UnREAL season finale recap: 'Codependence' and 'Commitment'
Who did Serena choose? Did Quinn rise or fall? And what's the future of Rachel Goldberg?
Another season of Everlasting has gone by. And so too has another season of UnREAL, where — even though a new season is right around the corner — characters are left in places of uncertainty, new opportunities, and most remarkably, hope.
But before we get there, we need to start at the beginning of this two-hour finale: with Rachel having just slept with Alexei (to Jay’s horror), Chet and Quinn teaming up again to take Gary down once and for all, and Serena having cut Alexei, leaving her with three potential mates in August, Owen, and Jasper.
Rachel wakes up in Alexei’s bed, in a mix of regret and pain, before quickly rushing off to see Dr. Simon. The good doctor, who rebuffed her sexual advances, says he’s glad she returned to speak with him and that they can continue their therapy, transference notwithstanding. He challenges her. “It seems like the people you become intimate with, you tend to sexualize the relationships,” he says. She disagrees, expressing glee at the fact that she’s just had sex for the first time in nine months.
But the criticism bugs her — she spends this finale on a mission to prove that she has “friends.” She tries to play buddy-buddy with the cameraman Dan, even suggesting they go out for beers at one point, but a part of her knows how much of a strain it is. She’s struggling to come to terms with her relationship with Quinn, which remains undeniably dysfunctional. In this particular moment, she’s left with the promise of her bond with Serena — a genuine if quick friendship that’s been struck. They chat about the guys with a giddy intimacy, and there’s a naturalism to their interactions. Serena even offers Rachel a job, promising to whisk her away from the drama of Everlasting. This could be real.
The bond lends UnREAL some gravitas as its touching sincerity contrasts with the unending ridiculousness of Everlasting. More than in past seasons, the stakes feel real and the emotions of the controlled environment intensely relatable — a result, at least somewhat, of Serena emerging as such a fully-realized character. Even when she’s left to get steamy with each of the men in a sweat lodge segment, there’s meaningful room for connection. Owen confides his harrowing trauma as a veteran, even, shedding new light on the one contestant beginning to seem like an afterthought.
Chet and Quinn, meanwhile, are gearing up to put their big fundraiser on — the one that Chet’s young girlfriend Crystal has been doggedly planning. The two have intense chemistry and it shows here, in the way they scheme against Gary and almost seem to finish each other’s sentences. They’re getting ready to expose their boss by revealing his crimes to reporters at the fundraiser; they’re also, on the side, sleeping together again in secret.
Against the wishes of Quinn, who’s all about that “wounded warrior sh–,” Serena chooses August as her designated fundraiser date — the man she’s most recently slept with. The fundraiser begins and the event is lavish: pumping music, black tie attire, glitzy decorations and a sneaking, delicious vibe that things might just blow up. It’s all but confirmed when Gary arrives, sporting a nasty little smile — he’s got something on Quinn.
Indeed, also in attendance is Robin, that meddling tabloid reporter whom Quinn had previously kicked off set for her incessant questioning. She knows Fiona — chalk it up to the “lesbian mafia” — but, more crucially, she appears to be aligned with Gary. The network head confirms that he leaked all of the unsavory details of Everlasting past (including, you know, those couple of deaths from last season) and that Robin’s going to expose Quinn in an article. Her days are numbered. “Women like you can’t afford to make mistakes, remember?” Gary says to Quinn coldly.
It gets worse: The emails Quinn had exposing Gary’s fraud have been wiped from her computer by someone with knowledge. Gary is about to get on the stage, in front of everyone in attendance, and humiliate our hero. But Quinn acts fast by deploying her secret, ever-reliable weapon: Rachel. Indeed Rachel acts so fast and so brilliantly it’s almost terrifying. Just as the fundraiser is heating up she pulls August aside for a quick interview, and gets him to make some less-than-kind statements about veterans. Jeremy, who’s sensitive about veteran’s issues, takes offense and goes so far as to show the clip of August’s rant to Owen, in the middle of the ceremony — just as Rachel hoped. And then, as Gary takes the stage, Owen confronts August. He’s been set off. He starts a fight, and the entire night’s energy shifts. This is no place to fire Quinn. Gary has to postpone his sweet revenge, and instead, dedicates the rest of the fundraiser to veterans.
Rachel’s producing genius is key to UnREAL, not only because of her character development but because it’s also an essential plot engine. We see it used to sparkling effect here: It’s damn impressive what she accomplishes, and convenient to the show, but there’s that undercurrent of whether she’s too good at this, what’s really driving her, which prevents it from feeling like a narrative shortcut. Same goes for Quinn: Her leaning on Rachel in this pivotal moment looms large, right through to the season’s final moments.
The whole debacle may have been engineered, but it’s still eye-opening for Serena. Owen volunteers to eliminate himself but she stops him, suggesting that she’s not only sympathetic to his moment of losing control, but that it also revealed his humanity. “I’m damaged too,” she confesses. She cuts August, saying his comments — while not a deal-breaker in and of themselves — proved he lived in a bubble she’d be unable to pop. And then there were two.
Simon forces Rachel to look inward after her latest masterful manipulation. He notes she’ll sabotage any relationship, any state of peace or contentment, to do Quinn’s bidding. He asks her to consider why, but then pushes her to come to a conclusion of his own finding: Her relationship with Quinn is deeply dysfunctional and she needs to end it. This seems a little premature, and indeed, we’ll soon find out why.
As for Quinn: She’s still in survival mode, just hoping to make it to the next day. Chet is telling her he wants to leave Crystal, but she’s having none of it; she fires Madison, presuming that her previous willingness to betray her is enough to indicate she was the one who hacked onto her computer and deleted Gary’s incriminating emails. But in fact, we learn, Madison, who’s become attached to Quinn and her mentorship, was not the guilty party. It was Fiona — who, just hours earlier, had told Quinn she was suddenly in need of a job. When Quinn couldn’t deliver, Fiona turned on her old friend, seemingly at the drop of the hat. Fiona tells Gary, “It’s just business.” Nothing personal. (Recap continues on next page)
So begins the second hour. Quinn is calling Fiona frantically, clueless as to her double-cross. She winds up in Rachel’s trailer and, for the first time, really looks around, gets a feel for what her most trusted producer is living in. She cracks to herself that it’s “depressing,” but she’s taking it all in. She makes a mental note of Rachel’s dream cabin, an ad for which is taped to the wall, and then eventually spots Simon’s all-seeing camera. She disassembles it, looks directly in it with a wicked smile, and asks who’s watching. Simon, watching, closes his computer in utter terror.
UnREAL has played coy with Simon — there’s no two ways about it. He’s appeared alternately suspicious, unhinged, sympathetic, helpful, and reasonable. It’s been difficult to track. Part of this has to do with keeping the audience on its toes and creating a little dramatic tension. But it also works because this is Rachel’s experience with Simon: She can’t quite figure him out, and the more she’s trusted him the more capable he’s seemed. This has been deliberate obfuscation. Suddenly in this season finale, we see him for what he is, at the moment Rachel finally does: utterly unhinged. Quinn’s firing of him — done in bittersweet fashion, as Simon gets in some painful digs about how much pain Quinn causes in Rachel — sets off a potential disaster.
Rachel, of course, has more to worry about than her therapist. She’s trying to plan her next move, starting to seriously consider Serena’s job offer (together, they could “change the world”) while also trying to get her hitched with the right guy. She tells Quinn she’s decided she’s leaving after this season of Everlasting, to join forces with Serena. Quinn laughs it off, saying it’s not who Rachel is — that she’d never fit into Serena’s world. We know she’s right. And Quinn then does something surprising: She doesn’t ask her to stay, or try to manipulate her. You feel her guilty conscience weighing on her as she makes out a check for $50,000. It’s for Rachel to buy the cabin — to find the solace she needs. It’s a gorgeously underplayed moment by Constance Zimmer. And it’s here that we finally see how Simon has gotten inside of Rachel’s head. This is the kind of gesture that should set Rachel free. Instead, she accuses Quinn of trying to get in her head more, of perpetuating a harmful, destructive relationship. Quinn, hurt, tells her about Simon’s appalling transgression. It only leaves Rachel more confused.
Quinn doesn’t quite know what’s best for Rachel; she, like the rest of the characters, is just figuring out her next move. But Chet gives her a reprieve in the form of a boatload of new dirt on Gary. He also informs her that it’s Fiona who crossed her — noting that word has leaked that she’s now number two at the network. She storms Fiona’s office, a high-rise with a stunning view, and appears more respectful than angry. There are no hard feelings here. Instead, Quinn baits Fiona to come back to her side — to elevate her to number one, without having to answer to some mediocre white guy. Fiona, unsurprisingly, is intrigued.
For its grand finale, Everlasting goes to Connecticut — to Serena’s home, for both Jasper and Owen to meet her family. It’s Rachel’s idea and everyone’s on board. Owen charms Serena’s father despite his reservations; Jasper’s able to maneuver his way out of an awkward conversation with Serena’s mother, about that little bet he took, by convincingly conveying his love for her daughter. It’s all going swimmingly. Serena came into Connecticut not sure of who to pick, but by the end, she’s settled on someone. She’s ready to choose. (Recap continues on next page)
Unfortunately there remains the wild unpredictability of Rachel. And she’s really put through the wringer here. First Simon shows up — yes, having flown halfway across the country just to see Rachel — and reveals just how troubled he is, confessing his love and reminding her of the secrets she’s shared in truly icky, disturbing fashion. She rushes him away. She’s also facing continued, scathing criticisms from Jay, who’s smarting over that Alexei-Rachel one-night stand, as he goes after the core of her being no matter how many times she apologizes. And then there’s Jeremy, who can’t get her out of his head no matter how hard he tries. He announces this is last season on Everlasting — hallelujah! — but that he wants nothing to do with Rachel. “You’re a stain that I have to live with for the rest of my life,” he says. He suggests he’ll be alone for the rest of his life, and that it’s probably better for the world if she is, too.
There’s a quiet, melancholy scene of Rachel drinking in Serena’s home, looking on wistfully at her family photos. It’s crystallized in that moment just how alone she feels. And Rachel, ever the dark, twisted, destructive Everlasting producer, can’t keep those feelings to herself. Serena tells her she’s made a choice when they reconvene, but Rachel turns on the “producing” charm. She gets under her skin, asking if she “really” wants to marry one of these men, or if she’s just doubting herself. Serena admits to butterflies but feels set. But you see the doubt that Rachel has sewed. Serena is not quite as sure as she once was.
Rachel’s grasping for connection, for not feeling alone, contrasts with the games Quinn plays in this episode — we see how good they both can be at this. Quinn learns Gary is a sexual predator, having mistreated nearly a dozen women from his position of power, and uses this to humiliate him in the most effective way. Using Chet’s plane she literally flies the women out to confront Gary (and Gary’s wife) in Connecticut, and using Fiona’s legal connections is able to scrap together a sexual harassment class action lawsuit against him. She brings Madison back into the fold, too, apologizing for firing her and letting her get a little payback at Gary herself. Quinn’s last line to her soon-to-be-ex-boss is just delicious: “You know the rule around here: Sluts get cut.”
We arrive at the final ceremony: Quinn secure in her job, Rachel threatening to blow the whole thing up. She watches on, looking at Serena’s apparent joy at having finally found her match. She’s joined by Crystal, Chet’s girlfriend, who naively boasts she’s going to be the next one to get married. Rachel’s chaos lightbulb goes off. She convinces her to put on a wedding dress and crash the final Everlasting ceremony — and propose to Chet live on air. Quinn is laughing hysterically in the control room, having told Chet she didn’t want to try again for real anyway, but Chet can’t bear it. Live on national television, he storms the stage, tells Crystal he can’t marry her and breaks her heart, and professes his love for Quinn. Quinn looks alternately horrified, amused, and smitten. It’s a heck of a moment.
It’s also another reminder of love’s painful uncertainties. And when we get back to Serena, we see she has no decision to make. She turns down Owen, saying he’s merely a “good guy.” (The kiss of death.) She turns down Jasper, implying she was closer to going all the way with him but stepping back, admitting she wasn’t 100 percent sure. Rachel’s smiling in the corner, and Serena locks eyes with her knowingly. Quinn is infuriated by the lack of a fairytale ending, but the season of Everlasting ends intriguingly all the same: Serena emerges as something of a feminist hero, even if — as she tells Rachel — that wasn’t the point. Serena scolds Rachel, saying she knows she was trying to get into her head, but reveals she made the decision for herself. And then Serena, too, says goodbye to Rachel forever, ending on harsh, unforgiving, even cruel words. But as this process shows: Rachel always does this to herself. She always pushes people she gets close to away. Our final shot of Serena is in her big limo. She takes out her phone, somewhat excitedly, and opens a dating app. “You have a match” echoes and repeats. As Serena scrolls through, her smile turns to a look of defeat. In this digital era, the feeling that something better is on the horizon is at your fingertips — as is the reminder that there probably isn’t. In a provocative final shot of her, we zoom out to see all the empty space surrounding Serena. No matter what Serena says, Rachel did get in her head.
Rachel doesn’t push Quinn away, of course — the last “friend” standing. Jeremy leaves (finally!), Jay — getting the short shrift here, reduced to a scowling, bitter adversary in this finale — gets one last dig in at Rachel, and Serena drives off. But Quinn is still by Rachel’s side. In a deeply poignant scene, we capture their goodbye — at least for now. Quinn offers her words of encouragement, telling her she’s “brilliant” and that she will continue to shine. “I have been doing everything I can to keep you for myself because, apparently, I am a selfish bitch,” Quinn says. “Or was.” Indeed, she’s ready to let her go. Rachel’s going to the cabin, and Quinn’s going to claim her empire — and, judging by a romantic if reluctant door knock, have Chet once again by her side.
Our last image of the season is Rachel in the open space surrounding her cabin. She looks at peace, calm, collected — without the distractions brought upon by people. Life isn’t so solitary, though. Rachel will soon be back in the world and left, once again, to battle and try to conquer her demons. If this season has demonstrated anything, though, it’s that conquering them may be beside the point for Rachel. In a world this complex, dangerous, and flat-out nasty, it’s about finding the right way to use them. She hasn’t figured it out just yet.