make a crucial decision for his future. She coerces him into getting an epidural in order to continue on the show and mask all of his pain. It's a decision that completely ruins his relationship with his manager, Romeo. Those two have been so close this season. Not to the point where it feels devastating when Darius sends Romeo packing. But it has been important. Rachel is compromising Darius' future just to keep creating the show. This injury has the possibility of paralyzing him if he's not careful. That could be much worse than surgery. Rachel doesn't care about that. She's just offering an illusion of happiness. She's promising all of these great things for his career with the show. Now, she has to fulfill those promises while ensuring he isn't injured further - though in all likelihood he probably will be.

All of this manipulation seems to be working on Darius as well. He sees it as him taking control of his life for the first time. That allows him to be more open with several of the contestants than any other time this season. When he's on the sideline of the big game, he is talking with Tiffany about all of the expectations on him and how he has to live according to other people. That's how Rachel frames this big decision to him after he is injured on the field. He could make a whole new career for himself because of this show. He just has to continue doing it in order to obtain that. It's a decision that pushes him away from his best friend. He does that so casually too. Romeo will be there for him after the show is over with. He'll be the one left picking up the pieces afterwards no matter what happens. But right now, Darius is in the world of Everlasting. Everything is a manipulation in order to obtain big ratings. No moment is private. Even the ones that seem that way are corrupted by cameras. It's genuine when Ruby approaches him after the elimination ceremony to see how he's doing. That's a bond that feels real. They are polar opposites but the attraction is very present as well. She'll likely be a frontrunner for his heart as the season develops. But that connection works between them because they don't believe any cameras are recording them. Of course, they are. So, this moment will paint the picture for their future together on the show. And now, it will actually mean something.

It's good that UnREAL takes the time now to really delve deeper into the personalities on Everlasting this season. And yet, the producers don't get lost in the shuffle either. How Rachel handles this situation with Darius shows just how capable of producing this show she really is. She has gone against Quinn this season. She seems to be working much more efficiently with Coleman. Quinn pushed her aside and Rachel made her own grab for power. And now, it seems that she has actually gotten it. She is no longer showrunner but she feels like her opinions are being validated. Chet may be the one coming up with scenarios for each episode. But Rachel is the one telling the story of Everlasting. When Chet and Quinn get word of Darius' injury, they want to use it as a way to get suicide ratings and replace him as the suitor. Casting Darius was all Rachel's idea. Quinn was on board with it at the start of the season. But now, she needs to take command of the show back and get back to telling stories that have worked for all the previous seasons of the show. It's startling to see Quinn and Chet on the same side again. They are working together to undermine the new power couple. But they aren't successful in this endeavor. Every move they make to expose Darius backfires on them. An ambulance arrives but it's for a drunk contestant and not Darius in a life-threatening injury. So, once again, the first responders are dubious that any real accidents take place at the Everlasting mansion.

All of this is building up to Quinn finally breaking. This work is everything to her. The job is her life. She has no life outside of it. She has come to realize that she doesn't have as much power as she thought. Rachel has betrayed her. Their entire relationship is based on the work. If they hate each other in that regard, their simply is no relationship between the two of them. Quinn gets the news that her father has died earlier on in this episode. Rachel wants to be supportive for her because of their friendship. And yet, Quinn no longer sees that personal connection in their dynamic. All she sees is the power hungry producer who stabbed her in the back and brought all of this change into her life. This season of Everlasting isn't the show that Quinn loves to work on. It has changed. Coleman and Rachel are running the show. Chet has a new philosophy and has all of these sexist ideas that he is able to produce because he has the title of show creator. Quinn has an overall deal at the network but that's it. She has nothing else. And now, she's realizing just how pushed out she has gotten. She doesn't believe Rachel can produce the show by herself. And yet, she does. That forces Quinn to grapple with her own irrelevance. She knows that Rachel will break sooner or later. She's once again falling into a dangerously sexual dynamic with Coleman. But Quinn no longer cares what happens to Rachel. She has her own spiral to deal with and no longer wants all of this toxicity in her life. Sure, it seems unlikely that she'll walk away from the show completely. However, it's so devastating to see her walk away right now as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Treason" was written by Janine Nabers and directed by Adam Kane.
  • Just as everyone feared, Chet kidnapped his baby. He actually brings the child to set where the baby is way too well-behaved. He is near an ambulance with the sirens blaring and doesn't cry at all. He's a little fussy with certain people but that's it. It's strange. But at least Chet gets arrested for his actions and will have to pay for it. That feels about right for the character he has turned into this season.
  • Chet's arrest also comes as he's pleading with Quinn to take him back because he is a changed man. He has shown that this season. But the guy he has changed into has been very off-putting and reckless. And yet, it's also the thing that finally gets Quinn to break.
  • Everyone's reactions to Chet's baby are pretty fantastic though. Quinn hates it because it's a reminder of Chet cheating on her with his wife. Jay can't believe it's a real baby. Rachel thinks it's a nuisance that will distract the contestants.
  • Quinn was working on developing new show ideas in her office to avoid the stress of the job and her father's passing. But she is quickly pulled back into the action. However, she'll need to focus on development after choosing to walk away. I wonder how well that'll go for her.
  • Madison really is coming into her own as a producer. Yes, she is still very awkward whenever she is around Quinn. But when it comes to manipulating the contestants, she gets such a rush by getting them to do what she wants. London only drinks so much because Madison pushes her to stand out in this week's events.
  • During the elimination ceremony, it's difficult to understand why Darius chooses any of the women to continue on this journey with him. He really hasn't formed many attachments to them so far. They are largely chosen because they are the characters the show has set up as important. Though that significantly changes with Ruby by hour's end.
  • Jeremy and Yael also hook up. That felt like a plot contrivance. It's a story the show really wants to be telling right now. But what is the motivation behind it? Jeremy really hasn't been important at all this season. He's a character best defined by his relationship to Rachel and Chet. Meanwhile, Yael chooses to seduce him and not Darius for reasons unknown. It's all just to build on the idea that she is a hotter and less crazy version of Rachel. But there's not a whole lot of substance underneath that to justify such a big twist right now.