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‘The Bachelor’ Finale Recap: The Worst Happy Ending

Justice had been served, crimes had been punished. Then off-camera events changed everything.

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

For a moment there, it seemed like The Bachelor would have a happy ending—not for Clayton, who had broken heart after heart in a stunning series of callous decisions. No, it was a happy ending for us, the fans: The season’s protagonist-turned-villain had been forced to pay for his crimes, with Susie thoroughly rejecting Clayton after he’d tanked everything to try to be with her. But then, we got love ex machina. Apparently, sometime in between Clayton’s Icelandic undoing and Tuesday night, everything worked out. And so instead, we got the most frustrating “Happy Ending” ever.

Clayton spent most of the season seeming like a nice guy. But nice guys are often only nice as long as everybody does what they want. Once somebody pushed back, everything spiraled out of control. With three episodes remaining, Clayton decided to tell all three women left that he was in love with them—then he angrily screamed at Susie, the one he said he loved the most, because she disapproved of the fact that he’d had sex with two other women. After she left, he humiliated Gabby and Rachel by making them come to Iceland’s fanciest, most acoustically sound building and listen to him explain that he was having sex and falling in love with everybody. They wept explosively, but somehow he coaxed them into believing that he still loved them and convinced them to stay.

Then came Tuesday night’s episode, which began with about 100 of the most brutal minutes in the show’s history. Despite begging Gabby and Rachel to stay, Clayton comes to the realization that his heart is actually set on Susie, so he calls Gabby and Rachel together to break up with them—apparently he didn’t care enough about them to dump them individually. He also doesn’t shed a tear as he breaks their hearts for a second time. Or maybe a third time? Tough to keep track.

Gabby responds with righteous fury, dissecting how and why Clayton’s actions of the past week were messed up and hypocritical. “You asked us to stay because you were pissed and your pride was hurt when Susie left you,” she says. “It was going to be my decision [to leave] which you didn’t want it to be, and now it’s your decision, so it’s easy.” She calls his claims of love “bullshit,” and when Clayton asks whether he can walk her out, she responds like it’s the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said to her. Rachel, meanwhile, is reduced to a crying mess unable to get more than a few words out at a time. “You didn’t give me anything, and what little you gave me, I held on to,” Rachel says between the tears. “I promise you, when you look back on this, it will haunt you.” She lets Clayton walk her out, repeatedly muttering “I can’t believe you’re gonna put me in a car right now.”

And so, somehow still confident in his own decision-making, Clayton moves on to Susie. But Susie is still hurt by how aggressively Clayton had yelled at her the other night. “I felt like a stray dog that had come into your home that you were shooing away,” she says. “If you have love for me as a person, how could you treat me like this? You made me feel wrong and bad. That, to me, was the heartbreak.” Clayton convinces Susie to come meet him at an Icelandic farmhouse, then takes out a ring and kind of proposes, but Susie flatly turns him down. She makes it clear that she doesn’t love him in the same way that he loves her, and completely shuts the door on any possible future reconciliation.

It was rewarding to see Clayton’s complete lack of consideration for the women he supposedly loved finally catch up to him. He’d spit venom at Susie after she told him she was no longer interested; now Susie was telling him that that harshness was why she couldn’t be with him. He’d led Gabby and Rachel to believe he genuinely cared for them, only to dump them with an emotionless calm which indicated he never did—only for Susie to dismiss him with the same flat tone. All three women had been cutting in their own way—Gabby with her precise breakdown of what Clayton had done wrong; Rachel with a waterfall of emotion; Susie with the ultimate rejection.

Clayton had become the first Bachelor to be so completely rejected. You’d think this would be a disaster for a show which hypothetically considers itself successful when the protagonist finds love, but it was one of the better stories in the show’s history. While most seasons follow a routine formula, this one began to be compelling only when Clayton went off-script and was punished for choosing the path that inflicted as much pain as possible. It was gutting, but gripping—and just. When Gabby and Rachel finally got their chance to confront Clayton on the live portion of Tuesday night’s episode, the crowd cheered them on.

And then, in the final 10 minutes of the season, a happy ending showed up out of nowhere. After Gabby and Rachel had sufficiently dragged him across the “After the Final Rose” stage, Clayton told us that one of the women from his season had reached out to him, and that they were together. We were then shown the high heels of the mystery woman, as Jesse Palmer tried to hold suspense for about 35 seconds. Then, Susie came out. She explained that Clayton is her boyfriend, and they giggled and grinned like kids with a million inside jokes. Clayton revealed that they’re moving in together.

What the hell happened?! While past Bachelor romances have changed in the months between the end of filming and the airing of the finale, the show has typically managed to get cameras to capture that moment. When Arie decided that he was going to break up with Becca to marry Lauren instead, the Bachelor cameras were there. When Hannah learned the truth about Jed, the Bachelorette cameras were there. Last season, they documented Matt James learning about Rachael’s upsetting past. But this time around, we were simply told that everything had worked out for Clayton and Susie—even though our last glimpse of Clayton and Susie seemed to make it loud and clear that this was never going to happen. We didn’t see Clayton redeem himself, and we didn’t get to see Susie work through whatever emotions she clearly had to work through to change her mind about Clayton. We just got a sudden cut from Clayton getting justifiably destroyed to everybody smiling. For a show that invasively films every moment for months, the biggest development of this season happened off camera.

Season 26’s happy ending wasn’t an example of a TV show leading fans off the scent before hitting them with a last-minute plot twist. It was a totally unexplained 180. It wasn’t a pleasant surprise to see that Clayton had wound up with Susie, but legitimately disconcerting. The final hours of the show had not only suggested that this outcome was impossible—they made us feel as if we shouldn’t want it. The events of the show made it clear that Susie was too good for Clayton, and that Clayton didn’t deserve to be happy unless he seriously reckoned with the selfishness and carelessness that had led to so much hurt for everybody involved. Then we were expected to clap when everything worked out anyway.

Biggest Winners: Gabby and Rachel

Luckily, The Bachelor quickly cut away from the happy couple and Jesse Palmer quickly pivoted from Clayton to the people we had actually come to care about: Gabby and Rachel. He explained that the next season of The Bachelorette will follow a unique format, with both serving as Bachelorettes. And although the show has announced multiple leads before—most notably with Kaitlyn Bristowe and Britt Nilsson, when the men voted on which lead they preferred immediately after arriving—Jesse assured that both women will get to serve as the Bachelorette for the whole season.

Gabby and Rachel seemed legitimately surprised by the news, cackling and hugging each other as their families watched. They also seemed a little bit confused by the format—and to be fair, so am I.

  • Will Gabby and Rachel be choosing from the same crop of men? Or will there be one group for Gabby and one group for Rachel?
  • Will we have to watch the men introduce themselves to both women on the opening night? That’s going to take two hours alone.
  • Who gets to choose who sticks around? Will each of them get a certain amount of roses to pick who stays?
  • What happens if both of them are interested in the same guy?
  • What if, uh, one guy falls in love with both of them? And sleeps with both of them?
  • Can we at least make sure that none of the guys are allowed to claim to be in love with Gabby or Rachel and then choose a third Bachelorette?

As immediately happy as everybody was for Gabby and Rachel, it almost feels a bit mean that they’ve been selected for this unprecedented season of The Bachelorette. After all, they just went through a thing where they shared a guy. It will be painful to watch if they’re once again forced to compete with one another after everything they’ve been through. Why couldn’t the show’s producers pick just one of them? Who are they—Clayton?

But one of the redeeming aspects of the season was the way Gabby and Rachel kept consoling one another throughout the final moments, even as Clayton treated them worse and worse. While this show generally chooses to play up the cattiness between its female contestants, it was clear that Gabby and Rachel had found ways to support one another despite being romantic rivals in an impossibly awkward scenario. The new format will fly or flop based on that interpersonal relationship and whether producers are wise enough to lean into it rather than tear it down. But right now, it feels like things will work out.

Clayton might have walked away with Susie, but Gabby and Rachel are the true winners. They get to be the stars of their own show—and they get to find much better men. Their greatest victory is that neither one of them has to be with Clayton.