Through the first two weeks of Season 19 of The Bachelorette, the be-suited hide of Jesse James Palmer barely surfaced, save for the rare occasion when he dropped in to tell us that the only rule of this season is that there are no rules—it’s no-holds-barred, read-’em-and-weep, double-decker dating this time around. But now, all of the sudden, Jesse is popping out of every hole in the Bachelor mansion to steal Rachel’s roses back from her like some cursed version of whack-a-mole. All because Rachel and her sister-girlfriend Gabby had the audacity to not exactly know how to successfully run a reality TV dating game show on the first try. To which I say: I don’t think so, Jesse! Give Rachel those roses back right now, so she can bring back Ryan the sentient Boston accent, or Jordan the Race Car Driver who was perfectly fine, or Leelee Sobieski’s brother who is also a magician. Somebody, anybody—literally, we need more bodies on this season of The Bachelorette. With 21 men remaining, a third of these men are going to Hometowns, and given the amount of oops-i-roses currently residing in Jesse Palmer’s suit pocket, that doesn’t sit right with me.
If you can’t tell from the emotional outbursts of Gabby, Rachel, and myself throughout this episode, things are, uh, not going well. I don’t want to shock you with this breaking news, but the dual-Bachelorette system, as designed by two non-TV-professionals who have probably 18 years of education each in their respective fields—of, ahem, saving lives and flying aircrafts—but only six collective weeks under the tutelage of one of the worst-equipped Bachelors of all time is turning out to be a pretty messy little experiment. To be fair, Gabby and Rachel’s season isn’t really going much worse than any other season of The Bachelor(ette) where the leads waffle on decisions or become overly influenced by drama happening in the house. The difference here is that, in casting two women to be coleads, the franchise did the worst, most fundamentally disruptive thing it could possibly do to the foundational structure of The Bachelorette: It gave men rights.
They’ve turned what has always been described as a fairy tale chance at finding love into a waking nightmare.
Whatever ounce of romance that formerly came from The Bachelorette’s free-standing hot tubs and personal concerts from the 12th-place finisher on The Voice pretty much evaporated the moment they brought in one collective group of men to date two Bachelorettes. Because you know what two women dating 30 men is? It’s just dating. Only now you’re doing it on national TV in full Spanx and 2 pounds of fake hair.
As evidenced by Gabby and Rachel’s alternating sobs in Monday night’s episode, giving their co-boyfriends even the mere suggestion that they have the option to choose—or not choose—between two women brings one too many realities into what is supposed to be a woman’s fantasy. There is one dating app in the world where a woman is supposed to be able to check her insecurities at the door because the men who’ve signed up are contractually obligated to focus all of their attention on her before they swipe right into a life of charcoal toothpaste sponsorships or whatever. That app is called The Bachelorette, and its new iOS update sucks.
Giving the brotestants a theoretical choice between who they’ll date on THE BACHELORETTE brings real-world dating insecurities and gendered power dynamics into the one dating medium where those things have historically been reduced. Sure, on regular seasons of The Bachelorette, the lead may still feel like she’s undeserving of dating 30 men, but she can take solace in the fact that those men are there to date her and her alone—and she can coast on that confidence until it actually starts to feel like she’s worthy. On this dual-Bachelorette season, witnessing the way that Rachel and Gabby care for and protect each other throughout this shared experience is actually quite special; on the other hand, watching Rachel start weeping because a man named Meatball—who mere moments ago had been wearing a diaper—rejected her rose in front of the entire polyamorous amoeba because he’s, as Jesse phrased it, “holding out for Gabby,” and then seeing Jesse jump out from some crevice like an overgrown “It’s a Small World” animatronic doll to snatch Rachel’s rightful rose away from her, is, frankly, horseshit.
And I never want it to happen again! Because if The Bachelorette thinks I don’t see them trying to avoid the moral responsibility of giving 30 men the opportunity to constantly compare two women on national television by simply putting those two women in charge of creating their own rules, they’ve got the wrong recapper. If we ever get two Bachelorettes again, I demand two distinct dating pools from the jump, and more importantly, I don’t want Jesse Palmer unexpectedly popping by the Bachelorette’s rose pedestal unless it’s to whisper the wise words of Joe from The Princess Diaries quoting Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent, (especially not a man named Meatball).”
(Teary) Eye for the (Great) Guy
This episode does, at least, start with a round of happy tears, as any episode of television is wont to do when it features a member of the Queer Eye gang. For her one-on-one with square-jawed Zach, Rachel has Karamo on deck, and he says he’s scored them tickets for an exclusive movie premiere. But first: a giant bowl of shrimp cocktail, and trying on every outfit from the Lizzie McGuire Movie fashion show montage:
Once Rachel and Zach have selected their black-tie attire, they find that Karamo has not so much gotten them into an exclusive movie premiere as much as he’s gotten them into an empty theater with one lone man playing mournful piano onstage. But when the screen descends, the You & Me title we saw on the step-and-repeat turns out to be a slideshow of photos and videos from Rachel’s and Zach’s childhoods. What follows is both wildly adorable and a little hard to watch—I think it may have been two people falling in love. Zach starts crying the moment he sees his mom come onscreen with a personal message, and doesn’t really stop for the rest of the date. Rachel starts crying as soon as she sees Zach start crying, and doesn’t really stop for the rest of the episode. These may be two of the most earnest attractive people to have ever sat in an empty theater on a date arranged by a man who tried to dress them in silver zebra stripes.
Through tears, Rachel asks Zach if he’s close with his dad, and through tears, he tells her how his dad loves planes and used to take Zach and his siblings to the airport so they could watch the planes fly overhead, and tell them all of the names of the planes. … Then, through a new wave of sobs, Rachel tells Zach that she used to do the exact same thing with her dad.
I assume, somewhere, someone (me) is writing fanfiction about how Rachel and Zach will one day do this with their own children.
Unfortunately, while Rachel is on her perfect date, Gabby is straight up not having a good time. During Rachel’s one-on-one, Gabby thought it would be a great idea to head to the mansion and get some extra time in with the men—but the men thought it would be a great time to fire up a game of catch, loiter around awkwardly, and not really engage with Gabby at all.
This sends Gabby down an emotional black hole unlike almost anything we’ve seen before on The Bachelorette. She’s quoting Thomas Jefferson: “I don’t want to give my whole heart to someone just to have it broken again, but I know it’s, like … with great risk, comes great reward.” She’s out here paraphrasing Jughead’s “I’m weird, I’m a weirdo,” speech from Riverdale in between tears. It’s really quite upsetting to watch. But a few times an episode, Gabby also says something so eloquent that it rattles my spine, like when she comments to Rachel on the men who still haven’t narrowed their focus to just one Bachelorette: “The lack of effort is a decision at this point.” Those are words to live by, baby.
And they rolled through my head as I watched Gabby head out on her one-on-one date with Erich, who is clearly her top boyfriend of the moment—an idea further cemented by the fact that Gabby invites her beloved (and now Bachelor-Nation-famous) Grandpa John on the daytime portion of the date …
And honestly, I could have used a little more enthusiasm from Erich about it! Nate looked like he would have turned over every piece of jewelry on his body (an impressive amount) to meet a member of Gabby’s family, but Erich seemed … dare I say, slightly annoyed that he had to share his date? During their sound bath—a reality TV bingo square at this point—Gabby sets her intentions to “Moving forward in this journey with confidence, despite any fears I may have because I truly believe the risk is worth the reward,” and Erich is just like, “Cool, no follow-up questions, that didn’t seem overly specific and like something I should inquire with my girlfriend about at all—LOVE Thomas Jefferson.”
Then at dinner, Gabby’s mounting emotions finally boil over, and in the middle of telling Erich about her estranged relationship with her mom, Gabby gets so overwhelmed that she has to leave the table. She’s gone … for a long time. She talks with a producer on the sideline, sits down on a couch with a different producer, has a glass of wine to calm down with another producer … and Erich never goes to comfort her or tell her that it’s OK to be emotional in front of him. When she finally comes back and tells him how she’s feeling—overwhelmed by the pressure of being the Bachelorette, like she’s way too different from any previous Bachelorette to pull it off, like she’s not the right person for the job—he’s definitely nice about it. But I wasn’t personally sensing the comfort that Gabby seemed to have over the fact that he just … stuck around? Obviously Erich gets a rose, and Gabby does briefly stop crying while making out with him, so I guess he deserves it for that alone.
Two roads diverge in a Bachelorette wood, and Gabby and Rachel are each taking the one less traveled, because they’re each about to find themselves in a real mess. Things were looking up for Gabby after her date with Erich, but the dual-Bachelorette bubble finally bursts for real on the biggest group date in Bachelor(ette) history — a 2-on-19, during which a legion of men decide to declare to Gabby that they’re not interested in her in the rudest fashions possible.
Now, Gabby and Rachel opened the episode by saying that it was time for these men to make their choices and stick to them. What I don’t think they anticipated is the ways in which some of these men would absolutely relish getting to make that choice. When it was announced that Gabby and Rachel would both be Bachelorettes, I think we as an audience spent a lot of time worrying about how the show would try to pit the women against each other, and not enough about what giving these men even an ounce of power would do to them …
It turns them into half-ponytailed monsters, of course. First, Tyler-Not-Young-Zac-Efron politely gives Gabby a bunch of compliments and then tells her he’s planning to pursue Rachel, which is fine, and exactly how Jason-Not-Michael-Bublé handled the inverse situation with Rachel last week. On the other hand, Hayden takes a different approach wherein he seems like he’s about to give Gabby a bunch of compliments, but then says, and I quote: “I looked at today and my own life, and what my values line up with, and … you’re a little more—I don’t want to say rough around the edges, but, like, y’all want people to be very direct with y’all.”
As a frequent sayer of “y’all” myself, this is absolutely unacceptable y’all etiquette. Plus, this man is grinning ear-to-ear the whole time he’s delivering this declaration, as though telling a woman that she’s too silly to line up with him morally is the kindest thing he could say to someone. But surely no one out-kinds Jacob, who has been seminude for his entire Bachelorette tenure. He has the nerve to tell Gabby that she’s the kind of girl he can joke around with but that he hasn’t found the connection he “wanted to have” with her. And y’know what else he says? “Like even if—say, if you were the only person here, I still don’t think I could have the heart to continue.” Yeah, I’ll fucking bet you wouldn’t stick around to get your passport stamped to Sayulita if there were only one Bachelorette, Jacob. Finally, as if he thinks he’s bandaging the wounds he caused, Jacob adds this to Gabby: “But obviously you’re smokin.’”
If I ever see this man in the wild, in any state of dress, it is absolutely on sight.
Perhaps because she’s lost all the sodium in her body this week already, Gabby actually takes this shower of hostility quite well. She’s definitely hurt by how Jacob and Hayden choose to express themselves, but she just wants the night to be over. These aren’t even guys she likes, and when she decides not to give out a group rose, she gives us another absolute doozy of a quote: “I’m here to find a lifelong partner, I’m not here to teach dudes how to act.”
Not for nothing, Rachel also gives us a pretty good one when she finds out what happened:
The next day, Gabby tells Rachel that it was clear to her that Hayden and Jacob relished the feeling of “being able to reject one of us.” Which is a gross, apt observation. The women realize that if they don’t split up their journeys right here, right now, things could end in disaster …
So they split up their roses, choose their men as individuals, and everything goes ahead and ends in disaster anyway. Gabby and Rachel start calling out men to permanently join their harems at the rose ceremony, and suddenly, after an episode spent breaking Gabby’s little heart, a crew of men we’ve never seen before start rejecting Rachel’s roses. And wouldn’t you know it, now the dual-Bachelorette rules are abounding.
Jesse comes out to say that since Termayne—and then Alec, and then Meatball, oof—rejected Rachel’s roses, they’ll go back into the pot to potentially receive a rose from Gabby (like Gabby’s breaking girl code for Crypto Guy), and Jesse simply must take the rejected roses, as if this is Beauty and the Beast and the petals are cursed now. Unfortunately he’ll have to do it as cumbersomely as possible, coming all the way around the front of the pedestals to yank the rose out of Rachel’s hands each and every time.
I’ll leave you with three things:
- Somehow Rachel and Gabby make it through this absolutely tragic rose ceremony, but given that Jesse yoinked three of Rachel’s roses, I have no idea how the math on this will work moving forward.
- If any of these men hurts so much as one little feeling on one more of my Bachelorettes’ heads, so help me, I will track down their cruise ship on the high seas and take full advantage of the loose laws of international waters.
- I better start swimming laps, because things are only going to get messier from here.