Throughout this entire Fantasy Suite episode of The Bachelorette, I could not stop humming the Boyz II Men classic “End of the Road” (nor pausing to watch its perfect music video, which, not for nothing, invented the shacket). Because, with only three men, two episodes, and a seemingly infinite number of love declarations to go, we are officially approaching the end of the road in Michelle’s journey to find a soul mate. And if you’re not sure which road we’re reaching the end of, you can just squint out at that blur in the distance and find Michelle in a glittering gown, squatted down in Roy sibling position, weeping because she just broke up with a man who she straight-up told she’s still kinda in love with moments before he got into an SUV with “Mexico to Minneapolis” already plugged into the GPS.
Indeed, there is no pit stop on the Bachelorette journey quite so un-nat-ur-al as the contractually obligated Fantasy Suite dates. And it’s not because the contestants are permitted by Kaitlyn and Tayshia to finally have sex if they want to. No, that part should mean that this episode kicks off the romantic climax (pun always very much intended) this entire franchise is predicated on. But, in reality, Fantasy Suites are when this whole enterprise begins to unfold like a horror movie, cracking under the pressure of its own conceit. Listening to Michelle coax Nayte into admitting that he has feelings that could maybe amount to an eventual proposal, and then celebrating that as a total victory, feels like watching a bony hand slowly creep out from under a bed. And watching Brandon mentally arrange Michelle’s bridal bouquet while Michelle lies in bed telling Nayte she’s in love with him may as well be Samara emerging from a well.
Fantasy Suites are typically when the lead realizes that it’s possible to fall in love with more than one person at once, even without knowing any of their middle names, voting history, or stance on reheating leftover pizza in the oven or microwave. For all Michelle knows, these could be the kind of guys who are out here arguing in Kevin Hart’s Instagram comments, or handing out unsolicited endorsements to former high school classmates on LinkedIn. They could be secret monsters; they could write dog food jingles. More than anything, Fantasy Suites are when it becomes most abundantly clear that everyone has started throwing around the concept of getting engaged and making little sketches on napkins for Neil Lane even though they’ve technically never been in a room alone together.
Because in the end, the importance of Fantasy Suites rests upon the predication that all of the nights that have come before it have purposefully prevented these relationships from becoming more intimate. When Tayshia comes in to tell the men how Fantasy Suites will work, she reiterates that this is the one opportunity to be with Michelle “behind closed doors, no cameras, all the pressure off—it’s an indescribable feeling.” And while I know Tayshia is not a writer (she is, rather, a phlebotomist turned beauty and lifestyle influencer turned interim Bachelorette cohost), Fantasy Suites are not indescribable. What Tayshia is describing is simply a date—something these people haven’t been allowed to have while allegedly falling in love with one another.
So, even with a lead as sure-handed as Michelle, Fantasy Suites are still bound to mix up some difficult feelings for her co-boyfriends. Because perhaps the single most unnatural thing about Fantasy Suite week is this tradition wherein three men are contractually obligated to sit silently in a room together, side-by-side on tropical print couches, as they contemplate whether the woman they love will soon be having sex with the two other men that she loves (who, again, are sitting right there).
Should we abolish this mandatory gathering of the boyfriends pre-, mid-, and post-conjugal visit? Probably. It is the unproductive, unkind, and intentional psychological torture of three men who have already been asked to write spoken word poetry, beat each other with giant teddy bears, and stand in the same frame as Glen Powell and Jay Ellis on national television. Alas, it is also funny! And it gives us one of my favorite conversations of this entire season so far, when Nayte and Brandon—serving all the energy of two kid brothers play-wrestling until one kid brother winds up sobbing with a bloody lip while the other screams that he didn’t do anything—start saying the quiet part out loud. Nayte and Brandon actually start discussing that age-old question: Which placement in the three-part Fantasy Suite lineup is the best?
But Brandon and Nayte aren’t discussing what the audience is generally thinking about when it comes to Fantasy Suite order (sex, and literally any clue we can get that it has taken place). They’re thinking about what their placements mean regarding Michelle’s feelings for them, and the emotional toll on their psyches. Brandon thinks he’s been chosen to go first because he’s Michelle’s deepest connection, but that also makes it more difficult because he now has to sit through two other men’s dates. But by the end of this episode, it seems like the definitive answer is that it’s best to be chosen for the last Fantasy Suite date … or as Nayte would tell you—it’s probably best to just be Nayte.
Hearts Are for Breaking (and for Tablescaping)
Someone get Brené Brown on the line because a new kind of vulnerability just dropped.
I have no doubt that Brandon has been in love upward of 10 times in his life. I don’t say this to diminish his connection with Michelle; I say it because I think Brandon would have fallen in love with any Bachelorette that ABC put in front of him. I think Brandon would have fallen in love with a particularly lifelike mannequin coupled with a Hallmark card singing “Pocketful of Sunshine.” The man simply loves love, and more importantly, he has absolutely zero self-preservation instincts.
Before the nighttime portion of his date with Michelle, Brandon says, “I can’t wait to literally rip my heart out, throw it on the table, and just say, do what you want with it, because it only beats for you at this point.” He is like an insect without an exoskeleton—fully exposed to the harm we know this process will most likely wreak on him. And yet … Michelle seems to really like Brandon. She seems continually shocked by how much she really likes Brandon. And during the nighttime portion of the date, she tells him she doesn’t just like him, she’s falling in love with him. Of course, Brandon has already told her that he’s fully in love with her and ready to propose tomorrow. As previously mentioned, he was willing to “literally” put his heart on a dinner table—there’s really never been any question about the way Brandon feels.
It’s Michelle who’s kept her cards closer to the vest, but keeps giving hints that her feelings for Brandon could be close to the level of her feelings for Nayte. She clearly connected with Brandon’s family the most, and she mentions their physical chemistry a number of times. At the top of their nighttime date, she says they can’t start making out or they’ll never stop—and then she does it anyway. She tells Brandon that she’s never met someone who’s made her feel so safe, and that she sees a future with him. She invites him to the Fantasy Suite, and the next morning they have a food fight in bed. It’s gross but also cute, just like everything Brandon does.
But I must note: They’re also very clothed the next morning, very upright in the bed. Michelle thanks Brandon for listening when she needed him to listen and comforting her when she needed him to comfort her the night before, but we’re left in the dark about what they actually talked about. Whatever it was, Michelle says her Fantasy Suite with Brandon has given her “a lot to think about.”
Get’cha Head in the Game
Up until the Fantasy Suites, I had assumed Michelle’s feelings for Joe were possibly as strong as her feelings for Nayte, even if they weren’t as evident. But then Fantasy Suites rolled around and I realized that most of Michelle and Joe’s connection has been high school– or basketball-related. And being the B-plot romance of High School Musical does not a fairy tale make. Though Joe does his best to continue to open up and show his adventurous side while zip lining—have you ever heard someone scream in monotone? It is possible!—and Michelle does her best to equate monotone screaming to his opening up to her, these two are just moving too slowly.
But something changes in Michelle when, during the nighttime portion of the date, Joe talks about his desire to make a difference and “change the world” through his real estate endeavors. As you may recall, this sort of thing is also what Michelle bonded with Matt James over. So, I have to ask: Is this a retired athlete thing? Is it like that quote that’s always misattributed to Leonardo da Vinci: Once you’ve tasted the flight of a half-court shot, you will forever walk the earth trying to achieve it again through buying and selling commercial properties? Or something like that?
Because personally, I feel accomplished when I successfully change my sheets each week. But if I were to put myself in the mindset of someone who wants to change the world each week, I could see how it would be quite irresistible to hear that ambition coming from someone whose eyes twinkle so brightly he should really be starring in the 40th season of a daytime soap. So maybe that’s why Michelle gives Joe a surprising amount of reassurances the morning after their Fantasy Suite, saying that she’ll make their next breakfast in bed.
Much like Brandon, Michelle says that “24 hours with Joe has changed everything.” So has it somehow been Nayte whom Michelle has been least sure about all along?
(No, reader, it most assuredly is not.)
“This Whole Engagement Thing …”
You want a love story? You got your love story—Nayte and Michelle are in love with each other.
You want a train wreck? It’s possible you may also have yourself a train wreck—there’s just about no way that Nayte and Michelle are on the same page, even if they’re trying really hard to be. Nayte spends this entire episode telling the other guys, the cameras, and anyone who will listen—including Michelle!—just how unbothered he is by Michelle having two other relationships. Nayte sees this as a sign of his own confidence in the connection he has with Michelle, but from the outside, it’s difficult not to wonder whether Nayte is just too indifferent about their future.
I can’t believe he’s making me say this about The Bachelorette, but Nayte seems like he’s not taking this seriously enough! He’s like the living embodiment of that Willow Smith song I keep hearing: Nayte caught a vibe, and he’s just riding it. And I guess that’s what he thinks Michelle is doing too …
But that is not what Michelle is doing. Michelle wants a commitment; Michelle wants to hear that Nayte is in love with her just like her Plans B and C are, and she’s coming into this Fantasy Suite ready to get some answers. Michelle still manages to be giddy with Nayte on a catamaran during the daytime portion of the date, saying she feels how you’re supposed to feel with your soul mate when she’s with Nayte. But Michelle also says: “This whole engagement thing is a week away and it’s important to know if he can get there.”
Yes “this whole engagement thing” is a week away, so when they sit down to dinner, before Michelle forks over the Fantasy Suite invitation, she asks Nayte if he has anything on his mind. To which he says:
H’oh boy. Michelle then explicitly says that she’d like to know where Nayte’s head is, so Nayte gives this big wind-up to how much he’s been thinking about their connection, and thinking about their Hometown visit with his family, and figuring out how their relationship will translate out in the real world … only to wrap it all up with, “These are questions I don’t have the answers to, but that’s life, though—and if you have all the answers, that’s a pretty boring life to me.” I swear, he really thinks he’s cracked some code with this “Isn’t it more exciting to just NEVER commit to ANYTHING?” bit.
Michelle goes into full teacher mode, though, gently agreeing that there will be plenty of unexpected things coming their way, yes, “but the one answer I need to have is knowing your heart is on the same page as mine with everything.” So Nayte gives Michelle some more word soup about how he takes relationships seriously, and he has feelings for her he’s never had before, which, once again, feels almost the opposite of reassuring! But Michelle is not deterred. She tells Nayte that falling in love, being in love, and getting engaged are three different things, and she needs to know which of those things he’s ready for. “I mean, all three,” Nayte responds casually, as though that’s the message he’s been conveying all along. “Falling in love, being in love, loving you—there’s something about you that I’m certain about.”
I find myself cringing so hard at the lopsidedness of this conversation. I have lost any semblance of a neck. But Michelle is glowing. When she asks Nayte if he could “get there” and he responds, “Yeah, I don’t see myself pulling away,” she hears that sentence in a completely different way than I hear it.
And again, when Nayte tells the woman who he’s claimed he can see himself proposing to in a week’s time that their first night alone together is “probably one of the most special nights” he’s ever had, perhaps it is me who is picking up on all the wrong words, and Michelle who’s choosing to hear all the right ones. Because at least when Nayte finally tells Michelle he’s in love with her—and Michelle says it back to him—there’s no misinterpreting that.
Does Nayte immediately revert back to saying he’s “falling in love” with Michelle in his testimonials? Sure. And when he sits back down with the other men, does he recap his time with Michelle thusly:
Yes, he does. But I guess everyone can’t be as verbally effusive as Brandon, who interrupts the rose ceremony just to let Michelle know that, no matter how this goes, he will continue to put her first. Whether it was Nayte’s unassailable vibes or Brandon’s final speech, Michelle eliminates Joe, who leaves as graciously as every other co-boyfriend has … which, of course, causes Michelle to collapse in tears at the end of her road.
I’ll leave you with the hope that every single person in this final trio doesn’t wind up heartbroken—and since I skipped recapping two hours of yelling about pizza, one tweet-length review of last week’s Men Tell All: The world will not know peace until the entire airplane is made out of the black box material, and the entire Men Tell All special is made out of the blooper reel.
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.