Monday, August 8, 2016

REVIEW: 'UnREAL' - Rachel Handles Coleman While Quinn Tries to Produce an Epic Ending in 'Friendly Fire'

Lifetime's UnREAL - Episode 2.10 "Friendly Fire"

Quinn has a few more tricks up her sleeve before the remaining two Everlasting contestants get their happily ever after, but things take an unexpected turn that could foil her plans. Rachel stands up to Coleman as his plans to expose Everlasting begin to unfold, but could it be too late to regain control of the show?

As Quinn explains her plans for the Everlasting finale, she tells Madison that the show has the obligation to its audience to up the stakes and complicate the story with each season. She's done ending every season with a boring proposal. She saw how great last season's finale was with Anna leaving Adam at the alter. And now, she feels the need to constantly top herself with stunts. But that statement is very meta for the show as well. UnREAL felt the pressure this season to be more creative and destructive than it was in its first year. That created a season that was more about big events than meaningful character dynamics. The pressure was high and the final product stumbled quite a bit. This was quite a sophomore slump for the show. There was very little the finale could do to correct all the problems of this year. All it had to do was end things in a way that could wipe the slate clean for next season. But to the surprise of no one, "Friendly Fire" very much feels like the conclusion to this season of television. It's needlessly complicated and focused on dynamics that really don't feel earned at all.

At the close of last week's episode, it was a promising detail to have Quinn and Rachel plotting to destroy Coleman before he could expose the show for all of its wrongdoings over the years. They have destroyed so many people and have felt very little remorse about it. Their targets have always been on the show though. They embarrass people for a living in order to create an entertaining television show. They've become more jaded and desperate for attention and control this season. And yet, they are still both very effective at their jobs. That's why it's so difficult to watch as they are unable to truly handle Coleman in this situation. At first, it seems like they are able to silence him in the opening minutes of the finale. They just walk into his office with security and erase everything on all of his electronic devices. That could have been all the resolution this story could have gotten. It wasn't. The final balance between the story threads is especially troubling and induces some major whiplash.

This season has always prioritized the behind the scenes drama with the producers over the talent onscreen. Darius and Ruby vaguely feel like two-dimensional characters and even that is stretching things a considerable deal. All of the other contestants and personalities with an onscreen presence on Everlasting this year just fell flat. Tiffany and Chantal are the final two. And Romeo is back to consult Darius on his final decision. But none of them feel like important characters. They have so much priority in this finale because the show needs to produce some kind of resolution to this season of Everlasting. But all of it feels too complicated to be all that worthwhile. This season has conditioned the audience to expect outrageous and crazy twists with every single minute of running time. Things are constantly in flux for the characters. Shifting alliances and motivations have been really prominent this season. But with so much back-and-forth, it's hard to understand why any single character does any single action. So, it's hard to get trapped in the illusion that Darius is somehow struggling to decide whether to marry Tiffany and Chantal. It's all just a stunt that Quinn is controlling behind-the-scenes. All of it is fake. So, it's hard to care about anything that happens because the audience has come to expect that some big twist will happen in the end that blows all of the earlier manipulations away.

So, the finale gets lost in too many ideas to create a truly scandalous episode of television. It's something Quinn believes she needs to do. She no longer believes in true love. Her connection with John Booth wasn't real enough for her to feel like she has lost her chance at that kind of happiness. Her desire to have a baby was just a really weird plot point over the last few weeks that came out of nowhere. It was just one more non-sensical plot point on top of a mountain full of them. And yet, that's her motivation for producing this type of finale. She wants a shocking finale full of weddings, cat fights and shocking revelations. Apparently, Chet and Tiffany were only sleeping together so that Quinn could get the bright idea to expose them after Tiffany married Darius. That's her big plan for this episode. But more importantly, that's the entire justification for that weird and lackluster story. Tiffany and Chet had no real connection. The show tried to explain it as her having some severe daddy issues. But even that was lame. It happened just so Quinn could exploit it. And yet, that manipulation is so much more complicated than it needs to be. Why in the world would Quinn and Rachel trust Yael with being the girl to come forward and reveal this information post-nuptials? They know that she's a danger because she's a reporter. They know Coleman was teaming up with her. That's why Rachel targeted her last week. And now, they are offering her redemption. That just makes no sense. It happens just so she can have access to the set which allows Coleman and Jeremy to remain problems for the production.

Despite all of this manipulative maneuvering though, Everlasting actually produces a really sweet moment to end its season on. Darius doesn't choose either Tiffany or Chantal. Instead, it's Ruby who makes the grand return to interrupt the proposal. She's the only contestant who Darius has formed a real connection with. So, it's not surprising at all that she's the one to eventually win it all. But it works as a final moment because Ruby is the only woman who acts sensibly about the whole thing. She doesn't want to get married to Darius. They've only known each other for nine weeks. She's not ready to take a big step like that. She's not delusional about this show changing her life like Tiffany and Chantal are. She simply likes Darius and wants to continue dating him. It's a moment of true love. They ride off in the limo together as an honest couple. Not as one put together in order to boost ratings. But it's still an unexpected event that will likely help the show remain successful. It's also a moment that leaves Quinn completely speechless. It's not something she could have created. She was all about tearing these people down and not caring what happened to any of them. That's what she wanted. It's not what she got. But she still produced a solid episode of television. Plus, it serves as a remainder that true love still exists for the few people lucky enough to have it. That's a non-cynical approach to a show that produces quite a dark ending for its second season.

Because again, the show really is about the behind-the-scenes struggle for control. All of the antics with Coleman and Yael just showcase that Quinn and Rachel don't have the answers to every problem. They have been able to get away with so many nasty and horrifying things on the show. They were even able to come back from a death unscathed. This has been a rough season for them. They were pitted against each other. That really didn't turn out to be all that fascinating of a story though. They work much more effectively when together. They are such a strong team. They don't need anyone else in their lives. As long as they have each other, they can be happy, healthy and normal. But that doesn't create the kind of big and shocking moment the show believes it needs to end the season on. So, Coleman and Yael are the problem Rachel and Quinn just can't fix. They make their peace with this being the end of the show and the start of their time in prison. But that's not what ultimately happens. They survive thanks to Jeremy of all people. It's his redeeming white knight moment after a horrible season. He was truly a despicable individual who no longer had purpose on the show. So, it's definitely hard to take as the show says he's still important. And yet, he is. Because of him, the show survives with this weird family unit still together. He's now willing to do anything for the show because he learns about Rachel's troubled past. That's all it took to make him rational again. Sure, rational in this case means killing two people. But that's just become commonplace on this twisted show. The consequences of that action won't play out until next season. But it's just an odd moment to end on. It's a grim fate for Coleman and Yael. The audience is suppose to be rooting for two characters to be killed. That's such an odd reaction that the show is actively forcing the audience to take. But it's more so indicative of just how weird this whole season has been.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Friendly Fire" was written by Alex Metcalf & Stacy Rukeyser and directed by Peter O'Fallon.
  • After everything she put them through, Rachel needed to have a moment alone with Darius and Romeo. And yet, it's not surprising at all that they refuse to even speak to her. What she did was horrifying and cannot be forgiven.
  • Darius wasn't exactly excited to be doing the show in the beginning. But he accepted it as what he needed to do in order to improve his image and open up new career possibilities. He became disenchanted as the season dragged along. Now, he has no career but he does have love. It makes Romeo angry but Darius is happy. That plays as a win but just how long will it actually last?
  • Jay has had a troubled season. He became very protective of the idea of black romance. It also made him very naive as a producer. He was shocked by what Quinn and Rachel would do despite working with them for many years. And yet, he's the one who manages to pull off that epic twist with Ruby. So, he's the one who really wins out in the end.
  • Madison really should win her hair down and out like that more often. It's a startling new look for her but she's beautiful nevertheless. That could be a part of her transition into being a cold-hearted producer just like Quinn and Rachel.
  • So many characters made fun of Graham all season long. And yet, it was strangely moving when he turned to Rachel after the final cut and told her she did a good job. It was weird and uncharacteristic of him but great all the same.
  • It was odd that Adam only returned for one episode this season and then ran away just as quickly - especially just as Rachel was having that big mental breakdown.
  • Chet is still hopelessly pining after Quinn. He still believes he has a future with her. But more importantly, she's resigned enough to just accept that he's a part of this weird, messed up family at the center of Everlasting.
  • That's it for this season. It was a complete mess that really took aware from just how great the show is capable of being. I remain hopeful that the show will turn it around next year. But after so many bad decisions, I just don't know if that's possible.