There were a dozen ways that UnREAL could have handled the post-mortem of Rachel’s assault, but the most surprising aspect of “Casualty” is how breathless it feels in its plotting after such a traumatic event. Season Two has had its share of muddled decisions, and one of the biggest issues has been its attempts to address so many different storylines going on backstage, often to the detriment of the stories that are happening on Everlasting. Decompression isn’t a possibility in the world of UnREAL, and Rachel’s licking her wounds, and jumping right back on the merry-go-round.
Thanks partly to assured direction from first-time-director Shiri Appleby, and tight focus, “Casualty” moves in a way that few episodes this season have, cycling through the direct aftermath of the assault, a visit to Beth Ann’s hometown, and advancing romances. Here are five of the most memorable moments.
1. You Need A Villain After Last Week
Darius—and the show by extension—made a bold choice in last week’s episode by eliminating Ruby, one of the few contestants who’s been extensively fleshed out this season. Darius’ reasoning was sound and kind of heartbreaking—but the powers that be know that the audience of Everlasting won’t swoon for a suitor who admits that he can’t live up to the expectations of someone, no matter how genuine they are.
This week, Darius needs to pick which hometown date to go on, and while Chantal is his first choice, Rachel has very different plans. She wants ratings, and he needs a villain after last week. Rachel and Coleman are fishing for controversy, and the only possible choice is the backwoods “solid gold ratings racist” Beth Ann.
Beth Ann’s characterization this season has been consistently inconsistent as she’s moved from empathetic and problematic, to trite bigot and back again based on the show’s needs, but this episode re-establishes Beth Ann as someone initially close-minded, but open to change.
When they first arrive in Alabama, Rachel and Coleman are hoping for a family reunion that looks like a clan rally, or at least a particularly juicy episode of Jerry Springer, but all they find is homegrown southern hospitality. There’s no villain in sight, but poor Beth Ann makes the mistake of trusting Rachel with her hilariously convenient secret pregnancy. Never mind that the baby daddy—a musclebound jailbird named Brock—lives only two streets over.
Reality drama ensues as Beth Ann believes that admitting the pregnancy to Darius in front of her whole family is the smartest choice, and Brock comes into the picture, ring in hand, and ready to be a better man.
Appleby makes a number of smart directorial choices throughout this episode, but one of the most immersive comes with a nearly complete focus on Rachel as this whole situation erupts. The whole scene is shot in a whirlwind daze that feels like an approximation of Rachel’s cracking exterior. Rachel’s been deflecting her own feelings about the assault, but she’s losing her cool, or at least letting manic exhaustion consume her.
2. I See Who You Are, and Who You Can Be
On the surface, the scene where Coleman tells Rachel that he’s going to take her to the top isn’t remarkable. From the beginning, Rachel has been partly seduced by Coleman because of his ability to escape Everlasting. Unlike Rachel, Coleman has never had to deal with the pressures of being a part of the inner circle for years. She’s constantly beset by the guilt of past decisions and present trials.
But the scene at the end of this week’s episode feels particularly significant,as it not only identifies that Coleman is going to whisk her away at the end of the season, but that she no longer feels any hesitation about abandoning the show that she’s worked on for ten years of her life.
That’s perhaps been implied by Rachel’s newfound energy in talking about creating a new show with Coleman, but it’s never been more clear that she wants a clean break from Everlasting. Then again, she’s had a history of people who wanted to free her, only for her to become further entangled—i.e. Adam, who’s ironically now being used as a force to keep her away from this freedom.
Even so, her romance with Adam always had a sense of impossibility. An element of fantasy was always ingrained in their every moment, as they both dreamed of a life away from responsibility, and the prickly specifics of reality. It’s still kind of unclear whether Coleman’s aspirations are manageable or pie-in-the-sky notions, but there’s a genuine believability to their relationship. And while UnREAL could just as easily pull the rug out, and make him another manipulator, as well as bring out the wedding bells, their relationship doesn’t feel bogged down in complications.
3. The Mirror of Truth
As I’ve noted in my last few recaps, UnREAL Season Two still doesn’t have a grasp on balancing the action behind and in front of the camera, and The Mirror of Truth sequence further underlines that we don’t know all these characters as well as we should. Everlasting is down to five girls, but unlike last season, we really have no sense of who these women are, other than their capital-v vulnerabilities.
The Mirror of Truth scene is entertaining on its own terms, especially as an initial question about why Darius didn’t pick them spirals out into ad hominem attacks based on appearance and assumptions. But it’s telling that we have no idea who Jamison is other than a cop from Chicago, and that’s a detail that was already used as a punchline early in the season. Similarly, Chantal and Yael are defined by their fragility and horniness respectively. Tiffany has long been one of the most interesting characters, but only because she’s been given so much screen-time.
And while that may be exactly the point—that these women are only meant to be token props in the context of reality television, but UnREAL can’t expect us to care about their emotional well-being if the show doesn’t give them the time to develop. The direction mostly stays focused on Jay and Madison behind their monitors as they watch the women bicker with each other, and I can’t help but wonder how much better this season would be if we knew half as much about Chantal as we do about Jay.
This season has been a showcase for Rachel and Quinn, and the immediate people around them. As a reflection of the dynamics of the show within the show, it’s only apt that the bosses become the center of attention at all times. But the more time we spend with the contestants, the more it’s clear that the reality television aspect of UnREAL is being underserved.
4. I Want A Network, But I Might Want You Too
A funeral isn’t the most romantically conducive first date scenario, but Quinn and Booth’s relationship is moving forward awfully quickly. After a steamy post-ceremony kiss against a tree, there’s less a sense that Quinn is playing Booth for a chance at the wheel of a network, than the possibility that she’s making a genuine connection after a season of failures.
Quinn is still smarting from the betrayals from the people closest to her, but Booth is an oasis away from the stresses of the show, and her damaged relationships. Season Two has struggled with Quinn as a character, at times undermining her, and other times pushing her up into a catalyst for new conflicts. But Booth is a great equalizer placating her blazing intensity into more of a simmer, recalling last season’s volcanic temperament.
Further, the relationship is a recognition that Quinn is allowed to feel alone, and is allowed to change that. Wagerstein may be a fraud who tries to mask intuition with more dense psychobabble, but her advice of being careful with Booth isn’t falling on deaf ears. Quinn knows that she’s only going to have so many chances to not sabotage her future.
5. He Knows Where All the Bodies Are Buried
The success of Everlasting has long been based on a fear of mutually assured destruction. Over the years, they’ve all gathered some skeletons in their closets, and no one is safe, especially not Rachel. I’d like nothing more than to see Jeremy receive his comeuppance after his season of disgusting behavior, but it’s just not possible.
I wrote last week about how worried I was about the assault scene in general, and how it would influence the rest of the season. Thankfully, this wasn’t a Friday Night Lights Season Two-level disaster. I’m tempted to praise the show for its handling of the immediate aftermath of the assault, without falling into projecting paralyzing self-pity onto Rachel’s character.
She hasn’t broken down yet, and the cracks are rippling as she snaps at Darius and Coleman, but there’s unlikely to be a more affecting or encapsulating image this season than Rachel taking shots of the bruises on her face and arms before meticulously applying concealer. All season, she’s taken stock of her injuries, and been placed into a situation where she can choose to change or stay the same. Thus far, she’s followed the party line. Even in her most rebellious moments, her ultimate goals have gone back to the well-being of the show.
Over and over, the show has pushed to the edge of the cliff, and backed away. But it’s only a matter of time.