B.J. Britt, Freddie Stroma (Photo: Lifetime)

After this episode of UnREAL, co-creator and director Sarah Gertrude Shapiro tweeted:

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But, as we all know from the events of recent weeks, black men getting shot during routine traffic stops is tragically still far from dated. Which makes you wonder what was going through Rachel’s head when she called the cops on Darius and Romeo joy-riding: Yes, she can control a lot of the environment and reactions on the Everlasting set. Did that make her so delusional to think that she would be able to manipulate events off-set? Namely, jumpy cops that were pulling over two black men without I.D. in a sportscar? Apparently, she did, or why else would she run headlong into the situation, trying to defuse it, instead escalating it?

In Rachel’s manic state (although she didn’t seem that manic compared to last week), she has been a master manipulator. But mistakes have been made (Mary, most egregiously), and so the best we can hope is that we learn from our mistakes. Rachel and Quinn seem to host no such self-awareness, bulldozing into yet another horrific manipulated situation. Most every scenario they’ve concocted this season—Brandi, Ruby, Beth Ann—has ended in disaster.

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But not a disaster, as awful as they were, that could put a person’s life in danger. This is one of the most egregious, “What were you thinking?” moments possible.

Until that moment, the addition of Adam seemed to move things along on UnREAL at an enervating clip, although he’s much more besotted than we remember last season. Loved all his comments about what a gaping hellhole this romance reality TV show is. I tried to give Coleman a chance, but now I’m on Quinn’s side: He is the actual worst. Bad enough that he eggs on Rachel during the calling the cops situation, but one week after Jeremy’s attack on her, he’s going to blame Rachel for her exes’ behavior? That’s another thing that she has no control over, so what does he expect her to do about it? The fact that Coleman threw her under the bus in about a nanosecond when John Booth wanted to talk to him highlights his lack of character, as Quinn knew it would.

Adam knows Rachel, and knows what she is capable of, yet she insists on staying with her long-term b.f. of four weeks, with the promise of making “important” television together later. But what would that be, now that she’s so wedded to the nonsense that is the Everlasting set? The date this episode was hilarious (the costumes alone were batshit), as Chantal and Darius try for intimacy in a fake gondola, rowing in a fake lake (reminiscent of Adam’s posed horse-riding last year). The farcical addition of the ashes just kicked things up a notch, highlighting how far from reality Everlasting actually is. As Jay has pointed out, there was actual hope of real love on the set this year, which ended a few weeks ago with Ruby getting her heart broken on national TV. So Adam’s pleas through the camera, sincere as they may be, read as false because they’re coming from a) a hot tub on b) the Everlasting set.

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Maybe that’s why Rachel and Coleman had such delusions of grandeur that they thought they could manipulate an actual police stop on the outside. As Rachel tries to explain to Jay, they thought the footage of how black men are treated by police would be valuable. And in her own twisted way, she’s right: the footage of Philando Castile’s death after getting shot by police during a routine traffic stop is beyond horrifying, and hopefully opened up a few eyes. But Jay delivers the most relevant line of the episode: “This is not your story to tell.” In the Hollywood Reporter piece that quickly followed this episode, Gertrude Shapiro extrapolates:

I directed the episode, but Ariana wrote the script and she had iterations of that phone call where Rachel was saying stuff like, ‘Well, I got pulled over in this neighborhood and it was no big deal.’ She’s spent seven weeks with this guy by now, and in her mind he’s this charming, nice guy, her show’s romantic lead, and she just doesn’t understand that his body is different and that he’s in more danger.

Which doesn’t really add up: Rachel is an intelligent person, how can she not get that his body is different? In a way, the UnREAL producers and the Everlasting producers have the same goal and the same hurdle: They want to show that the danger that any black person goes through when getting pulled over by the police. Unfortunately, just that situation alone is such a powder keg that, as we see on the show and in real life, things often blow up in tragic fashion.

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Shapiro was so proud of her “Rachel’s life turns upside down” camera angle that she called it out in a Lifetime promo that immediately followed the scene, which crowed about “her vision.” But that angle immediately shifted the focus from Darius and Romeo, who we don’t see again for the episode, to Rachel’s rapidly disintegrating mental state. Mary falling off the roof was terrible, but Rachel didn’t switch out her meds. Rachel can’t blame anyone else for making that phone call. As Jay rightly points out, “This is on you.”

Which would be a huge burden for someone to carry even if they didn’t have a borderline personality disorder, but Rachel does. The ending of her being fed meds by her seemingly maniacal mother is sobering.

Honestly guys, I am torn, and I have been up for a few hours stewing over this. On one hand, I appreciate UnREAL trying to widen the conversation, to show that the beast of racism is such that even an NFL star is likely to get handcuffed by the police just for getting pulled over, and someone can get shot. On the other, it’s so irritating that this experience gets boiled down to only Rachel’s perspective, even though that’s pretty much the theme of the show. But it’s not her story to tell. Shapiro points to the conundrum in that same interview: “For me, as a white person who does care about these issues, I’m glad that that conversation might be happening and that [we’re] pointing out that there’s no way that you can know what it’s like to be a black man. It’s not your story to tell but that there are ways to be an ally but you have to be asked and you have to listen.” So UnREAL is attempting to continue the conversation. It’s just devastating that that we are having this conversation at all. As the writers started out by saying, they were hoping this situation would be “dated,” but right now, it’s the farthest thing from it.

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Stray observations

  • I never like to talk about grades in here, but I feel like I have to with this one. I can’t do “A” range because I’m too irritated at Rachel’s bonehead move and the use of a tragic traffic stop as the machination that gets her in the hospital. But a “C” range diminishes the ambitious attempt the writers were trying to pull off (plus the fun addition of Adam before the episode, with phrases like “knicker-dropper” and lines like, “Welcome back, meat puppet”). So “B” it is.
  • So, Yael is a reporter, right? Seems gross that she’d have to sleep wth Jeremy for a job.
  • As Rachel melts down, she climbs over some people, can no longer deal with others. She firmly smacks down Quinn with, “You need to get over me,” but when Adam tries to help her after Romeo is shot, she moans about the small window of time “where you could have saved me.” As I’ve said, Rachel needs to save herself. But her zombification in the hospital definitely appears to be yet another step backward.

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