Written by Matt Taylor
It’s easy to hate characters like Quinn and Rachel. In fact, UnREAL practically invites its audience to do so. They are both heavily flawed and morally repugnant, only occasionally showing a glimmer of humanity underneath their negative qualities. Yet, in an episode like “Infiltration,” the writers challenge their viewers by having truly terrible things happen to these characters, forcing the audience to consider their reactions to real-life horrors. And, in this week’s episode, UnREAL succeeds in thoroughly exploring the issues of misogyny and domestic violence, forcing viewers to assess their thoughts on the subject, as well as their own potential biases, by having the victim be a character that is difficult to sympathize with.
But let’s start at the beginning: the tension between Rachel and Jeremy continued to rise after she inadvertently got him demoted by complaining about him to her new boyfriend and showrunner, Coleman. This led to a bonding session between Everlasting’s resident MRA (Men’s Right Activist), Chet, and Jeremy, in which the former convinced the latter that all of his problems stem from his relationship with Rachel, and that he could only solve them by embracing his masculine tendencies and moving on. Their conversation, however, culminated in a violent, drunken confrontation between Jeremy and Rachel, which easily stands out as the most shocking moment in UnREAL’s history.
The MRA subplot has been one of season two’s weaker points, if only because it felt tacked on for purely comedic purposes. But, this week, that subplot got awfully serious and thematically complex. Instead of being the butt of jokes, this week’s developments showed how misogynistic behavior and a resistance to equality creates an environment where any man can commit shocking acts of violence against women. The scene was well directed, suspenseful and genuinely surprising. But, more importantly, the assault happened at the end of an episode where Rachel committed some pretty heinous acts against the contestants – so, the writers cannot be accused of trying to manipulate viewers. Instead, the act of domestic violence was meant to be depicted exactly as it should be: a disturbing, indefensible act of aggression perpetuated by sexism.
There were some other big developments this week, however, namely with one of the more surprising elimination ceremonies of the season. The tension between the contestants is really starting to heat up, and while “Infiltration” saw the phenomenal Denée Benton’s Ruby being sent home after an overnight date gone awry, the plot twist was well written, believable, and developed both the young woman and her suitor. This season also proved to be one of Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s best episodes on the show, and while Jay continues to be somewhat underutilized, he makes his presence known and should be heading for an interesting subplot soon. Finally, Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) joined the cast as the rich owner of the network, who is just as despicable as Quinn, his new love interest. Gruffudd is a lot of fun in the role, and his banter with Constance Zimmerman is hilariously dark.
If “Infiltration” proves anything, it’s that you should never doubt the writers of UnREAL. Just when the MRA subplot felt cartoonish, the series received a startling jolt of reality, highlighting the horrors of domestic violence and assault without employing tactics that naysayers would consider manipulative. We’re halfway through the second season, and, really, anything could happen next. I cannot wait to find out how this week’s shocking conclusion pays off.