On the eve of UnReal‘s finale, we’ve all got questions on our minds: What will Quinn and Rachel’s renewed alliance yield? Who will Darius pick? How the hell did this show go so off the rails?

There aren’t a lot of definitive answers to be found (yet). There’s a lot of awkward growing pains and remaining faults that lined the path for a disappointing sophomore year from last year’s critical darling. But most agree that the seventh episode of the season, “Ambush” is a lowpoint for the show.

After Darius, Romeo, and two of the contestants steal a car, Rachel and her showrunner boyfriend Coleman sic the cops on them, knowing it will make for great TV. When Rachel starts to have doubts after seeing just how far the cops will go when they pull over a black man in a fancy car that’s not his without a license, she darts out to call them off—only to alarm the cops, who accidentally shoot Romeo. unreal-ambush

After the shot the camera follows Rachel as she trips in the field she’s running through, the camera holding and tumbling with her, as she lies on the ground in shock. It’s a highly manufactured shot, one showrunner Sarah Gertrude Shapiro wanted especially to show how the event rocked Rachel and “turned her world upside down.”

Except, it’s not really her role that got turned upside down. It’s Romeo’s. Rachel was not subject to sadly prescient police brutality, Romeo was. Darius was. Rachel, a white woman, would never be. And while the effects of that shooting should affect her—as the cause, bystander, and protagonist of the series—it’s absurd that her narrative would be the one focused on here.

Two episodes later, one left in the season, and we still haven’t gotten an update on Romeo’s medical condition. For a show that’s allegedly supposed to be showing how those outside the black community can’t understand pressures on that community, and then to tell their story specifically through someone else’s viewpoint is a wildly misguided and privileged thing to do. Black lives matter, and white showrunners shouldn’t only engage with that when there’s white lives involved.

Perhaps with a few cuts and snips UnReal could’ve saved its white savior narrative. But the fact that we still aren’t sure whether they’ve saved Romeo means there’s a whole season’s worth of cuts and snips that had already gone untouched.

The Reality of UnREAL’s characters

I’m just as surprised as you are that one of the best new shows of the year is a Lifetime original. But here we are.

“UnREAL” takes a look behind the scenes of a “Bachelor”-esque show, and the twisting of reality to create reality TV. Our lead, Rachel, is a producer who swings anywhere on the spectrum of morality from questionable choices to downright manipulative all within a single moment of her day, guiding these girls and their “Prince” through the “romantic” process.

It’s a tricky line that actress Shiri Appleby walks: Rachel has no business being likable, and often crosses in Walter White-territory of “should I even be rooting for her?” But as the protagonist and lead anti-hero of “UnREAL,” she needs to stay engaging and engrossing. Don’t worry, she sticks the landing. “UnREAL” hinges on it.

(L to R) Shiri Appleby (“Rachel”) and  Constance Zimmer (“Quinn”)
(L to R) Shiri Appleby (“Rachel”) and Constance Zimmer (“Quinn”)

Between her and the woman literally running the show, Quinn (Constance Zimmer), a sort of unholy union is formed where only one thing matters: the advancement of their own desires.

What makes “UnREAL” such exhilarating television is that it depends so wholly on the full moral compass of its characters. Digging into the themes of what people want and what they are capable of to get that, the show isn’t afraid to wade in-between the white knights and gray areas, and get really dark.

It’s a stark differentiation to “Game of Thrones” which continues to simplify its characters as it draws them out of the book. Tyrion, a fan favorite, should’ve become the monster everyone expected him to be at the end of season four when he killed Shea. But instead the show wrote in reason after reason to keep him as their champion—and we see this pattern over and over again. Stannis, Ramsay, Ser Meryn Tant; the plot goes out of its way to establish behavior that reduces them to either good guy or bad guy.

Given that, it’s no wonder the show often struggles with shock factor to keep its audiences guessing. “UnREAL” isn’t perfect and delved into the same shock plot lines in the course of its first season, but for the most part it didn’t have to. The electricity of watching characters whose spine is so movable makes for thrilling enough television on its own.

The season ends with an unlikely pairing that should’ve always been the sure bet: Rachel and Quinn. They both know they’re not locked into their partnership, but they also know that they’ve always got each other’s best interests at heart (or something next to it, anyway). It’s an intoxicating dynamic. Now to see if they can keep us guessing.