Written by Matt Taylor
Two bachelors collided in this week’s episode of UnREAL, and the results were, predictably, disastrous for all parties involved. But the way in which disaster strikes is awfully surprising – and disturbingly relevant, proving how surprising and politically charged this series is. Before we get to the more serious subject matter, let’s talk about Darius and Adam, who prove to be quite the foil for each other. The former has grown tired of the reality show hijinks, while the latter is interested in returning to the series, this time as an adviser of sorts to the ladies. This subplot leads to a hilarious montage focusing on the last four contestants, which might be the funniest gag of the season. But, really, Adam is there with only one woman on his mind: Rachel, who he desperately wants to get back together with. Rachel, however, is more interested in Coleman, and tries her hardest to resist the temptations of her ex.
But, after a light-hearted first half, the show dives into a sudden, dark direction when Darius and Romeo decide to go out for a late night drive, only to have Rachel and Coleman call 911. While the two producers hope to utilize whatever footage they film to bring attention to police brutality, the conflict, unsurprisingly, gets out of hand. This particular plot twist delivers a wakeup call to Rachel, forcing her to realize that her desire to “better the world” by turning her camera on social issues is really just an attempt to capitalize on real-life tragedies while feeling better about herself. Pulling off a subplot about police brutality is a tricky gamble, and while a key line by Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) provides insight into the message behind this subplot, the scene has its shortcomings. The scene itself is far too brief, so the coming weeks will decide if they truly succeeded, or if UnREAL pulled punches and mangled the storyline. But, regardless of the future, this episode ushers in some important character development. And, hopefully, this will open the door for Black Lives Matter activist Ruby to return to the series.
Once again, Shiri Appleby proves to be one of the most formidable actresses on television, with her character’s slow descent into madness giving the actress scene-after-scene of wonderful material to work with. At this point, Appleby is so good at showing the mental cracks in Rachel’s armor that praising her is starting to feel repetitive. But, in this week’s episode, we get to see Appleby have a full mental breakdown, and it’s as haunting as you expect. While Constance Zimmer deserved her Emmy nomination this year, I hope Appleby gets her moment in the spotlight soon.
It’s also worth noting that having Freddie Stroma back on the show is a welcome reminder of how charismatic a presence he was last season. Despite a terrible new haircut, Stroma makes it easy to understand why Rachel would be drawn to him, despite his negative qualities and past mistakes. In lesser hands, Adam’s reappearance would feel like an unnecessary distraction. But Stroma makes you want him to stick around.
Only UnREAL could start an episode with brilliant comedic one-liners and believably shift the tone so that a bleak ending would feel right. While next week will prove just how successful this subplot was, the fact that the writers are so dedicated to using their show as an arena to explore social issues is admirable. Ideally, this subplot could serve as a positive depiction of the Black Lives Matter movement, and raise awareness to the problem of police brutality, a la ABC’s American Crime. But, as for right now, I’m interested in seeing how this subplot turns out.
Rating: 8 out of 10