UnREAL s1 ep 2

With Brittany gone, the producers compete to turn one of the other contestants into Everlasting’s new villain, with a sizeable cash bonus as the prize, and racial politics, sexual insecurity and bereavement as the tools to secure it. The beleaguered Rachel has an extra incentive, meanwhile: her ex-roommate is holding her laptop (and its deeply personal contents) hostage. As she and her colleagues run around doing terrible things at Quinn’s behest, however, Quinn herself turns out to be secretly human after all, albeit she keeps that firmly hidden away from everyone but the wretched Chet.

Episode 2 of UnREAL isn’t as showy or immediately arresting as the spectacular episode 1, but, while maintaining the theme of constant, amoral manipulation that kept me glued to the screen last week, this instalment was all about character development, delving deeper into both the main and supporting cast, and blurring the lines a little in terms of who’s using who.

Not to absolve the producers in any way – they’re pretty appalling people, Rachel included – but it’s clear from both the Pepper and Athena strands that several of the contestants aren’t above a spot of manipulation and collusion themselves, as long as it means prolonging their own shots at fame. Of course, this also means prolonging their time with Adam (more of a bonus than the main goal for at least some of the contestants), who’s proving pretty complicated himself: he’s kind to the grieving Anna, sweet to the awkward Faith, but it’s very hard to tell how much of that is an act. Where does the real, human Adam end and the manipulator who’ll do whatever it takes to keep the show on track begin?

Adam’s a lot like Rachel in that respect – albeit I don’t think he’ll go anywhere near as far as she will for ratings – and the growing understanding between them makes it far more likely he’ll end up with her rather than one of the contestants. Which I am totally on board with (squee!). Presuming, of course, that one of the contestants doesn’t kill her first: for all her angst, Adam and I agree that Rachel very clearly can’t help herself. As I said last week, she’s addicted to this work, and every feeling of guilt or compassion she has for the contestants is trumped by an overwhelming instinct to turn it to the show’s advantage. We’re supposed to like Rachel (for now, anyway) but, nonetheless, the writers definitely aren’t shying away from laying out her flaws for us. Or anyone else’s for that matter. While UnREAL is about a genre of tv which relies on characterisation at its most basic and indeed most base, this is a show aiming at something a lot more complicated and ambitious. And doing a superb job. I love it.

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