‘UnREAL’ Executive Producer Stacy Rukeyser on Ruby’s Romance, Jeremy’s Anger, and Falling for the Princess Fantasy — Again

On last night’s episode of UnREAL, our fine suitor, Darius, bids farewell to Ruby, the “blacktivist” with whom he shared a genuine emotional connection; Rachel’s bitter ex, Jeremy, is fired — by Chet, of all people! — after he drunkenly hits Rachel; and Quinn gets a new love interest, the billionaire media mogul John Booth. We have officially reached the halfway point of UnREAL’s second season, and while certain plot points have strained credulity, the season so far has been a fascinating meditation on gender and power — not to mention a zippy, juicy drama with some of the best insults this side of Veep.

We spoke to writer and executive producer Stacy Rukeyser about Ruby’s attraction to Darius, the love triangle between Quinn, Rachel, and Coleman, and Jeremy’s violent behavior.

I’ve noticed this season that Ruby’s arc is similar to Rachel’s from last season. She seemed to be sort of drinking the Kool-Aid — admiring herself in a dress in the mirror, falling for Darius.

This is to me one of the ballsiest characters that we’ve had on the show. And certainly she’s defiant when it comes to Beth Ann. She certainly is falling for Darius, but it’s only her “drinking the Kool-Aid” if you don’t think Darius is an interesting guy. One thing that we’ve definitely been looking at is a real connection between Ruby and Darius. So in our minds, it was interesting to see Twitter’s reaction to [their kiss in episode four]. In our minds, Ruby definitely did not know there were going to be be cameras there. This was not a manufactured moment for her in our minds. And listen, it’s always fun when the fans see different things in it. It was much more in our minds an interesting story point for Jay, because Jay is definitely Team Ruby and he respects who she is but he’s kind of been telling her to change who she is a little bit, to get her to play the game. So suddenly here she is having what to us feels like a real moment.

But it is interesting what you say — is she sort of primed to fall for Darius because they’re in an environment where that is exactly what she is supposed to be doing and everything is set up to make you feel that way? It’s like, 20 girls fighting over a guy— that in and of itself sets up a certain dynamic. Every night you’re dressing up and doing your makeup and hair to look good so he will choose you. And then suddenly he’s having a conversation with you and that makes you feel important, and does that make you feel good in a way that is real or in a way that is at least manufactured in part because of the show? This is the last thing that Ruby ever thought would happen to her on the show, that she would actually have feelings for this guy. At least in our minds for Ruby it’s definitely real to her.

What’s so interesting to me about the whole Everlasting set-up is that it feels like an analogy for the sort of second-guessing we do when we date — was he just being nice, was that moment real?

It’s true, like in your first few dates you’re going to nice restaurants and he’s maybe opening the car door for you and getting you a drink. It’s also interesting to see how it is for guys — there are a lot of women all over the world now who really expect the helicopter to dinner or whatever the real-world equivalent of that is, because that’s what they see people are getting on this reality show. And so a guy might put that on for the first little bit, but when does reality come in?

What’s so heartbreaking is that you have these two very smart, ambitious women in Rachel and Quinn who kind of take shelter in their work rather than romantic relationships — that’s where their hearts always seem to be. And yet still they struggle to be taken seriously by their male bosses, and struggle to actually get control over the show.

These are issues that we as writers are just kind of obsessed with. We’re very interested in women at work and the dynamic of that. What is it like to be incredibly smart and ambitious and to want something for yourself in that way? [Rachel and Quinn] are dragons in their careers and yet their careers right now are about creating this false fairytale. This is something that I think is very personal to us as writers and as women as we try to figure it out in our own lives.

Rachel and Quinn sort of realized at the end of last season that they fell for the princess fantasy, so that’s why they come back at the beginning of this season with the “money, dick, power” tattoos and it’s like, screw that, we are not falling for that again. We’re gonna live like men, we’re gonna be ballers. But as you’ll see, they’re kind of falling for it again. Rachel has Coleman, which is certainly a very complicated relationship because there is a professional aspect to that as well. Is she really falling for him, is she using him, is it sort of a combination of both? He appears to be kind of her dream guy — this guy who’s really smart, really educated, from a good family —

Jewish!

Jewish, doing important work. That’s the piece that Rachel’s never been able to get to, the “doing important work” part. And [he] sort of promis[es] her a world away from Everlasting, away from Quinn. It’s a different fantasy, but she’s certainly falling for it. And episode [five] is also where we meet the guy [John Booth] who becomes Quinn’s love interest for the season. He’s very different from Chet, but he’s a billionaire and he owns not just their network but a bunch of networks and he’s quirky and odd and finds Quinn quirky and odd but also incredibly alluring. So she’s starting to go down this road too and I think it’s something that’s very interesting to see. Certainly when Quinn first meets John Booth she goes there to pitch him to let her run one of his networks. So there is a professional aspect to it but they end up falling for it again.

But there is also the dynamic about how it is still really difficult for women to be taken seriously. Certainly the way that I see it is, as TV writers who then go onto run shows, you’re basically asking a network to entrust you with a company, or a business that costs tens of millions of dollars a year. And I think there is an unconscious bias that old white dudes, or at least white dudes — [network executives] feel more comfortable with that. That’s sort of what the Chet character is representing — you have these guys who frankly look like homeless people who go to meetings in flip-flops and their pants hanging off their ass, and they’re entrusted with millions and millions of dollars to do their stuff!

Often the kind of feminism that’s expressed in pop culture these days is a sort of forced sense of empowerment — girl power, we can do anything! But sometimes I feel like, well, that’s not the world we live in.

I think things are changing somewhat but yes, it’s hard to change people’s points of view. What’s been lucky for us is we have a studio and a network that are so supportive of having women both in front of and behind the camera and that are interested in exploring these ideas. One of the things we’ve been exploring this season — and I’m not sure if this line made it into the actual season — is that mentorship is complicated. Because if things go as you want them to, eventually you outgrow your mentor, and that’s sort of where Rachel is, on the cusp of this. And it’s hard for Rachel to let her go. I mean listen, it’s a great working relationship — Quinn has brought Rachel up, she’s helped her when she’s gone off the rails more than once, and has given her this real, or was supposed to be giving her, this real shot at a promotion. Now Coleman is coming along, and he’s sort of like the snake in her ear saying, “You don’t need her.” Is she being disloyal? How do you promote yourself without screwing over the people who have helped you along the way? These are really interesting things that I think are even more complicated for women to try to figure out. Because you can really get slammed for it even more so, I think, than men do.

Rachel also falls into this relationship with Coleman just as things are getting rocky with her and Quinn — like it’s more of a rebound from her fallout with Quinn.

That’s what we see as the real love triangle of this season, between Rachel, Quinn, and Coleman.

Another thing I really like about Season 2 is how you show Jeremy in a totally different light — now that he and Rachel are officially done, he’s angry. Was that always the plan for the character?

The Jeremy that we’re seeing this year is truly just heartbroken. Even if you look at him going to [Rachel’s] mom [last season] as a “fuck you,” it’s coming out of a real heartbreak. He really feels duped; this is not good for any guy’s self-esteem. But for me, I really feel like it’s coming out of a truly heartbroken place. We definitely wanted to take him to a very real, raw place with that kind of heartbreak and I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s not over when you think it’s over. I’ll just put it that way. Last season, Rachel was masturbating to a video of her and Jeremy together.

And not even a video of them having sex!

Exactly. And so there is something in her that really does want that true love relationship. Now, who knows if Jeremy is really the right guy for her or not, but they did have something real. Whether or not it was enough, whether it really ticked all the boxes in terms of what Rachel wants or needs out of a romantic partner — who knows. But they did have something real and certainly for Jeremy, Rachel ticks off all the boxes. He would marry her, do whatever she wanted — take her away from the show, let her stay on the show, whatever. She is everything to him.