I would say “Ambush” is a weirdly prescient episode, but it’s become so depressingly, maddeningly common to hear about another unarmed black man shot by police that it doesn’t feel all that remarkable anymore when a TV episode features the same situation. UnREAL has so far bungled its handling of race this season in a way that unfortunately mirrors the messed-up antics of Everlasting itself, and this week’s episode made that more clear than ever.
“Ambush” sees the return of both Adam, whom Quinn called in to mess up Rachel and Coleman’s blissful romance, and Romeo, who returns to the set at Darius’s request. We keep hearing that Darius is upset about last week’s visit to Alabama — where he went on a “home date” with Beth Ann, who revealed she was pregnant — but instead of showing us Darius in distress, UnREAL just has other characters mention it amongst themselves.
Adam’s return has Rachel’s panties all in a twist, and it’s obvious to Coleman that something’s up. She claims Adam just got “Stockholm syndrome” and fell in love with her as she was producing him. Then she tells Adam she was never in love with him, but immediately succumbs to his charms and makes out with him. She’s been growing more and more manic in the past few episodes, and Adam’s return may be her breaking point.
In an episode that’s all about Rachel’s mental health, what made the show’s writers decide to toss in a plot about racially charged police misconduct? Darius is already fed up with Everlasting, but when a date with Chantal goes awry — she pulls out a vial of her dead fiancé’s ashes while on a fake gondola ride, and instead of landing in the water they fly into Darius’s face — he grabs Romeo and heads for the door. They spy Yael and Tiffany, both wasted, on their way out and bring them along for a spin in the Bentley parked in the driveway.
Madison sees them about to leave and tells Rachel — who inexplicably decides the best move is to call the cops. “On two black guys, in a Bentley, in this town?” Coleman exclaims. “That won’t end well.” “Exactly,” Rachel replies. “Make the call,” Coleman says.
Ok, back up. First, why on earth would Rachel do this when the one thing supposedly keeping her from walking off the set in the first place is the prospect of producing a racially progressive show? Sure, she hoped Beth Ann’s family would be a lot more racist to Darius than they were, but calling the police to report that two black men stole a Bentley is a step beyond simply fomenting drama. And nothing we’ve learned so far about Coleman suggests he would go along for this ride, or at least not agree to it so quickly.
But that’s exactly what happens. Rachel and Coleman hide behind some foliage by the side of the road while two cops pull over the Bentley and ask to see Darius’s license and registration. He doesn’t have any ID, of course — the producers have all that. But the cops aren’t having any of his “I’m a famous football player on a reality show” explanation, and they order him and Romeo out of the car, slamming Darius against it and handcuffing him. Rachel panics and runs out from behind the bushes, yelling that she’s the one who called them. One of the cops pulls out his gun and aims it at her; in a split second, Romeo makes a movement and the cop turns and shoots him in the torso.
Back at the set, Jay finds out it was Rachel who called the cops and tells her if Romeo dies, it’s her fault. “This is not your story to tell,” he says. He’s right; it’s not Rachel’s story to tell, and it’s not UnREAL’s, either, at least not in this way. The show does have black writers, but “Ambush” illustrates a major problem with this season: Its use of race as a lightning rod for cheap drama is barely distinguishable from Everlasting‘s.
We don’t even see Darius after this whole mess; we’re told he’s in the hospital, but like the whole Alabama upset, we’re not actually treated to his reaction — everything is filtered through the show’s producers. And yet UnREAL found enough time in the aftermath of this horrible event to check in with Adam, who goes to see Rachel to make sure she’s ok. Because that’s what matters to the show — not the fact that Romeo might die for no good reason and Darius might lose the person he’s closest to, but that Rachel feels bad about it.
So bad that she calls her mother, who comes to collect her and takes her to some kind of mental institution, where she gives her medication and tells her everything’s going to be alright now. Quinn informs Coleman that Gary’s given her the show back and tells him to leave. And finally, we see Yael get into Jeremy’s truck and ask him what really happened with Rachel on the show last season — before she clandestinely presses “record” on her phone. How Yael managed to sneak off with Jeremy when the show has made it very clear that the contestants are Everlasting’s prisoners is a mystery, and frankly the least of the episode’s problems.
Oof. I think what’s going on here is the writers care so much about Quinn and Rachel that they’re serving only them, not the story, and certainly not the other characters. That they chose to toss Adam in the mix in an episode that also featured a Black Lives Matter plot demonstrates just how far this train has gone off the rails.