The ‘UnREAL’ Showrunner Breaks Down That Bittersweet Season 3 Ending

Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

Spoilers for the season finale. The latest season of UnREAL has turned the show inward, forcing its main characters to look at themselves and their own damage and either fix it, forget it, or at least come to grips with it. The two-hour UnREAL Season 3 finale is a culmination of the building drama, and by the end of filming Everlasting, all of the women on the show — Rachel, Quinn, Serena, and even Madison — are free from something in their lives that they had been outrunning. But though the path is free (for now, at least), will the women of UnREAL know what to do with it? In a phone interview, UnREAL showrunner Stacy Rukeyser helps to unpack all those Season 3 cliffhangers.

In what is potentially the most unsurprising twist of Season 3, Rachel is free of Everlasting. Following the explosive finale, Quinn has released Rachel from the grips of the show, and Rachel now has that cabin in the woods that she so coveted. But, knowing Rachel, how long can she really stay away? Rukeyser knows that Rachel is a creature of habit.

“The same question can be said of her on that goat farm at the beginning of Season 3. How well was she really doing? ‘Cause she certainly comes back to work for Quinn when she asks," the showrunner questions. "Granted, Quinn was in a very vulnerable place, and Rachel could tell that she needed her, but now, Rachel at that cabin, she has all of these things that people have said to her swirling around in her head.”

Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

Those things include a declaration from Everlasting therapist Dr. Simon that he’s in love with Rachel despite all of the things he knows about her dark, twisty brain — and besides it being very inappropriate — and Jeremy’s admission that he wants nothing to do with Rachel and thinks she should be alone forever.

“She really doesn’t have anyone. If she leaves Everlasting, as she has, and she doesn’t even have Quinn, then that’s a fragile place to be, especially for Rachel Goldberg,” Rukeyser says.

Rachel is as ashamed of her machinations on Everlasting as she is empowered by them, so it’s hard to tell if her leaving will stick, let alone change Rachel’s fundamentals. “It’s so much a part of the fabric of the series and the question, of course, is that if or when Rachel does ever really get away from Everlasting, will she really be a different person?” Rukeyser says.

Rachel’s slyest manipulations come this season in the form of pushing Serena, the Everlasting suitress, into decisions that she’s not ready to make. Just as it seems that Rachel really cares about Serena's happiness, she pushes forward, influencing the star into her finale choice — neither Jasper nor Owen. But Serena is wise to it, and she makes it look like she’s a feminist hero, when really all she is alone. Serena leaves, but from one look at her phone and the dating app she opens, it’s not going to get any easier for her to find a mate. That, according to Rukeyser, was by design.

“Who is the right person for someone like Serena? Another thing… that’s really hard to figure out is, when are you settling and accepting something in a partner that isn’t good enough? And when are you making the compromises that are a part of human interaction?” she says. Serena went on Everlasting for the chance to meet an amazing man and up her social profile. And though she’s still alone, she’s alone on her own terms. But will she be happy because of it? Rukeyser doesn’t think so.

Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

“With Serena, she’s in what we feel is a sad place, because she’s been triumphant and has decided not to settle and has made this feminist statement that neither guy is good enough, but then you see her getting back on a dating app like Tinder and she is basically doomed to an eternity of the tyranny of choice, which is what we say," she says. "That’s not to say that either Jasper or Owen was right or was the right choice, but we’re trying to show that this is a particular challenge for this suitress that we need to look at.” Serena may seem like a feminist hero to the Everlasting audience, who eats it up, but, following her exit, she’s still falling into the same dating traps she was before.

Speaking of dating, Quinn started the season single and not really ready to mingle. It’s not that she couldn’t — it’s that she didn’t want to, finally building her dream house alone and coming to terms with the fact that she would be a party of one forever. But, by the end of the Season 3 finale, Chet realizes that the 24-year-old he’s been dating isn’t what he wanted (he doesn’t want “easy,” as he says), and he proclaims his true love to Quinn on national television. So, she turns up at his doorstep in the show’s final moments.

"I believe that Chet and Quinn have had a really interesting journey, and I believe they have a real connection," Rukeyser says. "It’s been screwed up and messed up in a million ways, but at the heart of it, they do have a real connection."

Quinn claws her way back to the top of the power pyramid on Everlasting, taking down network head Gary and making herself indispensable, and, as the showrunner says, it wasn’t enough for her. “Quinn is finding… that she does want some sort of human connection beyond her relationship with Rachel,” she explains. Quinn will have some time now that Rachel’s gone, but it’s to be determined if she and Chet will fall into their old patterns.

Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

If Rachel doesn’t come back, Quinn may have a mini-Rachel in Madison, if she can get Madison to do things the right way — by working her butt off and not, as Quinn chastises her, trying to cut to the front of the line by trading sexual favors for pilot pitches. Madison helps Quinn get rid of Gary, who was never really going to sell Madison’s pilot anyway, but just as the audience thinks that she’s learned to climb the ranks by sweat and tears, Madison’s last scene is her getting naked with Fiona, the new network head. Madison! We wanted so much more for you.

“Madison must believe so little in her own abilities that she always defaults to that place. And yet that is what Hollywood tells women, is that the currency you have is your youth and your beauty, and so she sort of believes she should be using that,” Rukeyser says. “It’s always on our minds to sort of show that that is not going to be the winning way.” Instead, the showrunner points out, the women who will ultimately climb to the top of the pyramid are the one who have worked in the trenches the right way.

On UnREAL, though, it’s hard to tell what is the right way. The women on the show have proven time and time again that breaking convention is both a help and a hindrance. The end of Season 3 leaves them all at a crossroads — to change, or to take the path they’ve been following all along.