In the very first episode of UnREAL, the Lifetime series created by a former Bachelor producer that explored a fictional reality series called Everlasting, a producer gets in trouble for letting the “suitor” get rid of the season’s “villain.” Without that necessary tension, the show has no drama to wrap its season around, as the show’s executive producer complains, “I can’t make a television show without a villain.”
You would think that twenty-some contestants vying for the affections of one person would be enough drama for a reality show, but you would be wrong. The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchises always have a villain, a shit-stirrer, someone to make an already awkward process (trying to find true love on TV) even more so. As on UnREAL, it seems likely the shows’ producers urge the main contestant to keep the shit-stirrer around, for obvious ratings reasons. To that end, there has been no shortage of scheming backstabbers to infiltrate the ranks of Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants, from people with significant others back home to someone hooking up with a show producer. Nowadays, about the worst thing you can get called out for on the show is that you’re “there for the wrong reasons”—only there to get famous, to push your “brand” (or in Jed’s case this season, his music), not to win the heart of this person you only met a few weeks ago.
In Bachelor Nation’s extensive villain category, this season’s Luke Parker does not appear to be a career opportunist—but his emotional manipulation of Bachelorette Hannah Brown is worse. Being the Bachelor or Bachelorette requires a certain level of tenacity: The previous Bachelorette, Becca Kufrin, frequently had to figuratively knock the men’s heads together to get them to stop their bullshit, while Colton Underwood, who spun off from Becca’s season into the most recent Bachelor, appeared too sincere to be aware of the myriad calculations and rumor-mongering spinning around the girls in the mansion. Among those girls was Hannah Brown, whose main qualifications to be the Bachelorette involved a previous stint as a pageant queen and a frequently filmed impression of some sort of lizard scream she refers to as the “Hannah Beast.”
Nevertheless, Hannah B has proved to be a fairly formidable Bachelorette, bolstered by a seemingly stellar group of guys, with one or two unfortunate exceptions. Hannah was savvy enough to boot off rapping Cam, who slithered around interrupting everyone’s one-on-one conversations with her (and yes, his frequent scheming landed him a spot on the upcoming Bachelor In Paradise season, as was likely his intention).
But by far the most frustrating part of Hannah’s tenure has been her insistence on hanging on to Luke P, even getting an extra rose last week so she wouldn’t have to send any of the final four home. Despite nearly every other man there repeatedly trying to tell her what an awful person Luke really is, she let perfectly decent guys go home while keeping this gaslighting tool around. John Paul Jones, we hardly knew you.
Luke’s manipulation of Hannah started early, when he made a big play in the show’s “Mr. Right” beauty pageant by saying that he was falling in love with her in front of everyone, only two weeks in. Since then, he’s been twisting his words around (Luke’s favorite apology: “I’m sorry I was misunderstood”) so that Hannah, already in a pretty confusing situation, tells host Chris Harrison, “I’m either falling in love with Luke, or Luke is making me go crazy.” Last month Cosmo offered a helpful list of Luke P’s gaslighting methods (denial, false compliments), ending with a domestic violence hotline number (“If any of this sounds like a relationship that you’re in, know that there’s a lot of support out there and that you don’t deserve it”).
Hannah kept insisting that she was listening to her heart, and her heart was telling her it wanted Luke, even as he got judgmental over her naked bungee-jumping with Garrett, or trash-talked the other guys to her while painting himself as the ostracized victim. Consequently, many contestants wasted their own rare time talking with Hannah trying to get her to see what a jerk Luke P is.
Even more disturbing were Luke P’s violent tendencies: an unnecessary body slam against Luke C in a rugby match (ultimately causing the other Luke to leave the show), and lashing out against Garrett in a manner that clearly indicated an anger problem. Mike rightly called Luke out: “You are violent, you are aggressive, you are a psychopath,” which only led Luke P to look up the definition of “psychopath” on his phone. Pro tip: If you’re checking your behavior against the definition of psychopath on your phone, you need to take a good hard look in the mirror.
The Bachelor has bolstered ratings by keeping the “love to hate” characters around before: How else to explain the relative longevity of baby-faced male model Jordan, who offered to show Becca his portfolio and liked to walk around in his underwear, or Hannah’s pal Demi, an outspoken, unrepentant shit-stirrer (who is also headed for Bachelor In Paradise)? But Luke P falls into the “hate to hate” category. He drew groans whenever he walked into a room, from the guys on set to viewers at home. Perhaps sensing that fans’ patience was wearing thin, the show started teasing a Luke/Hannah showdown that ended with her giving him the finger as he finally drove away. That moment practically eclipsed Colton jumping over the compound fence as the most longed-for moment in Bachelor/Bachelorette history.
That moment finally happened last night, and yes, it was extremely satisfying. “So let’s talk about sex,” Luke gamely kicked off their Fantasy Suite date, not realizing that he was last on the date list after Peter The Pilot, dreamboat Tyler, and songwriter Jed. He informs Hannah that if she has actually been having sex with these other guys, they were through. Before the rest of the Bachelor Nation could yell out “good riddance” in unison, Hannah had her best moment of the entire season by finally standing up for herself. Luke uses his faith as an excuse to be sanctimonious and judging, but Hannah has her own faith as well. “I’m having physical relationships, so I have had sex,” she tells him. “And honestly, Jesus still loves me.” Her ultimate declaration: “I finally have gotten clarity on you, and I do not want you to be my husband.”
Even more gratifying, Luke P pulls out all his old gaslighting tricks, and they finally fall on deaf ears. (“Can I cut you off you for a second?” “No.”) He falls into his convenient habit of backtracking: “I guess I did say things I didn’t mean.” He tries to convince her that she owes him at least a minute, to which she rightly replies, “I don’t owe you anything,” adding, “You have not shown respect for any of the guys here, and I’m finally seeing that”—hey, it only took five weeks. Luke P stalls, refusing to get up and go to the car that’s waiting to drive him away, before making a last-ditch effort to let Hannah give him the chance to pray over her. Ladies and gentlemen: Someone who refuses to take no for an answer is not someone you should be having a long-term relationship with. Hannah was not the only one giving Luke the finger as that car finally drove away.
Even as cathartic as that episode was to watch, it also felt like a ripoff: Couldn’t Hannah’s eyes have been opened a few episodes back? Did we have to waste so much time on heinous Luke P this season? It wasn’t fun to watch. It was awful. And worse, annoying. Granted, the correct answer then is to change the channel, but just like with Colton and the fence, it was hard not to keep watching because this just might be the time you get to see the grin wiped right off that smarmy asshole’s face.
In that case, mission accomplished, The Bachelorette. But the manipulations of Luke P, and the show, really shaded this season in an unhealthy manner. Just showing Hannah one round of regular Luke P daily footage would have sent him packing; it’s not hard to be well-behaved on a group date or a one-on-one dinner. At some points, Hannah is so confused she even turns to Chris Harrison for advice. Another pro tip: A show’s host will likely prioritize the place giving him a giant paycheck over participants’ individual feelings. Why not let the Bachelorette see the other footage while the show’s still going on, so that they can see what the various suitors are really like? Unless of course, the show isn’t about true love at all, only ratings—as the small percentage of actually successful Bachelor/Bachelorette pairings would indicate. (Hang in there, Colton and Cassie!)
Now that Hannah B is watching along with the rest of us, she is calling out Luke P’s heinous behavior that she hadn’t seen before, like throwing food at Garrett. Not to be outdone, Luke set up his own Twitter account yesterday, still trying to call Hannah out for her “sin”: “The difference in how we view sin is seen in the response, I’m weeping at mine and you’re laughing at yours. All sin stings. My heart hurts for both of us.”
And because this is a guy who can’t take no for an answer, the horror isn’t over: Previews for the finale show Luke crashing the final rose ceremony, naturally. Sure, that will likely add some fireworks-worthy dramatics. But couldn’t a showdown between swoon-worthy guys like Peter and Tyler C be just as dramatic, and much less toxic?
There was a decent Bachelorette season in here somewhere. This wasn’t it. You can blame Luke P for a lot of it, and you can blame Hannah for not seeing through this guy sooner, but you can also blame The Bachelorette for pushing this fucked-up scenario in the first place.