The Bachelorette Finale Denied Rachel Lindsay Her Happy Ending

Rachel and Peter. Photo: ABC

That ending, huh? Last night, we watched luminous Dallas attorney Rachel Lindsay — as the first black lead in 36 seasons of The Bachelorette/Bachelor franchise — get engaged to Miami chiropractor Bryan Abasolo. And yet there was so much drama, and so many questions. Wherefore art thou, Peter?! It’s all so very unsettling. Vulture’s Ali Barthwell and Jada Yuan join the Cut’s Allison P. Davis to discuss.

Jada Yuan: Oy, I’ll start us off. How did you feel about Rachel picking Bryan? As someone who recognizes from my own experience that relationships rarely work out unless the guy is a little more into you than you are into him, I’m all for it. The thing about rejecting Peter because he wasn’t sure he wants to marry her yet, yes, it was partly about wanting a ring, both to have parity with other Bachelorettes and as an insurance policy for the months ahead of not being able to be a couple in public. But it’s also partly about hearing what Peter is actually saying, which is, “I’m not sure I will ever be ready to marry you.” I’ve just been in this situation so many times, of really liking, or loving, a guy and feeling he’s so perfect for me, but there’s just one little flaw: He’s not into me enough to want to be my boyfriend, my fiancée, my (to use DeMario’s phrase) side dude. Well, they’re usually up for that one. The point is, you have one fundamental difference, and it’s that you don’t want the same thing. And that’s not a difference you get around without breaking up and seeing if he comes around. Usually he never does, and that’s your answer.

I’m just going to keep going with this thing where I imagine myself in Rachel’s shoes because I feel like I relate to her. She’s cautious about love, so she believes she needs someone to be the jump-off-the-cliff person, which Bryan is — this may or may not prove to be a false belief. Plus, we know Rachel is a pragmatist; the sure thing makes more sense, and it would just suck over time to keep hearing Peter say he’s a step behind. Bryan professes his love to her constantly. He wears the Swiss watch she “gave” him as a symbol of his undying devotion, ugly leather band and all. He is so sure about this that in the live season finale Monday night, he proposed to her again, just in case she didn’t hear him the first time in Rioja, Spain, with those gale-force winds whipping around. Rachel seems happy, right? Right?

So then why did that ending feel so anticlimactic? Is it because Bryan felt like a front-runner for so long that it was like watching an inevitability come to life? Or because the producers wanted to throw us off the Bryan scent and did too good of a job of making her seem into Peter and devastated about their breakup? I always thought she was going to pick Bryan. She lit up around him. And I think production did her a disservice by downplaying her happy ending in favor of setting up Peter as the next Bachelor.

Allison P. Davis: Jesus. I didn’t think I was ever going to recover from Peter ripping off his grey sweater in a fit of emotion and using it to wipe away his beautiful, plentiful tears. (My new sexual orientation.) How did they expect us to switch over to being happy she chose Bryan after such a devastating emotional experience? I couldn’t. I could not. I needed a refractory period.

I was disappointed in how this season ended! It all made Rachel seem so parched, so thirsty for a ring, regardless of who was handing her that curvy Neil Lane diamond. I feel like she was robbed of a gen-u-ine reality-TV happy ending. The proposal was given like an eighth of the screen time her breakup with Peter got. The whole scene — from the ominously whipping wind, to the rushed sequence, to her frozen, distracted smile — felt bad. Even Harrison’s toss to the engagement post–commercial break felt tired. We didn’t get to luxuriate in her getting ready or looking amazing in an evening gown. There was this heavy vibe of resignation. Here’s to your future, Rachel and Bryan!

To your point Jada, Bryan always seemed like the front-runner, but to me he always felt smarmy and disingenuous, like he was playing a part. (Here’s a video of him selling some sort of medical scheme, which feels not so dissimilar to him … courting Rachel. Okay, I’m being harsh, but he’s good at selling.) I was really quite taken with how realistic and logical Peter was. I didn’t read it as Peter saying, “I’m not that into you.” I wish he hadn’t come across so prickishly stubborn and unbending at times, but I interpreted what he was saying as an honest, “I have strong feelings for you, but I’ve known you for a total of like 12 hours, let’s just see how this goes without a forced and fake proposal that historically has meant little more than a preschooler proposing with a ring from a Cracker Jack box.” But I’m a sucker for an emotionally unavailable man you have to work for, so maybe don’t listen to me.

I wish Rachel had followed her heart, which clearly wanted Peter despite the #neveradoubt hashtag she’s using on photos of Bryan. But it’s more than that. I respected Rachel a lot for being above the bullshit rules of the Bachelor universe. And I thought she recognized that Peter wasn’t rejecting her, just the fantasy. (I realize this sounds like your boyfriend who says “I want to be with you forever, I just don’t believe in the institution of marriage.”) To me, the modern, savvy choice would have been to choose the guy who is presenting some sort of real-world relationship instead of pandering to the tropes of all 35 seasons before.

But what was she honestly supposed to do? Choose him after that showdown? We see what it looks like when someone on this show won’t vocally propose to the woman he ends up with — it looks like Juan Pablo and Nikki, and that is such a bad look.

Ali Barthwell: Most of the audience, and every Bachelorette Slack channel I’m in, seemed resigned that Bryan was the likely winner, but Peter being in the race kept it interesting. Rachel seemed to genuinely care for each of them. She seemed to have an intellectual connection with Peter and a more physical, sexual connection with Bryan. The dynamic was there for a classic head versus heart battle. We’ve seen this rom-com before. The plucky, ambitious lawyer has to choose between the man who makes sense for her or the man who is promising her great romance. It’s all there! They could have done it — edited around her and Peter’s breakup to show her finding comfort in the strength of Bryan’s impressive arms.

But the show didn’t do that.

This season seemed to be more interested in drama than the love story. Between the racism, the Whaboom idiot, and this Peter debacle, a lot of time was spent outside of showing us Rachel and Bryan and getting us to like him. I don’t think Rachel settled for Bryan — she was always ready and willing to be with Bryan. It seemed more like she always thought she’d have a choice, but Peter took that choice away for her. He wanted to exert more control over the process than was his to assert. This seems like a typical struggle for men on The Bachelorette. They don’t like that the Bachelorette is dating or sleeping with other guys; they don’t like that they have to propose when the show tells them to; they want more time, more affirmation, more attention. Someone like Eric, who at the beginning looked like he was struggling with the format of the show, eventually came around to give Rachel what she needed and the show demanded.

Jada Yuan: How did you guys read Rachel and Peter’s interactions in those After the Rose scenes? Did you think Rachel seemed angry at him? Those two comments, “I’m living my best life,” and “This world is not for you,” seemed like very pointed jabs at his Bachelor chances. My theory is that in Geneva, she started suspecting he was dialing it in to make it far enough to be the Bachelor, and she’s pissed. Because the way she was treating him was not how you treat someone you’re sad to have lost in a breakup. It’s how you treat an ex you’ve decided is a bad person.

Allison P. Davis: I see your theory, Jada, and hope it’s wrong because I want to be right about Peter. That he was really in love, just very rational, and not angling to be the Bachelor. Those lines though — “This world is not for you” — seemed like a definite attempt to ruin his chances at being the Bachelor. I don’t blame her. If he won’t commit to me, I wouldn’t want to be part of his redemption story on another season.

When Peter said he felt attacked, I had to dive under the couch cushions because no, white man, do not accuse a black woman of attacking you. But it was terrifying when she went into full lawyer mode and sort of … attacked him. To me, that much immediate defensiveness about how good her life is signals a “not over you,” or at least a “not over this disappointment.” Did you notice their faces as Harrison teased to Bachelor in Paradise? Rachel looked like she wanted to bawl. Oh my god, that was tough. Peter looked very hot though. They would have been a beautiful couple, and I’m personally still not over it. I wanted her to pull a Jason Mesnick so bad I can taste it. I hope they start texting secretly and get together.

Ali Barthwell: I didn’t think Rachel was attacking Peter, but she was really hurt, and if she had picked him, Peter had the potential to make her look and feel like a fool if he didn’t propose to her. Up until that point, she hadn’t done anything to “attack” him, and her response seemed pretty matter-of-fact to me and not terrifying. The show was also asking her to sit down with the guy who rejected her after we find out he tried to contact her outside of the show. I would be pissed, too! He was willing to fight for her off-camera but was half-steppin’ on air. I have a cousin who reminds me of Rachel and her husband reminds me of Peter so they make a lot of sense together because of that association, but Peter wasn’t as good of a guy as we all hoped. He sure was cute though.

I think the bigger sign that Rachel and Bryan aren’t living the fairy tale is how low energy that reproposal was. It didn’t make her laugh and didn’t seem to touch her tremendously. It just … was. For all their passion and chemistry, they were awfully flat at the live finale. Hell, my mom ran into Kaitlyn and Shawn at an airport a few months ago and they were still all over each other and attentive. Rachel seemed stiff.

In the end, she came off as more passionate and emotional about her breakup with Peter than her proposal with Bryan. I’ve written before about how important it was for me to see a black woman in a romantic context. But the show just didn’t deliver, and it definitely could have. What is so, to use a word that was used about 38 times last night, frustrating, is that Rachel was robbed of a triumphant love story.

As far as the franchise goes, I think it’s going in the way of drama over romance and fun. The whole Lee narrative dominated the middle part of the season, and the entire “Men Tell All” special was just treated like “drama” or “fights between egos” rather than obvious racism.

Allison P. Davis:  It does feel like they are going to have to figure out some way to modernize the show. There was something about the juxtaposition of Peter and Rachel’s battle-weary faces after their segment, and Chris Harrison teasing a promo of the grossest season of Bachelor in Paradise as if it’s just “more drama than usual” instead of alleged sexual assault — it’s like the franchise is really showing its bones and needs a hip replacement or something.

Jada Yuan: We didn’t care about Matt (or, as Ali calls him, WHO?) and Adam’s plotlines because we never got to see them interact with Rachel. We didn’t get to see the conversations that changed her mind about Bryan being a douchebag. Maybe those conversations never happened, but it’s the show’s job to help us feel a bit of what Rachel felt as she fell in love. We’re even questioning that she actually is in love! So we feel robbed.

There is, however, a historical precedent of a “default winner” that might bode well for this Bryan situation working out. Back in season nine of The Bachelorette in 2013, Desiree Hartsock was down to her final three, and the clear front-runner, Brooks Forester, told her he wasn’t in love with her and couldn’t get there. Then Desiree confessed that she was in love with him and had been all along, and that the reason she’d seemed so conflicted the entire show was that every time she was on a date with another guy, she had wanted to be on a date with Brooks.

It’s known in show lore as “The Longest Good-bye Ever.” Desiree cried and cried, and she and Brooks kept hugging and talking it out for like a solid eight minutes — like Rachel and Peter, with less kissing and more desperation — at the end of which she walked to the end of a pier, weeping, and looked like she was going to jump off. And then, like the next day, she accepted a proposal from one of her final two, Chris Siegfried, the sweet tall baseball player who’d been the most solid and unwavering all along.

It was disappointing. No one understood it. ABC never invited Desiree back for those confabs with former Bachelorettes with successful relationships, and when the couple got married two years later, they didn’t air their wedding — despite the fact that at that point they were one of two successful couples ever produced by the show. They had a baby in 2016.

So, for Bryan and Rachel, let’s give them a minute. They might surprise us. As for the show, what do you think is next? Will we ever see a black Bachelor?

Allison P. Davis: If Eric isn’t the next Bachelor, I’m burning down the mansion.

Bachelorette Finale Denied Rachel Lindsay Her Happy Ending