UnREAL S3E7: Projection

by thethreepennyguignol

UnREAL is always toeing the line between meta-commentary on the operatic, over-the-top nature of reality television, and just becoming a bad parody of that kind of bullshit. And this episode was firmly in the latter camp.

Apparently flustered by two very solid episodes in a row, UnREAL turned to just an almost unbelievable lack of subtlety this week, the plot flapping around like a mostly-dead fish as it all but undid the good work it’s down those last few weeks. I think what’s most frustrating is not just that the plot points are stupid (and they are), but that so much of this episode is so bloody badly put-together – who thought having Craig Bierko whisper “don’t do this” in the face of a slammed door would be anything other than cringe to the highest power? Did the writers just decide that Quinn’s mother was going to be a part of this season (or land a decent guest star to play her) and so shove in a bunch of shockingly heavy-handed references to her in this episode to lay the groundwork? Why is Jay looking in the mirror and literally asking himself “what are you doing”? Could the paralells between Rachel’s familial relationships and Serena’s attempts to bond with her crush’s daughter be any more gruntingly hamfisted? It’s not just the content of this episode – it’s the way that content is delivered, amateurish and painfully on the nose where much of this season has felt thoughtful (if occasionally slow) by comparison.

I’m going to smash through all the awful plot developments here as quickly as I can, to give you the full experience of watching this episode. Chet needs Quinn’s help in acting as a character witness so he can earn visitation rights with his son. Tracey Thoms (my all-time queen) rocks up as an old producer friend of Quinn’s, and they join forces in an attempt to create more significant television. Rachel spends the entire episode on the phone to the facility her father was committed to, only to find out that he called her mother and got her to remove him from his treatment. Jay’s life is still out of control as he gets romantically (and substance-abusively) involved with Alexei. Madison spends most of the episode waggling her eyebrows over topless men. Serena meets the family of the suitor she is most drawn to. And oh, right, Quinn maybe tries to murder a child in order to push the narrative of Everlasting along.

Look, I really do think there is a brilliant show somewhere in the middle of UnREAL. And I think that the show seems to realize that too – a few times this season, and not infrequently in the couple of dozen episodes before that, it seems to have hit on that sweet spot, telling a story about the place of women in the media and more specifically the effect that place has had on two women in particular (Quinn and Rachel, of course) – one of whom has been rubbed to all raw edges, the other who has shut down emotionally. But it seems like every time they tap into that goldmine, they take this sharp left turn into the batshit stupid and send it all spiralling out of control again.

Lots of enormous things have happened over UnREAL’s run – well, shit that should have been enormous, but that a frequently-changing writers room seems to render secondary as each new season starts from scratch. Last season saw a man shot during a scheme gone wrong on Everlasting, as well as Jeremy murdering (murdering) two people in cold blood because he thought Rachel wanted him to. And yet, none of this has had any real impact on the plot or even the characters, and that’s frustrating. Jeremy’s main storyline this week revolves around his involvement with another cameraperson, and every minute he’s onscreen I just want to yell “HE MURDERED TWO PEOPLE WHY AREN’T WE ADDRESSING THIS?!”. When you throw in seemingly-huge plot points like those and proceed to ignore them in favour of whatever story you think is more worthy of telling, that’s just really fucking bad writing. UnREAL backed themselves into a corner at the end of last season, and instead of climbing out of it they’re lashing out at anyone who gets too close.

And that’s why I’m not in the least surprised or interested in this plot point for Quinn. Her setting it up so that a child is almost run over is fucking gross, of course, but it could be an interesting turning point as her character hits a ridiculous new low – but I just have no confidence that the show will follow through on this, considering how they’ve handled other enormous moments of it’s ilk. It feels like something thrown in to shock, to give Rachel and Quinn something to clash about, a big moment with nothing behind it. Quinn, when UnREAL knows how to handle her, is a difficult and often callous woman, brutally ambitious with an edge of compassion to the people who matter to her but intelligent and pragmatic above all else. This? This development is so slack-jawed stupid that it just goes against everything that the character should be and has been, in favour of making her the cackling comic book villainess.

Ugh. This is just a weak-ass episode, by far the worst of the season to date. Big, hollow, and heartless, UnREAL is at it’s worst when it falls into the trap of emulating the media that’s it’s trying to critique. Just as the season was picking up the pace, UnREAL has taken a step back – and I’m not sure how it’s going to shake that off going in to the last act of the season.

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 courtest of tvfanatic.com)