Warning: Spoilers ahead for UnReal finale “Sudden Death.”
Well, that’s all folks. After a wild three-year rollercoaster ride of soaring highs and toss-your-TV-out-the-window lows, UnReal has come to an end. The former Lifetime series premiered its fourth and final season on Hulu this Monday, officially wrapping up the twisted, back-stabbing, sometimes-feminist Bachelor Nation satire forever. We know it’s forever because, in the final seconds of series finale “Sudden Death,” we see the show-within-a-show's Everlasting mansion go up in flames. The accursed control room, where Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) and Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) concocted their most Machiavellian reality TV schemes, blazes, the flames forever wrecking the massive television screens the duo used to spy on their subjects.
At long last, these two can never go back — even when they will inevitably, desperately want to return to the Everlasting well. UnReal is unequivocally over, and so is Everlasting. That move is just one of many very meta choices for the end of Rachel and Quinn’s story.
Like every other UnReal episode, the series-closer has a lot of plot to deal with. Everlasting All-Stars is about to come to an end, which means the producers need to pick a winner (forget about love, romance, and American democracy). Also, Quinn is pregnant with the baby of many-abed contestant August (Adam Demos), which she and partner Chet (Craig Bierko) plan to raise together. But, according to Quinn, the baby has life-threatening health complications that will lead to either a painful miscarriage for Quinn or a painful, extremely short life for the child. Termination looms on the horizon.
Also, a confusingly blonde-ish Rachel is newly engaged to new producer Tommy (very dreamy new addition François Arnaud), but her hair is also falling out from the stress of running a hellish reality TV nightmare that often ends with murder, self-harm, or all-out chaotic violence. And, she has to up the already-historic ratings for the finale, which means more chaos is necessary. And, Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) — poor, long-suffering Jay — is just annoyed.
Everything is bad!
So, Rachel and new fiancé Tommy come up with a sure-fire ratings win: outing the paternity of Quinn’s baby on the live finale, ruining her career by announcing she slept with a contestant. But, during the big reveal, Quinn flips the script — August, the lynchpin of the Rachel-Tommy plan denies the allegations, killing the scheme — and instead starts spilling Rachel’s secrets. Namely, the fact that one producer was aware contestant Roger (Tom Brittney) was a date raping sexual predator, nearly allowed him to attack another woman (Meagan Holder), encouraged a different woman suffering from PTSD after Roger assaulted her to confront him, and then covered the entire thing up. Roger ended the fiasco with a slashed penis, and Maya (Natasha Wilson), the initial assault survivor, was carted off to prison. Of course, Rachel was the puppet master of this disaster.
Then, just as you think Quinn, who claims to be “done” with her mentee throughout “Sudden Death,” is rightly going to name Rachel as that producer… she says Tommy committed those television sins. Tommy runs off, convinced Rachel set him up (she didn't and was fully prepared to come clean, as she and Quinn secretly plotted off-camera).
On the most obvious level, this is Quinn cementing, once again, the fact that she will never ever abandon Rachel; that this friendship is the real love story of UnReal. But, on a deeper level, the moment reminds us no matter how much viewers may hope UnReal will punish Rachel for her endless cutthroat behaviour, it never will. UnReal, like Quinn, will get to the very edge of washing its hands of its protagonist and then promptly embrace her. UnReal will never stop being enamoured with the mess that is Rachel Goldberg.
But, UnReal, like its two leading ladies, forces itself to stop being enamoured with its own macabre, sometimes brilliant darkness. It accomplishes that goal by setting the entire damn house on fire so the team behind the series can metaphorically never return either. The visual of the burning California mansion is made even weightier by the conversation Quinn and Rachel, cozied up in Quinn’s massive, homey bed, share. Rachel, confirms she “did it,” adding, “I don’t think there’s any way we’re coming back from this one.” Quinn replies, “Good. We can do better.” With a hug, those are the last words of UnReal. And, both the series, and these characters, agree they truly can’t come back from this last big stunt.
That’s an especially big statement for UnReal, an underdog of a critical favourite that clawed its way to four full seasons of varying quality and tons of swirling plot.
It seems the series had always hoped to get Rachel out of Everlasting for good. “That was actually something I felt pretty strongly about,” UnReal creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro told Refinery29 over the phone. “It needed to end at some point, because it's about a person who hates her job. The first scene of the first episode is about somebody who hates her life and hates her job and wants to leave her job … At some point, she's gotta get out.”
The reference to Rachel’s very first scene seems appropriate, as the producer ends the series wearing a heather grey T-shirt reading “I’m still with her.” The feminist tee is a direct nod to the first time we see Rachel — she’s wearing a different heather grey, pro-woman t-shirt. That one famously read, “This is what a feminist looks like.”
So, Rachel finishes her saga still repping the feminist values she proclaimed to hold way back in the day. Only now there’s a literally fiery trail of carnage behind her. It’s doubtful she, or Quinn, or UnReal itself, would want it any other way.