UnREAL Season 1 Episode 5 Review: “Truth”

UnREAL

With a title like “Truth,” UnREAL‘s fifth episode naturally comes with heightened expectations. So far, the series has slowly teased out this idea of honesty with its characters, both on the cameras of Everlasting and off, though the hints towards the producers and creative minds have often been more suggestive than those of the show-within-a-show’s contestants. Being guided by the producers and their twisted minds, each episode has slowly unpeeled multiple personas; “Truth” shows characters on both sides of the fictional lens revealing their deepest conflicts, all in a whirlwind of stories catalyzed by Faith’s journey to discover what she really wants in life.

Of course, sometimes what we want in theory turns out to be a nightmare in practice; like the fantasy that Everlasting tries to sell to its contestants and audience, our hopes and dreams are essentially theoretical propositions. When realized, they can be enlightening, or they can be disappointing; this is the balance that “Truth” displays as it bounces back and forth from Mississippi to California. As the central character of the episode, Faith’s journey home with Adam brings her to both extremes, which carries over to Rachel, who finds herself having kind of a good day for once (even though it got off to an… unsatisfying start). With Rachel’s help (and investigative skills), Faith comes to terms with the fact that she’s not a virgin because she’s a Christian, but because she’s a lesbian.

Admittedly, “Truth” takes an obtuse stance on portraying her hometown; there are merely faces around her, and heavy-handed mentions of Matthew Shepard as fear for her sudden desire to come out to the whole town (and 15 million people on national television, if Everlasting really draws such an audience) don’t really help to personify the conflict they’re really trying to portray, particularly without giving much life to her family of characters outside of her grandmother hoping Faith would “get married before she died”. Smartly, “Truth” chooses to focus on the internal implications of Faith’s realization, and how that seeps out into every other facet of the episode, giving definition to each character’s complicated pursuit of their dreams and personal truths.

Weirdly, Faith’s story (which coincides nicely with last week’s Supreme Court decision) parallels neatly with Quinn, who herself discovers that making a show to everyone means nothing when the person you care about doesn’t understand how you feel. While Quinn’s anger has come from both a professional and personal place, her pulling out an old cast Chet signed and reminding him that’s the only time he said he loved her is about as powerful a moment as UnREAL has had yet; until Faith embraces Amy later in the episode, of course, but it doesn’t take away from the moral (and professional) victory Quinn scores, after super-villain Shia reminds her that she “can make a happy person jump off a bridge”.

Which she may have just done; while still raging at her inability to penetrate Chet’s legal moat, Quinn pays Mary a visit and pushes her to take her game to the next level, and take back the control she lost over a man that scared her. Quinn, in no uncertain terms, makes it clear that Mary can’t live out the last eight years of Quinn’s life, waiting for a shoe to drop that never does (be it for a good or bad thing). Only we can control our own journey, and our own truth: and as Jeremy, Rachel, and Faith all battle the same thing halfway across the United States, “Truth” begins to build an emotional connective thread stronger than anything else it’s attempted to this point.

The balance between the good and bad of truth is what ultimately seals this episode as the show’s best yet: truth comes with an ugly side, often from the backlash of others unable to cope with their own inner conflicts. Nothing breeds jealousy in an unhappy person than seeing others happy; it nearly leads Rachel over the edge in this episode when her and Jeremy start making out, as UnREAL continues trying to sell us that these two may have been a couple destined to be together (despite Jeremy being a flat character, his only interesting element his inexplicable connection to Rachel). Regardless; this idea of truth being as freeing as it is inhibiting is an important point to explore, and UnREAL does it with the aplomb of a distinguished genre well into its run, not a complex satire/character drama in its fifth episode.

Through the experiences of Mary, Faith, and Quinn, “Truth” is able to explore the psychology of its characters in new and abundantly rewarding ways. As always, it remains and brash and uncompromising as any show on TV, which leads to a few weak moments – Jay, for example, isn’t a very interesting entity – but mostly exemplifies the show’s intelligent, ambitious attempts to both critique the reality television industry (as well as the gender tropes that still pervade on every all television) along with providing a satisfying, engaging dramatic production. “Truth” may be the show’s best personification of its true aspirations; and as a halfway mark for its freshman season, an incredibly promising sign of where things may go.

Other thoughts/observations:

– “Truth” also answers the key reason why Rachel wanted to work in television in the first place; to inspire real change in conversations amongst people and communities. Her psychology interests were very sharply defined in this episode, and it helps inform her conflicted behavior throughout the episode, and series.

– Boy, was everyone ready for a horrific Faith speech right there? This show can do awkward, and every time she opened her mouth in front of her community, I was wincing in agony.

– Shia not only calls Mary a “a doll, dead-eyed loser,” but she replaces some of her bipolar medication with probiotic powder. Mary’s digestion may improve, but her seductive dance at the end is an ominous sign that things are only going to darker places with those two.

– What does Quinn exactly say to Mary? “Either ball up and give a s***, or pack your bags.”

– Rachel telling Adam to back off because she just realized he was her only friend is a powerful moment that finally establishes some real chemistry between the two.

– “Truth” also makes the very relevant observation that reality shows are stunt casting transgender people with the frequency with which they did gay people five-ten years ago. Which means we’re only five years away from transgender people on reality shows being accepted as a normal thing!

– Jeremy asks Rachel while she didn’t call after her meltdown; “I was depressed. Depressed people don’t call.”

-Again, Jay sucks. At least Shia is entertaining with her over-the-top approach; “You know, sometimes two… maybe five margaritas helps me!”

– Rachel tells Faith her own grandmother would say Adam is “a real mentsh.”

– Rachel: “We’re not talking about me. We’re talking about people we can still save.”

[Photo via Lifetime]


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