The unreality of UnREAL takes center stage this week, in a world where wind can be stopped, horse-riding and orgasms are faked, and unstoppable rain pours in to ruin an idyllic artificial setting. Rachel washes her hands in what appears to be a normal kitchen, but when the camera zooms out, we see that although the sink is real, the rest of the setting is a sham. Even the tattoos the crew get have the wrong dog on them Nothing is as it should be, in a real world that makes some sort of sense.

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It’s a theme UnREAL has been playing with all season (hence the show title), but with only one episode to go until the finale, “Princess” pulls out all the stops. Even the episode title is a lie, as whoever Adam chooses won’t actually be a real princess. The single-word dream of many a young girl is dangled in front of Grace, Anna, and Rachel, as they ponder spending Christmas in a castle and picking a charity to sponsor, just like Princess Diana. (Adam even steals Rachel’s desire to help “AIDS babies on camera.) The problem is that most fairy tales end at “happily ever after,” and for Adam, the only scenario that even hints at some sort of possible happiness is the possibility of running away with Rachel.

UnREAL characters like Quinn and Rachel would have you believe that the concept of love itself isn’t real; lunkheads like Jeremy are still believers, even if calamity is bound to follow. When Anna tells Rachel that she’s developed actual feelings for Adam, Rachel looks genuinely horrified, then lies to her anyway.

Quinn’s brief moment of happiness with Chet didn’t even last an episode last week, and now she is determined to cut him out of her life once and for all. UnREAL does a great job of painting all these multi-faceted characters, which makes Quinn’s lopsided valkyrie persona all the more obvious. What’s happening to her is appropriately devastating (and anyone guessing that Chet managed to impregnate her before the credits even finished?), but at this point, she’s ruthless enough to be a rather unsympathetic character. And her blackmail plot barely holds up: Why would she want someone working for her that didn’t want to be there? Would that person be likely to do a good job? Or does Quinn think that just working for her will overcome any domestic dream Rachel once had?

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It’s ambitious for UnREAL to try to craft an out-and-out actual love story in the midst of all this cynicism, in a land where even sweet Faith or the on-set psychiatrist are poised to cut a deal. But Shiri Appleby and Freddie Stroma have such a fervent chemistry in their scenes together, I’m buying it, even though I have no idea what a happily ever after would look like for them. Although we’ve seen Rachel do enough dubious things over the course of this seasons—editing Anna to look like a maniac, helping to bring in Mary’s abusive ex-husbands—that Adam may not be thinking with his brain when he tells her how worthy of happiness she is. It’s one of the best things about her character: We want to keep rooting for Rachel even when she lies to her boyfriend and has eye-roll sex in the shower (mirrored with Quinn’s eye-rolling sex on the floor; really, how cynical can you get?). Unlike Quinn, we get to see that Rachel at least has some sense of decency artfully layered somewhere underneath her army jacket, so that it occasionally but rarely manages to reach the surface.

So Rachel is even a more unlikely princess than Grace at first, but come on, isn’t this a classic Cinderella story? Hard-working, surrounded by stepsisters (Adam calls them “paper dolls”), and one hell of an evil mother figure, the downtrodden waif who lives in a truck is the one who wins the hero’s heart, even though he’s called Prince Charmless. That original love-at-first-sight fairy tale would have you believe that such a thing was possible, that the worlds they come from don’t matter, that a dance on a ballroom or a kiss in a greenhouse can change the course of lives.

It’s a nice thought, although an unrealistic one. Still, the adventure Adam offers is more thrilling to Rachel than a shower with Jeremy, and she knows it (although you have to feel bad for him as he’s about to get burned in the same place twice; and God only knows what kind of hell Lizzie’s workplace is for her right now). Adam seems to know what he’s talking about when he gestures to all the things that aren’t real—the setting he and Rachel are stuck in—but that their feelings are. His sentiments appear more affecting and immediate that Jeremy’s pipe dream of getting out (which he denounced at the beginning of the season, remember?), escaping to L.A. and having real friends in some far-off distant land.

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The best part is, I have no idea how this will play out in next week’s finale. Which is a very compelling feat for such a young show to pull off.

Stray observations

  • UnREAL biting dialogue Exhibit A: “If I drew a picture of a vagina on a white piece of paper you’d probably hit on it.”
  • UnREAL biting dialogue Exhibit B: “Guess who has the sperm count of a 21-year-old?” “Did they have to pump Madison’s stomach to get the sample?”
  • Can’t imagine Grace’s crack about people with dead daddies and bulimia issues was bound to win her many fans in the viewing audience. But she does get bonus points for smacking the loathsome Chet around.
  • Joshua Alston is off at the TCAs, so I will be back next week to take us out of this first (but fortunately not the last) UnREAL season. Royal Renovations, here we come!

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