This episode begins with a hilarious, overly emotional return to the Bachelor mansion, a building that has always seemed more notable as an idea than as an actual location. Nevertheless, the contestants come flooding into the mansion, and the episode edits it like a triumphant reunion, as if the house were a treasured cultural institution that had been closed for a decade. Maybe some of us have been longing for the mansion’s beige sofas and stucco-textured walls and I didn’t realize?
Then it’s time for the first group date, which is a child’s birthday party hosted by Hilary Duff. They’re all supposed to be setting up a party for a kid named Maya — the episode carefully does not say who this child belongs to or how old Maya is or who any of these children are. Or why Duff would be here if this isn’t her child. (She’s here to promote How I Met Your Father.) Regardless, the point is not Maya, whoever she may be. Sorry, Maya. There are two points: Cassidy hates kids, and Clayton loves kids. We get very meager evidence for that second part aside from Clayton jumping around in a bounce house and his ability not to punch any kids in the face, I guess. Cassidy, however, tells the birthday girl straight to her face that she hates kids, then rubs it in by dropping the cake on the lawn. “I’m not here to throw a birthday party for a kid,” Cassidy says, which is meant to be a villainous line but actually seems very appropriate given that these are almost certainly child actors and there’s zero chance this is anyone’s actual birthday.
Still, this is not the most subtle villain edit I’ve ever seen. “I think Cassidy might be a front-runner” is a thing Cassidy says before gloating for the billionth time that she got to talk to Hilary Duff. She’s got her eyes on a prize, and it seems obvious that her preferred prize is a Bachelor in Paradise spot rather than a relationship with Clayton. In which case, it’s hard to blame Cassidy for pursuing her goals.
Next it’s the post-party group date. Clayton is wearing a thin white hoodie under a plaid navy sports coat. I don’t know what to tell you. He has a conversation with Serene, who seems reasonably nice and tells Clayton that even though she’s a teacher, it’s really the kids who teach her. Clayton’s response is essentially, Whatever — let’s make out. This man’s kissing is getting out of hand! Then everyone else in the group date yells at Cassidy for being a jerk and doing nothing at the definitely real birthday party. “I’m simply not going to apologize for not hanging enough streamers,” says Cassidy. Credit where credit’s due: That’s a decent line.
Teddi and Clayton do some chitchatting which involves Teddi already being nearly horizontal on a sofa. Clayton licks his lips and promises to validate her whenever she needs it; then he tells Serene he had a lovely time talking with her. But still, he gives the group-date rose to Cassidy. It’s useful for Cassidy to have that rose so drama can play out later, but it’s an iffy producer call! It damages viewer fondness toward Clayton, which was already on pretty shaky ground from last episode, when we learned that many women don’t like him. And the ground did not get more firm in this episode because did I mention his hoodie–sports coat look?!
Next it’s a one-on-one date between Clayton and Susie, and they get in a helicopter. Nothing says “We didn’t know what to do for this date” like “Here’s a helicopter ride,” but it’s nice to keep up a classic Bachelor tradition. They land the helicopter on a yacht, which is cute because everyone reacts like it’s a stunt scene from a ’90s action movie, but Clayton then describes this date as “bougie,” and … where is that Clayton? Why can’t we do the version of Bachelor where Clayton takes someone for a date on a little dinghy in a lake with a cooler full of Natty Light? Maybe he could be a better Bachelor in that setting? Instead, they go to a fancy dinner. Susie says it was hard when her dad was seriously ill last year, and it sure sounds like he had COVID-19, but apparently that is the word no one is ever allowed to say again. Clayton and Susie both say they feel a connection; someone named Amanda Gordon sings a song while they dance. I tried to look her up but Google kept trying to suggest inauguration poet Amanda Gorman.
There’s a second group date where Shanae immediately distinguishes herself as “basically like Cassidy but even less hinged.” The notable thing here is that the group date is hosted? MC-ed? by Ziwe, who first leads the group in a round of Never Have I Ever, then yells at them as they complete an awkward dating-themed obstacle course. She is charismatic and fun to watch as always, but it’s such a watered-down version of the Ziwe persona. Of course it is — it’s The Bachelor — but you can’t bring out Ziwe and then make me feel disappointed when she doesn’t ask Clayton how many Black friends he has. (Everything she asks is tame, and it’s underwhelming, but congrats to Ziwe for making it to Bachelor-level guest-appearance status. Get paid!)
Shanae, who is furious for reasons utterly unclear to us, tells Clayton that Elizabeth is “two-faced” and here for the wrong reasons. Clayton appears to take this at face value even though Elizabeth comes off as fairly even-keeled and Shanae has an aggressive alter ego she calls Shanae-nae. Oh, Clayton, honey. Is there someone you can ask when you get confused? Can you phone a friend?
When Elizabeth and Shanae have a conversation about this mysterious and completely baseless beef, Shanae claims Elizabeth has been ignoring her. Elizabeth explains that because she has ADHD, she has a really hard time processing multiple auditory inputs, and Shanae responds that yes, she considers this a symptom of two-faced-ness. This is unimaginably stupid. Shanae continues to pick at Elizabeth; Elizabeth can do nothing because it’s like being targeted by a fireball from nowhere. It’s like when one not-good race car crashes into someone in the midfield just because the driver got mad and both cars get wrecked for nothing. Yes, I did start watching the Formula 1 Netflix show recently. Sarah gets this group-date rose.
Somehow, the entire cocktail party is just a relitigation of Shanae versus Elizabeth, the most inane nonsense to grace this franchise since Corinne’s cheese pasta. Shanae’s move, oddly, is to laugh and say she has ADHD, too? It’s horrible — all of it’s horrible. It’s so bad even Cassidy sees the cards on the table and decides she can’t be friends with Shanae anymore.
Speaking of Cassidy: Time for some producer-planted drama! Sierra tells Clayton she overheard Cassidy talking about her friends with benefits (excuse: “man on the side”) back home. There’s a big buildup — perhaps it is Cassidy who is here for the wrong reasons, not just Shanae? Clayton, befuddled, goes up to Jesse Palmer and asks if anyone’s ever taken a rose back before.
This becomes the dramatic cliffhanger, which is so silly. This should be some first-40-minutes drama, not an episode-ending jaw drop. Without actual interesting things to consider, The Bachelor leaves the door wide open for too many other questions. Does the franchise regret casting Clayton seeing as he’s quite bad at this? Did anyone consider it might be unwise to make Palmer the host this season given that he looks exactly like Clayton but slightly more attractive? Where does Sierra get her body glitter from? She looks like a fairy queen!