Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.
I have to wonder if The Bachelor’s heart is in it. Not The Bachelor, but the show itself. The highlight of the season was Corinne, and after she left it was especially difficult to manufacture the kind of drama that makes The Bachelor so eminently watchable, hate-watching or otherwise. Host Chris Harrison uses the word “desperate” twice within 30 seconds at the top of the show to describe Nick, with countless more confessionals bringing up Nick’s past with Andi and Kaitlyn again and again. That’s how season 21 of The Bachelor tries to heighten its narrative drama: It’s all about Nick’s past, practically to the point of diluting the present. The ever-present question of this franchise is: “Who will he pick?” But this season finale is also: “But will she say yes?”
First surprise: Nick picks Vanessa. It seemed early on in the episode that Raven would win the day. Not only does Vanessa bring up all the practical questions that are usually studiously avoided, but (and this may be the way the episode is edited) it seems like she and Nick have nothing but gloomy, circular conversations that never get anywhere. Raven gets to ice skate to Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me.”
Oh, and puppies.
First time I’ve been jealous of a contestant on this show.
Shifting the focus not on who Nick will chose but if she’ll say yes only could’ve worked if he picked Vanessa, and it allows The Bachelor to stretch out this already-overlong final chapter, since there’s usually never much suspense about the chosen one’s answer.
Second surprise: Vanessa says yes. I wrote last week about how Vanessa is way too real for this show, and in this episode she voices that she doesn’t want Nick to propose to her just because he likes her slightly better than Raven. Her gut tells her something is wrong—it’s probably that she’s ready to get engaged to a dude who’s considering proposing to someone else—once again highlighting the jarring reality that Vanessa brings to a show that is all artifice.
But for all that, this season ends like all the other seasons: fairy-tale proposal, swelling strings, sail into the sunset. The more hyperbolic the teasing, the more boring it’ll actually be. (See: “The most shocking, dramatic moment of Bachelor history” teased throughout the live portion of the show.) It’s overall a boring episode—it struggles to tell a story—finishing a season that never recovered after it lost Corinne. The show is at its most interesting when the focus is on the relationships between contestants, and once it’s just a few left, there’s not much static to get the heat going. The visits with Nick’s family at the beginning of the episode was some of the most boring television I’ve sat through—like being stuck on the couch with an extended family member who thinks you’re interested in photos from their last vacation.
Despite all the buildup borne of Nick’s history with The Bachelor franchise, the real appeal with this season finale, for me at least, is that Nick chose the more complicated option. It seemed clear that Raven would say yes if he proposed (because, you know, she said she would), and I wondered if Nick’s fear of rejection would lead him to embrace the sure thing. Add Vanessa’s less-than-fun practicality and their seemingly incompatible lives—she’s in Montreal and doesn’t seem interested in moving—all pointed to Raven. Vanessa always felt like a true adult among the contestants (an easy feat when juxtaposed to someone like Corinne), and someone who knew the importance of expressing her feelings rather than cover them up. It’s disappointing that they’re leaning toward living in the U.S., but clearly Vanessa’s plans for a nonprofit for people with disabilities will be greatly bolstered by a visible media presence near Hollywood.
And after Nick and Vanessa’s painful, painful joint interview (seriously: yikes), we get someone with more charisma than both of them combined: Rachel. Here’s a lawyer who knows how to charm the room and will make a great central character for the show. I might stop watching The Bachelor—it’s just not much fun any more—but I’ll definitely be watching The Bachelorette, and that is due solely to Rachel. The “epic surprise” teased so goddamn hard is that The Bachelorette started on The Bachelor finale. It’s a shitty thing to do—let her go to the mansion and get the whole treatment like everyone else! Don’t treat the first contestant of color differently! Then again, ABC is probably so desperate to move on from boring Nick’s season to focus on someone with a real personality, so it makes sense in the weird, twisty way that anything on The Bachelor makes sense.
But there’s no denying it’s a tacky way to start Rachel’s season, and The Bachelor franchise is tacky enough. It’s a testament to Rachel’s poise that she pulls it off as well as she does. She even laughs off that “I’m ready to go black, and I’m never going to go back” comment. I couldn’t stop cringing in the privacy of my living room, but Rachel does it with more aplomb and naturalness than plenty of actors can pull off when trying to chat with late-night hosts. It’s not a great start to The Bachelorette, but it does show Rachel will be a great Bachelorette.