UnREAL S3E4: Confront

by thethreepennyguignol

What an odd episode.

Not that I totally mind odd episodes of TV – I am a die-hard fan of the oddest show on TV, Riverdale, after all (which I also recap on this blog, but like, you know, whatever). And UnREAL suits oddness – it’s a show that revels in the bizarre internal workings of reality TV, as last week reminded us, and that lends itself to some choices that would be seriously strange anywhere else on television. But let’s take a look at the oddness at work in this week’s outing, Confront.

Firstly, and bestly, we have Quinn’s story which is still the strength of the season to date. Constance Zimmer is Constance-ly my favourite performance on television, showing Quinn flailing out of control in the most gleeful way possible – cackling with laughter in a contestant’s face after he gets his hair snipped off in his sleep, getting fitted for a pantsuit in blood-red, and trying to deal with the prying eyes of a reporter on set. This week sees her dealing with accusations of internalized misogyny – namely, that she loathes herself so much she takes that out on the women around her and attempts to sabotage them. She denies this, but it’s hard to tell if she’s staring into the truth and refusing to see it or if she actually believes she is helping the women around her – after all, Quinn is a destructive force on nearly everyone she meets, and an intense relationship with her usually spells disaster. The episode’s most telling moment when she tells Rachel that she wants to see her get better mentally, but to wait till after the season is done to try. Quinn might be a boon for people professionally, but she is a catastrophe for them personally. Whether she knows that – or indeed, cares – is the really interesting question. She has focused all her efforts on professional success, and if she extrapolates this to the women around her, then sure, by her measure, she is a good influence on them. By anyone else’s judgement, she’s blunt force trauma on the psyche of the women who work around her.

And one of those women is, of course, Rachel. Rachel is always teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown and this week’s internal battle between truth and lies seems to push her over the edge, as she lashes out at Quinn and then goes to confront the man who raped her when she was a child. Now, I have written lots about the way rape is depicted on TV, and I’m glad to see UnREAL touch on some of that grey area in a serious long-term way, but I’m also just not sure what to make of this plot yet (Rachel discovers that her father knew about her assault, and seems shocked by this revelation), so I’m giving it some time to unfold before I cast judgement, but the way it plays out here is kind of strange. Maybe that’s just because I’m not used to seeing it handled this way, in such a grey-area way where it doesn’t have a natural, clean arc, but I’m willing to wait to find out. Shiri Appleby continues to kill it, the most convincingly mentally ill person on TV since Will Graham in Hannibal.

The last major plot strand this week revolves around Jay – now, I haven’t spoken about the OG producer much this season, but I have been really pleased to see that the show has actually bothered to give him a really strong plot these last few episodes, as his restlessness on Everlasting translates to him pushing for his own show, about dancers across the world, featuring his boyfriend. He has signed on Alexei, an ex-coke-addict ballet dancer who is one of the suitors on this season of Everlasting, to lead it – and he ends up bribing him with his addiction to get Alexei to do what he wants. It’s a seriously nasty scene, as Jay uses to promise of more cocaine to push Alexei to perform his will, considering that Jay has usually been the good guy out of all the producers (well, he hasn’t actively been involved in someone’s death, so kind of by default, but I digress), but I think this season has done just enough to explain why he would go to this sort of length to get what he wants. I still think it’s maybe a bit of a jump, but it’s giving him something real to do and pushing some internal conflict on his character, which I can live with for now considering “Questionably Characterized Internal Conflict” could be UnREAL’s tagline. Like Rachel’s story, it feels like the beggining of an arc rather than a satisfying slice of one

So, yeah, an episode with plenty going on – not all of it good, but most of it promising something more than just this week can deliver. At the center of season three this far has been Quinn and her shrapnel embedding itself in everyone around her – if you look at the last few episodes as that story, it makes a lot more sense than if you were to continue to look at it as Rachel’s story, as the first two seasons were focused on. The show is still getting used to the shift of leading character, re-calibrating to fit the new story, but once it settles into it’s new pace, I’m interested to see where they can go with the rest of this run.

If you liked this recap and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon! You can also check out my other recaps of American Crime StoryRiverdale, and Carrie, if that’s what you’re into.

(header image courtesy of EW.com)

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