Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Arrangement (2018) Season Two Has More Cards To Play

The Arrangement Season Two Recap
E! / The Arrangement
When The Arrangement first premiered on E! in 2017, the first element that drew attention from fans and the media was “the contract”. Those two words made almost everyone think of E.L. James’s series Fifty Shades of Grey; E! used the "S&M" phenomenon to even promote their series about an unknown actress Megan Morrison (Christine Evangelista) who signs on the dotted line to have a make-believe relationship in front of the cameras to benefit the most famous actor in the world Kyle West (Josh Henderson). While the two actually fall in love, Kyle’s ties to Scientology-esque mentor Terence Anderson (Michael Vartan) and the Institute to the Higher Mind tests their relationship much more than Megan could’ve ever dreamed. Coming back for its second season, any assumptions or comparisons to James’s series falls away as a more exciting premise of love, deception, and power unfolds for its leading lady.

Spoilers for the first and second season are included below – you’ve been warned!
Where we last left Megan, she had been kidnapped by Terence and his group, with the help of Kyle, in order to break down her mental and emotional walls. They reprogrammed her, in a sense, to pledge allegiance to their beliefs and ensure she was the right fit for Kyle and his lifestyle; that she would stick to the contract and script no matter what. Managing to walk away from the damage they inflicted by putting on her best acting face, she secretly vowed to burn the Institute down.

However powerful Megan’s affirmation was at the end of season one, this second installment began to explore what that actually meant and her options to take care of business. To tear it all down, Megan has to tread the Hollywood waters carefully, and it’s fascinating to see which mask she wears while she’s with her fiancĂ© Kyle, trying to get under Terence’s skin and play his dirty head-games, and go behind everyone’s back to find the Institute’s weakest links. Her best and most compelling trait is that she can't be contained; once she sets her mind and heart to something she goes after that, but as powerful as this is for a heroine, it also works against her; she gets in over her head and lets her emotions get the best of her which almost reveals her cards too easily for Terence, who knows how to read everyone and everything.

Despite her best intentions, it becomes apparent that she might be in over her head, considering that The Institute for the Higher Mind and its leader share connections with Scientology (one only has to do is google the dark side of Hollywood or watch Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath to see what the series is hinting at). The Institute has eyes and ears everywhere, and power that she could never imagine, plus the fierce loyalty of its followers - no matter how much they are abused or manipulated by its leader - that'll do anything to not let it fall apart. Megan's sheer grit and risks slowly lets her make allies and gain the upperhand, but at what cost.

With her and Kyle's wedding looming as well as their first film together in the works, the further she delves into The Institute’s dangerous history, her assumptions about Kyle as an innocent bystander is also challenged. His past comes to light in surprising ways from a validation complex he’s held onto since he was a troubled teen and anger issues that once threatened the lives of himself, his ex-fiance, and Terence. Kyle had so much structure in the first season, it’s refreshing to see the skeletons in his closet spill out, not because he wanted them to but because Megan pushes them out into the open. To obliterate Terence also means to take down something that has sustained Kyle, so it's a big test if whether or not she can go through with it. The cat-and-mouse game that Terence started, and what she intends to finish, starts to strip away the facade of her and Kyle's perfect relationship and makes her realize the choices she makes can put herself and other victims in jeopardy.

While the first season built a foundation of the fairytale romance between Megan and Kyle, and the second season initially makes us believe that their relationship is just merely being explored, underneath lies the betrayal, deceit, and pain to the point where you don’t know if it’s bringing them closer together or further apart. Evangelista and Henderson not only have great chemistry to seduce you over their characters’ head-over-heels romance, but also keep you guessing at exactly what their characters are concealing from each other; what is their true self and what is make-believe or a cover-up of their intentions/feelings. Fifty Shades of Grey might’ve toyed between the power dynamics of “a dominant and submissive”, but The Arrangement lets Megan become much more than a warped Cinderella Story.

As Megan and Kyle’s relationship is tested, the story's exceedingly smart in not just letting the power play exist between Megan and Terence, Kyle and Terence, etc. we also get to question whether Terence's charisma and vulnerabilities are sincere or his special manipulative ability to disarm his prey into doing what he wants. There’s also a great diverse range of power for female leads as well from as Megan's original agent Leslie Bellcamp played by Autumn Reeser, Terence’s wife and producer Lexa Doig as DeAnn, Carra Patterson as Megan’s friend Shaun – to name a few.

Drama has been building up since the initial season, but there's a clearer difference between where the show started and where it is now. The beginning was much more of a meta-“guilty-pleasure”-tv, coyly pointing figures at the superficial reality of making it in Hollywood and the Tom-Cruise-Katie-Holmes similarities while keeping its reputation in tact. Now the second season has its rare “trashy-it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” moments but every episode deepens the intrigue more and more. While there were a few loose storylines (Kyle's ex-fiance suffering from PTSD, Kyle and Megan's assistant seemingly escaping the Institute safely, Megan's issues with her estrange father) could've used more patching up, the series knows how to unfold a good story around its leads. The Arrangement's greatest intrigue is letting its fans try to figure out who is the master or the puppet, and making us question if anyone can be the same thing at the same time. Faux-Hollywood's It couple spiraling out of control is quite addictive. In the wake of another season of shows cancelled way too early, let's hope the dive into love, betrayal, and power has many more cards to play.

Rating: ★★1/2☆
Are you watching The Arrangement? What did you think about season two?

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