‘As Serious As Your Life’: Representations of Trauma and Grief in Unreal EP07, “Savior”

The concept of representation with regards to Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Nixon’s Unreal has always been a pernicious one. As can be seen from the series’ outset, racial diversity, in addition to racial discrimination and fetishization, have been framed at the forefront of the show’s attention and becomes the primary focus of several early episodes of the Unreal’s first season. The seventh episode of Unreal’s first season, titled “Savior,” however centers on one particular example of representation. More specifically, the representation of trauma.

s01e07_369.jpg“Savior” opens immediately in the aftermath of the previous episode “Fly,” where at the end Mary (Ashley Scott), a middle-aged contestant of Everlasting and single mother of a young daughter, falls to her death following a confrontation with her abusive ex-husband further exacerbated by a combination of alcohol and prescription medicine abuse. Quinn, the executive producer of Everlasting, is one of the first people on the scene of Mary’s death and immediately orders producers Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Shia (Aline Elasmar) to send the rest of the contestants to a room and tell them nothing of what has just occurred. After the contestants are sent away, this exchange occurs,

Faith: Hey, can we get a few- [Jay closes door, interrupting Faith.]
Grace: There’s a cop car and an ambulance out there.
Anna: When my dad died, they called an ambulance for no reason. It was it was all for show.
Grace: This is obviously a stunt.

Already we see Unreal playing with the show’s inherently meta-textual nature as a show-within-a-show, depicting contestants commenting on the inherent spectacle of Everlasting and speculating that this is just one of the producer’s many, many stunts to incite curiosity and manufacture controversy. The truth, however, is far more tragic.

Faith: Anyone seen Mary?
Shamiqua: Unh-unh.
All: No.
Faith: Maybe something’s wrong with her.
Maya: I bet she’s just with Adam. I mean, she just won the date.
Grace: They probably want us sitting around dissing her ’cause we’re jealous.
Shamiqua: Typical, it’s all made up. 100 percent delusional.
Maya: No, I don’t know. This This seems real to me.
Grace: It always looks real.
Maya: This is different. There are there are no cameras there. They’re they’re not shooting it.
Anna: You guys, she’s right. There’s no cameras out there.
Faith: Or in here.

As Anna and Faith point out, the ensuing drama around them is entirely un-filmed by the Everlasting camera crew, a fact which raises alarm and suspicion that something is not right. It is only later, at a cast and crew gathering that following morning that Adam (Freddie Stroma) informs the contestants that Mary claimed her own life by falling from one of the mansion’s roofs. Each of the contestants react in different ways to this news: Anna reflects on Mary’s demeanor the previous day; Grace stares off in a dissociated shock; Maya chastises Grace for not crying; and Faith leads the crew in a moment of prayer.


Maya chastising Grace.

After learning of Shia’s indirect role in the circumstances that lead to Mary’s suicide, Quinn and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) conspire for a way to dampen the allegations pitted against the show and redirect accusations to the physical and emotional abuse inflicted by her ex-husband, Kirk Newhouse (Ty Olsson). However, while filming interviews with the cast in order to indict Kirk’s behavior, their efforts are intercepted and summarily thwarted by Brad (Martin Cummins), one of the network executives sent out to contain the circumstances of Mary’s passing. Confronted with a no-win situation, Rachel visits Mary’s room to contemplate what’s to be done. Later, she comes to Chet Wilton (Craig Bierko), Everlasting’s co-executive producer, and Brad with a solution in the form of a suicide note, written by Mary.

s01e07_408.jpgThe producers immediately send for Louise (Chelah Horsdal), Mary’s sister, to confirm that the note is her sister’s and approve of it being read on-air. This exchange ensues,

Louise: You’re right. We really need to read this on camera.
Rachel: I mean, if it’s something that you would be comfortable with, it would certainly help paint the show in a better light, and it would be so good for Mary, too.
Louise: It’s not just about Mary. Kirk’s power bitch lawyer is already angling to get Lily Belle away from me. I’ll be damned if I let that happen.
Rachel: Yeah, okay, well, you know, I can get the letter to Graham, make sure that he reads it on camera tonight.
Louise: No. I want to read it. Me. My tears.
Rachel: Okay.

Louise tearfully reads Mary’s suicide note, publicly absolving the Everlasting cast and crew from culpability and laying blame squarely at the feet of Kirk’s mistreatment of Mary for years. After the filming, Rachel embraces Louise and tells her she did a great job reading Mary’s note.

Rachel: That was amazing. Amazing job with Mary’s words. You really did a great job.
Louise: Thanks.
Rachel: Mm.
Louise: Nice job on the note. I almost believed it was real.
Rachel: Louise, I don’t even know what—
Louise: Don’t. It was smart. It had to be done.
Adam: You okay with this?
Louise: Absolutely. Whatever it takes to keep Lily Belle away from that monster.

s01e07_465.jpgThrough Louise’s complicity in the manufacturing of Mary’s final words, Unreal demonstrates how grief, and the search for release from it, can manifest in dark and harrowing actions, albeit ones committed through the best of intentions. As representation necessitates a reductionist, if calculated depiction of a specific demographic or topic in order to conform to the space and time allotted to a prime-time serial drama, one could say that “Savior” condenses the entirety of the five stages of grief into the space of 40 minutes in order to depict the cast’s trauma, heartache, negotiation, and finally, acceptance and endurance in the face of terrible loss.

Images source(s): Springfield! Springfield!

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