I’ve been sitting here staring at a blank word document and letting that cursor blink like I’m Carrie Bradshaw. Gazing into the middle distance just above the edge of my laptop screen. In all my years recapping The Bachelor Cinematic Universe, I have never been this fucking stumped. What on Earth is going on with this season? Where is the tension? Where is the romance? Where is the passion? Where is the drama? Was this entire season really held together by Shanae’s spaghetti straps? I’m trying to figure out how our hometowns episode committed the cardinal sin of being boring.
Yes, this episode was boring. Everything marched along without any drama. Every family member came around. Every canoe had a glass bottom. Every Gabby had a wacky grandpa! Nothing was a surprise and everything happened as it should. But where was the oomph? Where was the drama, the longing? To quote Ms. Bradshaw-Preston-Bradshaw, where was the za-za-zou?
But finally, after eight episodes, I think I’ve figured out exactly what’s happening this season: Clayton is too uncomplicated to be the Bachelor. There is not an ounce of dramatic tension or romance within him. He’s not a riddle to be solved; he is one of those puzzles where you just match the apple piece to the apple cutout. At this point in the season, I should feel as if I know literally anything about the lead and what they’re attracted to or what makes them tick. All this time, I’ve been thinking that maybe I just didn’t understand Clayton, and I realize now: Nope, he’s the human equivalent of the word search on the Denny’s place mat. The words aren’t hidden at all. There is no subtext; there’s barely even text. It’s just “Bacon Pancakes Grand Slam” written vertically for a child to circle.
Let’s get to it.
Clayton is very excited for hometown dates because he isn’t falling in love yet but maybe meeting some of the women’s families will clarify his feelings. Also, his art teacher told him to bring in some toilet paper tubes so he needs to ask a grown-up for some. Up first is Susie’s hometown in Poquoson, Virginia. She has so many great characteristics that Clayton is looking for like connection to family, alive, and hair. Susie would like you to remember that she’s a blue belt in jiujitsu. She says she looks at her body as a weapon and wants to know if Clayton likes to be choked. Where has this Susie been all season?? Someone please explain to me why Susie hasn’t been wrapping her thighs around Clayton’s head at every single turn. Also everyone gets a big ol’ laugh out of the fact that one of the jiujitsu moves where you move your ass away from the other person (uncool and not sexy) is called shrimping. In the back of Clayton’s mind and the front of his pants, he remembers how Shanae always smelled vaguely like scampi. Turns out Clayton is very okay with getting choked.
Before they head to Susie’s house, they sit down with a picnic basket, don’t eat any of it, and talk about how important her relationship with her father is. Between Susie’s father’s illness and Gabby’s dad not being able to join the hometown date, this episode is brought to you by our society’s need for universal health care. Susie says her father set the standard for what a man should be, and she was worried he wouldn’t be there to walk her down the aisle. When she brings this up with her dad later, it seems as if he, too, is hearing this information for the first time. It’s time to meet the family!
Susie sits down with her dad and tells him it’s been hard for her to bring anyone home. Her dad says, “… Because of me?” This man did not know he was influential — what an icon. When it’s time for Clayton to sit down with Susie’s dad, her dad says that when he was sick, there was a night when Susie slept by the side of his bed. Clayton says he’s surprised no one has nabbed Susie. Clayton, have you been out there in those streets? As my grandma would say, dick as a resource is plentiful but low value. Well, when she said it, she would say, “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” It means the same thing. Clayton says he can’t even find any yellow flags when it comes to Susie. What would a yellow flag be? “She hasn’t seen any of the Marvel movies, and I really like them,” or “She’s one of those people who says they like desserts ‘if they aren’t too sweet,’” or “Her car is messy”? Susie’s dad gives Clayton the old “I trust her judgment” and basically gives his blessing.
When Clayton sits down with Susie’s mom, he begins this narrative that he couldn’t possibly fall in love with four women … or could he? It’s almost like he wants to fall in love with multiple people because, wow, wouldn’t that be an adventure?
At the end of the date, Susie wraps her thighs around Clayton’s neck until he gets a nosebleed.
Up next is Gabby’s date in Denver. Every time I’m reminded that Gabby was a Broncos cheerleader, I briefly black out and wake up several minutes later in the kitchen eating Nutella with my hands. Gabby says she’s become a woman out in nature so she wants to quiz Clayton about what he would do if he ran into a bear. Then Gabby transforms into a bear whose soul can only be freed with true love’s kiss, but, like, a goofy bear that was cursed by a witch. Clayton says he loves Gabby’s goofy side, and she’s been opening up to him, so their relationship is skyrocketing. They head up to Proposal Rock, which is a very real local tradition and not something created by production. (See also: the Kissing Tree.)
They come across a naturally occurring hot tub and talk about who they’ll be meeting tonight. Gabby’s dad’s girlfriend was recently diagnosed with cancer, so with COVID, Gabby’s dad won’t be able to make it. I’m asking you once again to get this goddamn pandemic under control so this former football player can meet his former pro-cheerleader girlfriend’s dad.
It’s time to meet Gabby’s family, her aunt and uncle, her cousin, and her grandpa. Her grandpa isn’t a normal grandpa. He’s a goofy grandpa. He tells Clayton, “Good luck with this one!” upon meeting him, and when Gabby tells the family about her “I can’t wait to sit on your face” limo entrance, he’s cracking up. He calls Gabby “a lovable dingbat” and jokes that he thinks Clayton is full of shit when he sits down with Gabby at the end of the night.
But we don’t even have time to talk about Grampy John because we have to talk about Gabby’s dad Love Actually–ing her! Toward the end of the night, there’s a mysterious car honking outside. Gabby and only Gabby heads outside, and her dad gets out of a loaner Hyundai and has a series of poster boards with a message for Gabby. Gabby immediately bursts into tears at the sight of her dad.
Why couldn’t her dad talk? Why didn’t he talk to her? Why didn’t he just shout? Is this supposed to be a secret from Clayton? If you’re gonna go full Love Actually, why not have him play a song by whatever country-music star ABC is contractually obligated to promote on a boom box so Clayton could ask, “Who is it?” and Gabby could say, “Aiden Backwellington singing his hit single ‘Love is a Road (That I Wanna Drive Down)’”? Who told Mr. Gabby’s Dad he wasn’t allowed to talk?!?! I’m deeply disturbed by a grown man recreating a romantic-comedy moment (a fully weird one) with his adult daughter while she sobs alone on her uncle’s doorstep.
This is unrelated, but has anyone else noticed that Gabby has never put a jacket fully on her shoulders? She’s always gripping her jacket while one shoulder is artfully slouched off. This is not related to her dad playing out a romantic moment from the classic Christmas rom-com Love Actually with his own daughter, just a question. Gabby comes back inside and says, “That was just Dad.”
When it’s time for Clayton to leave, Gabby feels inspired by her dad professing his (fatherly) love for her and tells Clayton she’s falling in (romantic) love with him. Clayton screams, “There it is!” Oof. Clayton, please, I’m begging you. Gabby’s dad is somehow managing to create a more special moment than your reaction to her saying “I love you.”
It’s time for Serene’s date. I … uh … This one is … um … Serene manages to tell him she’s in love with him by the end of the date, and when it was over, I knew she was going to be the one going home. I also knew Clayton wouldn’t be able to give Serene any indication that he had some reservations about their relationship or effectively communicate that other relationships might be progressing faster than theirs in any meaningful way.
That’s the other problem plaguing this season: Clayton is so desperate to keep the validation from the women coming, and that leads to him saying similar things to each woman and their families (apart from one, which we’ll get to). Nothing he’s saying or doing feels specific to the women or their individual situations. Most of these hometown dates are about the women just being appreciative of their families, and they basically don’t need Clayton to proceed. Honestly, every hometown date could have just been with a cardboard cutout of Clayton, and they would have gone the exact same way. That would have been preferable to Clayton’s generic presence.
As a ladytestant, if you’ve made it this far on the season, it would be easy to think Clayton was very into you because he hasn’t had a single difficult conversation with you. It’s probably very easy for Serene to think that because Clayton doesn’t realize that if you give someone a gift, they’re going to think you’re into them. Then when Clayton actually attempts to explain why he’s interested in the women, the most he can say is, “She keeps trusting me and opening up.” Nothing about what it is they’re opening up about or how he can be a partner who opens up in return. Someone told Clayton that the women are supposed to open up and that if they’re doing that, he’s doing a good job and everyone will keep giving him smoochies.
It’s finally time for the hometown date that really matters. This is clearly the relationship that matters the most to Clayton, and Rachel is ready to be all in. She’s also losing her voice, so her sexy baby whispers are because of a medical issue and not because she’s too horny to speak at full volume. Rachel and Clayton are too horny to function, but that’s normal. The main story line of Rachel’s hometown visit is she has a very intense Italian dad who is very scary and hates everyone except his own family. Everyone keeps looking Clayton in the eyes and saying, “Her dad can and will kill you. There’s a reason a big Italian man with what sounds like a Chicago accent lives in Clermont, Florida, and due to an agreement with the FBI, we can’t talk about it.”
When Rachel and Clayton enter Rachel’s house, her mom jumps up and screams while her dad doesn’t make eye contact with anyone. Rachel’s dad keeps whispering “I’m scared” and “I’m nervous” to Rachel’s mom. I don’t think her dad is angry or scary; I think he’s just a guy with anxiety who doesn’t like meeting new people. Rachel’s best friend with great skin takes her aside and asks her how she feels about fantasy suites coming up.
If there is a story line about how Rachel might not be able to handle the stress of fantasy suites, I need that information now. That is not a one-episode arc. The seeds of that need to be sown in advance. Has Rachel been jealous? Does she have some religious objection to premarital sex? Can someone tell me one fact about Rachel and what is going on in her head? Rachel’s very Italian girlfriend says they can’t watch her lose trust in other people again. What the fuck is that about? I would love any information about the possibility that Rachel is one bad date away from losing trust in all people.
It’s time for Rachel’s dad to sit down with Clayton. Honestly, Clayton only cares about getting approval from Rachel’s dad and tells him he’s excited to get the dialogue going. Rachel’s dad asks some pretty good questions that aren’t all “Protect my daughter’s virginity.” (Is that Rachel’s thing? Is this a secret virgin situation?) Her dad asks if Clayton would be willing to move to Europe so Rachel can pursue the dream she’s had since eighth grade. I’m impressed that a father remembered a detail about his daughter that’s more than five years old. He also asks Clayton what he’s going to do to not hurt Rachel. That’s a great and sensitive question! He’s not being a patriarchal meanie; he’s asking a question about Rachel’s emotional well-being and if Clayton has thought about Rachel as a person at all. Clayton says he can see himself getting down on one knee with Rachel and proposing. So it’s Rachel’s to lose. Cool. Rachel’s dad says he won’t give his blessing, but he will give Clayton a nonverbal signal if Rachel’s into it.
Clayton rides back to the airport and is like, I had four good interactions with women so it’s time to let myself fall in love with all of them because I’m allowed to do that, I guess?
Time for the rose ceremony and for Serene to go home. When Clayton walks her out, he doesn’t have anything to say to her when she asks what went wrong. Dude, if you’re going to send home the only one who is actually in love with you, you need to have a more emphatic response than a flat “I wish nothing but the best for you.” This is where you give her a little romance, a little empathy, but instead all he manages is, “I don’t … I just wanna … This is gonna be a lot … sorry?” and puts her in a Hyundai to the airport.
See you next week for two episodes. Please … end this … END THIS!!!!