Well, we finally made it. Rachel has finally cracked. Coming after the last episode where she bounced back from an assault with an overcompensating sex drive, and a punch-drunk energy, “Ambush” is the come-down, and it hits hard.
UnREAL has dabbled in tough issues, and succeeded as much as it’s failed. Episodes that dealt with mental illness and homosexuality have sometimes hit the mark—especially last season—but there’s one line late in the latest episode that becomes an unfortunate encapsulation of the episode’s ambitions and failures: “This is not your story to tell.” And unfortunately the show is right, especially when it’s choosing to handle issues of police brutality through the perspective of white guilt rather than the victims.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that this season is less invested in interrogating hot-button issues as anything more than props to inflate conflict. It’s been difficult to comb through the layers of these conflicts when you’re dealing with the framework of both reality television, as well as internal observers who are only viewing these conflicts as a way to boost ratings.
But while this has generally worked on an intellectual level this season, it’s feeling more and more cowardly as the conflicts become bigger parts of the show, without actually being engaged with on any level other than the consequences of plot or their effects on the leads. In this climate, it’s unlikely that a scene about a policeman shooting a black man during a traffic infraction would be anything close to palatable. And if anything, that would be a case where the show completely failed. Here are five memorable (and problematic) moments from the episode.
1. The Same Things That Make Her Tick Make Bombs Explode
Quinn and Coleman’s conversations this season have been notable for their lack of revelations. Save for the moment when Coleman is told about the assault, it’s been interesting to note that their dialogue is often about underlining the assumptions that already hang in the air. When Adam’s called in as a wedge between Rachel and Coleman, there’s not a second’s hesitation before Coleman calls out her motives.
That’s partly what makes their relationship exhausting and cathartic, especially as Quinn’s behavior toward Rachel has moved even more erratically between maternal and experimental. And I mean experimental, literally, as Quinn sets up more and more hoops for Rachel to jump through only, for her to finish in the same place of stagnation.
Quinn and Coleman’s continual jousting has long been about Rachel more than Quinn’s genuine worries about Coleman rendering her obsolete. But as much as Coleman is constantly lifting up Rachel as a person who’s capable of so much more, he’s still reluctant to see that her greatest strengths are also her greatest weaknesses.
2. The Ratings Dynamo/Pussy Who Got Left At the Altar
It seems like it was only a few episodes ago when Quinn hated Adam’s guts and despaired that her English sausage had stolen Rachel’s heart, but now Quinn welcomes Adam with open arms even as she’s instructing him to put on clothing that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.
It’s good to see Adam again, even if his arrival comes under less than ideal circumstances for Rachel who’s still very much in the “tear each other’s clothes” off phase with her new boyfriend. Adam may have abandoned their chance at a real relationship, but he wastes no time in admitting that he’s fully come back to Everlasting for Rachel.
It’s less important how Adam feels than how his return changes everyone around him. Quinn may be describing him as a ratings dynamo, but Rachel is quick to call him, “the pussy left at the altar.” It’s sad and understandable to see that Rachel has now repositioned her past tryst with Adam as a moment of delusion. It’s about the healthiest reaction she can have to another outside force changing her life.
And she refuses to let Coleman get even a whiff of her true feelings about Adam, going so far as to call him into a room under the guise of a hook-up, only to make him watch her about to pleasure someone very different. Rachel refers to their previous relationship as no less than “Stockholm syndrome,” an easy way to compartmentalize Adam’s earnest intentions as creeper antics.
3. The Shitshow of the Century
Well, I’ve gone this long and not talked about Romeo being shot, so let’s get into it. The cataclysmic event of the night is undeniably the sequence with Darius, Romeo, Tiffany and Yael. After Darius has a horrific date with Chantal, complete with her deceased husband’s ashes getting stuck in his throat, he decides that they’re all overdue for some fun.
Every possible factor is against them. Neither of the men have IDs, cell phones or any proof of their identity. The girls have been drinking for hours and slurring every syllable, and they borrowed the show’s Bentley without permission. Rachel and Coleman could have easily stopped this, but there’s an opportunity here. What kind of great television would happen after they report that the car is stolen, and two black men are pulled over?
That’s already a plot line that feels cheap and out of character. I’m not sure what their endgame is here, but I have a hard time believing even Chet and Quinn would have tried something with this many variables. They sneak out with their cameraman and watch as the two men are pulled over. Romeo and Darius are calm, but they’re nearly immediately roughed up and pushed onto the hood of the car.
This is a tough scene to pull off visually from a number of logistic and emotional angles, but let’s talk about it. The camera moves back and forth between the police officers and Darius and Romeo, and Rachel, Coleman, and the cameraman waiting in the bushes. Things escalate, and the officers become more aggressive until Rachel can’t take anymore. The camera does a push-pull, follows Rachel as she’s running and tumbles with the camera landing on the ground and a gunshot ringing out as the final part of the scene.
Sure, I definitely would have liked to see what happened from the men’s perspective. But it’s what happens after that really bothers me. The rest of the episode is about Rachel falling apart, first as she returns to the mansion to placate all of the women, and then to escape into a place of loneliness. It’s just another in a long string of dehumanizing plot events that refuse to recognize that other characters exist.
4. We’re Breaking Down Pre-Conceived Notions
Adam may just be the latest person to ask Rachel why she’s still slogging her way through her days at Everlasting when she could be doing anything else, but his words have more impact than insiders like Jay, or even Coleman. Rachel and Adam’s relationship last season may have been behind closed doors, and as much of a charade as any of Everlasting’s carefully created moments, but at least it popped the bubble for a short period of time. Rachel was able to view this insular world outside of the suffocating viewpoint of a creator.
In the aftermath of that relationship, Rachel has tried everything possible to rationalize her choices and create at least an illusion of moral responsibility. After being rejected multiple times, Adam was ready to leave, but not before he could look Rachel in the eyes and break down her delusions one last time.
All season, Rachel’s been a broken record about the importance of a black suitor, but Adam has the distance to see these ideals as a sham. “Your black suitor is on a fake date in a fake boat on a fake show,” he screeches at her. And faced with the picture of Darius and Chantal in a beached canoe posing as a gondola, she’s hard-pressed to disagree with him.
Adam may have lost his chance to be her prince charming—“There was a little window of hope when you could have saved me,” she screams at him later as she’s curled up in bed—but he’s just about the only one who could see that the fairy tale has long since curdled into a tragedy.
5. Call Gary On Your Way Home
The other big moment of the episode can’t help but be overshadowed, but it’s possible that Coleman is done. It’s been all but official that Quinn is still the showrunner of Everlasting, working her fingers into every event and micro-managing Rachel and Coleman’s orchestrations, so they pan out according to her vision.
Coleman was already in hot water when it appeared to the network that he was responsible for Darius’ major injury, or at least that it happened under his careful supervision. Getting someone shot is a far more immediately impeachable offense, especially when you have footage and accounts that corroborate your involvement.
Quinn seems like she’s going to retire as often as it also looks like she’ll take her rightful place as supreme leader of Everlasting. Coleman’s trajectory has always pushed him away from the show, whether he had Rachel at his side or not. Even hotshots with goodwill have only so many lives, and with his partner-in-crime being admitted to an institution, the short-lived glory days of Rachel and Coleman seem to be coming to an end.