What do we as an audience want from UnREAL? That’s a question I’ve been continually asking the past few weeks as this disastrous season has moved towards some version of an ending.
Last year, the show was all about the layers of deceit, and the kernels of truth in the relationship between Everlasting and the real world. It was still immersed in juicy soap opera theatrics like the love triangle between Jeremy, Rachel, and Adam, or the emergent and manufactured drama of the mansion. But it was, foremost, about people, and the ways that a desire for entertainment corrupt and nurture us all.
Season Two has been different in a number of respects. But at the top of the list, the show stopped caring about the two-way relationship between those behind the camera and those in front of the camera. The characters were no longer people who changed perspectives, and organically moved the story. They became props that the season engaged and discarded at will.
Even when the show flirted with real controversy with its racially motivated police brutality storyline, it didn’t even have the decency to try and fail. It just bulldozed straight ahead giving this imperative topic absolutely no thought or reflection.
As far as season finales go, “Friendly Fire,” is a pretty decent episode of television. It distills the many, many storylines of Season Two into something easily watchable, and manages to return to the initial themes of the first episode of this season. It’s a remarkably clean ending, but in the process, UnREAL has lost so much of what made it feel so ambitious. Here are five moments where the episode encapsulated the season as a whole.
The latter half of this season has been all about dismantling the perception of Coleman as a dreamboat. And while the most recent episodes introduced the awful revelation that Coleman and Yael are sleeping with each other, this final episode pushes him so far into a point of no return that his end is inevitable from the first time we hear him call Rachel “crazy.”
This final episode isn’t just going to send him packing though, it wants to discredit him on his way out the door. As the episode begins, Rachel dispatches the network goons to seize all of Coleman’s hard drives in the hopes that their efforts will squelch his ambitions to ruin “Everlasting.” Yael has had his ear—and his body—for the last few episodes though, and Coleman’s not going to just roll over. Luckily, Rachel is back to her old tricks, and some brief sleuthing reveals that Coleman’s award winning documentary wasn’t quite as cinema verite as he described. In a helpful coincidence, Coleman’s ex-girlfriend spills the beans about how he hired Asian extras to pose as Cambodian sex slaves.Rachel deals out this new knowledge as a final mic drop. But it’s a piece of trash talk that won’t automatically change her circumstances.
Chet’s early season alpha male routine was one of the worst parts of Season Two, dragging away screen-time from so many female characters. His relationship with Tiffany was equally awful. But Chet and Quinn’s dynamic is still one that’s remained at the center of the show. Throughout all the bumps, their relationship remains based in mutual loneliness and isolation. That may be why the “How did you know” scene plays with such an unexpected sweetness as Quinn confronts Chet about Tiffany’s suspicious new anklet. Quinn has had a long history of dealing with Chet’s shtick. “That’s your only move,” Quinn tells him with rueful resignation, and just a hint of grudging fondness, after noticing the new piece of jewelry. But while she’s planning on putting Chet and Tiffany on blast by revealing their sordid affair on live television, they both know that they’re stuck with each other. No matter how they hurt each other over the years, they both have a co-dependent relationship with Everlasting. And while they’ve spent the majority of the season sniping at each other, they’re family and nothing is going to change that.
The big surprise of the night is undoubtedly the return of Ruby. The show has been inching back to her for multiple episodes now, but they really pull the trigger on a true fairy tale for Darius and Ruby, two characters with deep chemistry, and the closest thing to a lasting connection. And after a season that’s had so few genuine moments, I was feeling goosebumps with the Ruby and Darius’ reunion. The season sure as hell doesn’t deserve an ending that’s filled with this much genuine pathos, but there’s a joy and snap in the writing that’s been so rare this season. Sure, it’s great to see something good happen to anyone on UnREAL for a change, but it’s an interest in follow-through that makes the final moment feel so monumental. Finally, the season has committed to an idea, even if it’s just two characters riding off together into the sunset. For all the talk about Darius needing to stay on Everlasting for the sake of his’ career, the ending forgets about all that. Darius choses true love.
All season long, Quinn’s production decisions have been entangled with her personal life. At the beginning, she was driven by a newfound energy. She was ready to win, no matter what that meant and who would suffer in the process. And even from that starting place, she only became more of a destructive force of nature. John Booth was a welcome change for Quinn, but he was a detour. Quinn deserves the world, but she would never allow herself to have it. Instead, she’ll repeat the cycle of putting her entire life into this show. But with that sacrifice, Quinn has also decided that no one is allowed a real happiness. Endings no longer have meanings for her. The end of a season of Everlasting is just a short break before she does it all over again. Quinn is devastated that her plan is sabotaged. She wanted a bloodbath on national television, but instead, the show returns to its initial love of romance. Even her job is mocking her own unhappiness.
In the world of UnREAL, that answer is an unequivocal “No.” But “Friendly Fire” is an underserved but graceful ending to a disastrous season. It’s tempting to say it’s surprising that this episode treated the audience to such a clean ending, but that’s not the case. If anything, there’s been a select few storylines that have panned out to be significant in the big picture.
There may be some question of whether the creative team of Everlasting are really in the clear—even after disposing of Yael and Coleman. But, like the season as a whole, this episode engages with very few of the possible changes of the season. I talked earlier in this recap about Ruby and Darius, a narrative detail that gave me goosebumps, but still felt horribly rushed. And just when you thought we were done with Jeremy, he’s again pulled back into the regular rotation.
Lingering on an overhead shot of Rachel, Jeremy, Chet, and Quinn, sitting on lawn chairs, contemplating their own existence—UnREAL Season Two finally comes to a close with everything returning to the status quo. It’s been a frustrating season.