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‘The Bachelorette’ Recap: Who’s Gonna Apologize to Rachel?

Part 1 of the Season 19 finale (more like a penultimate episode, to be honest) touts itself as the most dramatic conclusion in franchise history. But more and more it seems like ABC doesn’t understand what kind of drama its audience wants.

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

“See, I told you this was the most dramatic finale in Bachelorette history,” host Jesse Palmer says victoriously, standing next to a woman who is but a hollow shell of her former self. “Rachel, I can see the emotion in your face,” Jesse says softly to that same woman, who astral projected far, far outside of her body the moment the cameras started rolling. “It seems like you’re fighting back tears—is that how you feel?” Jesse asks this woman, who is currently being operated like a ventriloquist dummy by her best friend, who is in an only slightly better emotional state because she’s riding the high of Dancing With the Stars–sponsored hair extensions.

What, exactly, does The Bachelorette think we came here to see? Is “the most dramatic finale in Bachelorette history” really a success if this show that purports to be about love makes someone’s face look like that for two hours (and two more hours to come)? Is that the drama they think we want? All dramas are not created equally, and at some point “most dramatic finale in history” starts to sound like a threat. At some point, like when Jesse is describing a finale that he guarantees will be “so emotional, so dramatic, so controversial that it will have all of America stunned,” maybe he needs to turn to the two women beside him and tack on a quick, And that’s our bad, because we definitely invited you here under the guise of falling in love, but ended up making this deeply traumatic season of The Bachelorette instead.

And not for nothing—this was not the most dramatic finale in Bachelorette history. It wasn’t even a finale! You can’t just air two episodes one week apart and decide they’re both finales. Several years ago, I had to learn to call the second-to-last episode of any prestige television show the penultimate episode for some reason, and I didn’t learn all those syllables just for The Bachelorette to come in and start folding its penultimate episode into some cobbled-together Frankenstein finale. That’s just two regular episodes, babes!

Anyway, I know Rachel is fresh out of emotions, but I’ve got a reaction I can loan her in response to this episode, and to this season as a whole: utter confusion. (See also: flames … flames coming out of the side of my face.) Because the strangest part about forcing Rachel to sit through the first part of this “finale,” and watch picture-in-picture as her relationships dissolve in front of her very eyes, is that her sullen reaction does nothing but shine a light directly upon the foundational flaw of this show: It seems like nobody wants to get engaged to a stranger these days! (Get your fucking ass up, and get engaged to a stranger.) The best-case scenario of this weird, sad finale structure is that the producers are setting the stage to announce a well-considered, systematic change to the Bachelor(ette) format next week—which would, in fact, make this the most dramatic finale in Bachelorette history …

… but the worst-case scenario is that they don’t get it, and think that Rachel and Tino (presumably) tearing one another’s hearts to shreds outside an Airbnb in Agoura Hills will somehow make this a season worth suffering through. Let’s watch, I guess?

It’s My Breakup and I’ll Cry if I Want To

This is what I know about Zach: It really seems like he should be a “Zack” instead. There’s always the possibility that he was playing up his heartbreak and confusion for the cameras … but I really do think it’s just loose lentils rolling around up there, and the guy is genuinely baffled as to why Rachel flipped the switch on him despite it being incredibly obvious to everyone watching. (Spoiler—she got the ick.) Zach is, however, a vital part of one of my only two genuine laughs of the episode, for which I am grateful.

Because this was a fully live finale, screen-shotting was not an option, so please memorize the passage below, then close your eyes and picture this visual feast:

Zach asks Rachel to step outside before she hands out her roses, at which point he explains to her that their Fantasy Suite night was undeniably awkward. A confused look passes across Rachel’s face that can only be described as: Yes, obviously, which is why I’m about to break up with you using the official Bachelor H.R. protocol of not giving you a rose during the time allotted to me to give you a rose, a time that you have just interrupted. Zach somehow reads this look as just regular confusion; he says that inside the Fantasy Suite, he felt like he was “seeing Bachelorette Rachel, not the real Rachel I’ve come to know and love,” which doesn’t seem to affect Rachel in the moment because she’s still mentally playing out the comfortable, franchise-approved breakup she was supposed to have … until, finally, Zach says, “I saw a future with you—but I need to go.”

Rachel’s face when Zach tells her that he needs to leave made me laugh so hard that I attempted to take a number of photos of my TV screen that were so terrible I had to just sit down and start laughing again. Rachel is floored that she’s being broken up with when the entire point of keeping Zach around through what sounds like the most uncomfortable, soulless, definitely sexless Fantasy Suite of all time was to break up with him at the right time. But Zach swiped her out at the ankles in the final 10 seconds! And I kind of have to respect him for that, especially because I really don’t even think he’s doing it on purpose. Rachel makes a vague reference to Zach “questioning her character,” but from the mostly lifeless way she receives him in this scene, it’s pretty obvious that whatever mysterious cold front Zach noticed was probably pretty valid.

I’d really prefer not to even address the “After the Final Rose” conversations Rachel had because they were so devoid of content, except to say that the only way this finale could pique my interest is if Rachel regains life in her eyes next week and attempts to shoot her shot with one of these nice young men that she let go for no reason (except not loving or wanting the same things as them, sure, fine, whatever).

It’s Not Me, It’s Your Timeline

I don’t know how I became so convinced that Rachel only had eyes for Tino, when apparently, she’s been fully in love with Aven this whole time. I guess it was the fact that we’ve seen Aven onscreen for two minutes before spending almost this entire episode with him. Plus, it is hard to focus on anything else when faced with Aven’s “wholesome heartthrob from a late-aughts Disney Channel Original Movie about a kid who finds a pair of time-traveling sneakers, all grown up” good looks … but I do still blame myself for the oversight.

So it was genuinely shocking watching Rachel positively gush to her family about how wonderful Aven is, and how much she can envision her life with him after this. (It was also shocking that Rachel was wearing a red shirt dress that, unfortunately, when cropped from the shoulders up in her testimonials, makes it look like she is working the evening shift at a Steak ’n Shake.) I’d say the general summary of her preparatory monologue is: “Tino, who?” Indeed, Aven comes into the family meeting and charms Rachel’s parents with his pleasantness, rational approach to the future, and megawatt DCOM smile. But then he chats with Rachel’s two best friends who ask him whether he’s ready to propose to Rachel in a few days and—cue the “dun, dun, dunnnn.”

Aven later explains the miscommunication saying that, in between Fantasy Suites and Family Day, he became less sure that he’d be ready to propose in the short time remaining, but he didn’t have any time alone with Rachel to speak to her about it before her friends directly asked him. He didn’t want to lie, so he told Rachel’s friends that he wasn’t sure about proposing before he told Rachel. As in the person who thought Aven was 100 percent ready to get engaged because they’d talked about it during Fantasy Suites. (I don’t remember the private conversations from Fantasy Suites ever being as consistently contentious as they have been in this season.)

When Rachel’s friends relay the information back to her, she’s blindsided, and being blindsided in front of her friends and family seems to be about as much of a deal-breaker as not getting engaged at the end of this—the latter of which Aven makes it very clear he’s unprepared to do by laying out a logical, reasonable premise that he’d like to date Rachel in the real world before making any lifetime commitments. The math isn’t mathing a bit at the same time Aven also says he’s at a place in his life where he’s ready to be engaged … and also at a place with Rachel where he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. But it mostly seems like Aven is like, “Yes, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I also want to see how you load the dishwasher first,” which isn’t math, but science.

Aven’s hesitation to get engaged after a few weeks of knowing Rachel is understandable; it always feels slightly less understandable when the Bachelorette seems to fully love one of her boyfriends but can’t stomach not getting engaged to him, and therefore decides to lose him altogether in favor of her ready-to-commit boyfriend, who then ends up looking like a consolation prize. But hey, we’ve seen it work out before (it’s actually one of the only methods we’ve seen work). So after sobbing quite a bit, Rachel breaks up with a very confused Aven.

And speaking of consolation prizes: The other time I laughed the hardest in this episode was when Tino told Rachel’s family, with the most serious, solemn look on his face you could possibly imagine, “I can’t wait until you guys all get to know me a little better.” I’ve simply never heard that configuration of words come out of someone’s mouth before! It’s so close to being a normal thing to say, just like Tino is so close to not framing every single thing that happens as irrefutable proof that he has won a competition no one knew he was in. And so, after a few hours with Rachel’s family that can only be described as unremarkable, Tino declares, “I am in awe of how well meeting Rachel’s family went,” while present-day Rachel looks like she’s been slowly swallowing a bug every minute, on the minute, for the last two hours.

See You Next Week

Oh, did I say two hours? I actually meant over two hours, because somehow, despite the live, in-studio conversations with Zach and Aven giving absolutely nothing, Jesse Palmer tells us that this live finale (not a finale!) will now be intruding upon the local news because “what we’re discussing here tonight is just so important that we’ve actually gotten special permission from ABC to continue this.” And I kid you not, what they’ve gotten special permission to show is a scene between Gabby and Erich that they then replay extensively in the preview for next week. Someone just missed out on hearing what the weather will be tomorrow because The Bachelorette needed to play a narrative trick on its audience.

Erich is Gabby’s only boyfriend left, and given how Rachel has already made the episodic sacrifice to the weeping gods who must be fed, you’d think that we wouldn’t need to manufacture any drama over in GabbyLand. But alas—the gods are greedy. (Let me be clear that in this analogy, we are not the gods, we are the peasants.) But—and I don’t pull this card often—the editing on Gabby’s breakdown following Erich’s suggestion that maybe they date before getting engaged is wildly suspicious. While Gabby wails, “Like, I’m so sick of this” and “I don’t wanna be here anymore,” we never actually see her face. I have no doubt that Erich upset Gabby; I have no doubt that Gabby said these things … and yet, I have absolutely no doubt that this is just another stone in the “most dramatic finale in Bachelorette history” pot that no one wants.

See you back here next week for the second installment of the two-part, two-week finale of the two-Bachelorette, too-sad season.