Monday, July 15, 2024

‘The Wilds’ Explores Anger And Avoids Stereotypes, Part 2: Rachel

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Content Warning: Discussion of an eating disorder

This article contains spoilers for season 1 of The Wilds.

Welcome back! Part 1 was all about Toni. This time around, we’re talking about Rachel Reid (played by Reign Edwards), one of the most complex characters on The Wilds.

While Toni manifests her anger outwardly, Rachel mostly directs hers inward. Rachel’s anger is a little bit more complicated to figure out than Toni’s, too. It’s buried in layers  that can be traced all the way back to her relationship with her parents and her twin sister, Nora.


Reign Edwards as Rachel in The Wilds.

The Wilds is structured in three timelines: before the island, in it, and after the girls have been “rescued.” The difference in Rachel from before the island to her interview in the bunker is a proper chasm. Her episode is one of the first ones of the season, teasing not only one of the greatest character changes, but also foreshadowing just how rough things get for the girls, and for her, out in the wilds.

On first impression, Rachel appears harsh and unflinching. She’s goal-oriented and has zero time for nonsense. Empathy is not something she easily hands out. Humorless would be better way to describe Rachel, generally. She’s not angry all the time, but she gets there easily. She means business and she needs everyone to know so.

The very first time we see Rachel, she makes a seemingly flawless dive into a pool, only to find her disapproving coach waiting to correct her. She meets her sister Nora’s eyes on the stands. Nora looks concerned. Rachel scowls at her, rolls her eyes and walks away.

This small scene in the opening montage already tells us so much about her. Rachel strives for perfection, but doesn’t quite get there. Nora hovers, worried, which only irritates Rachel.  Their relationship in a nutshell. As the show progresses, we get to learn more about how this dynamic came to be, and what makes Rachel tick.

Nora finds Rachel on the island, after they’ve all woken up, immediately concerned when she sees Rachel being sick on the beach. She suggest it might be on purpose, and Rachel goes off on her. This is the first we hear of the eating disorder, which hints at why Nora is so concerned for her twin all the time.

Rachel initially allows herself no time to deal with the situation they’ve found themselves in. She’s already devising a way to try and accelerate their rescue. The very night of their first day, Rachel is already warming up to go swim out to the wreckage. Leah (Sarah Pidgeon) volunteers to go with her.

Leah and Rachel

Rachel has an interesting relationship with Leah. It seems like Leah wants Rachel’s approval. Leah specifically apologizes to Rachel after she berates her for not having had the presence of mind to wake everyone up when she heard a phone ringing in the middle of the night.

“Best apology is a change in behavior.”

– Rachel to Leah

When Leah points out the sea is too rough to swim out on their second day, Rachel immediately interprets it as chickening out, a weakness on Leah’s part.

Rachel: “F***ing typical.”

Leah: “I feel like you can’t say ‘typical’ about someone that you’ve known for a day in like a really atypical situation.”

Rachel doesn’t like weakness. She scoffs at it (literally). She’s not allowed it so why should others be? Leah suggests they climb the nearby hill to see what they’re working with on the island.

Rachel goes along with it, dragging Shelby along but refusing Nora’s company, and takes a mirror up to place as a signal. Rachel is frustrated with Leah and Shelby when they want a break. Again, she reads their tiredness as weakness, but when she turns to berate Shelby, she accidentally drops the mirror.

Leah leaps after it, and despite Shelby’s insistence that it’s too dangerous, Rachel eggs her on: “Can you get it?” She can’t, and Leah almost falls to her death. Nora secretly trailing behind them is the only reason they manage to pull her up. This does not make Rachel ease up, and Leah even apologizes to her again for not being able to recover the mirror. Rachel does not acknowledge what almost happened, too concerned with the task at hand.

“Don’t look at me like you think I’ve lost my mind, like I’m some angry-ass girl losing her shit for no reason! I have every reason! My life is out there a million miles away, okay? Real life is out there and I have no f***ing clue why I’m the only one fighting to get it back! Is there nothing waiting for you? Do you not have a world that wants you back?”

– Rachel Reid

Whenever Rachel lashes out, it’s verbally and in frustration with other people. She doesn’t get why Shelby and Leah would want to rest. Why can’t they see the gravity of their situation? She needs to get back home, to her scholarship, Stanford, and her Olympic aspirations.

Rachel trudges on, and only when she is alone can we see that she is also exhausted. This is juxtaposed with the flashback of her hitting her head on the platform because she is weak from not eating enough and probably over-exerting herself.

This is who Rachel is. She will barrel on to prove a point – even if she hurts herself in the process. She’ll show them: her parents, Leah and Shelby, and especially Nora.

Once at the top of the mountain, Rachel can see that there is nothing on the island. At last she allows herself to take in the reality of their situation and she has a proper breakdown. This helps her ease off Nora, in whom she finds support, but not on Leah.

The next day, when they do finally swim out, Rachel refuses to let Nora swim down, and her and Leah find the black box in the wrecked plane. It’s too hard to dislodge, though, and Rachel makes them go down again and again, until Leah declares she’s too tired. Still, Rachel pushes. She then pulls Leah down when she wants to swim back up, forces her to stay and help pull out the black box.

This is by far the worst thing Rachel does to another person in the show, in my opinion. And it is not fully addressed. Rachel doesn’t apologize for it. It goes largely unnoticed as Leah only tells Fatin, but Fatin fights with Leah soon after and she only uses it to cause tension between her and Rachel, telling her Leah said she was “a psycho.”

I believe Rachel doesn’t think she did anything wrong. They needed the black box, and what she did was to make sure they got it. Judging by what happens later, I think Rachel believed she’d never let Leah really get hurt; she would have saved her had it come to that. Still, it’s not great, and I do wish the show had addressed it a bit more clearly and hope they will in the future in some way, even if not directly.

After what Fatin tells her, Rachel is much more hostile towards Leah. She mocks her attachment to the book Leah’s creepy boyfriend wrote notes in, and eventually Leah calls her out.

“You have no problem dragging people into your stunts, but as soon as it doesn’t fit your agenda, you bail,” Leah accuses. Rachel complains to Dot (Shannon Berry), who, as always, has only honesty to offer.

Dot: “Kindred f***ing spirits. I’m just saying you’re both trying to give each other the same damn advice.”

Rachel: “No. Her crazy’s a bit extra.”

Ultimately, Rachel and Leah serve as mirrors to each other in a strange way. They are both hyper focused on something to the point of near obsession (some fans have theorized that Leah has undiagnosed OCD, as yet unconfirmed). They are myopic when it comes to each other. For Leah it demonstrates how clouded her judgement can get. For Rachel, it shows her rigid viewpoint and the strict standards she sets.

She doesn’t just expect these things from Leah, she expects them from herself, too. Self-control, maximum effort, focus on the goal at hand. Of course, Rachel wants Leah (and everyone else) to focus on her goal: getting out of the island as soon as possible. Her relationship with Leah also demonstrates what a hard time she has in seeing where people are coming from.

Their mini-arc ends in a way when Leah surrenders the book to feed the fire, which finally earns her Rachel’s respect. Once Rachel sees that Leah is capable of making that effort and sacrificing something important to her, they reach a sort of peace with each other.

The relationship doesn’t feel fully resolved, though, and I would wager a bet there is more to come, especially regarding Nora as a point of contention.

Rachel and Nora  Rachel vs Nora

The way Rachel sees the world, everyone is responsible for themselves, for their own success or failure. She applies that to the others, whom she judges for their action and inaction. But she is twice as hard on herself as she is on anyone else.

In her flashback episode, we learn that Rachel’s parents enjoy playing word games at the table. Nora is a natural; Rachel is not. Little Rachel feels put on the spot when it’s her turn to participate, and instead of noticing her discomfort, her parents insist she tries. Nora ends up helping her, and her parents move on, leaving Rachel unhappy.

This scene sets her up perfectly. Rachel doesn’t excel in the things her parents value and understand, while her sister does. Rachel likes to accomplish things herself, she does not want any help. She especially doesn’t want help from Nora, who is a source of Rachel’s insecurities, even if it’s through no fault of her own.

Evidently, her parents love her. Nora absolutely adores and idolizes her. But all three of them are hurting her without meaning to, perhaps without even realizing it.

Rachel hurts Nora back. Inevitably, her anger at her parents’ lack of attention and favoring of Nora is projected onto Nora herself. Anyone who grew up being compared or comparing themselves to their peers could relate, I think. Rachel sees Nora as the golden child, the one who doesn’t have to try to be noticed by her parents. Rachel has to try, hard, all the time.

“Hustle and hard work. That’s how you make your dreams come true. We grow up hearing that, don’t we? That you don’t have to be gifted or some kind of natural. If you just put in the time, the effort and the sweat, anything is possible. I believed that because I had to. Only to find out it was a stone-cold lie.”

– Rachel Reid

When we find Rachel again in the flashbacks, she is told by her diving coach that she has reached the top of her ability as a diver. She won’t go any further because she didn’t develop into the ideal diving body: tiny, slim, flat-chested.

“I can work harder,” Rachel immediately begs, with tears in her eyes.

Back home, we see that she is now the apple of her parents’ eyes. They fawn over her and cancel important work plans (with Nora) to be at her meets. This is the one thing that makes her parents look away from Nora and focus fully on her. The conclusion is foregone: she cannot give up diving.

“When you find that thing. That one thing that’s all yours, that finally makes you feel special… that finally lets you catch some of that shine… That light that use to fall on others, it now lands on you. Trust me when I say this. When you finally found that thing that makes you feel worth something, you don’t give it up without a fight.”

– Rachel Reid

That night, Rachel purges herself for the first time. She wants to take back control of her body any way she can, and this is the only way she sees.  

Nora wants to help. In a misguided attempt to do so, she puts in a word with her parents to get her out of treatment early. Nora listens to Rachel; she values her sister’s opinion more than her own, as another character points out later.

Rachel feels faint at her next meet and ends up hitting her head on the board. Nora’s approach to help shifts after that, and Rachel does not appreciate it. Their relationship is so complicated because Nora is both her support system and (in a way) the root cause of her feelings of inadequacy.

Her sister’s attempts to help read as sabotage to her. To Rachel, it’s a competition for her parents’ love. Of course Rachel doesn’t see how Nora struggles to exist outside of home.

Rachel (about her first diving competition): “Mom and dad… they f***ing lost it. Dad went on kissing strangers and mom screamed so much her nose bled. […] That was the first time they ever looked at me like that. Like the way that they’ve always looked at–”

Nora: “Me. The way they’ve always looked at me. You know, they’re basically the only ones who noticed me.”

Rachel: “Yeah, well. I wanted that. I still do.”

Even if Rachel is (perhaps) more popular, gets approval from her coach and peers, that will never be replacement for her parents’ love and attention. Losing diving and everything that comes with it is, to Rachel, losing her parent’s love.

She has tied her self-worth with her parent’s approval and that approval to excelling at her sport.  Her identity is so entangled with it at this point that she can envision nothing else for her future, there is no way out of this self-destructive path that she’s determined to bulldoze her way through.


Rachel and the Island

In a very twisted way, Rachel is one of the people who most benefit from the island, but she also seems to be the one who loses the most from it. Her interview scenes reveal a sad, calm Rachel, who is capable of self-reflection, who seems resigned (to what, it’s unclear), and very notably, a Rachel who doesn’t have her right hand.

As mentioned, she starts out hyper focused on leaving, “not interested in laying down roots.” She is also not interested in facing the possibility that they might not be rescued. This denial extends to what is awaiting her back home. The season dismantles it bit by bit.

In one of the most pivotal moments for her arc, Rachel falls into a mud pit as they’re conducting a search for a missing Fatin. Rachel realizes she’s sinking and she struggles against the mud, in a frenzied panic.

Even as all the girls crowd around her to help, she keeps struggling not just against the mud, but against them. “I got it! I can do it!” she repeats.

It’s Martha (Jenna Clause) that finally manages to calm her down. Rachel accepts that she needs help, she can’t do it alone. Coincidentally, parallel to this scene, Nora has to solve a crisis on her own. This doesn’t automatically change Rachel, but it’s a turning point.

Jenna Clause, Shannon Berry, Mia Healy, Erana James, Sarah Pidgeon and Reign Edwards in The Wilds.
I get so stressed every time I watch it.

Since the mountain, Nora and Rachel have had a truce, but when Rachel opts to save the black box instead of answering Nora’s pleas for help, their relationship snaps.

“Welcome to Rachel. World-class self-abuser, turning that abuse on us, expecting us to work as psychotically hard as she does.[…] There is no Stanford. No career. No big Olympic future. Just a sad liar who got cut from the team, who’s just pretending to herself and everyone else that it’s not over.”

– Nora to everyone

Rachel counters that Nora should focus on her own life instead of twisting herself up in hers, and they finally come to blows. They’re both right in a way.

After this, Rachel can’t keep denying the truth of what’s waiting for her back home. And after they reach over 20 days in the island, she can no longer deny that there might truly be no way back. Her anger seemingly dies down.

Rachel’s anger is layered. It is rooted in not meeting “the standard” for her parents approval, misdirected at her sister as the root cause. But she’s also angry at her own body; this is the rawest layer.

She wants to be able to control her body and get it to where it needs to be, even if she hurts herself in the process. She’s learned to crack on and get things done on her own, even if the world is against her. The problem is there are just some things we can’t control. It is only when she finally relinquishes control of her situation on the island that she finally has space to consider other things.

When her period comes back, after years of taking pills to suppress it, she realizes how effed up her treatment of her body has been.

“I think it might be time to call it,” she announces.

She can’t get into the water after this, which concerns Nora, who frets that she doesn’t want Rachel to forget who she is. But who is Rachel without diving? She doesn’t know. It’s only when Leah’s life is in danger that Rachel finds it in herself to dive off a cliff to save her.

She seems to find a kind of peace after this, and even has an important realization about her relationship with food after they all almost starve.

“It feels so good to be full. Don’t let me forget that I said that. Like, when we get back or whatever.”

– Rachel to Nora

Rachel’s journey in the first season is about starting to come to terms with reality and the relationship with her own body. She works on both, but of course, this won’t be a magic fix, but it’s a start.

At the end of the season, I think Rachel is primed to work on her empathy, too. Now that she can accept that her “failure” at diving isn’t her fault, she might see how, for example, some of Leah’s behavior is out of her control.  

There is still a ways to go to get to the Rachel in the bunker. She’s just barely starting to come to terms with her body and the limits of her control over it, only to lose her hand? I mean.

There is still a lot to see from her, and even still a lot to unpack from this season (I see you, Rachel x Martha shippers, even if there’s only like, three of you). It will be interesting to see the fallout of the shark attack; the unfairness of the situation will surely flare up Rachel’s anger. Not to mention the gigantic mammoth in the room – what will happen when Rachel finds out what Nora’s done?

Toni and Rachel

Reign Edwards as Rachel and Erana James as Toni.
They will be friends, I’m manifesting.

In many ways, Rachel and Toni are mirrors for each other, but the devil is in the details of the way they differ.

Both Toni and Rachel let anger and frustration dictate their actions. Both of their anger issues have to do with control – Toni’s lack self-control, Rachel’s insistence on taking control.  They both deal with expectations; Rachel sets high ones for herself, while no one expects anything from Toni because she’s not worth it (or so she thinks).

They both struggle with their self-image. Rachel only sees value in herself when it comes to sportsmanship, while Toni struggles to see value in herself at all and overcompensates with faux bravado.

Toni was in the basketball team and she was kicked off, and Rachel was expelled from the diving team. For Toni it was unsportsmanlike conduct, while presumably Rachel was kicked off for health concerns. Toni’s talent is implied to be natural, while it’s established that Rachel has had to work hard for her spot.

Both of their most significant relationships are with their respective sisters; Rachel’s biological, Toni’s chosen.

They are similar in so many ways, and yet so different that they can’t even relate to each other. In fact, they sort-of clash when they first meet. The contrast between them is striking when paired together on the plane for Shelby’s ice breaker.

Toni sits haphazardly, her feet up on the chair, grabs the chocolate cake in her hand and bites directly from it. Rachel sits up straight, takes a forkful of her cake and weighs it with a digital scale.

“People who waste their talent get on my nerves.”

– Rachel to Toni

It would have been so easy for them both to fall into any of the stereotypes. The “angry girl,” or the jock. The fact that they are so similar just highlights how much care they put into their differences, and how the show deconstructs the stereotypes they may represent.

Sadly, they don’t get much interaction on the island. A simple (Doylist) reason for it is that there isn’t enough screen time for all the character combinations. Each of the girls has the bulk of their interactions with two others. For Rachel it’s Nora and Leah, and for Toni it’s Martha and Shelby. In fact, Rachel and Toni are not the only ones I’d have liked to see more of (give me a Leah and Toni friendship or give me death!)

There is another (Watsonian) explanation, though: During that first meeting, it’s clear they do not get each other at all. I think both would have trouble even trying to understand where the other is coming from. So, it’s within the realm of possibility that after that first encounter, they both steered clear of each other’s paths – with a subtle mutual judgement and a certain respect running in the background.

In conclusion

The Wilds affords all its characters space. It recognizes that these young women are entitled to their anger, yet also recognizes that unfettered, it can cause harm, and that holds them accountable for that.

The show taps into the nuances and complexities in both Toni and Rachel. They both hold a lot of rage, and both channel it in ways that is ultimately self-destructive. I do hope they get a chance to interact more. They’d be great foils for each other I think. By the end of the first season, they’re both in a better place to be more open to each other.

In conclusion, I love them both, your honor, and they should be friends.

Images courtesy of Amazon

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