SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers from the “UnReal” Season 3 premiere, which aired Feb. 26 on Lifetime.
The Season 3 premiere of “UnReal” introduced the show’s first-ever female “suitress,” a high-powered tech executive, Serena (Caitlin Fitzgerald) who goes on the reality dating show “Everlasting” to find love.
Serena, a meticulously strategic and seemingly perfect type-A woman, makes a mistake on her first night of the show when she drunkenly has sex with one of the show’s contestants. Though the scene comes about quickly and is somewhat jarring, the “UnReal” writers put much thought into the moment that could have otherwise been perceived much differently, if the behind-the-scenes effort wasn’t applied in the writers’ room and editing room.
“When we conceived of that story and wrote the script, it was very much that Serena made a mistake…Serena gets drunk and f–ks the wrong guy…It was very much to show her own vulnerabilities and her own flaws, and that she made a mistake — not that she was too drunk to consent and got date-raped by one of the contestants, ” said “UnReal” showrunner Stacy Rukeyser on a panel for the Lifetime series at the Athena Film Festival last week.
The third season of “UnReal” wrapped shooting well before the #MeToo movement began, but Rukeyser and series creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro were deliberately conscious of properly depicting the issue of sexual consent in the scene. In fact, there was originally another version of that same scene, which Rukeyser and Shapiro fought to edit, in order to convey a drunken mistake, rather than a non-consensual date-rape.
“It’s a very fine line in how you depict that,” Rukeyser explained. “We were completely edited and in the can back in August of last year before there was a #MeToo movement, but that scene was very, very tricky in the editing room. There was a version that is not the version that you see here that, we felt, went too far.”
“Stacy and I fought very hard for what ended up on the screen,” Shapiro added. “It’s interesting. To male producers or a male director, it did not seem that she was not too drunk to consent and that’s what she was doing, and they couldn’t understand why we were so up in arms about this. And we were saying that’s a fine story to tell, that’s just not the story we’re telling…it was a big conversation with the studio and the network to have it be that way.”
“We’re talking about shots and frames — it’s not a huge difference that can make a huge difference in what issuing communicated,” Rukeyser added.
The remainder of the season of “UnReal” will touch on the #MeToo movement with a major storyline centering around Shiri Appleby’s character, Rachel Goldberg.
“If you want to talk about #MeToo, this season is really Rachel Goldberg’s #MeToo moment, and that was really conceived before there was a movement,” Rukeyser teased.