Monday, July 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'UnREAL' - Rachel Plans for the Future While Quinn Creates Story in the Present in 'Infiltration'

Lifetime's UnREAL - Episode 2.05 "Infiltration"

Coleman invites Rachel to attend the Impact Awards to rub elbows with Hollywood elite. Coleman and Quinn continue to fight for Rachel's loyalty. Quinn finds an ally when she is introduced to the new owner of the network. Darius has a big decision to make, as he faces an overnight date with one of the contestants. Jeremy's relationship with Rachel continues to cause problems on set.

UnREAL has certainly made some big and bold moves this season so far. Everlasting cast its first African-American suitor in Darius Beck. Chet returned as a changed man fueled by even more sexist and aggressive behavior than last year. A new showrunner has been brought in to shake up the show. Quinn and Rachel have essentially gone to war because they are no longer on the same page about the show's direction. The show is purposefully exploding its core relationships and letting the fallout affect the show that they all are producing. It's a fascinating way to tell stories. It means the priority has been on the producers. None of the contestants really have personalities. Ruby is the only standout and she appears to have hit her peak in "Infiltration." And yet, the actual plot of the season has really started to swallow the show whole. It loves the war and animosity stakes of the story. But it's perhaps losing a bit of what made the show so exciting to watch in its first season. Change can be very good. No one would simply want the show to repeat what it did last season. UnREAL needs to be bolder than that. It's just unclear what the purpose of this season's stories really are.

Once again, Rachel finds herself desperately planning a future with the new guy she's having sex with. When she was with Jeremy, they made plans to leave the business entirely and enjoy a pleasant and happy life together. When she was with Adam, she got sucked up into the romance and was prepared to be swept away by his grand romantic gestures. And now with Coleman, she sees her life as the happy existence that Quinn wanted but never had with Chet. She sees a producing partner who actually believes in her and doesn't belittle her. She sees an ally who can help her make some noise in this industry. Of course, he has aspirations far beyond Everlasting. He just joined the season as a favor to the network. He fully plans on letting Quinn take the reigns once again for the next season. That's what makes the big party at the center of this episode so important. Coleman is introducing Rachel to all of these important people who control television. She sees her reach for a television show that has a strong social message extending far beyond this season of Everlasting. That's the fantasy that Coleman is feeding her. She really does believe she can obtain that with him as well. But it's also her falling back into a predictable pattern.

It's also significant that no matter how much Rachel wants to believe in the fantasy of her romantic relationships she always returns to the reality show that she and Quinn have created. She has all of these noble ideas on how to make the show better. And yet, when it comes down to it, she will still showcase the trashy and shocking twist in order to boost the ratings. That's the mentality she has developed over many seasons on the show. It's a familiarity to her that is so much more comforting than the great unknown of her fantasies. She wants to believe that Ruby has a real shot at winning this season. She's furious when she learns that Quinn has planted new cameras in the suitor's suite and has brought Ruby's father to set during the big overnight date. She races back to the mansion before Quinn's work can undo everything she has been trying to build between Darius and Ruby. But when the moment calls for it, she allows the cameras into the suite to film the grand confrontation. She hides behind the excuse of needing to showcase where the story goes. In this case, Quinn created the story. It's what she and Rachel can masterfully do on this show. But in this instance, it's how Rachel justifies essentially destroying all of Ruby's chances to win the season. Quinn was deeply betrayed by Rachel. Last week, she said she was done with all the garbage people in her life - including Rachel. And yet, she is still trying to pull her back into her control.

Quinn does all of this in order to prove she is still capable of making noise. UnREAL gets in some biting commentary about the current state of broadcast television. Sure, it's incredible that the show wants to talk about the humongous numbers Everlasting pulls in every week while still saying broadcast TV is becoming a failing and antiquated business model. That doesn't completely track well. But it's still an important and topical conversation. Coleman is right in saying that buzz defines success more than the ratings do. That's certainly the case with UnREAL as the ratings haven't been that great but it's already been renewed for a third season. And yet, Quinn has never really had a problem creating buzz. She is able to make a scandalous twist happen in every episode. She is motivated this season to give the network suicide ratings. She believes she is succeeding in that endeavor. It's Coleman and Rachel who are trying to provoke a conversation instead of creating shocking and memorable twists. And yet, so much of the buzz around these types of shows comes from the outrageous things that happen. Yes, important conversations can be had but the priority has always been about the tantalizing twists. Coleman and Rachel are missing out on that. Meanwhile, Quinn is more than happy to pull Rachel back into focus.

All of this works for Quinn as well. Rachel and Jay are happy that Ruby has emerged as a frontrunner for Darius' heart. To them, it's a way to advance visualization of black romance. They can be sexualized in the same ways that white people on this show and beyond can. Ruby really is the only contestant Darius has much of a connection with. She was there for him after he chose to have the epidural and fired Romeo. His injury is the most important part of his characterization so far. Meanwhile, Ruby has been the only contestant of true substance. Chantal, Tiffany and Beth Ann have names as well while Yael is busy sleeping with Jeremy for some reason. And yet, none of them particularly stand out in a way that makes the audience want to root for them to win. However, it is devastating to see Ruby get eliminated here. Sure, the rationalization for such a move materializes in this episode. She didn't let her family know that she was dropping out of school to do the show. So now, Quinn has invited her father onto set to barge in on the overnight date just as she and Darius are having sex. He basically just reminds her that she is better than this trashy show and an airhead jock. She tells him she's falling in love. But it's more important that Darius believes he will never be good enough for Ruby. She wants him to embrace his fame and be a voice for the community. She wants him to help make a difference in the world. And yet, he is on the show because he doesn't know if he can be anything more than a football player. Ruby represents a risk. It was exciting at first. But now, he's pushing her away because he is afraid. It's a surprise but also a pretty earned moment. However, it will be difficult moving forward for the show to say Darius has a connection with any of the other women.

And lastly, we need to talk about the men on UnREAL. They all have felt like completely different characters this season. Jay's character arc makes no sense whatsoever. His need to have Ruby and Darius fall in love seriously blinded him from his ability to do his job and recognize the stunts Quinn and Rachel will pull to create drama. He has just felt so naive and foolish this season. It's damaging when Madison seems like a much more competent producer despite still learning how to do the job. But that's just a minor annoyance compared to Chet and Jeremy's roles this season. Both served as romantic interests for the two leading ladies last season. Neither particularly worked well. Chet was a solid antagonist to what Quinn wanted to accomplish both on the show and in her personal life. But now, he is even more reckless. He kidnapped his child! That's a monstrous action that deserves punishment. And yet, he is literally back on set at the top of this hour having been released on bail. That's it. He spends the rest of the time trying to coach Jeremy through his feelings about Coleman demoting him. Jeremy wants to blame Rachel for the change. And yet, it only further highlights just how unnecessary Jeremy has been to the structure of this season. What has his purpose been? Chet at least was able to stir up chaos on the set. That had value in creating drama for the opening episodes of the season. But Jeremy just lingered around to be a reminder of all the pain that Rachel has caused in her life. And yet, she has been busy with too many other things for that to work at all. So, it's surprising and unsettling to see this episode build to Jeremy assaulting Rachel in the wardrobe trailer. He wants to take all of his frustrations out on her. After being coached by Chet, this is what he believes he's suppose to do. However, it also feels like a way to redeem Chet because he's the one who pulls Jeremy off of Rachel. He doesn't deserve to be her white knight. He's a horrible person who should be punished as well. So, it's a very weird moment that really doesn't work with the episode that preceded it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Infiltration" was written by Alex Taub and directed by Janice Cooke.
  • It's exciting to see Quinn move on and get a new love interest - especially when it's Ioan Gruffudd playing a billionaire who just bought a network. Sure, the name John Booth is very bland and almost too silly. But he makes quite the first impression by being a fan of the show. And yet, he somehow wants Beth Ann to win. His presence could add an interesting voice to the conversation about race in this country especially when it comes to the elite.
  • America apparently got to vote to decide who would compete for the overnight date with Darius. It's stunts like that that the show uses to justify Everlasting being filmed so close to its air date. Of course, the show doesn't actually use those results. Quinn just picks the two contestants she wants to battle it out.
  • Has Dominique ever been important before? I swear this was the first time I knew she was even one of the contestants this season. Apparently, she is a basketball player. But that sports angle with Darius really isn't important. She appears solely to expose Yael for sleeping with the crew. And yet, she strangely is eliminated and Yael is not. Darius is making some crazy decisions.
  • Quinn is able to manipulate Jay into allowing the cameras to film Darius and Ruby's overnight date. Again, it's crazy how he is so naive to these manipulations. Instead of actually working, he gets caught up in the sweet romance of the date. He doesn't even tell Rachel or Coleman about what Quinn is up to.
  • Also what does Coleman really do on the show? He oversees everything. But he's not creating any of the drama onscreen or telling his producers what to do. He's just letting Rachel and Quinn do everything for him. He gets all the rewards and does very little work.
  • Did you hear that Costco is open all the time? And it sells coffins? That seemed like some pretty obvious product placement (though about coffins).