Credit: A+E Networks
Mindy and Danny. Hannah and Adam. Alex and Piper. Cookie and Luscious. Olivia and Fitz. I have a deep affection for all of these fictional couples, but even the best of on-screen romantic pairings have nothing on Rachel and Quinn, the morally ambiguous antiheroines on Lifetime’s critical darling, “UnREAL.”
The second-to-last scene of the show’s first season finale, says it all:
“I love you. You know that, right?,” says reality TV producer Rachel, collapsing on a lawn chair after producing a brutal, live finale episode.
“I love you too,” responds Quinn, her boss and partner-in-legal-crime. “Weirdo.”
On a show full of faux romance, dedicated to stripping away the artifice of the fairy tale myth we buy into when we watch shows like “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” one might make the mistake of thinking that “UnREAL” is devoid of true love.
But, romance is real: It just manifests itself on “UnREAL” as the — platonic — love between two fascinating, complicated, powerful women.
In an interview with Variety, “UnREAL” co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro said as much pretty explicitly:
Rachel and Quinn are the primary relationship in this show. They’re the love story, they’re everything.
We’re so used to seeing shows — even ones with complex, groundbreaking female protagonists — where relationships with other women are all but absent. It’s refreshing to see intimate friendships between women treated as the main event, instead of a side piece to the heterosexual action.
In the finale, we see both Quinn and Rachel’s ill-fated romances blow up in their faces (with Quinn directly contributing to the end of Rachel’s dalliance with “Everlasting” suitor, Adam). And instead of sinking into their despair with a pint of ice cream and tears, they both wipe off their runny mascara and get back to the business of being damn good at what they do: producing intoxicating reality television. Because if there’s one thing Chet, Adam and Jeremy can never match Quinn and Rachel in, it’s their professional competence.
Quinn and Rachel are not traditionally “likable,” as so many female characters on TV have to be. They are not characters who are always easy to root for, they are not always good to each other, but because they are so damn interesting, you end up wanting them to find some semblance of happiness anyway.
As someone who is a sucker for the fairy tale fantasy on-screen — even though I intellectually know it’s complete and utter bullshit — I expected to feel a little bit disappointed that every romantic pairing went to hell during the finale. As Roxane Gay put it in a New York Times op-ed about “The Bachelor” franchise:
The real shame of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” of the absurd theater of romantic comedies, of the sweeping passion of romance novels, is that they know where we are most tender, and they aim right for that place.
But the “UnREAL” finale tapped into something even better: the underrepresented, but just as epic, deeply relatable love story that exists between two female friends. So when I watched Rachel and Quinn team up to “produce the greatest finale in ‘Everlasting’ history” — and pull it off with flying colors — it truly felt like a happy(ish) ending.
For many women, the relationships that endure — through dates and breakups and marriage and job changes and children and divorce and loss — are female friendships; intensely beautiful, sometimes twisted, deeply loving friendships.
The allure of seeing “behind-the-scenes” of a reality show might be what drew many viewers to “UnREAL” initially, but it’s Quinn and Rachel’s f**ked up love story that will make them stick around.