There were so many different ways that UnREAL could have handled the aftermath of an episode about a police shooting, but relegating it to a narrative inconvenience isn’t a good look. “Fugitive” doesn’t so much deal with the events of the last episode as bulldoze through them onto the next plot point—Rachel’s downfall.
Her collapse has been written in the stars for the whole season, as she’s ricocheted between depressive and anxiety episodes—and like this messy whirlwind of a season, she’s never taken a breath. With Darius at the hospital with Romeo, and Rachel taking a heavily narcotized break at her mother’s care center, “Fugitive” initially appears to be the welcome reprise, but that’s a red herring for the series of malicious derailing plot twists that come.
Let’s talk about the five most baffling moments, and what they may mean for the remaining two episodes.
There was easily a half-dozen scenes in this episode that made me scream at my television this week, but there was none more obnoxious than Yael revealing herself to Coleman as an undercover journalist who’s writing an expose called “Reality TV Kills.” I can’t speak for all fans, but Yael has easily been my least favorite character this year—not the least because she keeps dragging the perpetual awfulness of Jeremy back into the picture after the show “kills” him. It says a lot about this season’s characterization that her agenda is so transparent that the audience can guess her next move from a mile away, but can’t say a single thing about who she is as a person.
Beyond personal distaste for the character, this development is incredibly boring in its suggestions about whether Coleman will betray Rachel. But that doesn’t matter anyway because it’s already been revealed by the end of the episode. Coleman and Rachel’s relationship has been a loop of trials to test Coleman’s commitment to success—and by extension, Rachel. They’ve also placed him in compromising ethical situations that have barely had personal consequences.
Quinn keeps telling Coleman that his career is over, and that he’s already on the plane back to whatever stuffy country club he was born in—but there’s still no evidence that anything bad has happened. Coleman’s earlier season decisions are essentially entirely negated by his choice to help Yael. Who cares if his morals were malleable if he was always going to run back to safety?
Rachel’s relationship with her mother has been strained since the series pilot, but we never knew the nature of their dynamic until this episode and its terrible, terrible reveal. In her brief scenes, she’s been unfailingly cold, treating her daughter with deadening cocktails of medication and shooing her away from talking to anybody else.
These scenes help to illuminate Rachel’s overall attitude toward secrets and her desensitization to tragedy, but they’re also deeply sloppy. I’ve been lukewarm about this season’s handling of Rachel and mental illness in general, but if there’s a larger unspoken message this season, it’s that untreated mental illness is a subject that’s not worthy of discussion. Symptomatic of this season, the show is continually asking, “what else can we pile on top of this to make it more dramatic?”
It makes the previous conflicts irrelevant. That’s why we still haven’t dealt with things like Jeremy’s assault or the basic loneliness that Rachel feels or any number of discarded plot lines. But there’s only so much that can be done with storytelling that seems to pull out new ideas like a rabbit out of a hat. There’s few grosser ideas than throwing out a detail that Rachel was raped at 12 by one of her mother’s patients… and that her mother refuses to let her tell anyone about it.
That’s a bombshell in any context, and like any number of the controversial subjects approached this season, it needs careful, careful treatment, lest it feel exploitative or totally numbing. It’s telling that my reaction during the scene was less one of horror for Rachel, than horror for the writers who thought that this overpopulated season wouldn’t collapse under the weight of another plot thread.
It was inevitable that Darius would try to find shelter from the chaos of Everlasting with Ruby, the only contestant who viewed him on his own terms. It’s even more predictable that she wants nothing to do with him after he rejected her individualism for the escapist pleasures of the other women.
With his body and will to continue broken, Darius’ dreams have moved away from the luxury of announcing, to the pleasures of a family. “Football is over for me,” he pleads with Ruby, who sees clear as day that she’s second choice, and has called Jay to take him away. Darius sees her as the easy way out, but he’s already chosen his path, and it didn’t involve her.
Jay may have his goals of bringing Darius back to Everlasting, but he’s transparent in his deceptions. “Stop thinking that this is your birthday party, and these are your friends,” he says as Darius starts talking about how he wants Chantal, as opposed to Tiffany. Jay’s still a smooth operator, but nobody’s hiding their intentions anymore.
I have an incredibly hard time believing that Coleman would interrogate Rachel on camera when she’s so clearly in a place of vulnerability, but the show needed another reason for Rachel to air out her most haunting secrets. Coleman at first appears to try to coach Rachel, to get ahead of the controversy of the police shooting with a canned speech about how they caught police brutality in action.
But Coleman is even more curious about the skeletons in Everlasting’s closet. He’s been witness to the shady practices of concealing criminal activity, and has had inklings about a history of foul play, but it’s pretty convenient that Rachel out and tells him that she’s responsible for Mary’s death. The breaking point seems totally random—another example in a season that lurches forward whenever it’s forced by a new plot point.
Darius finally returns at the end of the episode, but his return has conditions. At the top of the list is a virtual restraining order from Rachel, who’s the virtual author of all of his physical and emotional pain over the course of the season. But with Rachel in a place of limbo, the bigger moment comes when Darius says he wants nothing to do with Quinn. If he’s doing this, he’s calling the shots.
Darius has long been Tiffany’s knight in shining armor, but it’s never been more direct than his last-minute appearance, where he saves Tiffany from elimination before carrying her to a prepared bedroom. Then again, Tiffany’s far from innocent, and plays the game just as much as Darius. She’s making deals with anyone she can to prolong her stay on Everlasting, as shown in the eye-rolling, nearly pornographic male fantasy scene of her making out with Chet before saying, “Come on, you know I have major daddy issues.” And, she’s keenly aware that she has the leverage needed to take home the man.