Photo: Bettina Strauss (Lifetime)

UnREAL is set up on such a high tension level of drama: Its show-inside-of-a-reality-show setting makes everything 10 times larger than life. Which may be why all the decisions these characters make seem so huge, so life-altering: there are no so-so days on the Everlasting set. This episode resonates because most of our characters choose paths toward what is ultimately important to them, even though they may not be the paths that they really want to take.

It can be the most fascinating part about this show. Quinn has what most people would consider a very successful career, and gets to boss everyone with absolute authority in her tiny fiefdom (not for nothing is she named Quinn King, which basically sounds like a double monarchy). But, as we saw last season, she feels like she’s missing out on having a central relationship and never having had a family. We all make choices; I was horrified a few years ago when my daughter drew a picture of our family and my head was behind a computer screen. Is that really how I want her to remember her childhood? Of course, that’s not the choice I want to be making—but apparently it was, because I was doing it (and since then, I’ve tried to be more cognizant about working at home). This is not a great example, but Andy in Devil Wears Prada also came to mind: She didn’t want to keep answering the constant phone calls from Miranda, her uber-demanding boss, but she kept doing it, until Miranda became Andy’s actual central relationship, at the cost of her boyfriend and friends.

Jay has a similar quandary this episode. Now given his own show, he realizes he can’t have that and his boyfriend Xavier at the same time. Especially since he pretty much sold out Xavier’s idea to create the show in the first place, giving his starring host spot to drug-addled Russian dancer Alexi. Like Quinn, Jay realizes that he has no room for a solid, stable relationship in this new worklife of his (and honestly, I agree that Xavier continually showing up at shoots with bag lunches is hella annoying), and so cuts Xavier loose. Unfortunately, Jay’s ensuing despair leads him to join Alexi in his favorite recreational pastime, in a scene that seemed to be right out of an after-school special—but that doesn’t mean that it probably doesn’t happen all the time. Even Guy this episode adopts a sexual identity that’s not his own to get a restaurant in Vegas.

Rachel may have an even bigger decision to make. She’s already sacrificed her mental health and outside life (she lives in a truck!) to Everlasting for whatever reason, but clings to the idea of a Mount Hood cabin as a lifeline for her and her dad. But it soon becomes clear that her dad needs more help than he’s able to give, as much as she wants to. So she has to take the cabin money to get her dad into a facility. Not what she wants to do, but what she really has to do. And Quinn may never be kinder than when she points out that by fixing her dad, Rachel still won’t be fixing herself.

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Maybe that’s why Rachel clings to Everlasting so tightly: It’s something she’s good at. Once she stopped her truth vows a few episodes ago, her ability to manipulate returned with alarming ease, and she obviously enjoys the power and satisfaction it brings her. I think the key to Rachel’s Everlasting success, though, is that she really does care. Like Serena, I bought Rachel’s whole speech about how hard she’s worked to try to make Serena’s romantic dream come true. Without Rachel’s innate compassion, none of the guys would be turning to to her to find out what Serena really wants. She can’t turn it off, even though sometimes (I still worry about John the bartender and his sick kid!) she makes the wrong decisions.

Quinn, Jay, and Chet must have similar feelings about ruling the world through ruling Everlasting, which is why they all have sacrificed so much for it. Is it the long view versus the short view? I do get a lot of satisfaction from my work, which is why I am so often one with my laptop. Taking a break to go to the gym or to help with homework isn’t going to give me that same kind of (almost) instant gratification, but it will obviously be much more valuable in the long run.

But the only person on the set Everlasting who’s able to see that kind of long view of a life outside of the show, and commit to it, is Serena. She’s as successful as she is because she’s made those compromises—sacrificing love for her career—and will do it no longer. Serena is fun to watch because she doesn’t doubt herself for an instant, rolling her eyes at Alexi’s drug denials, August’s sexual history stories, and Grant in general. But she’s smart enough and has been burned enough by this point that she can’t even take Jasper’s $400,000 apology at face value. She’s so strong-minded and focused on her one goal, Serena refuses to sacrifice anything for anything—the only person on the Everlasting set in that position right now.

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Stray observations

  • Didn’t love the Guy-Warren subplot of Chet and Quinn stirring up drama out of a friendship between two guys.
  • Ohmygod show, we have already done the thing where Jeremy tosses a perfectly good relationship in favor of his obsession with Rachel. Please let him heed Quinn’s warning and just stay away. Also, don’t forget that he’s a murderer just walking around; it’s bad enough that he’s even dating someone.
  • Do we think Jasper is really all in? Or is his competitive side just kicking into high gear?
  • Super-surprised Rachel’s mom didn’t storm the Everlasting set.
  • The look Jay gave himself in the mirror was devastating. But I also couldn’t help but notice all the selfies Alexi had posted of himself.
  • Next week: Quinn has a friend: Tracie Thoms, who was in Devil Wears Prada! See, it all comes back around.

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