As we look back on this season, there are many lessons to be learned, like, maybe it’s not a great idea to have your dating franchise led by a complete relationship novice who hasn’t processed the trauma of his upbringing, or maybe don’t cast a Trump supporter who can’t seem to keep her bra concealed. But I think the biggest and clearest lesson is: Chris Harrison is utterly useless. This sentient quarter-zip cotton-blend sweater completely lacks the aptitude and enthusiasm to effectively host this television program in this moment. How have we been bamboozled so deeply by a man who thinks that furrowing his brow and pursing his lips is a substitute for showing emotion and giving advice? The moments in this episode where he had to deliver a bit of bad news or comfort someone felt like watching a manager at a bank lead group therapy. Matt was crumbling because he cannot untangle his own romantic past and future from his parents’ and all Chris Harrison had to offer was, “Ooof, that’s rough.”
So, let’s get to it.
They tried, y’all. You can tell that everyone involved at Bachelor Nation headquarters realized exactly how big of a clusterfuck this season has been and tried their best to deliver something resembling a love story and a satisfying “After the Final Rose,” despite their season and longtime host both going up in flames. Emmanuel Acho was energetic when he needed to be, thoughtful when he needed to be, and more sincere and personable than Chris Harrison has been in years. The problem was how much of this conversation was framed, either by ABC or Acho, for the comfort of white people.
It started off with incredible potential, with Acho reminding the audience that his conversation with Matt wouldn’t be the same point of view being parroted back and forth because they’re both Black men; they’re two unique people with their own experiences and perspectives.
But then …
A conversation about the pressures Matt felt as the first Black bachelor became a reminder that Black people are conditioned to make themselves more acceptable to white society, with both Matt and Emmanuel saying they make efforts in their lives to not appear threatening. There was no interrogation of whether that’s helpful or harmful, or of the impact walking through life worried about appearing threatening has on Black people’s psyches. That mental, emotional, and spiritual work was framed as a duty by Black men, in particular, to remind white people that Black people aren’t scary. Because what’s underneath those efforts isn’t trying to make someone “comfortable” with your Blackness. It’s about showing white people that you’re One of the Good Ones and they shouldn’t be afraid of you, call the police on you, or kill you. If Black people can modulate their behavior enough to appear acceptable to white people, then racism is solved?
So many Black people do not live their lives for the benefit and education of white people and are just able to be themselves in their Blackness and that’s fine. Walking around like a museum exhibit for white people is fucking exhausting, and the conversation between Matt and Emmanuel framed it as “pressure” instead of “the soul-crushing and spirit-robbing realities of white supremacy in America.”
Emmanuel also goes out of his way to point out that he was labeling Rachael’s behavior as “racially insensitive” and “racially ignorant” instead of just plain racist. He also makes sure to say he wants to pull back the curtains to examine the intentions to see if they’re malicious or not. As if that makes some fucking difference. Let me just say this right here and now: Intent doesn’t matter. Impact does. All framings like this do is give white people more wriggle room to avoid confronting the harmful impact of their actions. “If you were hurt by me being a racist, don’t be! I didn’t mean to be!” “I wasn’t racist. I was racially ignorant.” Ummm … okay, seems like we’re splitting hairs here, but go off? In a society based on white supremacy, every single white person who does something racist will be able to find some justification for why what they did isn’t that bad. We’ve seen it a thousand times before. I’m sure there’s a whole Wikipedia page at this point dedicated to “White People Who Did Something Racist But That’s Not Their Heart.” But in the end, this framing of dissecting intent over impact, of asking whether these actions were malicious or ignorant, centers the white perpetrator’s comfort and psyche over the emotions of the people of color affected by these actions.
Plenty of people will be reading this telling me that I’m the real racist for bringing these conversations into sharper focus. To those people I just say: “Your clicks pay my rent! Stay mad!!!” But for everyone else, let me just point out real quick that The Bachelor, as a show, as an institution, is continuing to present these conversations in a way that tells their mostly white audience, “Don’t worry. Matt is One of the Good Ones, Emmanuel is One of the Good Ones, and Rachael is One of the Good Ones.” You, the white audience, won’t have to confront any of your own racial blind spots and Chris Harrison will be back soon.
But first, we’ve gotta get through the messiest finale episode in a while. Matt is down to two women and Matt explains what he sees in them: One of them is a beautiful elementary-school teacher who has every quality that Matt is looking for in a wife, and he’s attracted to the other one.
It’s snowing in Nemacolin and the James family has arrived to create emotional pandemonium. Michelle is up first to meet Matt’s mom, who is rocking a full face of Theranos cosmetics, and Matt’s incredibly cool and thoughtful brother. (Is it possible for all the swag in a bloodline to be passed down to one person, because …?) Michelle literally has snowflakes on her eyelashes. Are you fucking kidding me? Michelle tells his family that Matt is a world-changer and I would like to know which world. Matt’s brother says he’s not looking for a spoken answer of whether Michelle is the right one for Matt, just a vibe. This man is a certified mood and I love him. He takes Michelle aside and she explains she broke up with her last boyfriend in January. Boy, I would have loved to hear about her relationship that ended in the same calendar year this season was filmed.
Matt’s mom sits down with Michelle and Michelle tells her how he easily fit in with her very stable family unit, and Matt’s mom starts to cry, talking about how Matt sought out friends with stable families because she couldn’t give him that at home. Good Christ. Please, let this family find some peace.
It absolutely cannot be overstated how much Matt views his father’s infidelity as some sort of original sin for his family, and Matt sees his responsibility in this world as sparing women from the pain his father caused his mother. That is A LOT to unpack. While it’s certainly good to recognize the mistakes your parents made and work to avoid them, Matt identifies with his mother to a degree that’s … not okay. In every moment with his mother, he’s got his hands on her shoulders, comforting her like she’s the one about to get broken up with, and every word out of her mouth is reminding him that love is a fool’s errand. These two are enmeshed, and a green light from Mom is what’s gonna move this whole thing forward.
Michelle ends her family visit with Matt by having a snowball fight in the driveway. This girl is delivering high-octane cute and I cannot stand it!
Then it’s time for Rachael’s sit-down with Matt’s family and John asks her how many serious relationships she’s had and if she’s been in true love. She says that she’s been in love before but she wasn’t on a reality show before. She says that she can feel her heart racing when she’s with him and she can’t breathe. She tells Matt’s mom that she feels God in this Fat Bird resort tonight. They both cry and it’s over for Michelle.
Matt sits down with his family to get their rundown of the afternoons. Since Matt’s never allowed himself to feel or label an emotion before, he stands in front of his family and makes various faces so they can tell him if he’s happy or sad. His mom and his brother tell him that they’re excited to see him so happy and so open. His mom takes a deep breath and explains that love is a fiction, happiness is fleeting, and to believe in either makes you weak.
Matt gets the message that love can’t carry you through a marriage and is full of doubt. He heads back to his apartment on the resort grounds and realizes he needs the guidance of a faceless, voiceless spirit who appears to Bachelors in need. That spirit Apparates to his apartment and they try to sort out his feelings. Matt is hung up on having to make the most important decision of his life by the end of the workweek and he can’t get his mom’s teary face out of his head. Matt basically says the more he learns what a healthy relationship is, the more he wants to pump the brakes on a proposal. Oooh boy. Ooh boy. Matt says it’s silly if new information (read: your mom crying about the futility of love) doesn’t change your heart. He’s fully unraveled and he’s about to head into this date with Michelle.
His date with Michelle is rappelling down the side of the hotel and I hope they went right by Rachael’s room, causing another jealousy freak-out. The rappelling down the building serves as a good enough metaphor for falling in love with the support of another person. Blah blah blah. It’s time for the evening portion of the date and Michelle is ready to pour her heart out and reassure Matt since it’ll be the last time she sees him … ever. Matt arrives and Michelle tells him how much she loves him and she gives him matching jerseys that say Mr. and Mrs. James. Matt twists up his face and knows that now is the moment to be honest with Michelle.
Unfortunately for her, his version of being “honest” is just saying sentence fragments and asking her to assemble them into a breakup speech. He tells her that he’s been feeling doubts and he doesn’t just want to tell her what she wants to hear. Who told him to say that during breakups? He finally tells her that he doesn’t think he can get there with her, and she says in a flip of a switch, it’s gone. He says “No, it wasn’t the flip of a switch,” as if that makes it better! They hug, he says sorry, and just leaves?!?!?!? This is a bad breakup because Matt basically drove Michelle to keep asking him what he was feeling and what she needed to do instead of just coming out and saying it was over.
Matt sits down on the curb in his pull-on denim leggings and the faceless ghost realizes that he’s going to have to get down there to attempt to comfort Matt. His entire life flashes before his eyes as his joints creak. Matt says that this all comes back to what his mom said and how his dad never took accountability. Matt, let me tell you, your dad’s lack of accountability doesn’t mean anything for the future success of your relationships if you commit to working on yourself and being different. But y’know, there’s more trauma to wring out of his Black dad leaving his white mom. The ghost helpfully heads to Rachael’s hotel to quietly tell her that Matt just needs a day and they won’t be going on a date. Matt is lost. He’s literally roaming the forest and they’ve sent the grounds crew to find him.
Rachael freaks the fuck out. She says Matt’s been pretty easy to love and that’s why him having any emotion that’s not positive and not giving her the validation she needs in this moment hurts so much. She’s fucked up. Matt says his head is jacked up, so it’s time to go see jeweler to the stars Neil Lane. Just what everyone who is juggling with the most important decisions of their life needs: an in-depth discussion of the differences between radiant- and cushion-cut diamonds. Neil reiterates that it’s easy to get blinded by love and love isn’t easy and commitment isn’t easy. No one is on love’s side in this episode, apparently. Matt picks out a pear-shaped diamond for Rachael and he holds it up in the interview and says, “There’s a lot of weight in this ring; it represents what my father couldn’t give to my mother.” DUDE. This is three oofs stacked in a trench coat trying to sneak into an R-rated movie.
Finally someone slips Rachael a note and it’s time to meet Matt by the lake. Matt is waiting in his Gucci tie for Rachael to arrive. Rachael does a sign of the cross before stepping out of the car, hopefully to protect her toes from ticks and mites in that heavy underbrush. She heads up to the makeshift living room they’ve created for this final rose ceremony. Rachael tells him she’s a little pissed they didn’t have a date yesterday, but she still loves him and wants to be with him. Matt tells her he can’t propose to her but he wants to spend the rest of his life with her and sees her as the mother of his children and wants to marry her. But this is NOT a proposal. The entire time Matt was doing his non-proposal, my boyfriend was yelling from the couch, “THIS IS A PROPOSAL AND THIS IS A GAME SHOW! JUST DO THE PROPOSAL!”
And with the exchange of the final rose, that’s it! Our season is over and they lived hap— Oh, yeah. That.
When it comes to the relationship-based stuff in the “After the Final Rose,” Emmanuel Acho loves asking, “You still love him, don’t you?” and we find out that Michelle wanted to sit down with Matt for two minutes to have an actual breakup conversation to give her closure and he turned her down. Fuck off, dude. Matt doesn’t really offer a reason why he couldn’t take two minutes and talk to Michelle like an adult, but does tell her that as a Black woman she showed a lot of grace. Cool.
Now it’s time for Rachael to come out and explain that while Song of the South has contributed an iconic song to the Disney canon, its problematic characterizations are why it should stay in the vault. First, Emmanuel lets Matt explain what happened and Matt says he realized that Rachael didn’t really know what she did was wrong and she didn’t fully understand his Blackness. Maybe you could have found that out if you had literally any conversations with her about race, racism, or your background. But I’m sure in Rachael’s mind, attending an Antebellum South party would not have been disqualifying for dating, marrying, and raising children with a Black man, which is like a whole other problem we don’t have remotely enough time to break down. Matt says he realized that there were spaces Rachael was comfortable in where he wouldn’t have been accepted and quite frankly, I think that’s what was on the invitation to those parties.
Rachael’s whole line of self-defense here is, “I don’t wanna defend myself or provide many specifics because it’s not about me,” and that’s honestly fine. Emmanuel keeps asking Matt to address Rachael or speak about what’s in his heart, but it’s obviously really difficult for Matt and that’s also incredibly rough to see. Matt hasn’t opened his heart up a lot, and for the woman he really let in to disappoint him in this way is not only difficult as a Black person, but just as a person who wanted to find love. But ultimately, he knows he can’t be responsible for her or guide her through the work she has to do. And no, there will not be a final embrace.
Oh yeah, and the next Bachelorette is revealed and it’s Katie AND Michelle, who are the best versions of themselves and they’re ready for love! Buckle up, America!