Genevieve Valentine posted a great essay today about UnREAL and the concept behind most reality shows. Even though we suspect that they are scripted as all get-out, we still watch for the chance of seeing something unscripted, unexpected. We want to see drinks tossed in faces or tables overturned. Competitive or noncompetitive: We want fights and bleeps and the chance to see people like ourselves on TV, only slightly more unhinged.
The first night UnREAL aired, I tweeted that if all 10 episodes had been available right then, I would have watched the whole thing immediately. I still feel like that, but this finale was definitely worth the wait. What made UnREAL such an instant must-watch? It showed us what was behind that reality-show curtain. Co-created by Bachelor ex-associate producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, it gleefully depicted all the machinations behind those romantic foibles we dutifully watch every week. It was an unreal reality show, and it was brilliant. And even though lots of shows say they’re going to pull out all the stops for a finale (some of these usually involve a death count: paging Shonda Rhimes), UnREAL is one of the few that actually made good on that promise. The finale absolutely and magnificently blew everything up in the air.
Helping to get UnREAL’s concept-in-a-concept across all season was a stellar cast. Shiri Appleby, formerly best known to me as the good girl in teen movies like Swimfan—who knew? Her Rachel was a tortured, devious on-set producer who somehow still had a heart. Despite all the shit Rachel pulled this season (read: a lot), Appleby’s multi-faceted portrayal made it easy to still root for the girl lying to her nice boyfriend and who rarely showered.
Constance Zimmer is not as much of a surprise, but also sold her part as Quinn, a mean, conniving survivor, who fell into the romantic trap of her own show. The relationship between these two, framed as it is with codependence and blackmail and actual downright affection, has been UnREAL’s absolute bedrock. The scene with the two of them commiserating about the sorry state of the men in their lives, complete with Rachel’s smudgy mascara and Quinn’s bridal magazines, is pretty much all I want to watch in life. And it’s impressive that they hatched this master plan in the time it takes me to figure out what I’m going to pack for lunch in the morning. The beauty of the plan was that it destroyed both Adam and Chet, while aligning themselves on top at the same time. Has there been a more satisfying moment on TV this year than Quinn stepping in and saving the live broadcast by grabbing the walkie-talkie and immediately barking out orders that Chet’s drug-addled brain had long since forgotten? Or Rachel telling Adam his services are no longer required?
Although Adam lost everything, he’s not in any worse shape than he was at the beginning of the season. I get Rachel’s wrath, but he certainly isn’t as worthy of such shoddy treatment as Chet. Anna significantly (in another oh-so-satisfying live rant) points out just moments before Adam and Rachel’s final conversation that he’s just not that bright. He wasn’t smart enough to see through Quinn’s manipulation, and he lost the show in the process.
What Rachel did in the finale isn’t too different from what she pulled at the end of Everlasting’s last season: She spilled to the female contestant that she was eventually going to get dumped, thereby ruining the romantic premise of the finale. But this time, the fact that Quinn was on board helped her chances of survival significantly.
Consequently, UnREAL’s true love story is highlighted in a significant last scene: Rachel and Quinn end the season by professing their love for one another. They completely get each other. When Quinn says she’ll go after Jeremy if he messes with Rachel, Rachel knows that her boss really has good intentions at heart. Quinn may have completely fucked-up methods, but she only wants what’s best for Rachel. And herself, of course.
By this point, Rachel has pulled so many strings that she can’t even tweak Grace anymore, and is using the absolute truth as manipulation. It’s that blurred line between truth and fiction that makes UnREAL such a riveting watch. It’s also interesting that most of our final contestants have propositioned Adam with something like, “You know it’s all fake anyway; you might as well marry me.” Rachel let herself believe for one beautiful, fleeting moment that it might all be true. Of the contestants, only Anna has true feelings for Adam, and she is also left devastated at the end (due to an inspired literal use of a confessional booth).
So you can’t really blame Rachel and Quinn for doubting that love exists. Rachel finally lets her guard down, and she’s rejected in the rain at an airport. Quinn shakes her head at herself when she admits, “I started to believe what we sell here.” Someone who loves us unconditionally; who always takes us back, no matter how much crap we pull; who brings out our best traits and is aware of our real faults: It’s all any of us can ask for in life, and Rachel and Quinn have that with each other. So even after the Everlasting finale bloodbath, UnREAL ends on a surprising upbeat note, with the show’s most solid relationship intact, as our two strong female leads lie next to each other and ponder their next move.
I miss it already, and am already counting the days until season two.
(UPDATE: Some are pointing out that on second glance, the ending isn’t as upbeat as it seems, with Rachel talking about a possible murder behind-the-scenes as a veiled threat toward Quinn? I missed it in favor of Quinn so quick to defend Rachel from Jeremy, and Rachel‘s tear-filled “I love you” afterwards. I agree that the relationship between these too is the farthest thing from straightforward and now has even more tension and baggage, which just makes it more interesting. Still, I will go out with the perfect last line from that scene: “I love you too. Weirdo.”)
- Love Chet trying to pass a blow job off as an “accident.”
- Jeremy, if you were really worried about Rachel’s mental state, maybe you shouldn’t have humiliated her in public. Not a fan.
- Love Quinn’s constant disdain for him, though: “Who. Jeremy?”
- Britney’s epic entrance kind of makes me as sorry as Quinn that she got cut right away.
- Solid-gold UnREAL dialogue: “I was snorting blow off Mick Jagger’s you-know two days before I married an impotent duke for his title.” “Well, if that’s the case, I think you’re going to love these girls.”
- Britney burn: “I can imagine my life with most of you.”
- Favorite UnREAL contestant of the season: Faith, who started out as a dark horse and became the closest thing to a true friend for Adam and Rachel.
- Thanks to regular UnREAL reviewer Joshua Alston for letting me sit in on these past two episodes. And as always, thanks for reading. See you for Everlasting: The Whole Package.