If there’s been an ongoing theme in this season of UnREAL, it’s been adapting with a constantly shifting environment, but episode three, “Guerrilla,” is the moment when a number of plot lines are beginning to congeal. It’s easily the weakest episode of this young season, unnecessarily forcing plot lines that could have stewed for multiple episodes—Brandi and Chantal, Rachel and Coleman, whatever’s happening with Chet—and broadening characters who had already earned empathy.
The episode had the unfortunate feeling of being rushed, especially after two episodes that felt particularly confident. Nonetheless, these big developments could change the entire season in profound ways. Let’s take a look at five of the biggest moments from “Guerilla,” and consider whether they were successful.
1. The Ivy League Golden Boy
There’s few people in more enviable positions on UnREAL than Coleman, the last episode’s ringer, who is content to just watch and listen as Chet and Quinn fight over the fate of Everlasting. He may have decided to push forward with Chet’s testosterone-laden cut in the last episode, but he’s always been angling to join the winning team.
Quinn and Rachel may first belittle him with claims of ignorance and puzzling names like the “network’s boychick,” but he’s practically bulletproof. This is, after all, the man who made a documentary about Cambodian sex workers that became a cornerstone of a new network, and the result of a bidding war. And he’s certainly let that go to his head. Never mind that that detail might be the most unbelievable thing in the entire show.
That doesn’t mean he’s not clever in his own way. When Rachel confronts him about why he picked Chet’s transparently sophomoric version, he doesn’t hesitate to say he thought it was awful. “I gave him some rope, and I’m going to let him hang himself,” Coleman says to a surprised and begrudgingly impressed Rachel.
He’s gambling, and he’s waiting to see where the chips fall. The difference is that he has no skin in this game, and all the opportunities for glory. While Quinn and Rachel are fighting for relevance in the eyes of Gary with consistently great material, Coleman can just swagger in, and take the spoils.
It’s only fitting that Quinn should face the same reversal as Rachel at the end of this episode, when Gary gifts Coleman with a Lamborghini for strategically twiddling his thumbs while Rachel and Quinn, are in the trenches.
2. The Return of Quinn, the Producer
Quinn may have climbed her way to the top, leaving a pile of emotionally distraught bodies in her wake, but she’s not opposed to getting down and dirty, especially when her reliability is on the line. Quinn’s long been in the shadows, talking her lackeys through the ways to get the drama-filled goods, but this is something different, and more frightening.
Quinn’s style has always been going for the jugular, and she knows the methods for finding dirt. Going to Wagerstein (Amy Hill), the show therapist, Quinn interrogates her about the vulnerabilities of each of the contestants. It’s a parade of problems ranging from psychological anxiety, promiscuity as a coping method, and in the case of her prime target, Brandi, a checkered history of abusive foster homes, and maladjusted relationships.
With the exception of more naturally combative contestants like Beth Ann and Ruby, the contestants on Everlasting are still far too cozy for Quinn’s liking. She wastes no time in making Chantal and Brandi combatants, with a line to Chantal about how Brandi has been spreading rumors that the suitor would never go for someone so fragile.
Brandi’s even more classically vulnerable, someone who makes the cardinal sin of saying things like “I came here to meet a guy, but I’m meeting all these amazing women.” Around Quinn, that’s the equivalent of cutting your leg in the middle of a shark tank. She lives to take you down, and there’s few things chillier this season than Quinn saying, “From one broke-ass kid to another,” and recounting a mixture of a real and manufactured past to finish her off.
3. Why Are You Still Here?
As much as Coleman is trying to act nonplussed on set, he’s impressed by Quinn and Rachel. He’s taken in by their grand machinations unfolding in real time, and sees an artistry that he didn’t previously believe was present.
But that doesn’t stop his holier-than-thou comments about reality television, and by extension, his own self-worth. It’s a smokescreen for his own insecurities, something that Rachel has no qualms about pinning down with a few well placed jabs about losing an ex, and lagging behind the other trust fund babies he went to school with.
The thing that Coleman doesn’t realize is that Rachel is always producing, which is partly why the last scene with Coleman and Rachel hooking up feels so frustratingly distant from the understanding of the characters. Season One had its share of scenes about sex as a stress-reliever, but Coleman still hasn’t proven himself as anything other than a form of validation. He’s far from an equal.
Rachel may not respect him, but she’s rarely been more affected by someone asking her existential questions about her future at Everlasting. When it was Jay, Rachel happily ignored him. But coming from a hot-shot whose future is wide open, Rachel is starting to seriously question whether Everlasting was the end-goal.
4. We Have To Be Careful… She Could Unravel
Quinn’s producing was always going to dovetail with Chantal. Rachel and Quinn have been setting up for the kill with Chantal since day one, when Madison prodded her about the loss of her fiancé, and pushed her to the edge.
They didn’t expect their plans to pan out in such spectacularly garish fashion with Brandi (Monique Ganderton), the MMA fighter and a volatile presence in her own right. After being motivated by Quinn with a few lines about being underestimated, Brandi’s in full-on competitive mode as she makes her way through Chet’s “Miss America meets American Ninja” obstacle course, ready to edge out her competition by any means necessary.
And while UnREAL usually finds a delicacy in the lead-up to big confrontations, it was inevitable that Chantal would be haplessly tossed off the climbing wall. Chantal was always the show’s target, but Brandi will do just as nicely. All she needs is a time-out in a claustrophobic room called “The Hole” to raise the emotional temperature a dozen degrees, and an illusion of sympathy to crack.
And if it leads to a picture-perfect moment like Darius being at Chantal’s bed-side with a football-themed stuffed animal and a box of chocolates, all the better. He may not be willing to show off his physical skills, but Darius is very capable of turning on the charm. His cheeky glance at the camera while seeing Chantal is priceless—the perfect reflection of his own arrogance and self-awareness.
5. The Bait and Switch
In classic UnREAL fashion, the end of episode three is all about the layers of artifice and deception, as even the most meticulously engineered plans have unexpected wrinkles. On the surface, you have the internal logic of Everlasting, where Darius has decided that he’s only going to eliminate one contestant—the victimized Brandi—as opposed to the expected four. But that decision has very unexpected narrative and thematic reverberations.
First off, there’s Brandi, the woman who let her guard down with a breathlessly sad story about how one of her foster fathers would burn her with cigarette butts, but has always been orchestrated as a victim of her own past. All it took was a quick deception of Darius with an actress posing as Brandi’s mother, and her entire tragic story became a ploy for attention.
She was painted as an emotionally unstable villain so easily, but there’s something far too easy in Rachel and Quinn’s quick dismissal of Coleman’s question about blowback. Certainly, UnREAL has dealt with plot lines that had to do with contestants wanting revenge on the show, but there’s something too glib about the dialogue here that it won’t come back to bite them.
Even past speculation, there are immediate effects that change circumstances, chiefly Darius’ possible injury when Brandi jumped on his back in anger. It’s not much more than a tease in this episode, but there’s an ominousness to the quick shot looking at Darius’ anguished face on the bed. And that’s before the last hurrah of the episode, where Quinn learns about Rachel’s attempted coup.