A Bachelor finale that provided precious few reasons to celebrate. (Image Credit: Instagram/nickviall)
Rachel has been stealing all Nick's thunder since this whole season started. She effortlessly acquired the coveted "First Impression Rose," but discarded the villain edit that usually comes with it. By the time we got to her New Orleans one-on-one, she was already the primo #fanfave.
Rachel's star power comes from her easy elegance. Her genuine kindness. Her obvious smarts and all that. But the key to her magnetism has always been in the way that you don't have to worry about her when she's onscreen. She's been the woman least likely to embarrass herself. She won't make you cringe. Even if she is dating King of Cringeness, St. Nick Viall, Waukesha Starboy and purveyor of Awkward "charm."
Rachel elevated this whole proceeding.
Yet even she couldn't save The Bachelor Season Finale from ending up in dumpster-fire mode. Rachel is naturally fire-retardant. But no one could rescue us from the Defcon Levels of Embarrassment that inflamed After the Rose in its final minutes.
Chris Harrison had spent two hours and fifty-one minutes humblebragging about the historic upcoming dramatic surprise. And he succeeded in pulling it off. Good one, Harrison. You shock monster.
OMFG. What was even happening?!?!
First off, Rachel appeared for the obligatory "How are you feeling?" interview, and there was something different about her. She seemed even stronger.
She was outfitted in a low-cut, half-cape black pantsuit that was very feminist power chic. She also wore a bunch of finger sleeve statement rings that looked very Mother of Dragons. We are all feeling good about Rachel. Rachel has got this. The Bachelorette is gonna be good. See you in a few months, Rachel. Go do this.
Not so fast.
The Bachelor Franchise runs on formula. That engine purrs so well that spoiler play-by-plays can't even upset the momentum. We know what to expect. And we play along with Harrison's "the most emotional drama ever" shtick because whatever it is, we won't be rattled to the core.
But we were. What followed took regular emerge-from-the-limo discomfort into post-vomit cringe-spasms.
Because they were starting Rachel's Bachelorette season Right Now.
"I wasn't ready," laughed Rachel, her composure in check as expected.
A bunch of set people scurried in with faux greenery. A few roadie-types wheeled over a giant scrim with the Bachelor mansion on it. I seriously thought Rachel's bachelors were going to bust through it, football-team style, then line up before her shirtless and flexing. But it was so much worse.
Harrison cut to a commercial break so that we could gather our bearings.
Next, we see a limo roll up on the Jumbotron.
The first guy bounces on the stage in a TUXEDO. He's handsome, Black, and doing all right because this would be the most awkward scene in the history of the universe even if he didn't pull out two plane tickets to Vegas and wave around a ring box. But we all survived.
The next man out is "a white," as Rachel's brother-in-law terms this type. Here starts the cringe-fest. Rachel gives him a handshake that he tries to convert to that chivalry relic: a hand kiss. It bumps against her step-in for a hug, and the whole thing plays more like an accidental breast swipe. Soon he's uttering, "You smell good" and keeps wanting more hugs (excuses to touch her), and it's a nightmare. Even Harrison admits to freaking out.
Then here comes another white guy. Here's the line he drops: "I'm ready to go black, and I'm never gonna go back."
That's when it hits all of us. That’s when this After the Rose set went up in flames like Doth Raki Headquarters.
There have been way too many white people dominating all these seasons and people of color have been too much at the margins. Representation matters. And it's time to put a Black woman at the center. And all the better that she happens to be Rachel.
This franchise obviously needs its Black bachelorette.
But its Black bachelorette does not need a bunch of clueless white guys fetishizing her race, making micro-aggressive remarks, and acting like her Blackness is the perfect topic for lameball race joke clichés.
Bachelor nation is beyond ready for the first Black bachelorette. But white reality tv bachelor dudes are nowhere close to ready for getting anywhere near Rachel.
Her season might actually completely suck. Like, way worse than usual. Or maybe it will be good for us all to see white men flail in racism? Will anyone even notice?
Next, they send in a Black guy (conspicuously keeping it even-steven racially). He calls this whole thing "miracle season," and tries to pull Rachel back to the moment. But we're all still dying from the last guy. Then this embarrassment bloodbath is finally over.
And Rachel is off to helm this godforsaken demolition of the hope that white people could cease racist nonsense for more than five seconds when in the presence of Black people.
Bye! And OMFG. Because we all trust Rachel. But the Bachelor production team? NO. NEVER. You cannot trust them.
Oh Yeah: Nick and Vanessa
So how did we get here?
Let's drop the temperature as much as possible and head to The Arctic Circle.
The producers have moved filming to Rovaniemi, Finland (the coldest tip of the planet). This is the land of pelt décor and White Walkers. Probably. The producers seem to want to visually riff off the pun "St. Nick." Because our bachelor shares his name with another famous ice dweller (Santa). Get it?
Several dozen of Nick's siblings have been hauled to Rovaniemi and are holed up in a yellow Airbnb to wait and watch while their Mom and Dad worry about Nick again.
Furry pelts are tacked on every wall.
One of Nick's little bros gleefully offers that the women can still say "No." It's as if he's secretly hoping for it — like much of the audience.
This option gets a bunch of applause when Harrison presents it to the live studio crowd.
Little Bella of the soccer field is back, and she is all in on Raven. All these Viall kids seem nice, but you kind of wonder what they've put those parents through. Because they both cry. A LOT.
Nick won't tip his hand.
Time for Vanessa's Final One-on-One
Vanessa greets Nick with the signature Bachelor move: The Leap into His Arms Leg Wrap. It works way better in island garb than it does in seven layers of hypothermia protection gear.
The producers have hired a Nordic Santa and directed him/it to creep around the woods a la Bigfoot to spy on our couple.
Nick comments on the magic of gray skies. We're definitely somewhere beyond the wall in Westeros. Santa lives in a teensy round cabin that looks more desperate than charming.
Santa gifts the two with a wooden heart stamped with their twisted visages. Later we get a shot of this weird artisanal object resting just beyond flames, almost within them. We see you, producers. We see you.
Vanessa and Nick do what they always do. They bicker. Vanessa confronts, yet again, the parameters of the show. Why does she have to deal with how annoying it is that there is another woman still involved? Is her relationship only "slightly greater" than the one Nick has with Raven? This is BS, Nick. She's probably not going to get engaged with you, FYI.
St. Nick doesn't want to "de-romanticize" things, but Vanessa cries and whines anyway during their final evening by the fire. Not blaming her. Refuse him, Vanessa. We're with you. Nick can't offer any "clarity."
Time to Date Raven for the "Final" Time
In an act of foreshadowing, the producers place a giant ice sculpture of Nick's heart right in the couple's path. Raven misses the symbolism because she is here to massage away all Nick's Vanessa-stress.
Raven loves to smile and offer conciliation. Her Leg Wrap Leap into Nick's arms goes a touch smoother than Vanessa's. Because Raven is all giggles and light. They skate around a frozen pond to the nineties super hit by Sixpence None the Richer, "Kiss Me." This is a Dancing with the Stars preview for superfans and Nick's moves are middling.
"There's no one for miles," chirps Raven, but long shots reveal camera folk and other production staff looking on from the sidelines.
Nick's already called this their "last date," but Raven's too upbeat to ask for Vanessa-style clarifications. "What do you need from me?" she offers.
Nick brings over some baby dire wolves to prove winter is here, and we're beyond the wall in Game of Thrones.
Raven wants to "reassure" the Nick Monster. She specifically tells him to "not give her too many details." All Vanessa wanted was the details of the details.
The final women have opposite need levels. Vanessa wants to nail things down. Raven prefers the oblivion of optimism. She's all about the happiness of St. Nick from Waukesha.
Neil Lane Arrives at the North Pole, Tan Intact.
Neil Lane carts himself and his gajillion dollar briefcase of diamonds up to Nickland. Nickaniemi. The Nicktic Circle. A Game of Nicks. Neil Lane has always been elfin and salesy. He tells Nick that EVERYONE likes him.
They talk diamonds.
Princess cut. Cushion cut. Entwined detailing. Size-wise bigness. Classical roundness. Romantic stones. Contractually, the woman has to remain with Nick for a certain length of time to get to keep the ring.
Nick is not shelling out any personal dollars for these sparklers. He may even get a kickback.
Here's what he wants you to know:
Choosing rings is hard. So is finding your heart and proposing. This journey thingie is difficult.
The Final Rose Ceremony Set Décor
Bachelor franchise set decorators have scalding senses of humor which burst forth in the décor. Final Rose Ceremony stagings are always overwrought showrooms of bad taste, lantern madness, and pseudo-romantic drapings.
Here, they take Rustic Cabin Romance to levels of design obscenity matched only by Trump penthouse imagery.
Let's set the scene.
The bach design people have purchased every single shard of dried lavender available in Laplandia. Someone had the foresight to medi-vac in the emergency long stem you-know-what and it's defrosting upon a tray on a side table.
This side table is a decorative work of art because a normal wood table will not work on its own. It must be adorned with Lapland icons and romantic notions. Someone drapes it with a skirt of evergreen branches and then encircles it with ANTLERS. It looks almost sentient.
The rest of the enormous room is pelted-up and votived-out, as usual. Those lavender bouquets stab everything. Best of all, someone has gotten all Blair Witch-y with stick sculpture. Sticks, ideally gathered from the surrounding forest, are everywhere. They've stapled thousands of sticks across every door. Then they speared them with the dried purple flowers. Lanterns abound, some displayed in yards of fluff so that the snow can be brought inside. No fire hazard has ever looked this passionate, so don't knock over one of these lanterns, people!
Time for the Raven Rejection
Thank gods someone had the good sense to pack a red carpet.
We see Raven's bare toes peeking out from the only strap heels to ever hit the ground in Lapland.
It's over for Raven which has been pretty obvious this whole time. Nick routinely sent home confrontational women. But we know he could never truly fall in love with Raven's drama-free disposition.
To prove this point, Nick pulls another of his emotional blackmails and promotes himself as the True Victim of his Raven Break-up.
He wants her to know how hard it is to be selfish. How it tears him up inside. It breaks his heart so bad not to love you, Raven.
Raven sheds the least limo teardrops ever in her autopsy of the sitch. It's sad, but oh well. She is already bikini'd up on a Bachelor in Paradise barstool asking for a Pina Colada. Whatever, Nick. Cya!
Nick Proposes to Vanessa so She'll Quit Being Pissed at Him
Nick's been fighting his love for Vanessa. Keyword: fighting. He explains how he can't waste all these tears and broken hearts, so he goes for it. He can't fight it, so he'll be fighting with it. Same diff.
Nicks drops to one knee, and we get a close-up of the romantic phrase "Neil Lane" imprinted on black velvet.
Nick's plan to appease Vanessa lasts three seconds. You can see her scheming about the details as they one-horse-open sleigh back to Bear Lodge so that Vanessa can start planning a future that she is very skeptical about.
Love is difficult.
Nick and Vanessa finally get to be together as a real live couple on After the Rose.
Let's talk about the kiss that happened. Nick snatched his almost-bride into his arms sailor-style and kissed the holy hell out of those lips of hers. But he went too far. And you can tell Vanessa's miffed. You can't hear what she murmurs, but it's something about mussing her lipstick. Then she keeps rubbing her lips. A known sign of love.
Vanessa admits that the two have had their fair share of knockdown, drag out fights. Which is normal.
No, Vanessa. It's not. Vanessa keeps saying the word "difficult" over and over and over.
She rationalizes how all relationships are difficult, and everything is difficult, and making things work is so difficult.
Harrison asks them if they've set a date for the wedding and Vanessa basically says: NO WAY.
She has to get him to know him first.
It's an oddly rational line at the end of what can only be described as a celebration of absurdity. And say what you will about Mr. Viall. But he's the perfect partner for that kind of dance.