UnREAL S3E8: Recurrent

by thethreepennyguignol

So, before we get started, I’m just going to take a hot second here to tell you that my debut novel, RAPE JOKES, is officially coming out at the end of this year! You can find my post about it here, and I’m running a Q&A on it soon so if you have any questions about the book or the writing or publishing process, hit me up!

But on to less exciting news: UnREAL is back, and it’s still struggling to find it’s feet after last week’s dire episode. Recurrent is certainly a step up from the show’s last outing, but UnREAL still doesn’t quite seem to know exactly what it wants us to think right now.

Significantly, Quinn feels untethered. Last week saw her literally put a child in mortal danger for the sake of the show, and this week she winds up chewing poor Madison out after Madison pulls up an ex from Serena’s past to stir up drama. Her relationship with Chet seems to have softened, with the two of them sharing a sweet, silent moment together in the back half of the episode that hints at returned feelings, but it comes directly after Quinn has rubbed the house that they were meant to live in together in Chet’s face and told him that she’s more than happy living alone. I am happy with Quinn as a demon bitch from hell, I am happy with Quinn as a damaged individual searching for ways to survive in an industry that demands everything from her, I am happiest with a mix of both those things, but the show veering between them at random without explaining the reasons for those changes just…ugh. Quinn is so nearly a spectacular character, and Constance Zimmer (who also directs this episode – it’s a little film school 101 at points, but it’s also the first time I’ve noticed UnREAL trying to inject some really visual style into proceedings, which is something) is committed to the role and pouring all of her considerable talent into grounding her, but this season has been all over the place for her development-wise. Remember how she was an alcoholic a few episodes ago? Yeah. It doesn’t help that Craig Bierko, her scene partner for a lot of this episode, just seems to have forgotten how to act, wandering, apparently lost, in front of camera to blurt out some cringy on-the-nose dialogue.

Elsewhere, Rachel is actually clicking into an arc that I’m very into, as her mother brings her father home and puts him back on her regimen of “treatment”. The radical-honesty, nearly-decent Rachel is long gone now, as she confronts her mother and cuts her out of her life for good, attempts to seduce the shrink on the set of UnREAL, and then has sex with a recently-cut Alexei (thanks, UnREAL, by the way, for giving us yet another deviant cheating bisexual character). I like Rachel best when she indulges her worst impulses, because she’s self-aware enough to know that she’s using them as a coping mechanism and hates herself for giving in to them, yet can’t escape that the deviant is still thrilling to her. Shiri Appleby continues to rock this season, taking a back seat to Quinn’s plot, and it’s very nearly the saving grace of a messy forty minutes.

But then there’s the goings-on in the show – as I mentioned above, Madison brings on an old flame of Serena’s to stir up drama, and the man reveals that he had to get a restraining order out against Serena after she started harassing his friends and him after he ghosted her. And, in a choice that seriously unsettled me, UnREAL seems to be on Serena’s side, having one of the remaining suitors deliver a speech about how it just means her heart is so big and that she loves so much. The only suitor who sincerely protests this as a red flag is dismantled on camera by Rachel for his troubles, and I just…I know the show (Everlasting, not UnREAL) has to perform damage control to make Serena seem like the victim here, but the show (UnREAL, not Everlasting) seems to go to great lengths to paint her as the victim in this situation. It just grosses me out to have any kind of obsessive engagement with someone after they’ve repeatedly rejected your advances framed as anything other than an utter overstepping of boundaries. UnREAL toes a line between what the show-within-a-show finds acceptable and what the straight-up show does, and for me, this time, that line is way too blurred.

So, a mixed bag of an episode; some interesting direction and a set of traditionally solid performances from Zimmer and Appleby help elevate some of the scratchier material, but there’s still problems at the heart of UnREAL as we move into the finale next week. You can catch up on all my recaps of the season so far here, and I’d love to hear what you’ve thought of the season so far – love it? Hate it? Think Craig Bierko is phoning it in from three countries away? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter! As ever, if you enjoyed this review and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

(header image courtesy of Spoiler TV)