UnREAL S3E5: Gestalt

by thethreepennyguignol

Halfway through the season, and UnREAL is finally giving us some damn payoff.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the first four episodes of season three, but UnREAL seriously delivered this week, in Gestalt, an episode that both went big and went home. And featured Quinn in a ruinously amazing red power suit, so there’s that.

Since we’re on Quinn, let’s talk about her plot this week, which was about as close to sensational as this show has ever gotten before. After Quinn is stood up for a meeting with her boss Gary regarding her new show pitch, she goes nuclear and shuts down the production of UnREAL – under threats from Gary, she joins forces with Madison (a Genevieve Buechner I enjoy more and more, and who’s hair gets better and better, as each week passes), his secret girlfriend and her fellow producer, to bring him down.

Now, this is a a really strong dovetailing of a few different storylines, and I’m actually impressed at the certainty with which the show brought them all together: Madison’s increasing disenchantment with her paramour has been building for a while, despite her bucking up against the notion of just taking Quinn’s career path, and drawing it out here works. The two of them working together to crush Gary is supremely satisfying in ways that I didn’t even know I needed, and Quinn is in full, glorious flight here –  emerging from pitch-black shadows with a drink in hand and in that blood-red suit she’s venomous. Her downward spiral isn’t over – far from it – but seeing her see a chance for a brief, game-changing victory and grabbing for it is supremely and totally her, even when she’s spinning out of control.

This story also offers interesting comment on some of the ideas that were put forward in the second episode; way back then, Chet was leaning in to the idea that what men want is a docile, sweet woman to come home to who makes them feel big and important, but when he witnesses Quinn destroying Gary’s career in front of the entire cast and crew, he immediately forgets about the perfect example of his so-called perfect woman and pursues her, instead. Maybe Chet isn’t ready to admit that what he wants is a woman as difficult, spiky, and successful as Quinn, but he knows it. Quinn reminds him that he chose easy and rejects him. The scene not only draws an intriguing new angle out of the “perfect woman” subplot, but also serves as a reminder that, no matter what a woman is doing, some guy is going to come crashing in and announce that it gave him a boner and that’s her problem now. I love the chemistry between Constance Zimmer and Craig Bierko, and am interested to see how this story unfolds now that it has been given a breath of new life.

Holy hell, but that’s not even touching on what else goes on in this episode, and it’s so fucking much: Rachel’s the one going home, as she returns to confront her father about her rape at the hands of a mother’s client when she was a child, in one of the season’s best scenes so far, the camera clamping impotently in on the two of them over their kitchen table as they swap blame for what happened. As I said last week, it’s hard to categorize this story as “good” or “bad” when it rejects so many of the notions of how we’re comfortable telling stories about rape – it’s not simple, the blame isn’t easily place, and it’s impact on Rachel and her family as a whole is hard to categorize though undeniably present. Rachel winds up breaking her father out from under the Lithium-addled grip of her psychiatrist mother and bringing him back to set, and I have no idea how this story plans to unfold but I’ll take it for now. Shiri Appleby burrowing to the core of what has fucked Rachel up is a gift for an actress with her chops and I’m surprised at the subtle hand with which UnREAL is handling this arc (and glad that they’re balancing out Rachel’s evil mother with a shrink who’s actually out to do some good).

In the last of an excellent trident of “women no longer taking shit” storylines, Serena, the Suitress (I will never not cringe typing that, which I assume is the point?), in a series of densely satisfying scenes, demands that her suitors do better. After so long being told that Serena is an awesome badass who takes no shit, I feel like this is the first time UnREAL has really shown us that – she’s the one who scrambles up to her love interest’s window, for goodness sake. Caitlin FitzGerald has never looked more comfortable in the role than when she’s taking control, and I hope the season lets this storyline carry through, because it’s far more interesting than the vaguely amusing but limited “what do men REALLY want?” plot.

After a few episodes of fun but relatively aimless stories, someone has taken the wheels behind the camera and really given this season some direction. UnREAL has always been at it’s best when it forefronts it’s women, and giving them all stories with various levels of satisfying badassery is what the show needed to firmly get it’s feet back. Gestsalt feels like a mission statement for the rest of the season – one that I sincerely hope they stick to.

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 TV Fanatic)