Shame is a funny emotion. As humans, we spend so much of our time trying to avoid the embarrassment of being ashamed – even if it flies directly in the face of things we want in life. Shame is not just a difficult emotion to deal with, however: it’s also a tool, one others can use against us as a way of manipulation – or in most cases, a way for us to manipulate ourselves out of what makes us happy. See, as people we have a predilection to do the exact opposite of what we actually want to do, out of fear – and shame plays a direct role in that, one of the sharpest invisible weapons we can use against others, or turn against ourselves.
Reality television shows peddle in shame: they shame the audience by showing them lives they’ll never have, dreams of riches, romance, and fame that exist just beyond our reach. American Idol or Real Housewives, the idea is the same: in the former, famous people criticize “normies” for their inability to be blemish-free professionals – and in the latter, the American public gets to be in the judge’s chair, their views guided by the cameras and producers the world of UnREAL takes a long look behind. Producers connive and scheme to get people out of their comfort zone, then revel in the dysfunction that takes place when those people eventually unravel: this is how “characters” are created, and ratings increased. All season, UnREAL has watched Quinn, Rachel, Chet, and the like work within the dual structures of shame: in “Future”, all those external stories become wildly entangled with the internal ones, creating a finale that earns the superlative of “dramatic and breathtaking” with scene after scene of brutal honesty, honesty that comes about as characters try to re-assert their positions professionally and personally.
It all centers around this idea of mortification: characters expressing what they truly want leaves them vulnerable in the episode, be it Rachel getting her heart broken by Adam (or by the same token, poor Anna), Madison removing herself from the Chet and Quinn beef, or even Grace, whose attitude gives way to someone a little more hopeful and ambitious in this episode, someone who seems truly betrayed when Adam picks Anna to marry on live television over her. In life, he chooses the fake marriage to Anna over running away with Rachel, who breaks up with Jeremy to leave the show with him, because again, he’s ashamed of what it will do to his reputation, not to mention all of Rachel’s personal dirty laundry Quinn airs out to him in her attempt to “save” Rachel.
Again, “Future” is all about examining how humans use the threat of disgrace as a weapon against themselves and others: we can understand why Quinn’s so externally evil all the time, knowing she hates herself for falling for Chet and wasting 15 years of her life being in love with him. Her admission of that, which comes when she shows a bunch of bookmarked wedding catalogs to Rachel, is arguably the most honest moment of the entire season: it shows us why Quinn and Rachel refuse to stop working for this show, even when they no longer say they believe in love or even care about their own relationships: through these girls, Rachel and Quinn get to live out the happy endings they’ve never been able to find in life, the ruse of the television romance serving as a surrogate for the emptiness both of them feel inside after being betrayed by the men they care about, or have let go of during their time on the show. A lot of their hatred and manipulation of the other women come from their inability to accept and reconcile their own flaws, their own perceptions that they are somehow lesser than for wanting the same thing they make fun of others for wanting when they arrive on Everlasting.
Truth and disgrace define UnREAL‘s …. well, unreal season finale: Everlasting nearly gets canceled when Quinn reminds Chet and Brad both who keeps the wheels turning (bringing Brittany back? What the hell were you thinking, Chet?), Rachel leaves Adam with no bride and no spin-off after he spurns her for Anna (who herself walks away from the wedding), and Jeremy absolutely shatters what’s left of Rachel’s stability when he embarrasses her in front of the entire crew, pretending to propose only to demean her in front of everyone she works with. That last moment in particular is tough to watch, even more so when it returns later, with Rachel crying and asking Adam what’s wrong with her, and why he would just decide to not be with her over the course of six hours: in the end, Adam’s too ashamed to admit his own superficiality, and that leaves him with no girl, no wedding, no spin off, and probably no chance at earning back his reputation with the public, or his family (and good luck trying to get the vineyard/resort back under your control too, Lil’ Cromwell).
No matter how many external events are happening, however, UnREAL never loses sight of its two stars, and the internal struggles they find themselves in, many of which stem from the complicated mind of Quinn, the master of all ceremonies. Although she harbors her own personal guilts, her ability to do whatever it takes to keep Rachel under her thumb and protected gives the finale a strong bond it needs between characters, while every other relationship on the show crumbles to dust. Rachel and Quinn reminding each other that they care about each other is a strong moment: doubly so when Rachel slips in a thinly-veiled threat against Quinn, describing the beauty and toxicity of their relationship with a few looks, and a line she immediately repurposes to be talking about Jeremy.
And isn’t that really why we watch UnREAL? The show’s ability to explore human manipulation and psychology is unparalleled, but it wouldn’t be half as fun to watch without the performances of Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer at the core. I’ve said it in probably every review this season, so I might as well say it one more time: these two are absolute knockouts in their roles, the best bit of casting I’ve seen on television in 2015. Their unique abilities to embody these wildly complex people without ever losing their empathetic qualities and arcs is a tough balance to maintain: not only in the writing, but in the discipline it takes to deliver that kind of nuanced performance. The awards shows probably won’t even mention UnREAL, but their performances stand head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen this year, giving “Future” the one-two knockout punch it needed to deliver a killer final hour.
Who’s ready for Everlasting: The Whole Package?
– What a fantastic little gem Lifetime has on their hands. Hopefully this gets streaming somewhere in the next few months; this is a show people need to be watching when it returns in 2016.
– Jeremy, you are the worst. Just the worst.
– Love how Quinn asks for coffee, then when a PA finally brings it, she says “You’re too late – I don’t want it!”
– Really wish there was more time for Grandma Cromwell this season.
– Will Freddie Stroma return for season two? While I love how Rachel absolutely crushes his career this episode, I don’t want to see him completely gone from UnREAL when it returns.
– “Let’s not kill anybody next season, okay?”
– Adam isn’t in line to be a prince, but who cares? Let’s say princess anyway!
– Love how quickly Quinn and Rachel devise a plan to destroy the men in their lives. Alone, they are powerful: together, they are the Super Twins from Hell.
– Thanks for joining me through the first season – see you for round two next year!
[Photo via Lifetime]
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