What are the women of Everlasting in this for? Are they on the show to find love? To find fame? Do they just want a free vacation to several far-flung destinations? “Truth” is the first episode of UnREAL to delve into the contestants’ reasons for joining the cast of Everlasting, which is pretty important given how much hell they go through at the hands of the nefarious producers. Answering that question also increases UnREAL’s likeness to its source material. One of the most fascinating dynamics in The Bachelor is the way the contestants vet each other, probing for signs of weakness and pouncing at the first sign that one of the women came on the show for less than noble reasons. The paths to a fairytale wedding proposal are narrow and few until you prove you’re pure of heart.
Faith probably has the most interesting motivation for participating in Everlasting of all the women vying for Adam’s attention. Faith has stepped into the foreground a couple of times this season, most notably when Athena was goaded into picking a fight with her over her alleged racism. Whenever she pops up, the writers play off her severe social awkwardness, and they double down in “Truth” with a date to Faith’s hometown that reveals more than Rachel anticipated.
Faith hails from small-town Mississippi, and when the production arrives, Rachel surmises through some snooping that Faith is actually a lesbian. This puts Rachel in a bind, as she’s promised Quinn she’ll deliver footage of Adam taking Faith’s virginity. Faith reveals that her reason for coming on the show was to fight her “unholy thoughts,” and she hoped a fairytale romance with a man would be appealing enough to rid her of her same-gender attraction. The admission is a poignant moment in a show with few moments of poignancy, and it makes a case for the show to drill deeper into each woman’s reason for being there rather than implying they’re all hopeless romantics.
Portraying Everlasting as a show that shoots, edits, and airs in real-time creates as many opportunities as pitfalls, and Faith’s path to accepting her sexuality is a story that illustrates both ends of the spectrum. There’s an undeniable energy resulting from Rachel having to react to Faith’s secret as it unfolds, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say as she unfolds it. It also sets Rachel up for a brief, flickering moment of redemption. Rachel has only had a few opportunities to redeem her detestable behavior, and this is the most purely altruistic thing she’s done yet. Rather than try to claim Quinn’s $10,ooo bounty for a deflowering story, Rachel nudges Faith toward the realization that she has feelings for her best friend Amy. Shiri Appleby sells the moment wonderfully, fully registering the joy Rachel is feeling when she gets a rare opportunity to wield her powers for good.
The flip side of the “seven days to air” conceit is that it creates a weird sense of inconsistency in the production process, which is fundamental to how the audience understands what’s taking place in the show. In most scenes, Everlasting is an expertly designed rodent maze in which anything resembling free will is an illusion. Then, in other scenes, it’s a loosely mapped out improvised reality show with hundreds of cameras mounted so they’ll have lots of different angles on the cast members doing everything except what they’re supposed to. The best example of this is when Shia, who has officially earned the title of UnREAL’s villain, shuts down two video feeds to Mary’s room so she can sneak in to tamper with Mary’s bipolar medication. The Everlasting producers are like the rulers of an evil dictatorship that intrudes on and controls every aspect of the occupants’ lives, but no amount of control is enough to stave off paranoia about a potential revolt.
It’s not a big enough issue to detract significantly from “Truth,” one of the best episodes of the season, which was penned by co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. Rachel’s story takes a characteristically dark turn when Faith hesitates about coming out to her entire church, and Amy hasn’t managed to muster up much nerve either. Rachel fakes the fantasy barn footage in the hopes she can sell Quinn on that instead of the lesbian angle, the footage for which Rachel trusts Jay to intercept and destroy. Jay does no such thing, and once Chet discovers the footage, he has no interest in a story about a shy southern girl losing her virginity. He wants the “hillbilly lesbo” stuff. Jay tries to justify his actions to a furious Rachel, and she devastates him when he tries to throw her own behavior back in her face: “Yeah, but we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about the people we can still save.”
The other great layer of Chet’s confrontation with Rachel is its proximity to Chet and Quinn’s legal confrontation over the ownership of Everlasting. After putting up a brief fight, which includes the suggestion that Quinn was stalking Chet, Chet acquiesces to Quinn’s demands and agrees to cut her in for a handsome 40 percent of Everlasting. We’ve never seen Chet this deeply involved in the production process, and it’s clear that after being forced to share the show he came to think of as his and his alone, he wants to get his hands dirty for a change. In his charged up state, Chet is certainly not willing to entertain a storytelling debate with Quinn’s protegee and crowning achievement. It’s up to Adam to save the day by offering Chet a story about a purported sex tape.
Adam makes another offer to Rachel, backing her up against the wall for a make-out session. She rebuffs his advances, telling him he’s her only friend, and she doesn’t want to ruin that. I wrote last week that I didn’t see the chemistry between Appleby and Freddie Stroma, but just that quickly I see it now. I understand their attraction in a way I definitely don’t understand Rachel’s relationship with Jeremy. Listen, the writers of UnREAL desperately want me to know that Rachel and Jeremy had a super intense thing and could have been together forever. And on an intellectual level, I believe it, but I don’t feel it. When Rachel and Jeremy lightly mauled each other in the fantasy barn, I didn’t really feel anything about it. I think the way the writers have set up the love triangle between Rachel, Adam, and Jeremy is interesting, but Jeremy is the triangle’s weakest side.
- This was an interesting episode to have hit the airwaves right after the Supreme Court approves same-sex marriage nationwide. Even had it not aired in the immediate wake of that decision, the stuff with Faith’s hometown seemed a bit alarmist. Rachel says she’ll find money in the budget to relocate Faith and Amy to another city, while Amy invokes the name of Matthew Shepard. That’s a bit much, I think.
- Shia switches out Mary’s meds after threatening to portray her as a “dull, dead-eyed loser” who got dumped. Shia is bad at this job, and it’s interesting what it means to be bad at this job on this show. It basically means you have to be rude and gross to people in the hopes of getting them to do what you want.
- Shia to Quinn: “You could make a perfectly happy person jump off a bridge.” Quinn: “Thank you.”