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‘The Bachelor’ Finale Recap: The Wrath of Barb

Season 24 has ended. So, possibly, has Peter’s relationship with his mother.

ABC/Ringer illustration

The Bachelor is a show designed for happy endings. In the finale of each season, the show’s star receives a boulder-sized engagement ring that he hands to one of the beautiful women who has followed him to one of the most beautiful places on earth. They pop champagne and smile and sit down for an interview with Chris Harrison where they smile and look beautiful together.

But Bachelor fans don’t really watch for the happy endings. We watch to laugh at the over-the-top dates, gawk at the infighting, roast the decision-making of the contestants—and we like to snidely comment about how most of the couples break up after the show ends anyway. In the last few years, The Bachelor seemingly realized this, and instead of letting the couples break up off-camera, they started filming and airing them. (Sorry, Us Weekly, your exclusives are over!) It started with Arie’s decision to break up with “winner” Becca and propose to runner-up Lauren, continued last year when Hannah Brown confronted Jed, and for a while, Tuesday night’s episode followed that formula to a T.

The episode opened with Peter proposing to Hannah Ann, the final remaining contestant after Madison left him in Australia. Their proposal seemed stilted from the start—instead of telling Hannah Ann how much he loved her, he primarily explained that Madison had left two days ago. Hannah Ann’s response was a bewildered “You chose me?!?!?!”—which, technically no; his top choice left. Hannah Ann won by default. So it wasn’t too surprising when, after a few sips of champagne, the Arie formula kicked into place: Hannah Ann met Peter in Los Angeles, they broke up, and she eviscerated him (“If you want to be with a woman, you need to become a real man”). Then, Chris Harrison—acting as a sort of human Instagram DM, to keep the Arie analogy going—flew to Alabama to recruit Madison to come back. She did, reconciling with Peter and beginning a relationship with him. Even with a botched proposal, the show aimed for a happy ending.

But after that, the show went off the rails, culminating in a chaotic and bitter feud between Madison and the season’s surprise villain—Peter’s mom, Barbara. On Monday night’s episode, Barbara made clear her preference for Hannah Ann over Madison. The tearful BRING HERRR HOOOOOOOME speech made famous by a million promos was, in fact, a plea for Peter to choose a relationship with Hannah Ann despite his love for Madison. You’d think her stance would have softened over the months when Peter clearly pined for Madison. Nope! Peter had three months on TV, Barbara had 30 minutes, and she made the most of all of them.

When Peter came home to Los Angeles to tell his family that he had proposed, Barbara didn’t smile or congratulate Peter until he announced that he’d chosen Hannah Ann. When video rolled of Hannah Ann breaking up with Peter, ABC showed a picture-in-picture box of Barbara’s live reactions—the Barb Cam. She was completely stone-faced when Peter talked, and began clapping when Hannah Ann ripped into him. Barbara wasn’t just #TeamHannahAnn over #TeamMadison—she seemed to even prefer Hannah Ann over her own son.

But Barb’s strongest barbs (I had to) were saved for Madison herself, during the live sitdown with Chris Harrison that’s normally filled with smiles and kisses. After Peter and Madison committed to giving each other a second chance, Chris asked Barbara for her thoughts on the situation. Most parents would trust their son and give the relationship its blessing; instead, Barbara doubled down on her distrust of Madison. “Everyone knows it’s not going to work,” Barbara said, as Madison cringed. She kept going and going and going about how Madison didn’t greet her with the openness that Hannah Ann did, and how Madison was unwilling to compromise. And when Chris asked Peter’s (much quieter) dad about his thoughts on the situation, Barbara leaned over and whispered in Spanish, “Say something bad too! Help me!”

(Amateur move from a television novice—whispering things while you’re wearing a microphone does not work as well as whispering things when you are not wearing a microphone.)

How did Barbara develop such a toxic opinion of Madison? From their two meetings? (The first was the first one-on-one date of the season, when Barbara and Peter’s quiet dad renewed their vows. It seemed pleasant! Barbara smiled a lot!) Did she get pissed watching the show on television? I know that we, the viewers, can watch a season like this and say, “Peter made the wrong choice!” and “They’re not going to work out!”—but to say that stuff about your own son, to his face? How could she have built up such animosity? And why did she feel the need to air it on national television? (Follow-up: Can you imagine what Barbara would have said about The Dread Victoria?)

Madison, meanwhile, remained diplomatic, if upset. Peter tried to plead with his mom—“I’m telling you, I love Madison, and that should be enough!”—but it was no use. Barbara refused to yield, pushing the show past its two-hour time limit. (Apologies to any viewers of For Life who had to wait a bit for the show to start.)

Barbara is probably right that Peter’s relationship with Madison is hopeless—but not just because of their many incompatibilities. In a lot of ways, they’re doomed because of Barb’s own actions. She caused Madison to seriously rethink her relationship with Peter by grilling him in Australia; she probably eased Peter into pulling the trigger on an engagement with Hannah Ann that he wasn’t into. And now it’s impossible to imagine Madison and Peter living happily ever after when there’s a perpetual naysayer looming inches away. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Peter still lives with his parents when he’s not flying planes.) We’ve made fun of Peter’s decision-making all season long—how much of that has to do with having a mother who’s so eager to pull his strings?

We love The Bachelor for the drama, sure, but it’s best when it’s the petty, silly type. We like thinking about a Bachelor couple breaking up because they’re both clout-horny Instagram climbers with nothing in common. But it’s tough to laugh about Peter and Madison’s almost-certain impending breakup, because we saw the uncomfortable causes of it on a live stage. The Bachelor heard we liked unhappy endings, and it showed us the least happy ending in the show’s history. It was deeply uncomfortable, and yet, I kind of need to see Thanksgiving at the Webers: A Bachelor Special—although I’m not sure we can count on Peter and Madison still being together in November.

Biggest Loser: Winners (or maybe “Biggest Winner: Losers”)

I used to say that contestants shouldn’t try to win The Bachelor because actually getting engaged is a lot less fun than becoming the next Bachelorette. Now, it seems like contestants shouldn’t try to win The Bachelor because it means oncoming public embarrassment. The trend began two years ago, when Becca “won” and then got surprise-dumped on national television. The next season of The Bachelor ended before a proposal, but last season of The Bachelorette saw Jed win … and then get dumped after Hannah got wise to internet reports that Jed dumped his girlfriend days before the show started so he could promote his music career through reality television. (I still have the Better Bowl jingle stuck in my head.) And now we have Hannah Ann. Honestly, if you’re trying to leave this show with a viable relationship, you should not want to win it.

But after two seasons, the surprise of the post-engagement breakup is a bit lost. Most Bachelor viewers probably knew what was going to happen when Peter’s happy engagement happened with an hour and a half remaining in the finale; Hannah Ann seemed to know what was going to happen when she walked into a camera-filled house in Los Angeles for a sit-down with her brief fiancé. The Bachelor really had one shot at a stunning finale breakup, and used it on Arie’s season, which was frankly worth it.

But since Hannah Ann knew she was walking into her relationship’s funeral, it meant she had time to work up a eulogy. She destroyed Peter over the course of the breakup, calling him “spineless” and criticizing him for failing to live up to the words he spoke to her in Australia. Peter kept trying to guide the relationship to an amicable end, even following Hannah Ann as she walked toward the door so he could have the final word. (A thing that Arie also did.) But Hannah Ann won. “I don’t need anything more from you,” she said. “You’ve done enough damage.” She could’ve dropped a mic, but do you know how hard it is to take off those mics they wire up the inside of your shirt?

The breakup itself wasn’t surprising, but Hannah Ann’s performance was. Hannah Ann managed to make it through an entire season of The Bachelor without showing an inkling of a personality; she herself admitted that she has a tendency to smile through situations rather than be open and honest. And she did not exactly have a great reputation as a public speaker—as Reality Steve uncovered, she finished second in the Miss Tennessee USA pageant after botching the “talking” portion of the competition by stopping, starting, and stumbling through a question about what punishment should be given to fraternity members who kill pledges. Tuesday night, though, she was firm and ferocious; righteous and, honestly, completely right.

In her pursuit of victory on The Bachelor, Hannah Ann often came across as fake, refusing to put in a cross word in hopes that she could smile her way to the top. (Technically, this strategy worked, as it often does on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.) But after being dumped, she revealed that it really was a front. The actual Hannah Ann seems much more interesting and stronger than the person who smiled and nodded at everything Peter said. Considering her Bachelor story and the person she proved herself to be Tuesday night, I’m left wondering why she wasn’t chosen to be the star of the next season of The Bachelorette.

Newest Cottage Industry: Bachelor Breakup Pads

Just like Chris and Snoop filled the abandoned row houses of Baltimore with dead bodies, Bachelor producers seem determined to fill the Airbnb party cribs of Los Angeles with dead relationships. They’ve decided on a firm location for Bachelor beginnings—the Bachelor Mansion, which Peter will have to drive past for the rest of his life, because, as previously noted, he lives about 10 minutes from the set, with his parents—but are still bouncing around looking for the perfect place for these awkward Bachelor endings.

There’s definitely a theme: Every house they’ve used for a Bachelor breakup is a massive and quiet rental house. Why do I know that it’s a rental house? I don’t know, let’s start with THE PHOTO BOOTH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HALLWAY.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is actually the house of someone who spent several thousand dollars on a novelty photo booth so they could take goofy pictures with their loved ones throughout the day. But I personally hope that no such person exists. (If this person does exist, and is reading this post: Try phones! They have cameras now!) But more than likely, this is a house you can rent for a large sum of money if you want to throw a party in a place you don’t own.

Some enterprising individual needs to design a home that can fill the role of the Mansion, but for dumpings. There needs to be a living room with a couch with enough room for the dumper and dumpee to sit with at least three feet of space between them. There needs to be a hallway for the dumpee to storm down. Bedrooms? Don’t need ’em. Lots of natural light is preferable. And while one hasn’t been needed yet, it would be nice if there was a pool for the dumpee to throw various personal items in. But no knives, please!

Worst Performance: Peter

All season long we roasted Peter for his inability to make decisions. There was the three-episode-long story line in which he dumped Alayah, took her back, then realized everybody else on the show was furious at him for taking her back and dumped her again. There was the two-on-one date in which he chose Mykenna over Tammy, then dumped Mykenna roughly 45 seconds later. There were the million times he should have dumped Victoria F., and didn’t. Of course Peter’s season ended with him proposing to a woman, reneging, and choosing someone else.

Hannah Ann’s demolition of Peter was so effective because all of her points were valid. After Madison left him, Peter half-heartedly talked himself into his relationship with Hannah Ann, but didn’t quite explain to her that he was still into Madison, nor did he explain the circumstances of Madison’s departure. Even having watched the full episode, I still don’t think Peter ever explained to Hannah Ann that Madison dumped him—he ambiguously said that she “left,” cherry-picking his words to make it seem more like he sent her home and voluntarily chose Hannah Ann. It was unfair of Peter to propose to Hannah Ann just to fulfill the show’s unofficial proposal requirement. The man even FaceTimed Hannah Ann’s dad!

We should also clarify: Picking Madison is probably a bad call, even ignoring Barb’s opinion. Madison says religion is the most important thing in her life, doesn’t drink, and will not have sex before marriage. Peter doesn’t seem religious, enjoys partying, and recently had sex four times inside of a windmill on national television. I am slightly worried that Peter equates “picking a woman on a reality show” to “getting married,” and that now he thinks they’re all good to go in Jesus’s eyes—unfortunately, he’s not even engaged to Madison yet. He’s not going to be having sex for a while! While Barb’s delivery was a bit much, she had a point—he’s a lot more compatible with Hannah Ann, who probably wants to move to Los Angeles anyway.

But maybe the worst part of Peter’s performance on Tuesday night was his disinterest in sticking up for his … girlfriend (is that what we call her?) as his mom went in on her. Peter’s attempts at defending Madison were token at best. He seemed more interested in smiling and getting his time on national television over with.

Barb emerged as the show’s villain in the closing minutes, but don’t let Peter off the hook for a horribly botched season. He dragged the show’s worst contestants deep into the season; he refused to mediate any conflicts; he got dumped by the woman he loved; he proposed to someone he didn’t particularly care for; and he capped it off by smiling for the camera as his mom hurled daggers at his girlfriend. It was one of the worst performances any Bachelor has ever put forth. Which also means this season was spectacularly entertaining to watch.