There’s a moment in UnREAL’s fourth and final season when Faith—the friendly country girl who came out as a lesbian in season one—shows up and is shocked at how the state of affairs has worsened on the set of Everlasting. Keep in mind: On Faith’s season of the dating competition, a woman fell to her death. At first, Faith thinks that this bottomless well of moral depravity is the work of über-producer Quinn King (Constance Zimmer). She’s even more horrified to discover that the show’s devolution is actually the work of Quinn’s one-time protégé (and Faith’s one-time behind-the-scenes ally), Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby).
Fans of UnREAL’s stellar first season will likely have the same reaction to its fourth. A decline in quality precipitated by tension between co-creators Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (leading to Noxon’s departure during season two) continued into Stacy Rukeyser’s stewardship of season three—and the follow-up is nothing but completely off the rails. Every time you think the show—Everlasting, UnREAL, or both—has gone as low as it possibly can, it somehow sinks even deeper. This is an all-star, co-ed season of Everlasting that kicks off with “Hump Or Dump,” in which the men rate their female counterparts by their looks, and dump them into a muddy pond if they’re found lacking. Hulu’s similar dumping of these final episodes, just a few months after season three, makes a lot more sense now.
Rachel, our main character, was once someone we were meant to identify with, seeing the insanity of the show through her eyes as a producer. We’ve learned of her horrible relationship with her mother and her own sexual assault, by one of her mother’s patients, when she was 12. We know that her relationship with Quinn is dysfunctional and deeply damaged. None of that backstory offsets what occurs in season four. Namely:
- A young woman who was date-raped in a previous season is forced to share a room with the man who raped her.
- That contestant is humiliated further by getting pelted with eggs by her fellow contestants.
- Another young woman is set up to almost get raped by the same man, resulting in severe damage to her mental health.
- The career of a person battling an addiction is ruined.
And somehow, through all of it, no man in Rachel’s orbit can resist her manipulations. The season-four promo pushing Rachel as the Suitress was a giant fakeout; in fact, this Everlasting All-Stars season has more in common with Bachelor In Paradise, as past contestants come back to compete for a million-dollar prize. Meanwhile, Rachel has transformed from her usual grungy living-in-a-truck brunette to a glamorous blond, and she has dalliances with nearly all the male suitors, most of the time to further her own ends.
The show’s villain role makes a marked shift this season, from Quinn to Rachel. Granted, Rachel hasn’t exactly been a saint in the past: She called the cops in season two when the black suitor and his friend took off in a sports car, she made undercover reporter Yael shit herself on national TV, and she’s complicit in the deaths of Yael and her co-conspirator in Everlasting sabotage, Coleman. But the feminist leanings that drove season one—with Rachel and Quinn in alliance trying to grapple to the top of the male-dominated world of television—have all but disappeared. At least last season, Rachel was still attempting to push feminism with her Elon Musk-esque Suitress, while Quinn almost got a kid killed. This season, Rachel is throwing rape victims under the bus, encouraging them to keep quiet and calling them “sad sacks,” and Quinn is the one looking on in disdain.
With these latest behind-the-scenes machinations, Quinn finally finds a line she won’t cross, but Rachel’s already so far past it that she can’t see it anymore. Meanwhile, Quinn is bogged down in her own dumb domestic storyline with the eternally lumbering Chet. A new contestant—a spirited stripper who’s a single mom (Natalie Hall)—adds a necessary dose of life to the series, while Alexi (Alex Sparrow) and August (Adam Demos) are welcome returns to the All-Star lineup, as is Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s Jay—the true moral backbone of the series.
But they’re no match for the problems ingrained in UnREAL’s main characters, as Rachel’s actions grow more and more reprehensible over the course of the season. Of course she’s headed for a comeuppance, but as the episodes roll on, it becomes less and less likely that any punishment can fit her tremendously long list of crimes. With every heinous act, UnREAL burns another bridge behind itself, until, like Rachel herself, it’s not even recognizable anymore.