Right up there with Christmastime, Girl Scout cookie season, the return of mini Cadbury Eggs, and undoing the national tragedy that is daylight saving time, The Bachelorette Hometowns are something I look forward to every year. Of course, when you happen to be living through a global pandemic and also accommodating an elementary teacher’s work schedule, you’re lucky enough to experience two—nearly three!—Bachelorette Hometowns in the same year. Which has presented us with an interesting new dynamic in which Hometowns now take place neither in homes nor towns that most of these people are familiar with. No, it’s now commonplace for Bachelorette contestants’ families to be imported into Palm Springs or New Mexico or Minneapolis like they’re specialty cheeses that just so happen to be draped in a turtleneck and statement reading glasses.
In the past, I cherished Hometown episodes because I—a creep—love getting a peek inside other people’s houses. I love seeing which word art they’ve chosen to display in their kitchens (EAT, GATHER, FAMILY); I love the giant, nonutility candelabras sitting out on every flat surface; I love the beaded placemats, and the varying glassware, and the way the producers place a bench in each family’s yard as though every home in America has always had a bench for their adult children’s DTRs right beside the shrubbery. But in lieu of feasting my eyes upon the largest clocks, candelabras, and gallery frames suburban America has to offer us, I’m happy to settle for the other thing you can generally count on the contestants’ families to provide, even in a pandemic: chaos.
Hometowns have always disrupted the bubble of bliss that is falling in love inside an ABC-approved polyamorous summer camp. I will never, ever forget JoJo Fletcher’s mother chugging Veuve straight from the bottle while her brothers psychologically tortured Ben Higgins (read: asked him not to date three other women at the same time as their sister). But in these pandemic seasons, when the Bachelorette bubble is tighter than ever, it seems even more imperative to get a peek at the in-laws who could await Michelle on the outside. Because if a lead was already concerned that, say, her front-runner may act differently at home than he does with her, just wait until he gets around his brother with a superiority complex, or worse, his overly possessive mom.
Ultimately, nothing too alarming happens during Michelle’s Hometown visits, other than Michelle having to do some pretty impressive mental gymnastics to convince herself that Nayte is still her strongest candidate for a rapid-release-soulmate (the Hometown visit suggests … the complete opposite). And in this season especially, that lack of manufactured drama was a bit of a relief.
Michelle’s Hometowns marks the first time all four final contestants have been people of color, meaning we are visiting with a more diverse set of families than ever before this week—like thrice as many as ever before. And, given the franchise’s treatment of Black and POC contestants in the past, it was a wildly pleasant surprise to find out that, in place of the “whole family dynamic” that this episode’s previews promised would derail Nayte’s date, there was actually just a lovely expression of male intimacy. That’s right: Nayte dropped the earliest “I love you” of all time—but it wasn’t to Michelle. Intrigued? Read on ...
Hometowns (and Also Everywhere Else) Are Where Brandon’s Heart Is
The only thing I don’t like about Hometowns is how they cause me to burst into random bouts of weeping with absolutely no warning. Just something about family, man. Call it the Parenthood Effect. My first bout of weeping came when Kaitlyn reveals to Brandon that his brother delayed going to the Navy to come meet his TV girlfriend, Michelle.
Brandon and I are both actively crying while also being like … is that how the Navy works? Can you really just say, “No thank you, I need a little more time”? Either way, Brandon’s adorable brother Noah indeed hit “pause membership” on the Navy, and has arrived in Minneapolis to meet Michelle and prove that every person in this family has perfect skin, the cuddliness of a baby bunny, and is 100 percent likely to make me start humming the Smart Guy theme song.
But before we get to the full family, Brandon brings a little slice of Portland to Michelle by pulling her into a dark, murder-y warehouse … that turns out to be an indoor skate park. It’s certainly the least glamorous and most fluorescently lit of all the daytime dates, but Brandon does get Michelle a cute pair of matching Vans that the editors show us so frequently that they start looking like an Instagram version of Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.
Otherwise, Brandon is, as always, dressed like a newsie. Until the nighttime portion of the date, that is, when my suspicion that he has been wearing Daddy’s dress shirts all season long is finally confirmed!
Brandon is absolutely giddy to see his family, but Michelle is a little nervous; Brandon was very open with his emotions to her parents, but she’s not quite as at ease with expressing herself. (To be fair to Michelle, some might say there’s an argument to be made for quality vs. quantity here.) We soon learn that expressing yourself in the form of using the word “heart” intermittently as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, pronoun, linking verb, and conjunction is not a trait that is limited to Brandon ...
Brandon’s brother Noah is determined to quiz Michelle on what separates Brandon from her other relationships so he can suss out whether Brandon might get hurt at the end of this. But much like his big brother, Noah is a softie of the squishiest degree, and as soon as Michelle offers the riveting statement that there’s “something that’s just different” about Brandon, Noah’s eyes start twinkling, and he’s ready to head off to the Navy with a new sister-in-law in his heart—where all feelings are stored.
On the DTR bench outside, Michelle tells Brandon that she’s falling for him, which I guess was necessary given that Brandon is consistently expressing his feelings for Michelle so boldly that he seems about one couch-jump away from going full “Tom Cruise on Oprah.” He’s gonna marry this womaaaaaaaaaan!
Michelle says she’s never met a significant other’s family that she could so immediately imagine getting along with her own family—and she almost seems alarmed by that fact. Almost like she was hoping these Hometowns would make her fall more in love with her front-runners, and less in love with her bottom-tier boyfriends. And almost like Hometowns consistently do the opposite of that … y’know, on account of the aforementioned family chaos factor, which is, of course, a subsection of the Parenthood Effect.
Unfortunately, there’s only room for one best-friend boyfriend, and with Brandon so clearly in the lead, Michelle later sends sweet, sweet Rodney packing in a cloud of apple puns and mutual respect.
It is during Joe’s Hometown date that I realize Michelle is going to the same room, in the same building, and sitting on the same couches with four different families for each one of these “Hometown” dates. Then, after she leaves the families, she sits down on the very same bench with each of her four boyfriends to hear which level of The Bachelor Love Scale they’ve fallen into with her. And I know Michelle is, like, the best Bachelorette, but surely they can’t expect her to keep track of all these conversations without at least changing the draperies! Which kindly mom and teddy-bear dad told her that their son was or was not ready to get married? Which of these men sat her down and told her that they were a) falling for her, b) falling in love with her, or c) finally able to admit that he loves his stepdad?! I can barely remember, and I have access to a rewind button.
But, as always, Joe stands out because he is [checks notes] from Minnesota. And given that they happen to be in his actual Hometown, Joe is able to take Michelle to his old high school, just like she took him to hers on their first one-on-one. And thus begins my second bout of weeping: When Joe covers Michelle’s eyes and walks her into the gym, which has been decorated like a high school prom. “I’ve never been to prom before, and you said you were picked last,” Joe tells Michelle quietly. “And I just want you to know that, with me, you’ll always be first.”
Listen, I know that Joe didn’t hang these streamers himself, or personally choose the props for the photo booth—but it was at this point that I finally got Joe. He’s working so hard to open himself up to Michelle that it makes each tiny moment feel like a huge deal. And after recoloring one of her worst adolescent memories with what Michelle calls “the most fairy-tale moment I’ve ever had in my life,” you better believe that any hopes Michelle may have had for figuring out a least-favorite boyfriend just flew out the window.
Because that’s the thing about Joe: He is Michelle’s fairy tale. Going on national television to be connected with someone who lived a few miles away from you all along is a modern-day fairy tale. And fairy tales are too good to be true. I think that’s why I’ve been assuming all along that Michelle has been engineering something with Joe that simply isn’t there. Because Joe seems like the type of person who is too shy to tell a waiter that they’re actively pouring soup in his lap, let alone tell a beautiful, perfect woman that he’s having a hard time connecting because The Bachelorette is the most uncomfortable scenario known to man …
But then Joe tells Michelle he’s falling in love with her, and makes this face when her car pulls away, which is basically Joe’s version of a freeze-frame heel click:
Suddenly, I start to worry that Michelle is going to be the one to put Joe’s tiny heart through an emotional shredder, and not the other way around.
I Love You Two
Nothing makes a Bachelorette’s front-runner more clear than her ability to look past a red-flag hometown date.
To be fair, Nayte’s family is barely disruptive. But Nayte’s mom and stepdad Charles (who were recently divorced but came together to support him) do make it abundantly clear to Michelle, to Nayte, to us, to any stray members from Joe’s family still loitering around the weird, dark Dillard’s corner where they decided to host these Hometown visits, that Nayte is unprepared for the seriousness of this situation.
It always seems a little unfair when the leads get all concerned about a contestant who’s never been in love before. But I guess, in this one particular case (competitive speed engagement), it does help to have a frame of reference for knowing when you should or should not convert your fun, fuzzy feelings into a legally binding contract. Or as Nayte’s stepdad tells the camera (but blessedly not Michelle, who is doing her best to physically evolve into a species that can close its ears at will): “Nathaniel doesn’t know the difference between being in love and being engaged—one’s a feeling, and one’s a commitment.”
But honestly, that’s all beside the point when it comes to Nayte’s Hometown.
Michelle has had this entire season to focus on her soulmate quest, and now the show is briefly going to be about Nayte healing childhood wounds, so buckle up because—you guessed it—here comes weep no. 3. (For those of you playing along at home, if you get to four, you’re legally obligated to turn off the TV, pull over to the side of the couch and call your therapist.)
When Nayte and his stepdad sit down to talk about Nayte’s feelings for Michelle, the conversation quickly turns to the fact that they have never spoken about feelings with one another. Like, never! Nayte gets choked up, telling Charles that he wouldn’t be the person he is without him in his life. And then Charles takes it upon himself to wreak emotional havoc (in a good way) by telling Nayte that he’s been so fortunate to be in Nayte and his brother’s lives, and to watch them grow up. “I don’t say it a lot and I don’t show it a lot, but never, ever doubt that I am proud of you, that I love you, and never doubt that I am here for you.”
So that would explain this:
And it would also explain why Nayte is so overwhelmed with emotion for his family, literally telling his stepdad “I love you” for the first time, that he just … forgets to mention to Michelle whether he loves her on the DTR bench. Oops! Michelle is a little confused and more than hesitant about Nayte being as ready for this commitment as she is … but not so hesitant that she doesn’t call his name second when handing out roses to Brandon, Nayte, and then Joe.
And so, I leave you with this photo of Serena and Bri visiting their friend and former co-girlfriend Michelle in hopes that it may remind you to use a Crest White Strip and wear your retainer tonight, as it did me.
Additionally, you might want to start girding your loins—next week is Men Tell All, and the preview just reminded me that there was a Pizzapreneur this season. Where has the time gone?