'UnREAL' Boss on That Surprising Ending (It Was Plan B!) and Why Season 4 Is Totally 'Different' (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Monday's two-hour season finale of UnREAL.
In Monday's two-hour season finale of UnREAL, Rachel's (Shiri Appleby) desires to get out of the wretched, unhealthy bubble that is the fictional Bachelor/Bachelorette-esque dating show, Everlasting, comes to fruition when uber-producer Quinn (Constance Zimmer) lets her out for good. It should be a moment of relief for Rachel, who's spent the entire season trying to prove to Quinn -- through suitress Serena (Sweetbitter's Caitlin FitzGerald) -- that she's capable of being loved in spite of her age, success and power. Instead, what Rachel's left with by season's end is a lonely existence as she retreats back to her cabin in the woods.
The season-ending moment comes after she learns that the psychiatrist Quinn hired, Dr. Simon (Brandon Jay McLaren), is just as twisted as everyone else in her inner circle when he makes an inappropriate play for her love. That shocking revelation is the straw that breaks the camel's back, as Rachel's ex Jeremy (Josh Kelly), Serena (she tells Rachel she belongs at a "horrible" place like Everlasting) and others reiterate -- in their own way -- to Rachel that she's a god-awful person: Jeremy, for "producing" him to kill two people at the end of season two; Serena, for "producing" her to choose herself and reject two proposals at the Everlasting finale.
"The finale was about a piling on for Rachel, in the sense that she finds out this horrible admission from Dr. Simon. Then everything is turned into question for her," showrunner Stacy Rukeyser tells ET. "It makes her question everything that she has done as she has gone on this personal journey with him this season, and that includes cutting ties with her family. Now she is alone and he says all of these things, like, 'If anyone knew the truth about who you are and what you've done, they would never love you. You are unlovable the way you are.'"
"Everyone's basically telling her she's a piece of s**t or that she's a bad person," she says. "Those things are ringing in her ear when she goes off to her cabin." But things can't truly end there for Rachel. As we know, a fourth season -- premiere date yet to be announced -- featuring an all-star installment of Everlasting has already been filmed, and you know Rachel will be a part of it. How does she find herself back in Everlasting's clutches?
Following the conclusion of season three, ET spoke with Rukeyser about the season that was, the original finale ending and why the new season features a brand new (and much blonder) look for Rachel.
ET: Why did you end season three with Rachel alone at the cabin, having finally gotten out of Everlasting?
Stacy Rukeyser: I can tell you a little tidbit, which is that that cabin was originally shot as an alt ending before we knew there was going to be a season four. There was, in fact, a different ending, but then of course, we did get ordered for a season four and people were in love with this ending -- with her getting out and getting to the cabin. Since there is a season four, you know there's going to be a Rachel Goldberg. You know she's coming back to the show for one reason or another. If you happen to follow Shiri Appleby's Instagram, you will see that she's blonde for season four. She's blonde, not just because she's trying a new look, but it's coming out of a real internal panic and a desperate need to change herself or change her life. A lot of that has to do with what those people said at the end of season three that are still ringing in her ears and are terrifying her. Rachel lying there on the deck, it's everything she said she wanted -- it's that "beautiful place" -- and yet she's still alone with those thoughts. It's incredibly terrifying and destabilizing [for her].
What was the original ending that you had in mind for the finale if what we saw was Option B?
Basically, Rachel made the decision to stay at Everlasting, so she never went to the cabin in the first place. Everything is the same, where Quinn offers her the money and all of that, but Rachel decides to stay at Everlasting. In some ways, it's a similar thing because she'll be back at Everlasting in season four, but there's been that moment when she could have gotten out. She did get out, at least for however much time she's up there, which I won't say. This has been Rachel's internal struggle for the entire series. She's incredibly conflicted about being there, hates herself for the work she does there and yet feels very empowered. It does give her a sense of power, even though she hates herself for the fact that it makes her feel powerful, and there's the incredible relationship with Quinn. That push-pull has been a part of it all along.
Quinn and Rachel's last conversation really encapsulated their partnership, where Quinn tells Rachel she's "a star." That despite the backstabbing, the betrayal and the awful things they've done to each other, they're very much dependent on each other and cemented the fact that things are going to be different now. How important was it to have that scene in the finale?
We always talk about how Rachel and Quinn are the love story of the series, and you can imagine writing the scene when we didn't know if it was going to be a series finale. It was even more important to show that because I do believe that regardless of the bad things that they've done to each other or the ways in which it's an unhealthy relationship, that they love each other very deeply and that Quinn really does care for Rachel in a way that Rachel's own mother never did. That was really essential, whether it was going to be the end of the series or not. As we go into season four, look, they're going to have conflict again because Quinn ends up on Chet's doorstep and that is not necessarily something Rachel would support, I'll put it that way. Also, what does Quinn think about [Rachel coming back to Everlasting], after she's given her the money to get out?
The Everlasting finale featured a moment where Chet confesses in front of America that he's in love with Quinn, which leads to Quinn landing on his doorstep. Are things on slightly more stable ground for the two? What do you see for Quinn and Chet's future?
Chet's worked hard this season, in terms of his own personal growth. We've always felt that there's an undeniable love story between Chet and Quinn, as messed up as it is and flawed as it is. For Quinn, her personal journey this season was all about getting her career back up. First, getting the show back up and running, and then expanding her empire. But she, too, at the end of the day, has to come to terms with whether or not that's enough for her or whether she needs some human connection beyond her relationship with Rachel because she believes Rachel is leaving. She does show up on Chet's doorstep and it's intended to be a romantic moment. I'm sure there will be conversations amongst the fans, where some will be happy and some won't be happy at all.
Jeremy quits Everlasting. Is he still in the picture in season four?
He's gone. Jeremy does, in fact, get out and get away and he is not back for season four.
Did you feel creatively his story was complete?
For sure. I love Josh Kelly and he's gone through so many transformations on this show. His scene at the end of episode nine, where he says "I'm a murderer," that he has this realization is incredibly well done. That's a great, fitting ending for this character and frankly, it's nice that someone actually gets out and gets away. It was challenging only because there's a lot of love for Josh Kelly and a lot of love for that character, so even though it made sense storytelling-wise, we really had to talk and say, "Are we really OK without having him a part of the fabric?" It did feel, storytelling-wise, that that was the honest and right thing to do.
Serena ultimately rejects Jasper and Owen's proposals during the Everlasting finale and soon after, she's in the limo on the dating app. Does she regret not making a choice or taking the Everlasting experience more seriously or that she went on the show in the first place?
It's all of that. Thematically, one of the things we were interested in looking at this season is who is the right person for a woman like Serena? Should she be with the alpha dog like Jasper and together they'd be this power couple who travels all over the world, or should she be with someone like Owen, who doesn't have as fancy a career but he could be at home with the kids more? How do you distinguish between settling and this line where she says, "You persuaded women everywhere to wait for your Clooney." That became such a big point for us. Amal Clooney was very much the inspiration for Serena because we were talking about how if she had not met George Clooney, who was going to be good enough for her? Who the hell was it going to be? When Serena's back in the limo, she's back on the Tindr-like app, there is what we describe as the tyranny of choice. You can keep swiping and swiping and swiping, and there's always someone else. We really like to ask questions, rather than give answers. But what we're saying is it's tough to know. Should she have chosen one of those guys? I'm not so sure. But if she also doomed to this tyranny of choice? Yes, I think so.
Tracie Thoms' character, Fiona, was elevated to become the head of the network by the end of the finale. How big of a presence will she have in the new season?
Yeah, she's the president of the network now so she's back in season four.
For most of the season, Dr. Simon was the calming force, the guy with the crucial life wisdom -- until the very last episode, when you realize he's just as screwed up as everyone else. How did you justify that character turn so late in the season?
In the world of UnREAL, no one is ever just one thing. No one is ever able to just be good and not have a darker side, and vice versa. What we feel is part and parcel of this bubble that you get into on this show or on a show like this. It is a bit obsessive, but it's in this universe where people get sucked in and terrible things are completely acceptable and justifiable. He loses his way as almost all of these characters have done when they are at Everlasting.
What was it like seeing the sexual harassment storyline play out amidst the #MeToo and Time's Up movements?
It was crazy because when Quinn said to Gary that he was now the defendant of a class-action lawsuit, I think it was Bill O'Reilly [in the news] back at that point. It was really shocking and I wish that I could say that we were prescient and that we knew this moment was coming but we really didn't. These were things we were feeling and some of us had experienced as women and wanted to talk about, but it's exciting that it's become a bigger part of the cultural conversation.
Looking ahead to season four, which is the all-star season of Everlasting, who is coming back?
August (Adam Demos) is coming back and Alexi (Alex Sparrow) is coming back, and then a couple of other people from past seasons. (Breeda Wool, who played Faith in season one, is also confirmed to return.) The format is a little bit different. There is a Survivor-like challenge in every episode, as well as an elimination ceremony where people couple up and they spend the night together, so it's like every night is an overnight. It's the Wild West version of Everlasting. (The new additions include Megan Holder, Natalie Hall, Alejandro Muñoz, Alli Chung, Meghan Heffern and Christopher Russell.)
Rachel had a brief fling with August this season, but who will be catching her eye?
I can tell you that in the teaser for season four, you see Rachel is blonde and Quinn says, "To hell with being a producer, you're a suitress." You see Rachel with a lot of these different guys. I don't want to say too much beyond that about why Quinn gets that impression or if that's true or what's really happening. And we also have a new producer, Tommy, who's played by Francois Arnaud, and that's some fresh blood who's fairly attractive too, I'll put it that way.
I always ask, but is Adam (the suitor in the first season played by Freddie Stroma) back in the fold?
We would love to have him back whenever but he has not really been available. I'm sure we would dream up story if we could, but it's not in the cards right now. Unfortunately, no [Adam in season four].
Anything you would do over or do differently after watching season three?
We talked so much about Serena and who she was and whether she was "likable" or how to make sure the audience was rooting for her in her journey to try and find love. It's part of a bigger conversation about unlikable female protagonists that I think is really interesting, in terms of what makes a person likable or not. For us, we have a huge understanding for Serena. We never felt that she was unlikable. We, as women, related to her and to what she was going through and the vulnerability that she experienced. We were rooting for her and yes, she makes mistakes and yes, she's better at business than she is in her dating life. But the deck is also stacked against her because there are a lot of prejudices and preconceived ideas of how women are supposed to be that are incredibly unfair. That's what we're always trying to put forth with our characters: They're real women who don't behave perfectly. That's real life and I hope that it's relatable. It's not always easy to see people make bad choices or do bad things, but I think it's real. I haven't seen a lot of season debriefs yet, but those are the kinds of characters I want to see more of on television. It's very interesting to look at what women are allowed to be and what they're allowed to do on television then what men have been allowed to do for a long, long time. All we want is for people to be talking about it. We don't want everyone to be in agreement; an old boss used to say, "If your audience is happy, your show is dead."
Do you have any idea on when season four will launch?
[Lifetime] has not given us any indication. I don't think it's summer. They have You, the Sera Gamble-Greg Berlanti show that's airing in September. There's a chance we may air with that but there's a chance they might hold it till next spring.