UnREAL recap: 'Clarity'
Have Rachel and Quinn traded places? Not exactly — just yet, anyway — but this week’s episode provided some intriguing role reversal that shed new light on how both women operate.
The show has moved a little quickly getting Quinn to the “total mess” phase; last week, as she withstood more of those Crystal-Chet romantic antics and continued to battle pressure from Gary and the network, she suddenly turned to (very) heavy drinking and a general recklessness — read: having sex with a contestant — that more resembled her protégée. Things aren’t slowing down as “Clarity” begins, opening on her and August engaged in another hot, steamy session. “You must pick a contestant every season to have a fling with,” he guesses. She confesses he’s her first. Later, when she bumps into Rachel, she’s caught getting a bottle of cranberry juice delivered to her office. Rachel senses love in the air: “Who’s the guy?”
As for the business side of things, Quinn is taking a backseat to what her bosses want. Rather than trust her instincts and produce the show she believes in, she’s selling the candied fairy tale that rings hollow — “even for this show,” as she puts it. She’s reassigned Serena to Madison, getting Rachel and her talents out of the way, and is trying to sell a version of the show’s new suitor that’s not remotely authentic. Serena herself is stunned to see the way she’s positioned on OK Magazine, as “America’s Sweetheart,” and appears uncomfortable with the direction Everlasting is taking her. “It’s not really me,” she says. “I know that it’s me, but all of the nodding and the smiling — it’s not who I am.”
Quinn is nauseous at the premise for this week’s Everlasting episode: the men dressed up absurdly as knights, “battling” below a castle where Serena, dressed as Rapunzel, is trapped. “It’s like Game of Thrones puked up Snow White,” Quinn mutters to herself bitterly. But when Rachel enters the control room to complain about the premise, Quinn strikes a different tone: She tells her that advertising prospects are good, that Gary is happy, and that she can finally breathe without fear of cancellation.
Rachel threatened to leave the show last week, and Quinn seems to be goading her into doing so, removing her from positions of significance and keeping her out of the loop. It’s driving Rachel to the extreme, and she’s back to her machinations and manipulations before too long. She convinces Chet to go after his coveted “Emmy” by pushing more socially conscious, controversial content — she directs an interview he does with Owen, in which he gets the firefighter to admit to not being a feminist, among other soundbite-friendly things — and, acting on her suspicion, pushes August to connect with Serena in an effort to irk Quinn.
Serena, for her part, is having none of the princess/knight schtick. She says she can’t breathe in her dress and is annoyed by how little she gets to do, appearing helplessly captive from above. Madison instructs her to throw roses, half-heartedly encouraging her to fall in line, but it only frustrates Serena more. Before long she’s ripping off her dress, snapping “Get this patriarchal s— off,” and racing from the set. Madison evidently couldn’t get the job done. “Where the hell is Rachel?” Quinn yells to no one in particular.
Rachel ingeniously capitalizes on Serena’s irritation by setting her up with August. After witnessing Quinn scold August for merely speaking to her, it became obvious that something was up. She argues to Serena that August is perfect for her — empathetic, smart, and thoughtful in a way the other competing men aren’t. Serena is reluctant but agrees to a private date with him. As they watch from the control room, Quinn is irritated by the stunt, and only more so when it appears that the two are actually hitting it off. “I have to say: You’re not what I thought you’d be,” Serena says, endeared. Then August goes a little off script. He looks into the camera and reveals he wants her, a speech very much intended, in actuality, for Quinn. Rachel catches on. “He’s talking to you!” she says, stunned, to Quinn. “He’s your UTI?” (Recap continues on page 2)
Rachel follows Quinn to her office and doesn’t let her off the hook. “What are you thinking?” Rachel asks. “You’re sick, you’re drinking…. This is self-sabotage.” She’s trying to turn the tables, almost, but Quinn brings her back to reality. She tells Rachel how difficult it’s been the past few years, cleaning up after each and every mess she’s created. “Rachel always does whatever the hell she wants,” she announces. “It starts with a couple B-roll interviews; next thing you know, two people are dead.” It’s a painful moment, and Rachel bursts into tears, reminding Quinn she begged her to come back. Quinn opines it was a mistake.
It’s at this point that Rachel’s “Essential Honesty” tour goes out the window. She chucks away the book and resorts to her lying methods to get the show back on track — the men are all fighting, with Serena only paying attention to August. First, she assures Serena that August is the real deal, and not into another woman on set, as he really is. Then, she calms the men down. Jasper, in particular, reveals he’s only on the show on a bet, previously unbeknownst to production — $400,000 if he’s the first guy who sleeps with Serena. (I guess the jockey didn’t count.) And he seems to be at the end of his rope before Rachel stops him. She explains to him that he’s Serena’s favorite and the whole show is engineered around them getting together; she then says the exact same thing to Owen. Both are lies. But both work. Quinn’s role is usually damage control, but here we see Rachel keeping everything together — even if it’s based in complete lies.
Rachel also fires John, the bartender — the man who “pinned” the stealing of the liquor on Quinn, who in reality was asking him to consistently restock her office bar. It’s here where we see Rachel’s methods getting reckless again. Madison, angling for Quinn’s job in not-so-subtle ways, even brings things down to a human level when she reveals John’s son has cancer. “This is not some contestant we can kick to the curb; this is real life, this actually means something,” she says to Rachel. “You really are as bad as everyone says.”
Promptly, Rachel realizes she’s already getting out of control again — and finds an unlikely confidant in Dr. Simon, telling him about the two deaths from last season and how she instigated them through Jeremy. (Honestly: Simon’s been so suspicious already that telling him dark secrets is probably not the best idea.) Their conversation cuts out abruptly when it’s time for the elimination ceremony, and for Rachel, she’s done divulging — Simon tries getting her to tell him where the darkness comes from, but while she might know the answer, she “can’t” go deeper with him right now.
And speaking of Jeremy, last year’s killer and assaulter whose crime from last season has been newly disclosed, he’s now into his junior camera operator, viewing her as a way of getting over Rachel. UnREAL has not made an argument for why Jeremy is still around and getting new material, and this short, uninvolving arc does little to change that. (Unless you enjoy hearing Jeremy rail against feminism and women, which, no thanks.)
Better is the showcase junior producer Jay gets this episode. It’d previously been hinted that he had a show of his own to pitch Quinn, and here we see what it is: delving into a gay underground dance scene in New Orleans. Anyone who knows Quinn knows that this idea is way too niche for her, but Jay keeps pushing. He tells Alexei about the idea, who’s very into it. Alexei tells Jay that there are dance scenes like this all over the world as a means of physical self-expression, and that it’s ripe for exploration. Jay brings this new idea back to Quinn, with the pitch of Alexei hosting it — he’s got a big following apparently — and it’s a go. Even more interesting: Alexei appears to have a romantic interest in Jay, kissing him drunkenly but making a sober pass at him beforehand. Jay’s always been an interesting character on the margins, so we’ll see where this goes.
As for where we leave Everlasting: The show is in the background here a bit more than usual, but the main conflicts going forward are aptly set up. Both Jasper and Owen are into Serena and think they’ll be the last man standing, while Serena is into August, who is into Quinn. Got it? It’s a bit jumbled right now, but things are already kicking into gear. Serena begins the final elimination ceremony by making a big, romantic speech about her date with August, indicating he’s her new favorite. She decides to keep Owen and Jasper around, even sharing some nice words with the latter, but neither man hides his anger at August’s new positioning. “These guys are mad at each other,” Quinn says with a devious smile. Indeed they are: Just before “Clarity” cuts to credits, August’s man bun has been literally snipped off. Oh, the drama.