UnREAL has always been a show about powerful and problematic women. From Rachel’s role as a morally conflicted producer who still loves the thrill of manipulation to the less guilt-ridden Quinn — the women behind Everlasting are far from saints.
As producers, Quinn and Rachel exhibit a vast amount of power over the cast and crew of Everlasting. They’re not meek or shy — they’re depicted as take-charge women and “lady-bosses” trying to take on the man by climbing up the ladder. But their sense of power only does so much in the real world as they are fundamentally under subordination from “the man.” They are constantly challenged and taken down by Chet, Brad and the male executives at the network
In “Savior,” women are represented in some of the most problematic and complicated ways yet. After Mary’s death, Everlasting goes on lockdown and the crew deals with the investigation. Rachel is heavily questioned by the police because she invited Mary’s abusive ex-husband on set, which still consumes her with guilt. It’s then revealed that Shia was taking Mary off her meds without consent and getting her back on alcohol. Rachel wants Shia to go to the police but Quinn doesn’t let her — saying that she’ll take care of it.
Quinn takes on the role of the mother of the house, cleaning up the messes her girls made. Except instead of cleaning up champagne thrown by a pissed off contestant, she’s attempting to cover up potential murder charges.
Rachel is upset with Quinn’s plan to lie about the medication — until Quinn states that the show is bigger than her. 170 people will lose their jobs, many people who have families. This is a striking moment because it showcases the complexity of Quinn’s mindset. On the surface, their plan to cover up Shia’s interference with Mary’s medication is wholly evil. But Quinn sees this as the only option and that the ends justify the somewhat twisted means of getting there.
It’s clear that Rachel doesn’t think she’s as far gone as Quinn is — but they have very similar values. Rachel convinced herself that bringing Kirk to the set would be good for closure and for Mary. She brings Mary’s sister on to read a fake suicide note because she believes that will bring out the best ending for everyone. Like Quinn, Rachel is operating on a morally skewed framework that justifies bad behavior because she has good intentions.
During the investigation, Rachel films the contestants framing Kirk as an abuser that she can leak to feminist publications to get the show some moral high ground. When she interviews Adam, he calls her out on how manipulative this is and how she is the one who brought Kirk in the first place. He calls her a monster — which confirms what she already thinks about herself.
So what’s wrong with a woman being a monster, really? This type of representation can be seen as problematic — and it’s not not problematic. But it hearkens to the idea of the “burden of representation” — the idea that all representations of marginalized groups have to be squeaky clean and respectable in order to be legitimate. Otherwise, you’re just confirming hegemonic norms and stereotypes that are dangerous.
But this limits the range of what marginalized characters are allowed to be in media. If characters are polished and perfect they aren’t interesting. Complexity is fundamental to well-rounded character, and this is even more relevant with characters that have been deemed outside of the norm because of differences in gender, sexuality, race, disability and age. The characters of UnREAL don’t always have good reasons for their actions, but they are complicated and they often deal with a deep moral reckoning.