I have to hand it to UnREAL. For as much as this season has been one subsequent implosion after another, spreading its terribleness without any regard for character development, coherent narrative, or entertainment value—it’s been consistently stubborn in sticking to these decisions. In that sense, I’d like to look at the back-to-basics plot moves of “Espionage” as a step forward, but I can’t do that when the show is so ready to throw out major seasonal threads, like Rachel’s loving relationship with Coleman and the seemingly untenable relationship between Quinn and Rachel.
And if the show really wants us to believe that Coleman would drop Rachel for Yael, or that Quinn would reconcile so easily, so be it. But i’d rather have a show that stuck out its bad storylines until the end, than one that happily throws off emotional baggage whenever it becomes too heavy. Here are the five moments from “Espionage,” when UnREAL decided to return to the status quo.
In the last few episodes, Coleman’s motivations have been a series of poorly explained whiplashes, as he moves from the role of self-motivated producer, to intensely empathetic, to social crusader. And while there’s some lingering understanding of Coleman as a character who chases that high of reporting, that doesn’t even begin to explain what he’s trying to accomplish with Yael and Rachel.
Up until now, we were led to believe that he wanted to uncover some version of truth, and use that to burn Everlasting down. But what did he expect after? Was he expecting that they would be welcomed with open-arms, like cult survivors to news networks reporting on the common mistreatment of reality television contestants? Who knows.
The majority of the episode is devoted to Rachel’s attempts to get back into the good graces of Quinn, first under the auspices of gathering more dirt, and later because she feels deep affection for her. At first, this proves difficult, as Rachel’s been pushed to the bottom below new upstarts like Jay and Madison, who’s continually showing her ability to be ruthless.
But she finds an “in” through an unlikely source, Yael, the perpetual thorn in her side this season. Even in the scheme of UnREAL, it’s a pretty evil move to make someone go #2 on national television, even if they’re a character whose entire persona never expanded past sexual manipulator. Yael’s reckoning has been coming this whole season, but she made a final mistake in trying to seduce Coleman (which by the way, ughhh).
On its own, Jay’s conversational pleading with Chantal to leave Everlasting on her own terms isn’t very important, but what follows is crucial in bringing out any remaining feelings of competition on the internal show. Treating Chet like her sexual plaything sealed it, but Tiffany has long been the frontrunner, so there’s a pang of excitement that Chantal is making herself a real player this late in the season.
After being dissuaded from leaving by a desperate Madison, who baits her with a line about how social media calls her a “cocktease,” Chantal decides to bring out a very different side to herself, undressing and joining Darius for some nude hanky-panky in the hot tub. Darius is surprised by this newly confident women, a far cry from the polite widow that he was worried about hurting in the beginning.
Well, I guess Coleman’s one of the bad ones, everybody. I was really holding out hope that he wasn’t another character who was willing to betray Rachel at the drop of a hat, but here we are. Coleman is no longer viewing Rachel as a partner. Now, she’s just another woman who needs medication and needs to be rehabilitated.
It’s believable and kind of interesting that Coleman doesn’t know how to react to Rachel, other than to suggest some form of institutionalization, but it’s hard for those moments to matter when they’re also surrounded by a suggestion that Coleman wants some form of happily ever after with Yael.
Any attempts to understand why Coleman and Yael are now a thing would be complete projection, but their scene in the hotel at least feels genuine, in terms of seeing that Yael has been completely depleted as a human being. Coleman’s sympathy for Rachel further feels like a front as he generalizes that everyone who works on the show is “damaged.” He might not be wrong, but he’s certainly in no position to judge.
Rachel’s been far from a saint this season, but it’s notable how few times the show actually calls her out on her privilege and ignorance of consequences. In general, the scene with Quinn and Rachel forgiving each other is one of the best of the episode, a recognition that even as the show regresses, there’s an unbeatable bond in the story of Rachel and Quinn. But it’s even more significant to see that Quinn has no qualms about calling out Rachel’s entitlement.
And after Rachel tries to talk about what happened to Mary, Quinn is smart enough to not become entangled with conversations of guilt with Rachel. She views her decisions as necessary scars on her soul. She was just doing her job, and if she hadn’t, a lot more terrible things could have happened.
By the time she says, “If it wasn’t for me, you’d be in prison right now,” it’s clear that whatever emotional inadequacies they each have, there’s a deep love between them. They’re both vulnerable people, but Quinn doesn’t make the mistake of putting herself out there enough to wound. And that’s why even her incredibly boring relationship with John Booth has been one of the most successful parts of the entire season.
The less the said the better then, about Quinn deciding that her relationship with John is over because she’s unable to have children. I imagine that to be an incredibly painful experience, but within the context of the episode, it just doesn’t work. If anything, it’s just another writers room excuse to place Quinn and Rachel together, and to force Quinn to tell Rachel that she needs to stop working and find love, which… blah.
We want to see these women conquer empires.