UnREAL recap: 'Transference'
UnREAL has certainly proven its cynical worldview over two-plus seasons, both in its soapy melodrama and its scathing social commentary. But this season, the show seems to be very gradually building toward something surprisingly sweet: a love story.
Serena and Jasper have had a rocky road all season, culminating most dramatically in the discovery of the fact that Jasper was participating in Everlasting on a bet (regarding whether he could be the first to sleep with Serena, which he was not). But in his persistence, genuine care for Serena, and refusal to give up fighting for her, an intriguingly sincere dynamic has emerged — and this week, it reached a high point in the form of a very grand romantic gesture.
The budding romance is helped by the fact that Serena is no longer playing along with production’s manipulations. As we meet her in this episode, she’s shooting down concept ideas from producers without flinching; in Serena’s confidence, Rachel winds up accepting her not-so-sexy idea of spending intimate one-on-one time with each contestant to get to know them a little bit better. Quinn calls the idea a “snoozefest” and tries to get Rachel to backtrack, but winds up playing along. This is Quinn King we’re talking about — she’s always got a trick up her sleeve.
And indeed, Quinn’s producing work on this episode is a stroke of genius. She reconvenes with Chet after he confessed his continued love for her last week, trying to keep things professional. She has a project for them to work on together: digging up a scandal. The pair agrees that, in Chet’s pursuit of an Emmy, they need to spice things up a bit with something both zeitgeist-friendly and dramatic. In addition to the fun of watching their scheming, it’s nice to see the ploy bring some of the underutilized Everlasting contestants into the fold this episode. Particularly, Quinn sets her eyes on roommates — Guy, the chef, and Warren, the cowboy.
Guy wins the date with Serena after giving her a sampling of his cooking skills — Serena declines to even speak with Jasper, still furious over his deception — and offers to cook her an elaborate meal at a fine-dining restaurant for their get-together. Warren, meanwhile, is taken off campus by Quinn for a little Q&A. “Serena hasn’t really given you a chance,” she prods, before goading a fast-drinking Warren into describing the bond he’s made with Guy. Warren talks about how Guy has mint tea ready for him when he gets back to the apartment, how he cooks for him — safe to say, he speaks of Guy with affection. Quinn, abruptly, asks if Warren is gay in response, which he sharply shoots down. But a love triangle is set in motion nonetheless. Warren offers to go intrude on Serena’s date with Guy to prove his hetero bona fides.
And intrude he does: stumbling into the restaurant drunkenly, professing his attraction to a perplexed Serena. Guy, meanwhile, is both angry and confused. “We’re supposed to be going through this together,” Guy says. “We’re on the same team.” And: “You should know how I feel about you, dude.” He’s giving the Everlasting team gold. But Serena is upset, and confronts Rachel about whether she knew about the stunt. Rachel is telling the truth about being kept in the dark, for once, and snaps a bit as things get personal. She tells Serena she’s not just “a job” — she’s a person.
Of course, embedded within that comment of Rachel’s is a bit of a cry for help. Rachel is in over her head, bringing her father to live in her trailer and weaning him off of his medication, even if she’s not yet willing to admit it to herself. Jeremy catches wind of her dad’s presence on set and promises to keep quiet, but that turns out to be the least of Rachel’s problems. Her father is starting to show symptoms of withdrawal. She’s trying to secure a cabin in Mount Hood to head to with her dad, but needs to fork over a large sum of cash to get it moving. And then there’s the issue of Dr. Simon spying on her trailer. Simon says there’s a great facility nearby that Rachel can check her dad into, but she resists the suggestion.
Things start going wrong when Rachel’s dad accidentally walks in on Serena showering. Everyone’s gawking at him in the aftermath and Quinn eventually arrives, demanding an explanation for who he is and why he’s wandering. Rachel comes clean — sort of. She calls his presence an opportunity for “father-daughter bonding time,” which Quinn calls BS on. But Rachel doesn’t drop the facade. She even leaves him on set to go produce the Serena-Guy date, a recipe for disaster. (Recap continues on next page)
Also a recipe for disaster: whatever in the world is going on with Alexei and Jay. After last episode’s queasy “transaction” — essentially, sexual favors in exchange for Jay providing cocaine — Jay appears totally distraught and uneasy. He tells Alexei it can’t happen again, but Alexei’s able to tempt him once again. And it’s just as Jay’s boyfriend, Xavier, shows up to surprise him. For all to hear, Alexei says Xavier isn’t actually involved in Passport to Dance and implicitly reveals that Jay had been lying to him. Jay and Xavier fight, and the former doesn’t hold back, attacking his boyfriend for showing up on set unannounced and moving in with him on short notice. Jay calls it all “a little much.” We barely got to know Xavier, so this comes a little out of nowhere, as does their break-up — all in service, seemingly, of keeping Jay’s downward spiral going. His arc in the episode ends with him snorting cocaine with Alexei.
Back to lighter territory, in the form of Jasper and Serena. Serena heads back from her promising-turned-disastrous date with Guy, and finds an enormous heart-shaped artwork on display back at Everlasting camp. It was Jasper’s doing. He shows up with a bouquet of flowers and reveals he’s spent the entire $400,000 that he’d bet to rid himself of the burden — $100,000 to Planned Parenthood, $200,000 to Girls Who Code, and an insane $100,000 on his gesture. Serena appears touched but unsure. In a hesitant move she says she needs to think about it and walks off, quietly. Crucially, it’s not a “no.” But Quinn is furious: There was the swooning, made-for-TV moment right there, and Serena didn’t deliver.
Fortunately, Quinn has something else in store to keep the episode juicy. She and Chet disingenuously edit together footage of Warren talking about Guy, and of Guy’s weirdly intimate comments to Warren back at the restaurant, into a reel that exposes the pair as a secret gay couple. They show it to Guy as a form of blackmail. They reveal Serena is going to cut him, so he can either play along with the “gay” story line and get some buzz on the way out, or not. Then they sweeten their offer: They’ll invest in a restaurant for Guy. Intrigued, Guy agrees — as long as the restaurant is on the Las Vegas strip and he “gets to be bi.” They have a deal.
When it comes time for the elimination ceremony, Serena cuts Warren while Guy excuses himself, quickly plugging his restaurant while seductively grabbing Warren’s shoulder on the way out. Warren confronts Quinn about the narrative he’s been squeezed into against his will, but it’s no use: He’s off the show and no longer her concern. Quinn and Chet then have a little afterword celebration, where he confesses he’s desperate to win this Emmy in order to leave a legacy for his son. Quinn offers him some advice: fight to have a relationship with his son the way he fights for so many things — including to win Quinn back. (Jury’s still out on whether that fight of his will be all for naught.)
Serena leaves things unfinished with Jasper, who lives to see another day with her, and Rachel, with whom she’d previously had a great relationship. Serena does find new sympathy for Rachel after an ugly episode unfolds. Essentially: Dr. Simon had gone to talk with Rachel’s dad while she was at the date, and tried explaining to him that Rachel was unstable and couldn’t handle his burden. This led to Rachel’s father having an outburst in front of the whole Everlasting crew, particularly labeling Quinn a cruel villain, before losing it completely — rambling, sadly, about what happened to Rachel all those years ago. Much of the crew is left laughing, but Serena takes it seriously. She apologizes to Rachel, saying she didn’t realize she was going through so much.
It’s not Dr. Simon or Jeremy or Serena who convinces Rachel, once and for all, to get her father the help he needs. Naturally, it’s Quinn. “This is beyond you,” Quinn says to her, softly but firmly. She explains that Rachel’s trying to fix herself by way of fixing her father, but that it’s “not how it works.” Rachel seems to finally get it. Using the money she was going to spend on the cabin, she checks him into the facility nearby, then returns to set to hug Dr. Simon — thankful, apparently, for his insistent meddling.
But it’s Quinn who showed Rachel such genuine care — who put aside the show, finally, to speak to her straight about what needed to happen. They’ve come closer together this season than we’d ever previously seen on UnREAL. It feels safe to say that this once-cynical show is moving into (slightly) fuzzier territory, at least for now. There are actually two potential love stories in the works right now. Quinn may have wanted the Jasper-Serena fairytale moment to get on TV, but Serena didn’t deliver that, instead keeping things honest and real. You suddenly feel that they have a chance. And same goes for the always tumultuous Rachel and Quinn. It’s surprisingly involving — thrilling, even — to watch both dynamics play out and hope they don’t fall apart.