About halfway through UnREAL’s Season 2 finale, Quinn tells Madison her plan to shake up the season finale of Everlasting: She’s told both Tiffany and Chantal that Darius is choosing her and will marry her live on TV. When they both show up at the altar in poufy white dresses, all three will be in for a shock. “The suitor fake-proposing to one of these bimbos might have been interesting 14 seasons ago, but now we have an obligation to our viewers,” Quinn says. “We have to escalate the tension, up the stakes, complicate the story.”
She might as well have been talking about UnREAL itself. I’m bracing myself for a barrage of well warranted “Where UnREAL Season 2 Went Wrong” explainers, but in the immediate aftermath of this disaster of a season, that’s where things went wrong: With the notion that a show’s “obligation to its viewers” is to escalate things for shock value lest we get bored with the same old. Things might have worked out in the end for Darius, who’s treated to yet another surprise in “Friendly Fire” when Ruby shows up during the live finale and confesses her love. But there’s no such happy ending for fans of UnREAL.
Darius and Ruby’s reunion was a high point in a finale filled with terrible people doing awful things to each other. Quinn and Rachel bring in security guards at the episode’s start to confiscate all of Coleman’s electronics — and Rachel drops the bomb that she called his ex-girlfriend, who told her Coleman’s documentary about Cambodian sex workers was fake; he paid off actors to play the sex slaves. “So it turns out you’re just as full of shit as we are.”
Like Darius’s back injury, all this stuff about Coleman’s ex-girlfriend happens off-camera; it’s just dropped into a scene when it’s convenient for the plot. Similarly, Rachel and Quinn are clearly back on the same team, but we haven’t been given much time to adjust to their new chumminess. This season has been all about telling instead of showing: Later in the episode, Tiffany breaks things off with Chet, confessing that she really does love Darius. But after the first couple episodes, UnREAL stopped showing us how well Tiffany and Darius were getting along. At some point the show just asked us to take its word for it — trust us, she loves him.
But after the Romeo-getting-shot debacle, this season lost my trust. Romeo finally reappears in the finale, but only to urge Darius to marry Tiffany since his football career is over; Romeo’s injury, or his emotional state after being shot by a police officer, is never mentioned. Even though Romeo is the one closest to Darius, Jay is the only person looking out for the suitor. Jay has become the moral center of this show — the only character who sees how fucked up everything is and wants to do something about it.
As Darius is getting ready for the big finale, Rachel approaches him and apologizes “about the cops.” He responds that he should never have listened to her when she convinced him to join the show in the first place: “I should have seen that do-gooder, white-girl, crazy-eyed look and run right then.” But UnREAL can’t seem to resist making Rachel the white savior after all — she’s the one who suggests to Jay there’s “another way” to end the show besides Darius marrying Tiffany, which leads him to call Ruby.
Meanwhile, Coleman has completed his transformation from nice Jewish documentary filmmaker to vengeful, soulless ex-lover. The characterization this season has been all over the place: No one’s motivations are clear, at least not for longer than a single episode. The contestants are either shrewd and perceptive or ditzy bimbos, depending on the plot’s demands. They often come off like idiots just to make Rachel and Quinn look savvier or more level-headed, like when they squeal at a selection of diamond rings.
So much of this season has been pitched at extremes: love or hate, good or evil, innocent or ruined. On his way out, Coleman seethes at Rachel, “Quinn and all the other vagabond orphan misfits that work here, they are the only people who will ever accept you for the broken, damaged, vile person you are.” Then he meets a heavily bearded Jeremy at a bar and enlists his help in bringing down the show. The two head back to the set, where they scheme with Yael: She’s been asked to appear live on the show that night, where she’ll tell the world the truth about Mary’s death last season.
But then Coleman tells Jeremy about Rachel’s brief stint in the psych ward: “Romeo got shot, she lost her mind, she called her mom, her mom put her in the hospital on all these drugs, she was out of her mind. So I finally got her out of there, she thought that was a good time to tell me about some crazy childhood rape.”
“At the hands of one of her mother’s patients,” Yael adds.
It turns out Jeremy didn’t know any of this. But while the show may have hinted that Coleman isn’t as nice as he seems, his absolute callousness while telling this story feels totally out of character — just like his little fling with Yael. Where is this all coming from? The writers clearly needed to make Coleman the Bad Guy so Jeremy could save the day: Jeremy goes to Rachel and warns her what Yael’s about to do, so Rachel has security make sure Yael doesn’t leave her room.
Finally, Jeremy admits he loves Rachel, apologizing for calling her mother at the end of last season. But Rachel’s inconsolable; Coleman has threatened to go to the press himself, even if that means admitting he faked his documentary. “We are all going to jail, do you not get it?” Rachel says. “There is nothing anyone can do to stop it.”
It’s a testament to this season’s mishandling of its plot and characters that I truly did not care if these people ended up in jail. Maybe they should go to jail. Is there a Bad TV Jail? Because that’s where this season belongs. Lock it up and throw away the key!
But of course, UnREAL couldn’t throw its anti-heroines under the bus like that. In the end, it pulls the same tiresome move that so many dramas pull when they need to solve a story problem: It piles up the bodies. When we see Yael and Coleman drive off in his fancy new sports car, it’s clear they’re headed for a crash, instigated (somehow; we don’t find out the details) by Jeremy, who, after all, will do anything for Rachel.
The finale ends with a callback to the Season 1 finale: Rachel and Quinn lying on the set’s deck chairs, except this time Chet and Jeremy — the men they’re apparently stuck with — are lying beside them. Which is a bigger wreck: The car crash or this sorry lot? It’s a sad ending to a sad season, in more ways than one. The only glimmer of hope is that “Friendly Fire” tied up all the season’s loose ends so that we can (hopefully) forget all about it and move on to a stronger Season 3.