There comes a point in every relationship when two people start to feel the budding sparks of attraction. After one of them has made the first move and the other has reciprocated, there’s a tension hanging in the air as to who will make the move. The big one. Who will get up the nerve to bridge the gap and have that all-important conversation … about character?
Whose character is good? Whose character is bad? Whose character is good but is being perceived as bad? Whose character is bad but is being perceived as good despite a waggling of eyebrows that could never possibly be construed as righteous? Also, what precisely is character, and why does it get questioned only on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills when Dorit tries to return an adopted puppy, or on The Bachelor(ette) when the idea arises that someone may have had the nerve to date other people before co-dating one person together on a prime-time ABC show?
Defending one’s character is one of those constructs that seems to exist only in reality TV and, like, sorority standards hearings. There just aren’t many group settings where you can be perceived poorly and then need to correct that perception in order to keep dating 20 men, or attending the Flamingo Flock social, or whatever. In the real world, if someone clocks you as untrustworthy, you can simply not date that person or enter into any real estate partnerships with them. But in a world where you’ve signed a contract to date or be dated for up to six weeks—well, I guess that’s when having your character questioned suddenly becomes a thing that matters.
So, after Jamie told Michelle that all the men were questioning her character because there was a rumor going around that she was already “boo’d up” with a “light-skinned baller” last week, Michelle is determined to figure out who trusts her this week, while her co-boyfriends are determined to prove to Michelle that they can be trusted during the 10-minute intervals they get to spend with her between training to be actors who have trained to be fighter pilots, or writing itty-bitty poems in itty-bitty notebooks, or eating what appears to be days-old hotel food. And somehow, against all odds, the men keep their focus on proving their trustworthiness for almost the entire episode, never once launching a union investigation into who actually told Michelle that they were questioning her until right before the rose ceremony when Michelle herself reveals her super-secret source to be Jamie.
I guess … these guys … really are … different??? And, of course, Michelle is different. Who could have guessed that the only thing we ever needed to efficiently handle 20 fragile male egos was the well-oiled classroom management of a fifth grade teacher? We are burning through villains on this season like recess is going to get canceled if we don’t—and I am loving it.
On the Wings of Love
Asking a group of men in their 20s and 30s to simultaneously date the same woman without it turning into a battle for dominance rooted in deep, deep insecurity is like putting candy in front of a baby and asking them not to eat it. We, as a society, actually love asking people to go against their most base instincts—Jimmy Kimmel’s entire business model is predicated on that fact.
And herein lies the intrinsic struggle of watching The Bachelorette. We shouldn’t expect the babies not to eat the fruit snacks, just as we shouldn’t expect a group of hot men not to almost immediately begin screaming about respect and throwing each other’s belongings in the pool in this situation. It is a tale as old as time (or at least as old as The Bachelor), just the way we like it. We want to see these men hit each other with sticks because their co-girlfriend told them they had to in order to prove their love; we want to see them then get mad when they get hit a little too hard; we want to see them start metaphorically stuffing as many metaphorical fruit snacks into their mouths as humanly possible. But we also want them to then be able to defy human nature and nip the drama in the bud when we become bored with it.
On the one hand, it was entirely refreshing—especially in comparison to recent seasons—that no one really seemed initially interested in sniffing out who lied to Michelle about the rumors that were (not) floating around the house last week. But on the other hand, Will sadly fishing his winner’s jacket out of the pool after Peter threw it while Michelle gushes in a voice-over about how lucky she feels to have such a wonderful group of mature men was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on The Bachelorette.
You see, this week’s first group date includes sworn enemies, Peter the Pizzapreneur and Will the Pizzapreneur Slayer. Michelle has invited the men to an aircraft hangar because Michelle has come to the natural fork in the road that all single women eventually come to when making an earnest investment in their dating life: the time to delete the apps, get your mind right, and ask budding movie stars Glen Powell and Jay Ellis to help you pick a boyfriend through a series of physical tests based on their movie Top Gun: Maverick.
You guys, Peter is stunned. If you thought he was upset about being called a narcissist in front of “the children” last episode, just wait until he gets his ass kicked in front of Glen Powell and Jay Ellis, stars of the feature film Top Gun: Maverick.
Compare that to Nayte, who has happily gotten his ass kicked on 100 percent of the group dates he’s been on thus far and yet still finds a way to be hot and confident in a dangly earring and kiss Michelle against every vertical surface at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells.
Anyway, the boys get dressed up in flight suits which they fuckin’ love …
… right up until Jay Ellis and Glen Powell make them get in a g-force simulator and spin around while they make the same noises as the lady in the grape-stomping video.
As a child, I thought the only thing that stood between me and becoming an astronaut was surviving a g-force simulator, probably because of something Linda Ellerbee told me on Nick News. Now, as an adult, I know that a g-force simulator is the only thing that stands between me and getting in an hours-long argument with two men who are not astronauts, nor fighter pilots, nor actors playing fighter pilots.
Because Will is the kind of guy who likes to get in long bickering matches because he thinks it’s funny. And Peter is the kind of guy who gets into arguments about the legitimacy of keto inside the Rock’s Instagram comments because he likes to feel attacked so that he can ultimately cast himself as the martyr. Which is exactly what he does when Will professes his feelings for Michelle in Spanish inside the g-force simulator after Peter has already professed his feelings for Michelle in Italian. Will also knocks Peter off the platform during their “dog fight,” earning him the overall group-date win and commemorative bomber jacket from Glen Powell and Jay Ellis, and a little kiss from Michelle.
Now, if you can believe this, Will being awarded the jacket is what Peter believes is most disrespectful to him, the agreed-upon star of this Bachelorette season.
Men fucking love commemorative bomber jackets, there’s just no way around it. And so, after Will and Peter get into a verbal spat that mostly involves Will calling Peter “Pizza Boy,” and Peter the Pizza Boy inexplicably saying, “Bro you hate my mouth because you wish you had it” (a much more interesting argument, I’d say!), Peter waits until Will goes to talk to Michelle and then throws his commemorative bomber jacket in the pool. The other guys forlornly say, “Nooo, Peter, noooo,” like they’re watching their dog poop on a rug. When Will returns from his chat with Michelle, he sadly asks where the jacket is, already knowing that he’s dug himself into a pizza-shaped hole. The other guys tell him that Peter threw it in the pool, and maybe I’m a chump for falling for this given that Will had just been screaming “Pizza boooooy,” but how sad this news makes Will made me very sad.
Nayte tries to placate Will by telling him that if he can just stay calm and not react, he will “forever be regarded as the bigger man.” Which is incredible advice in this setting, when a national audience can actually watch Will get very upset, cry out, “This man is really pushin’ my buttons!” and then ultimately decide to let it go and not say anything to Michelle, allowing her to end the night with a little monologue about how great all her co-boyfriends are while Will sadly fishes his waterlogged jacket out of a pool at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells.
And as a result, having already done her Bachelorette duty to keep Peter around for one more episode, Michelle sends his ass packing during the rose ceremony without even making him and Will sort through their differences. Some children just don’t get along and need to be separated—and if that means sending home the guy who looks like he’d be the villain in a Pixar movie about a rat following his dreams of becoming an Italian chef in a definitively rat-averse industry … well then, that’s what it means.
[We interrupt this regularly scheduled recap to check in with our prescheduled Bachelor, Clayton.]
It is wild to me that the Bachelor producers could take in the screenshot above—the cargo vest! the spectacles! the pinky ring!—and decide that the man on the right should be cast as this franchise’s main character.
But cast, they did, for the first time ever, waaaaay in advance of the audience having an opinion on the matter, leaving us to watch and wonder each week when Clayton might start winning our hearts over as America’s next Bachelor. This episode includes more Clayton moments than the previous two combined, but they still teach me almost nothing about him except what I already knew (jaw, shoulders, some general synonym of “corn-fed”).
Clayton wants the one-on-one date card badly because he “wants Michelle to know I have no doubt in my mind about her character.” (Hot!) But when that plan fails to come to fruition, Clayton decides he’ll just have to put his best foot forward on the group date, which he does by … putting on a pocketed crew neck T-shirt. This man cannot dress, and it’s a problem made all the more noticeable because we have nothing else about him to focus on. Later, Clayton does get his first one-on-one time with Michelle since the premiere, when he proposes that they spin together …
… and that’s it! Well, other than this face he makes at Jamie doing an impromptu TED Talk later, which I do absolutely stan.
It’s Still Not Lasagna
And speaking of stan: Rodney. What a guy! He seems genuinely fun. And while being a large, handsome, former college football player, he somehow still sees himself as the underdog who was “never the tallest in the room, the strongest, the most handsome.” But he also says that what he brings to the table in lieu of those things is “the biggest heart and the biggest smile.”
And it’s true! For their one-on-one, Michelle and Rodney do nearly an exact replica of Michelle’s first date with Matt James, playing truth or dare with all the physical dedication of someone in an informercial attempting to open a jar of pickles.
I don’t really understand how some one-on-ones get to go all day and all night while others start at dusk, but it does seem to be defined by whether the Bachelorette thinks of the person as just a friend (I’m recalling Ivan and Tayshia as evidence here, so Rodney might have an Airstream Fantasy Suite in his future). Indeed, Rodney and Michelle both openly state that this one-on-one is an attempt to move their relationship out of the friend zone. Personally, I didn’t feel like Rodney dressing like he had a tight bowling lane time scheduled after his date was the best way to do that—but eventually shedding that shirt to streak around the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells was definitely a step in the right direction.
Then in an absolutely novel move, Rodney asks Michelle about herself during the dinner portion of their date, and she’s able to open up to him in a natural way. She tells Rodney about a time when a woman at the grocery store called her the N-word and how, when she returned home upset, her white boyfriend made her feel like she was giving the woman more power by “choosing” to be upset about it. At the time, Michelle felt like she had to justify her emotions to him, but now she knows that she should never have to justify her feelings: “Whatever emotion I was feeling in that moment, I was allowed to feel it, and I was allowed to feel it for as long I needed to—and if I have to explain that to someone, I’ll also be explaining that the relationship won’t work.”
The way that Michelle effortlessly shares herself with her co-boyfriends, and therefore with us—once again I’ll reiterate that we are blessed beyond measure with this Bachelorette. And that’s before she even handles the Jamie shit…
The Jamie Shit
It should be illegal to have to watch Kendall Roy and Jamie from The Bachelorette within two days of each other. My throw pillows simply can’t take the stress of my secondhand-embarrassment-squeezing this hard, this often.
All episode long, Jamie is looking around and smugly congratulating himself on feeling so much more secure than the other men, as though he is not the one who single-handedly instilled an atmosphere of chaos and distrust. His complete lack of self-awareness is as infuriating as it is fascinating, given that Jamie also seems intelligent, and at times, insightful. He is a nightmare dressed like an ethics professor, and I will not rest until Michelle is standing over him with a spear stabbed into the ground right beside his head so that he knows she only spared him because she is a merciful queen.
But listen, spoken-word poetry is about as close to near-death-by-spear as we could possibly get on The Bachelorette. That’s right: The second group date is poetry themed. Also, because we have an actual motivational speaker in our co-boyfriend ranks this season, Chris G. recognizes the date’s guest host, spoken-word poet Rudy Francisco.
This is the first time I’ve ever believed that someone knew a group date guest host by name without the producers mouthing it syllable by syllable before they went in front of the camera. Chris G. is absolutely losing it over Rudy Francisco, just as I was absolutely losing it at the realization that we were about to have to hear these men recite poetry they’ve written themselves. But this date setup does make way for one of my favorite Bachelor tropes: large men, curled up in tiny spaces, doing art shit.
Have I heard better spoken-word poetry in a Febreze commercial? Of course I have. But those scripts are written by professionals; these are amateurs who came here to date a pretty girl and hopefully get a digital-only Bonobos sponsorship, and now they’re being asked to write poetry that may or may not rhyme.
Considering that, they actually do a really nice job—especially Brandon J., who ultimately gets the group date rose. And when Michelle gets up on stage and closes us out with the live version of the “Hey soulmate, if you’re listening” voiceover we’ve been hearing in the season trailer for months, it feels like when you hear someone say the title of the movie in the movie.
And then, of course, there’s Jamie, who gets on stage after everyone has poured their heart out and says he “lost his book” and is just going to have to “spit from the heart and hope it comes out well.” For some reason, after lying about losing his poem, Jamie tells a parable about … I don’t even know, but according to Brandon it was “some weird TED Talk … about some rabbit going down a road or something.” This man has spent all day smirking about how he’s excited to “go on one of these group dates so I can compete with the guys,” and then he doesn’t even compete! For someone who was so dead set on making everyone understand that Michelle didn’t deserve his attention simply because she was the Bachelorette last week, Jamie has gotten mighty comfy expressing that he is at a huge advantage over the other men simply because he lucked out and got the first one-on-one.
But you know who Michelle ends up being impressed with in this episode? Martin with the frosted tips, Brandon who is quite literally always dressed like Young Rock, and Rodney the apple-illiterate goofball…
So when Brandon gets the group date rose over him, Jamie, uh, LOSES IT. Like, full ego meltdown—his skin suit can simply no longer cover up the true villain lurking inside. He pulls a producer aside in a room where he clearly doesn’t realize he’s being filmed and whines about having to compete with the likes of Brandon: “You’re telling me that we’re in the same league? Like, we’re not even close.” Jamie tells the producer—whose face we can’t see, but whose eyes I assume are spinning around like a slot machine striking gold—that he thought there would be a stronger group of guys, and that it seems like Michelle is just in “spring break mode,” which is a turn off for him. “Like, I gotta wait for five weeks to get to the end of this?” Jamie snarks.
Jamie might have the moral superiority on me there because I intend to judge it, and make fun of it…
No Preventative Deed Goes Unpunished
It is so gratifying when the truth about what Jamie told Michelle finally comes out at the cocktail party.
Claiming that he doesn’t want to see Michelle in pain, especially if it “comes from misinformation,” Rick uses his time with Michelle to let her know that whoever told her that the whole house was questioning her character was way off base. “I feel like that person could have done it for a few reasons,” Rick says. “Like trying to earn your trust, and also trying to up themselves, and put other people under the bus.” I simply cannot believe this truth-teller started the season out in a bed of lettuce.
At this point, Michelle tells Rick that she’s starting to see a few red flags, but it’s surprising for her because the person who told her the house was talking about her was…
You better believe Rick scurries right back to the speakers of the house—Casey and Nayte—and tells them that Michelle said it was Jamie. They call Jamie’s ass right up to the war table and ask him what he said. Jamie audibly gulps. “So my comment to Michelle—well, it wasn’t necessarily even my comment to Michelle,” he starts off, nervously stumbling around and clearing his throat. Jamie goes on to talk in circles, telling the guys that he simply relayed that there had been conversations going on about her and Joe all day. But when the guys ask who was having those conversations, Jamie says he doesn’t know because he was in his room all day…
All day? At the same time these alleged conversations were happening that Jamie didn’t hear, but did report back to Michelle, so that [checks notes] “the viewers” at home couldn’t speculate on her character? (To quote NeNe Leakes: Now why am I in it?)
And yeah, fuck the viewers! But excluding this outburst, everyone stays pretty calm, and I think it’s because the co-boyfriends really do trust their Bachelorette this season—just like they’ve been telling her they do in between doing as many push-ups as Glen Powell and Jay Ellis tell them to. And they should trust Michelle, because when she walks down her beloved stairs to discover there’s tension rippling through the group, and Jamie attempts to gaslight her into telling the men that they had a completely innocent conversation where he was simply trying to protect the reputation of her character, Michelle doesn’t let him get an inch. She tells Jamie that coupling the information that people were talking about her with the rumor of his making that she was dating “a light-skinned baller” before the show specifically made it seem like no one trusted her, and that was what upset her so much. Jamie says that if he were in her position, he would want the opportunity to “cut the head off the monster.”
That’s when Jamie has to know the jig is up. Because when he agrees that his actions were preventative, Michelle asks Jamie if he wants to know “what actually happened”—and when an elementary school teacher starts asking rhetorical questions about your behavior, you have to know you’re toast. Michelle tells Jamie that by attempting to be proactive for her, he brought the monster into the world, and it “became a thing that it wasn’t.” She walks Jamie outside to finish him off in private, tells him she can no longer trust him, and then sends him home with nothing more than a wave and a “have a good night.”
But just as Michelle swiftly eliminates one villain with fiery justice, another must rise from the ashes. Next week brings us Chris S. Bring your tightest fedora, because it promises to be a bumpy ride.
Jodi Walker is a freelance pop culture writer with bylines in Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and Texas Monthly. She writes about The Bachelor franchise at absurd length in her newsletter, These Are the Best Things.