The Bachelor Season-Finale Recap: Collateral Damage

The Bachelor

Finale/After the Final Rose
Season 26 Episode 12
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

The Bachelor

Finale/After the Final Rose
Season 26 Episode 12
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC

Ummm … I guess? I guess this all happened. At this point, I’m not entirely sure. I mean, I have some memories of Croatia and Houston and apparently something involving shrimp was very important at one point in our lives. But looking back on this season, what did we get for all of it? What was taken from us, and what did we get in return? Because I feel like so much was taken from me — my youth, my health, my time — and what did I get in return? Was it really the Most Dramatic and Emotional and Shocking and Controversial and Preposterous and Monstrous and Flabbergasting ending in Bachelor history? Because if it was, I would have felt something at the end of all this. But you can only watch your college friend’s younger brother make a series of the stupidest decisions possible and get everything he wants in the process for so long before your eyes glaze over and you gently disassociate while he talks about his NFT soy vape company.

This show has asked us to be invested in worse outcomes, but did anyone feel the hasty shuffling offstage of Clayton and his eventual girlfriend, Susie? Where was even a single ounce of romance? Where was an iota of sentimentality? Where was even the tiniest smidge of emotion? The last image of Clayton’s “love story” is him giving one rose to Susie before the show just pivots to OUR TWO NEW SIMULTANEOUS BACHELORETTES, which is hilarious and pathetic, but I GUESS?!?!? I guess this is happening and we all have to live with it. Let’s get to it.

We’re back at the Hilton somewhere deep in Iceland, and I would like to remind you all that this is not an Airbnb. An Airbnb is a perfect location and has an amazing view and would make your mom happy, but this isn’t that. Clayton is waking up and he realizes he loves the one woman who has definitively told him that she doesn’t want to be with him and technically isn’t a contestant on this game show anymore. But that doesn’t matter to Clayton, because you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone and he would risk everything he has to talk to her again.

UGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! No! No! No! I don’t find this cute!

Jesse tells Susie that Clayton wants to see her again, and Susie says she’s still really emotional. But Clayton is going to make Susie meet his parents before he even has a chance to make a plea for her heart again. Clayton sits with his parents and is like, “Oh, she’s supercool. You’ll love her. She’s basically my girlfriend, but she doesn’t know it yet,” and Clayton’s mom says, “I’m afraid this is not going to happen.”

Susie comes in, and Clayton neither stands to greet her nor asks to take her coat. Sir, this is a woman you’re trying to woo; put in some effort. Her feet should never touch a puddle and the sun should never shine upon her face unless it’s shaded by a parasol carried by you. Susie tells Clayton’s dad that she’d like to keep her coat on because this … won’t take long. They go outside and Susie explains that she was shocked by how Clayton responded to her breaking up with him and … okay, ma’am, I don’t know. She tells him that he made her question her intuition and inner voice. Clayton says he didn’t mean what he said and he was acting way out of character and all he wants is a chance to fight for her. Susie says she’s not ready to decide yet and goes off into the cold Iceland night.

Susie’s complete indecision and possible rejection is enough for Clayton to know that he has got to break up with Rachel and Gabby. Now? He’s going to break up with them now?!? After Gabby tried to leave and Rachel briefly won by default?? After he has made both of them meet his family? Why!! Why not just walk out into the night and never return? At this point, it would inflict the least emotional damage.

Clayton sits them down for the franchise’s first two-on-none anti-date. He goes to the remaining women’s hotel room and tells them, “You’ve been a valuable employee, but our current situation means that we can’t responsibly maintain the same number of people whom we’ve employed in the past. I’m very sorry, but your position is being eliminated.” Gabby just straight up leaves and it’s fucking amazing. Everything Gabby says and does in the next moments of the show is incredibly iconic. Everyone needs to remember that a “No” said with attitude and crossed arms is more powerful than anything else you could say when an emotionally immature football player is trying to break up with you.

Clayton goes after Gabby first, and she tells him that he wasted her time and took away her agency to leave when she wanted to, all because he couldn’t admit to himself that Susie left and his ego was bruised. Clayton says, “I do love you” and Gabby goes, “THAT IS BULLSHIT!!” She calls him utterly ridiculous and says his actions speak louder than his words. Gabby out!!

Okay, here’s where the format of this live Finale/After the Final Rose hybrid is perfectly set up to maximize our newest Bachelorettes. Gabby gets to explain first to Jesse just how much of a piece of shit Clayton was and then tell Clayton directly to his face what a piece of shit he is. Gabby lays out exactly how Clayton misled her, purposefully withheld information, and pitted the women against one another in order to keep things going as long as possible to give him time to get Susie back. Clayton was basically charging things on his emotional credit card, and when the bill came, opened another emotional credit card to pay off the first bill. He was doubling and tripling down on terrible decisions to avoid … what? Conflict? Disappointing the women? Looking bad on camera? As anyone with a mountain of credit-card debt can tell you, those bills always come due. Gabby also lays out exactly how Clayton started treating the women as a unit instead of dealing with them as individuals who might want to have the information that their boyfriend-in-name-only was in love the most with another woman. Gabby for Bachelorette (one of two)!!

Okay, now we’re flashing back to Iceland, and Clayton has to go deal with Rachel because once she leaves, he can go try to win Susie back. Rachel is an at-will employee and her contract will be severed from this day going forward. While Gabby was motivated by righteous anger, Rachel is motivated by grief and sorrow with a touch of “witch casting a spell of regret in a Greek myth.” Rachel tells him that she never felt a love like the one she felt for him and she wished other people could feel that love. She also says that he never gave her any indication that it wasn’t going to be her. Because he needed you to stay invested so he would always have a backup option in case Susie didn’t work out, but like if he broke up with her, not if she broke up with him, because if she did that, he’d have to get her back. That’s why he made you feel like he loved you.

Rachel says that every little crumb that Clayton gave her she took as evidence of him being totally into her, so she kept fighting for him. He was never fighting for her. She fought like hell for the relationship and believed that he was fighting, but he wasn’t. She tells him that if he puts her in the car, he will be haunted by letting her go.

Except he won’t! He won’t because he ends up with Susie! Any and all emotional growth or emotional responsibility is neutered by Clayton ending up with Susie in the end. Did he grow emotionally? Just enough. Just a little bit to win Susie back. Did he take accountability? A little bit, probably because Susie told him that’s what he needed to do. Will he continue to grow and make himself a better person? NO! Definitely not! Why would he? He got what he wanted! So it’s probably very easy for him to explain away the pain he caused Rachel and Gabby, because it was in service of his growth, his development, and his story. Clayton basically ended up treating Gabby and Rachel as pieces on the board game of his life and the prize for proving himself worthy enough was Susie. All three women were reduced to two-dimensional figures in the come-from-behind underdog story of Clayton’s season.

WAIT. IS THIS WHAT THEY MEANT ON THE POSTERS?!?!? “Everyone loves an underdog”? Was it about this?!! Murder me! I just put this together and I don’t even know if it’s true, but man, oh man, what a fucking bummer to see women as the plot devices in the narrative of a man improving like 5 percent and wanting credit for 100 percent.

Okay, hang on, we gotta finish up with Rachel. She tells him that she and Gabby were collateral damage in his completely selfish journey and she couldn’t believe he could be so disrespectful. Then Clayton says this line about how he should have asked more questions and made fewer assumptions. Um … was that what he did with Rachel, though? He said that line first with Gabby and it barely made sense with Gabby. Honestly, that was his issue with Susie and he’s trying to repeat it to the other women as if the lesson he learned in the relationship with one of them is enough to satisfy all three. You should be learning different lessons, dude!!

Rachel asks if he told her that she was the first “I love you” he has said to anyone in six years in order to sleep with her. He says no, which you can tell is a lie at worst, and at best, he doesn’t realize why you can’t just tell someone that if you don’t mean it. Then sleep with them. Then break up with them … like twice. Jesse asks if Clayton is haunted by how things ended with Rachel, and he says, “I feel terrible. With all my decisions, I was following my heart and doing what I think is best. At the end of the day, that’s all I can say that I did. I did do that. All the actions that come from that I have to live with,” which is … the incorrect answer. That’s all you can say you did? Bruh. It’s an answer that is, “I did what I did but I got what I want so it all worked out for me and I feel bad if it didn’t for you.” It’s the fuckboy’s “everything happens for a reason.”

It’s time for Clayton to make one final play for Susie. He writes her a note about how their love has been challenged and how he’s incredibly sorry about not being the man she thought he was. He also says he’s going to fight for their relationship, and if she’s willing to meet with him, meet him in the countryside. Production built this goddamn Viking-core proposal altar and they get their fucking money’s worth.

Susie puts on a gown and heads out to meet Clayton in the turf lodge at the edge of the sea. I really wish she showed up in jeans and a hoodie. Imagine putting all that makeup on just to turn around and leave. When I get my brows done, I be running extra errands just so more people can see them. Clayton then launches into a barely contained emotional tirade that culminates with him pulling out a ring box and waving it around going, “THIS IS HOW SERIOUS I AM!” He’s giving “leaving you about 15 drunken voice-mails because you didn’t show up for the dick appointment like you said you would because you got caught up watching Inventing Anna and fell asleep” realness, and it’s not flattering. Susie tells him that this type of unconditional love that Clayton has for her isn’t what she has for him and they’re not each other’s person. Clayton asks her to tell him that it’s over if she really believes that, because he sees a future with her, and she just says, “It’s over.” HAHAHAHA! AMAZING. If this had been the end of Susie and Clayton’s journey, I would have been very satisfied and very excited about Susie’s prospects, but there’s still 35 minutes left in this fucking episode.

Also, the show just fading out and Jesse saying, “Clayton got rejected! It’s a first!” is amazing. No post-reconciliation attempt confessional from Clayton. No montage of Clayton throwing himself into a pyre in Iceland. Just back to the studio. They don’t give A FUCK about Clayton and his story. The show is also telling Clayton it’s over. You know how I know they don’t give a fuck? They didn’t edit together some happy-couple footage of Clayton and Susie. Even if they got together way after the season finished wrapping, everyone involved was still under contract. No one could grab a GoPro and show them making breakfast together?

So where do we end up with Susie and Clayton? We find out that Susie was the one that reached out and they took it one conversation at a time. Susie says they expect a little backlash, but they want people to root for them. Girl. I’ll let you be with your dodo boyfriend, but don’t sit here and ask me to root for y’all. I root for one celebrity couple and one celebrity couple alone: Bennifer. I want J.Lo and Ben Affleck to be happy, and that’s the only white man whose romantic success I will hope for. Their segment ends with Clayton presenting her with one final rose in the most awkward way humanly possible. He gives it to her like he’s presenting his mama with a macaroni necklace and expecting her to wear it to work for her big meeting. Cool?

And the next Bachelorette isn’t Gabby or Rachel. It’s Gabby AND Rachel, and somehow the Bachelor producers have found a way to make both the correct decision for The Bachelorette and no decision at all. They are innovators in the space, and I cannot wait for Gabby and Rachel to realize that maybe friendship is the rightest reason of all.

Thanks, everyone! I need to go lie down forever!!!

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The Bachelor Season-Finale Recap: Collateral Damage