Photo: Mark Bourdillon (ABC)

Every single season, Bachelor/Bachelorette host Chris Harrison promises the most dramatic finale ever. Never happened before in franchise history! Technically, sometimes Harrison is correct, like when Arie dumped Becca after the final rose ceremony, or when Colton finally jumped the fence, sent everyone else home, and went after Cassie, the girl he really loved. For last night’s finale, Harrison was making the same “you don’t want to miss a moment” noises. But, does this finale belong in the annals of classic Bachelor franchise closers?

The finale, after all, depends a lot on the season that came before it. At a morning A.V. Club staff meeting it was revealed that a number of us had been watching this Bachelorette season: at a weekly hate-watch with friends, out of habit, or just for straight-up entertainment value. After all, even the worst seasons still have their share of suspenseful moments: Who will be the last man or woman standing?

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At the meeting one of our staff expressed frustration over what has been a terrible Bachelorette season, mainly due to the extended coverage of a narcissistic gaslighter. Another staffer thought the season had been great. The rest of the staff started chanting “Cross-talk! Cross-talk!”, so here we are. Instead of watching the Democratic presidential candidate debate, the two of us buckled down last night to watch two more hours of Bachelorette-hood to determine whether this season was a high point or one of the worst things we’ve ever witnessed, for journalism.

Consider our careful, not at all knee-jerk emotional responses to Hannah B’s Bachelorette season below, and if you’re also one of those poor souls who’s been following from week to week, please feel free to chime in/commiserate in the comments.

Gwen Ihnat: I am not a longtime Bachelor fan; I really only started watching after the Arie debacle, after Alex McLevy wrote it up for the site. So my first full season was Becca’s season—now, there was a Bachelorette I could get behind. Strong, smart, beautiful Becca kept all twentysome guys in line without losing a single lash from her extensions. I hate who she wound up picking (Jason was right there, Becca), but I guess she and Garrett are still together and she’s a fun Twitter follow, chiming in on The Bachelorette from a veteran’s perspective.

Becca’s rejected suitor Colton then became the next Bachelor: Hey, did you know that he was a virgin? ’Cuz that was only mentioned about 10,000 times that season. But I was a sucker for the constant dangling of the fence-jumping, and it looks like he and Cassie are still together as well, which is like a lifetime in Bachelor odds, so godspeed to those beautiful blonde people.

Of all of Colton’s also-rans, though, I still can’t believe the producers went with Hannah B for this season. I would have preferred anyone else (like Hannah B’s pageant rival Caelynn, Hannah G, Tayshia, all of whom are going go appear on Bachelor In Paradise starting next week) over the former beauty queen with a penchant for making strange noises when she turned into what she called “the Hannah beast,” resembling the dying groans of a T Rex that sees the asteroid coming. She just didn’t seem that interesting: kinda awkward, giggly, and almost instantly overwhelmed by being thrown into the extremely public persona of being the Bachelorette.

I’ve grown to like Hannah a bit more over the course of the season, but her horrible taste in suitors made this an excruciating season to watch. She’s explained in later episodes that her insecurity over being the Bachelorette caused her to hang onto someone like the manipulative Luke P much longer than she should have (in the “Men Tell All” special, she apologized to America for wasting so many screen hours on him, and on behalf of America, I honestly appreciate your apology, Hannah). Every week, Luke P got a rose; every week, Bachelorette viewers ranted over having to see his two-faced square-jawed mug on the screen for yet another painful episode.

Finally, though, Hannah saw the light, flipping Luke P off in an extremely gratifying episode, and we were left with three final suitors: Sweet Peter the pilot, movie-star handsome Tyler C, and Jed, the songwriter from Nashville who threatened to whip out his guitar at any moment, who basically admitted he was only on the show to push his fledgling musical career. Also: He had a girlfriend back home. Scott got kicked off the first week for not being single, but Jed kept strolling along, like People magazine didn’t exist and the whole thing wasn’t about to blow up in his big dumb face.

Naturally, he’s the one our less-than-savvy Bachelorette decided to go with, leading to an actual dramatic finale (you were right, Chris Harrison!) wherein she had discovered the People magazine article herself about her now-fiancé. Jed lamely tried to argue that the woman who he went on vacation with, threw him a birthday party, and that he had said “I love you” to was not his girlfriend. Fortunately, Hannah had the sense to give him his ring back, and one high point of last night’s finale was when duplicitous Jed walked out to an extremely weak smattering of applause.

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I do really appreciate the way the season ended: With a few months older and wiser Hannah now grabbing the reins of her own life, asking hunky Tyler C out for a drink, to see if they can just have a go at this and “be normal people”: no date cards, no helicopters, no horses. Truly, I wish them all the luck in the world. But as much as I love my weekly chocolate-filled group-watch with friends (the best part is that my friend Lynn’s husband Pete, the sole guy in our viewing group, is like a Bachelor scholar, guiding me through Bachelor language like the “two-on-one” and “hometowns,” and “see, he’s mad that since he’s on the group date, he’s not going to get the one-on-one”) I felt gypped that in a sea of some pretty great guys (Mike! Aaron! John Paul Jones!), Hannah B spent the most time with the worst two in the bunch. And consequently, so did we.

But maybe that’s just par for the course in Bachelor world. Randall, what was it about this season that made you like it so much?

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Randall Colburn: One word, one letter: Hannah B. I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more about this year’s Bachelorette. Where previous leads felt dull and overly polished, Hannah popped like a firework, somehow striking a balance of quirky, awkward, and confident that made her feel unique in the grander scheme of the franchise. Did she have a penchant for falling for douchebags? Of course! She’s 24! Everybody dates douchebags when they’re 24. If The Bachelor franchise really wanted its couples to last, it would only cast people in their 30s. We’re here for the drama.

And, boy, did this season bring it. Look, I agree as much as the next guy that the Luke P situation was an exhausting one, and that the dude himself is a vapid, gaslighting piece of garbage. I also believe that by focusing so much on him, the show undercuts its own air of romance; by the end, we know very little of what actually attracted Hannah to Jed or Tyler. This is a constant problem on these shows—we spent so much watching Rachel Lindsay grapple with Peter, for example, that the only thing anybody knew about Bryan, the guy she chose, was that he’s a gross kisser.

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But Luke P’s relentless reign on the show also offered Hannah numerous chances to put not just him in his place, but the other guys as well. (“Stay in your lane,” I imagine, is bound to become another scrap of Bachelor shorthand.) Is it frustrating that she kept him around? Yes, but, personally, I totally get it. On paper, Luke is the perfect guy for her—he shares her Christian faith, he’s clearly smitten with her, and he’s built like a Greek god. She saw the red flags and, like so many starry-eyed twentysomethings before her, thought she could fix them. Sure, it was frustrating to see him stick around so long, but our frustrations were mirrored in her own—she was never content to indulge his bad behavior. Sometimes, though, shaking off an intense attraction is like tipping over a vending machine.

This willful delusion of love, though, is what makes The Bachelor franchise so fun. I roll my eyes when people call shows like these “fake,” because, to me, at least, “heightened” does not translate to “fake.” Sure, the whole concept in itself is absurd, but listen to any Bachelor alum discuss their experience and they’ll say that it’s impossible not to fall in love with someone when you’re placed in a situation where your every movement, thought, and gesture is in service to them. It’s not like the contestants have lives during their spell on the show; the goal of every day is to spend time with this beautiful, elusive being. Does that infatuation evaporate the moment you exit this curated environment? Almost instantly, but in the moment it’s hard to think about anything else. That’s why, even after reading the accounts of his ex, I still believed Jed when he said he loved Hannah and wanted to marry her. That doesn’t mean I think Hannah should be with him—for the record, Jed sucks—but that I believe he got swept up in the whole experience and, like any other young, inexperienced person, believed it was real. As for all the bullshit he spun about his ex, well, that’s just some straight-up deception. Nobody tells someone they’re just “hanging out” with that they “love” them. Come on, dude.

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What are your hopes for the next Bachelor season, Gwen? Who should take the lead, and what would you like to see to help elevate it above this most recent outing? Also, any Paradise hot takes?

GI: My only solace from dear, sweet Peter the pilot getting booted after having sex four times in the windmill (his parents applauding that energetic night in front of a live audience? well, that was awkward) is the possibility that he would make for a perfect future Bachelor. But my real preference would be Mike, as the long-overdue first black Bachelor, although his participation in Bachelor In Paradise may negate that possibility.

But whoever it is, I hope it’s a person who is strong enough to take the head Bachelor/Bachelorette position on. I agree, Hannah B definitely grew into the role, but it was practically unfair to have this idealistic 24-year-old pageant vet (she talked about her future career, but does she actually have a job?) try to negotiate this near-impossible position of dating dozens of people in front of TV cameras. Letting Hannah B see some of the dailies, or eliminating her seclusion from social and other media, would have clued her into the true natures of Luke P and Jed earlier and saved her (and the show) wasted hours of ultimately dead-end relationships. I mean, statistically, most of these fell-in-love-on-TV relationships don’t ultimately work out, but I guess we tune in for that possible glimmer of romance, like the rekindled chemistry of Hannah and Tyler that ended the season.

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What about you, Randall? Who’s your pick for the next Bachelor? And will you be tuning in to Paradise next Monday? Personally, I am looking forward to seeing some of the old gang again, although apparently Becca’s runner-up Blake is more of a player than we would have imagined. But totally here for Demi in the franchise’s first same-sex hookup.

RC: I adore Paradise, especially now that the producers have been forced to reckon with their reckless alcohol policy. It’s silly, amped-up, and horny as hell, and always opens the door for runner-ups and franchise duds to step into leading roles—the shots of the amiable John Paul Jones hulking out, for example, have me shivering with anticipation. I like that there’s no expectation of a proposal on Paradise, that people can actually just inch their way toward the idea of casually dating instead of a lifelong commitment.

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This has been my favorite season of The Bachelor/Bachelorette since, perhaps, Kaitlyn Bristowe’s season, so it’ll be hard for whoever’s the next lead to top Hannah B. I, also, am rooting for Mike; not only is it absurd that there’s never been a black lead, but he also seemed like a fundamentally decent dude. As for Pete, well, he allegedly also had a Jed situation going on in the lead-up to the show—he disputes portions of his ex’s claims—so it’s probably best to let him sail off into the sunset. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he still ends up the lead—he’s basically a blend of Ben Higgins and Nick Viall.

As for Hannah, I am all in for her and Tyler actually approaching a relationship like a pair of normal human beings. Honestly, that’s probably the healthiest thing we can hope for from this cursed, delightful franchise.

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