UnREAL recap: 'Confront'
What motivates Quinn King? UnREAL has been richly exploring that question in a way that previous seasons haven’t, and “Confront” only accelerates that process. There’s a lot going on here, in a dark episode even by UnREAL’s standards, but at its core is the web of power, intimacy, and pain that Quinn is tangled up in and trying to navigate.
“Confront” opens on the Everlasting producer being fitted into a custom red suit — she’s getting ready for her big pitch meeting regarding Jay’s potential new dance-reality show, Passport to Dance, and appears optimistic about its chances for a pickup. But before long she’s dragged back into the Everlasting drama, being informed of August’s man-bun being cut off in the middle of the night. Quinn can only laugh, hysterically, at this most absurd piece of news, and then feel the excitement of milking the incident for all it’s worth.
“One camera on August, another camera on his mangled head,” she directs as she enters the main Everlasting residence, where all of the men — including a de-bunned August — are feuding. Serena walks out in curlers, upset by the treatment of August — whom she believes is way more into her than he actually is — and scolds, “This frat boy crap is a huge turnoff.” She tells Quinn and the producers that she only wants a date with August, upset by the rest of the cast’s antics, leaving it to Rachel to once again manipulate the suitor.
Quinn is more than happy to deploy her deputy for the task — after last week’s major blow-up, they’re in a much better place here, chummy and even giddy at the sight of the show’s drama really kicking in. Rachel approaches Serena and tries to dissuade her from so prematurely picking August for her next solo date, explaining she’s making it “too easy” for him. Serena initially resists, skeptical since Rachel had just convinced her to really go for it with August, but is later won over by her suggested replacement: Alexie. Yes, the hunky Russian who just last week planted a kiss on Jay, and who — as far as Quinn knows, anyway — is the man slated to host Passport to Dance.
Alexei has emerged as the most fascinating and inscrutable contestant on Everlasting this season. And when Serena selects him, on Rachel’s advice, to take her to a private ballet performance date, we start to see what makes him tick. He’s technically Jay’s contestant, and there’s drama there, but Quinn also wants Rachel to go along since she’s been steering the show so effectively — in other words, every element is there for a maximum chance at disaster.
We’ll start with Jay. Quinn revealing the Passport poster sent a chill down his spine, as it revealed that the pitch revolved entirely around Alexei, who didn’t even know about the hosting gig, and who would be effectively replacing Xavier, Jay’s boyfriend and the man from whom the idea was born. Jay’s walking a fine line here — he seems to be a little attracted to Alexei after their strange encounter, while also afraid of pissing Quinn off and tanking his own show after misleading her. Rachel had previously told Alexei to commit to his date with Serena in order to irritate Natalia — the woman who broke his heart — but it’s advice that throws him into a tailspin. And it’s that tailspin which threatens to derail the fine line Jay is walking.
Alexei goes off-camera to hang with his friend Sergei before filming for the date begins; in the interim, Xavier appears out of nowhere, enthusiastic at the prospect of pitching his show beside Jay. Jay is thrown, and even more-so when Alexei resurfaces, and gets affectionate with Jay. He’s all over him, in fact, and then all over Serena when the date begins — Alexei shows off his wild side, even throwing himself into the ballet performance with a rousing dance. The date is weirdly successful, but Alexei seems off; later, Jay catches him snorting cocaine, the drug of choice when it comes to Alexei showing Natalia “the man” she wants to see. In other words, he’s an addict in a really bad place.
The same, perhaps, could be said of Rachel. She’s at a high-functioning level right now, which is both a relief to see and an ominous sign of things to come — of her impending downfall. Quinn is thrilled to see her right-hand-woman back in her element, but Dr. Simon informs her that Rachel told him some “things,” and that she needs to be on high alert. Quinn’s feelings about all this are best summed up when Rachel, later into the episode, asks if she really wants her to get better. “Of course I do!” Quinn responds. “Just not now. Can’t you just wait until the season’s over?”
Does Quinn care about Rachel? Certainly, in a sort of twisted, maternal way. But she’s also weathering other storms right now. She’s appalled to see that Chet has invited a reporter from the National Page on set to write about the Emmy-friendly, issue-focused direction Everlasting is going in. She rightly chastises Chet for inviting her on, and then is left in the position of manipulating the day’s events so that Robin doesn’t have anything too juicy to report on. (Recap continues on page 2)
Fortunately, the man-bun controversy provides a happy middle ground between good entertainment and distraction. She sits Robin in the control room while the men are directed to chew each other out, shirtless and in a jungle-like setting, to settle the matter of who chopped off August’s hair. (It’s very Lord of the Flies, Chet is sure to remind Robin.) The whole thing’s absurd, even more when Quinn and Madison convince one contestant to take the blame when he didn’t even do it, leading to everyone taking the blame. Here, once more, we see Quinn’s magic at work.
But Quinn is also trying to calm the ambitions of Madison, who’s trying left and right to get Quinn thrown off the show and take her place. Gary tells her he has good news about her pilot, which has her excited about her position moving forward. (Turns out he didn’t even watch it.) She feels she has new ammunition to use against Quinn, especially after her boss attacks and (correctly) minimizes her relationship with Gary as meaningless. We saw Madison previously trash Quinn with network head Gary, and now here, she turns to Robin when Quinn and Chet leave the room. “I think Quinn is threatened by younger, ambitious women,” she admits, before getting meaner. “She’s a mess. She’s been drinking on set…” Robin takes all of the info in and brings it to Quinn.” The real story here is you,” Robin tells her before getting kicked off set. She tells Quinn she hates herself, and so she spends her life destroying other women. It’s…a little harsh.
And also simplistic — through Constance Zimmer’s nuanced portrayal, we know Quinn’s motivations hardly run in that villainous direction. Indeed, she mostly shrugs off Robin’s criticism, more disappointed by the fact that Madison yet again threw her under the bus. When Gary bails on Madison for a dinner out again, proving Quinn right, Madison seems to finally listen to her boss’ words. “I’m hard on you because I’m trying to help you,” Quinn explains. “Do you think Rachel got so good at her job because I’m nice to her? … Slow down. You’re trying to cut to the front of the line with Gary, and I promise you, that is not going to end well.” Later when she meets up with Gary, Madison expresses near-disgust with him — and snoops on his computer when she finally gets him out of the room.
That’s not even the only fire Robin starts this week. She also gets Madison to let her speak to Serena for a few minutes. There, Robin gets very blunt, expressing her disgust with the producers’ tactics and promising Serena she’s being played — that, for instance, she heard Rachel telling Alexei to “pretend” to like Serena. Everlasting breeds insecurity and paranoia, and so no matter how much Serena can see through the reporter’s intentions, the information gets to her. (Especially since he had an unexpectedly good time with Alexei.) She brings it to Rachel and demands an explanation.
And Rachel — worn by the lying, needing to get back on the honesty track — gives it to her. She reveals that she had to encourage Alexei. She even confesses that August slept with Quinn. Serena is mad, but appreciative of the honesty, and goes to confront Quinn next. “We all do stuff,” Quinn reminds Serena, referencing her torrid opening-night escapade with the jockey. But Serena has had it. She says she’s only trusting Rachel from now on. Fortunately for Quinn, that’s exactly what she hoped for. To keep Rachel from lying while also keeping the show’s material strong, she’d devised a plan with her No. 2 to lead exactly to this moment. It went perfectly.
And yet Rachel is still struggling, still in pain — there’s something eating away at her that has nothing to do with Everlasting. She’s being haunted by visions of a man from her past, stalking him on Facebook and subsequently getting alerts on her phone about the new photos he’s posting. And on the night of the elimination ceremony — where, to keep this short, Serena cuts Billy and calls him a “bitch” in a sort of random but still hilariously cutting moment — she disappears. Where? To the man’s home, where Rachel’s going to finally confront him.
The twist as to who this man is comes as a very disturbing shock. In their chaotic back and forth, it becomes clear that the two had an inappropriate sexual encounter when she was just 12 years old; he claims he assumed she was 17, and it sounds as though Rachel’s mother coordinated it as his therapist (?) and that her father knew about it and beat up the man but otherwise stayed silent. It’s another piece of the puzzle that is Rachel Goldberg for us to come to grips with — a harrowing one, at that.
But is UnREAL getting a little too dark for its own good? The revelations of drug addiction and child sex abuse overwhelm too much of the action here, but fortunately, there’s a little levity — a little excitement at what’s ahead — before the cut to credits. We see Serena, newly jaded by this whole experience, have a genuine bonding experience with Jasper after the dust settles, culminating in a genuinely romantic kiss; we see Jay, emboldened and driven to preserve his career, make a dangerous deal with Alexei: He hosts the show, and Jay keeps supplying him cocaine. It’s bleak, sure, but an intriguing character move. And then there’s Quinn — alone in her residence, calling Rachel worried. Finally we see her care for Rachel shine through. Rachel appears in the dark of the night and sits beside her. She puts her head in her lap. Quinn takes her in. This is not the self-hating, woman-hating destroyer of all things good that Robin characterized Quinn as. She’s more complicated than that.