As the second season revealed, Rachel was sexually assaulted by one of her mother's patients when she was 12 years old. In Monday's episode of the Lifetime drama, Rachel decides to track down the man who abused her and confront him at his home. When Rachel shows up, the man doesn't recognize her, even when she shares her name and her mother's. It's only when Rachel reminds him that Olive (Mimi Kuzyk) was his therapist that the look of regret washes over his face in recognition.
Rachel explains that she just needs closure about what he did to her, to which he retorts, "No, what we did." As her abuser lists excuse after excuse about how Rachel allegedly was an equal participant, if not the one who orchestrated their sexual encounter, Rachel refuses to back down until she ultimately admits she lied about her age at the time, a truth he is visibly shaken to learn.
"We really had so many frank and tough conversations about [that scene]," showrunner Stacy Rukeyser tells TV Guide. "[Our writing staff] for Season 3, it was five women and three men. And there were a lot of conversations — yes, from the men who were on staff, though not exclusively from the men who were on staff — about who that guy is."
Regardless of whether or not Rachel lied about her age, as Rukeyser explains, the bottom line is that she was underage. "What happened to her is very simple in some ways, because she was 12 years old and this is what happened," she says. "But it's also really complicated in other ways, and that's part of what made it interesting to us."
However, the writers didn't want to shy away from the complexities of the situation and the nuances of who her abuser was. "It was a lot of discussion about who is this guy? What was he thinking? What should he say to her? How would he be? What should he even look like? Because it's just too easy to make him like the twirling mustache villain, basically. And it's really complicated," adds Rukeyser.
However, Rachel soon learns that the situation is far more complex than she was prepared for when her abuser reveals that Rachel's father Asa (Barclay Hope) found out about the rape shortly after it occurred. The revelation is devastating to Rachel, who can't understand how her father could carry this truth for decades without ever talking to her about it.
"It very quickly becomes a family story for Rachel, because it's about what her father knew or didn't know," Rukeyser says of where the show goes next. "I believe that what was as damaging as the rape, as the trauma to her — or almost, at least, as damaging — was the way that her mother reacted to it, and how she told Rachel that she couldn't talk to anyone about it, and couldn't even really get real therapy about it, and that she should never mention it to anyone because she would be unlovable if anyone ever knew. And the only way to stay the shiny penny and have the kind of life that she wanted for her was to just shut down and never talk about it. And I think that's the most destructive thing you can ever do."
Rachel's anger at her mother for insisting that neither Rachel nor her father ever discuss the assault will consume her in the episodes to come. By turning Olive into the embodiment of everything that is both wrong with her and Asa, this vendetta will also provide an easy crutch for Rachel to avoid facing her own pain and disappointment in her father's actions by channeling all her energy towards vindicating her mom, a course of action that won't lead Rachel down the healthiest path.
"Because she's Rachel Goldberg and she does get crazy ideas in her head, it becomes a lot about, 'if I can save my father, then maybe that's the way I can save myself.' That she can rescue her father in the way that she was not rescued herself," Rukeyser teases. "And, then we really do start to get into territory that is not smart and is not the way that you should go about it. But the impulse and the intent is incredibly honorable and loving. But it's probably, because it's not the best idea, not going to have the best results either."
UnREAL airs Mondays at 10/9c on Lifetime.
Additional reporting by Liz Raftery