WARNING: The following contains spoilers for season 4 of UnREAL. Read at your own risk!
They really did burn it all down.
Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) worked together one last time in the series finale of UnREAL to destroy Everlasting, the reality dating show they both secretly (or not-so-secretly, at times) despised yet couldn’t get enough of for bringing out their worst manipulative selves.
Appleby’s Rachel, though, was the one to light the fuse. In fact, she was the (newly blonde) catalyst behind season 4’s most explosive scenes, from the assault on set to the shakeup that made her showrunner. Below, Appleby talks Rachel’s makeover, the series finale’s biggest moments, and saying goodbye to the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with that final scene, of the mansion burning up in flames. What was your reaction when you read that in the script? Were you satisfied, or were you shocked?
SHIRI APPLEBY: It felt like if they were going to end the show, that was the greatest way to end it, to burn the mansion down. There’s no way you could come back from that. And I kind of liked that the last line was like, “We can do better.” [It] left a lot to the imagination. I liked that, and at least they were together in a way that felt safe. But with those two, you never really know.
Right, they’ve been through so many ups and downs throughout the seasons. And even that last curveball, with Quinn throwing Tommy under the bus instead of Rachel, did you personally think Quinn made the right call? To protect Rachel after everything that’s happened?
I felt like that was [supposed to be Rachel’s] way of getting out. She was like, “You’re never really letting me escape,” and I felt like it was again Quinn’s messed-up way of taking care of Rachel, you know what I mean? Like, not letting her burn her life down in that way. I felt for Rachel, because she’s really trying to do the right thing. She was like, “I really deserve the punishment I should be getting,” and the thing that’s sad is that Quinn took away the control that Rachel had over her own life.
Does it feel unfair? Rachel was so ready to turn herself in and now she can’t. Is she going to have to live with all that guilt? Did Quinn just do a terrible deed?
I just think it was kind of a selfish deed on Quinn’s behalf. Rachel always has a hard time having ownership over her own life, because Quinn is always able to be two steps ahead of her.
At least Rachel had rejected Tommy (François Arnaud) anyway. I’m wondering, though, is that how you and François played that relationship all along, as a one-sided love affair in which Rachel didn’t fully love Tommy?
[Laughs] Yeah, I just kind of felt like it was just too fast to really fall in love with somebody. She fell for having a partner in so many ways, somebody that was going to help her get away from Quinn and not feel so dependent on her. She was having a partner in that sense. But if a guy’s falling in love with a girl who’s, like, setting up a rape, do you really want to be in love with that guy?
Speaking of which, what was your reaction when you read how awful Rachel would become this season, with setting up the assault just so she could give Maya a chance to confront Roger?
I mean, I was not into that story line. I’m so amazed they did that. ‘Cause it was like… [Pauses] It shocked me, because I feel like there are ways you can deal with your history without [doing it] at the expense of other people. But it was definitely the way this character found a way to, again, try to make things right.
When you were reading it, was it difficult for you to wrap your head around, the fact that she would do something like that?
[Pauses] Yeah. [Pauses] What did you think when you watched it?
I was certainly shocked, at the scene itself and at Rachel’s expression. She just looks so devilishly delighted at setting up a near-rape.
Yeah, and she was dressed so innocently. I put a little black bow in her hair. You never see her look like that. She was just looking so together. I mean, I hope it painted a really uncomfortable picture, where you’re just like, “Is somebody having some sort of psychotic break, that they would be making these kinds of choices?”
Oh, that little black bow, you made that addition to her look? It just looked so un-Rachel, but perfect for the episode.
Yeah, it was kind of happening at the time, style-wise. I just felt like she should sort of become another person this season, with the blonde hair and leaning into this vision of “I’m going to make myself one of these perfect women so I can create this life I want and I’m going to fix all the wrongs in my life.”
What was it like leaning into such a new look and identity? Rachel’s not only blonde this season, but completely diabolical, more so than any previous season.
When [the writers] initially broached it to me, they were like, “Will you put blonde highlights in your hair?” And I was kind of like, “What are we trying to say with it?” And then they were explaining that they wanted Rachel to be turning herself into one of these contestants, so that she would feel like she was pretty enough to find love, I was like, “Let’s just do the whole thing. Let’s just make her blonde.”
I actually found that I was really inspired by that, and I found it to be sort of creative. I let the character walk differently, leading with my chest, and using her sexuality in a different [way]. She’s always been a very sexual person, because she needs that connection, that’s the thing that makes her feel safe, but I wanted her sexuality this time to be much more overt than it had been in the previous seasons.
With this being the final season, do you feel satisfied with where Rachel ends up? Is there anything you would have wanted to see her do more of or that you wish you guys had time for?
I mean, you always want to make sure your characters feel safe, and that you’ve told this story, an emotional arc from beginning to middle to end, and I felt like we uncovered so much with her. I felt like we really got to see her evolve. She is a very smart character and she was really just looking for a place and people in her life that could be real to her.
What was your last day on set like? Did you take anything with you?
Yeah, I did. I have a hallway in my house, where I have the waitress uniform from the original pilot of Roswell framed in a glass box, and I have the microphone I used in Life, Unexpected, because my character was a radio talk-show host, and so from this show I got the T-shirt that said “This is what a feminist looks like” with the green army coat and my fanny pack. We just picked it up two days ago, and so it will go in the hallway of my characters, my girls.
It was funny — I had called the studio maybe a few days before the show wrapped, and I was like, “If the show gets picked up, I’ll have it if you need it back, but this is just the one thing I really want to take with me.” I really just like looking at it now. This is a really significant chapter in my life, so it’s nice to have it up there to look at.
So what’s next for you? What do you want to do now that you’ve closed that chapter?
I’m going to look for a show that shoots in L.A. I can’t wait. [Laughs] I’m so excited. I feel really creative, and I’m excited about finding the next right fit, and finding a show that’ll shoot at home.
And is there anything else you want to add?
Just thanks everybody for watching. I’m so glad this show hit a cultural nerve. We’ve been able to tell a great story.
UnREAL season 4 is now streaming on Hulu.