UnREAL s1 ep 3

A friend from home causes trouble for Adam and everyone else. Chet’s health scare prompts Mrs Chet to intervene, gently, politely, almost parentally, but entirely pointedly laying out a few home truths for Quinn. Rachel goes to see her parents. And Jeremy is really getting on my nerves.

It’s the darkest ep yet of the superb Unreal, with the main themes of family fetters, mental illness and the things people do to try and cope throwing up far more bleakness than humour. Every sub-plot is disturbing and bone-achingly sad in its own way, which is both exceptionally brave – I know I keep saying this but it’s true – for a Lifetime show and utterly compelling.

The combination of Adam’s friend Roger being a terrible human being and producer Shia being a moron leads to something appalling happening which, in Rachel and Quinn’s absence, every idiot on the show just stands back and allows, till a horrified Rachel returns and brings some sanity (ironic, given what her mother says about her) back to the out-of-control set. Rachel may or may not have got there in time, we don’t actually know, but, either way, Maya’s face as Rachel rescues her from Roger’s room tells a horribly grim story, which the show handles both deftly and devastatingly.

Mrs Chet and Quinn’s discussion is a lot less frightening, if no less well done, but I think perhaps the most interesting, most devastating moments come during Rachel’s various scenes with each of her “mothers”. The mother who raised her is a psychiatrist, a woman who seems lovely till we slowly realise she is almost sociopathic herself; obsessively using Rachel as a case study all her life, constantly diagnosing and re-diagnosing her little girl, and constantly prescribing and re-prescribing to try and fix her when it’s by no means clear she was broken in the first place.

Her mother is insistent Rachel’s talent for manipulation is a mental illness – bipolar disorder being the latest diagnosis in what an exhausted, demoralised Rachel points out has been a lengthy list – but is it? Maybe, but whether Rachel has mental health issues or not, it’s not for want of her mother trying to create some for her, if only so she can treat them, “control” them and control her daughter at the same time.

Rachel’s relationship with mother-figure Quinn has control elements too, of course, but, in its own way, is disconcertingly loving – Quinn loves, wants, needs Rachel the way she is, to work on the show. She doesn’t think Rachel needs treatment, she just thinks Rachel needs to pull herself together.

As an adult, though, Rachel – not her mother or Quinn – has to shoulder the responsibility for the terrible things she does. As Jeremy points out she “wouldn’t be here if (she) didn’t like the taste of blood.” As I’ve said each week, I agree, and her evident satisfaction with the fall-out from what she does to Anna toward the end of this week’s ep only re-inforces that. If only it wasn’t Jeremy saying it though. His judgemental attitude annoys me so much I want to throw things at his head. You’re working on this “bully tv” show as well, Jeremy, you don’t get to take the moral high ground.

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