When I was a kid, my family would go to our summer vacation house in a small town on Lake Michigan. Harbor Country, baby! One summer, my family got very into visiting the quirky used bookstore next to the canoe rental place, and in that summer, I discovered a treasure trove of young-adult romance novels from the ’70s and ’80s. A personal favorite was Cupid Computer, from the very late ’70s, about a girl in a Catholic high school who tried to trick a matchmaking computer into pairing her up with her crush using astrology. It fucking ruled. I think about it every day. I also found a series of young-adult romance novels where every single book followed the same plot: “Girl from interesting location is suddenly thrown into new location because of complication, and she must choose between boy from interesting location or boy from new location.” My favorite one was about a young tightrope walker on a riverboat circus who ends up falling in love with the boy whose father runs the general store in the town where the riverboat is docked for repairs, and she has to choose between him and the son of the star contortionist. When I tell you, I was riveted! Who would she choose? Would she follow her heart to stay on dry land or continue being a tightrope walker on, and I cannot stress this enough, a riverboat circus?
I have no idea what those books are, but I devoured a bunch of them in a summer, and I learned what I consider one of the tentpole rules of romance: Protect your front-runner. If the whole novel was everyone insisting that the sweet teen scooping flour and beans all day isn’t ready for love, no one would be excited for the moving finale where the young coquettish tightrope walker wants to stay on the banks of the Mississippi to be with her love. You fucking idiots.
So what does all of this have to do with The Bachelorette? Nayte was clearly the front-runner from day one. Michelle has been swooning for him this entire season, and honestly, who wouldn’t? He’s a giant with an amazing smile. But the show has insisted on pushing the narrative that Nayte isn’t ready to get married, he doesn’t really love Michelle, he doesn’t really know himself, and he’s just saying what she wants to hear. Going into the segment when Nayte is about to propose to Michelle, Kaitlyn reads off the teleprompter, “Is Nayte actually ready to get down on one knee and propose, or will Michelle’s greatest fears come true?” What the fuck? He just said he wants to propose! He’s giddy and shaking out of one of the two suits he brought to propose to Michelle. The show is incredibly invested in the audience doubting that the man Michelle loves and wants to spend the rest of her life with is really in love with her and wants to propose.
I’m sorry, “As crazy as it is to get down on one knee, I’m more than ready to do that with you. I want that to be forever. What I hold on to is how I feel about you” is romantic and lovely and the show should have pivoted to Nayte from that moment on. So the only conclusion is The Bachelorette is more interested in ensuring there’s drama up until the last minute than it is in telling what appears to be a real love story between two charismatic and genuine people who really really love each other.
And I’ll just call it out now: It’s extra fucked-up that the show decided to do this for a Black lead getting engaged to a Black contestant. To fuck up the story this much is wild. They did this shit to Rachel, and don’t think we don’t notice.
Even if the show didn’t exactly want to go the “Nayte + Michelle = 4Eva” route, there are so many other ways they could have told this story. The most impactful could have been the story of Michelle learning to honor herself. They tiptoed into this a little bit with Michelle saying she has to choose herself and what makes her feel seen, but they could have gone all the way. Show me a woman rejecting the safe, conventional choice that her family approves of and choosing something that excites and titillates her because it makes her feel alive! A grown woman saying, “I’m done listening to my mother. I’m choosing this sexual colossus, and he’s going to carry me into the sunset.” They’ve made Cinemax erotic fairy tales with less.
So let’s get to the actual episode. These finales tend to speed by even though everyone is pausing for two full seconds between each word. I’m going to do my best to summarize what happened because 80 percent of the episode took place amid raging waves, and the sound department tried their absolute best.
Up first is the guys meeting Michelle’s family …
… does anyone else see that woman just sitting there? She looks like Michelle and no one is making eye contact with her or referencing her? Did she get a chyron? Am I the only one who can see her? Oh, she’s Michelle’s sister. Okay, I thought a ghost had wandered into the Meet the Parents visit again.
Up first is Brandon’s visit with the parents, and wow, they love him. I thought at some point we’d see Michelle’s mom greasing Brandon’s scalp while she told him family recipes. Michelle’s dad says Brandon reminds him of him, and for this family that’s very interested in replicating their relationships across generations, that’s huge. Brandon brought Michelle’s dad some swim trunks from the hotel gift shop in truly the ugliest pattern I’ve ever seen. Were those neon-green lizards? Brandon, please. Michelle’s dad takes Brandon aside and tells him that Michelle wants to get her master’s degree and become a principal, which … yes, do that please, I need that to happen. Brandon says that his mom is the ambitious one in their family so powerful women are cool. Everyone’s connection is Oedipal, and I would like them to examine it. Michelle’s dad is a little more reserved compared to Michelle’s mom, who basically tells Brandon, “We love you. You’re perfect. Give us a beautiful grandchild. I’m proud of you.” As Michelle’s mom hugs him good-bye, she whispers in his ear, “I love you. You’re my son now.”
Follow that, Nayte, you piece of shit.
Here’s the thing: Nayte is clearly nervous. It’s nerve-racking to meet your girlfriend’s parents, regardless of the context. But to me, it’s clear that Nayte’s issue is that he’s nervous and is having trouble finding his words, not that he doesn’t care. But he also doesn’t help himself when he doesn’t have an answer to, “Are you going to support an ambitious woman who wants to live in Minnesota?” I’m pretty sure that was an OkCupid match question back in the day. Michelle’s sister looks into Nayte’s soul and asks, “What about staying still and being content?” Okay, y’all asked Brandon if he was a Carrie or a Samantha. These questions are not the same.
Michelle’s mom says that Nayte doesn’t have the same warm quality that Brandon has and takes any time Nayte misspeaks as a reflection of his true character. Nayte is fumbling over his words saying he doesn’t take love lightly and accidentally says, “I don’t take love seriously,” and Michelle’s mom stands over him and laughs, “Try again, ya dumb bitch! Hahaha!” At the end of the day, Nayte is shaken that he hasn’t gotten Michelle’s family’s approval, and he hasn’t fully let in the possibility that he might not end up with Michelle in the end.
Time for the final dates! Michelle and Brandon go Jet Skiing, and Michelle is looking to be in love with Brandon at the end of the date. And of course, by the end of the date, Brandon gives her his favorite sweatshirt, while Michelle has “drank too many mai tais by the pool” energy and tells Brandon that she’s in love with him. Michelle says it’s because she needed to just let the words come out of her mouth so the weight would be lifted off her shoulders. If she’s been asking the men to be vulnerable, then she needs to do the same. Oh, girl. This was a choice. Michelle and Brandon make out for 30 full minutes, and she heads to bed.
Up next is Nayte’s final date. Ugh. This nondescript Indigenous “shaman” date. This is apparently designed to get Nayte to open up, but Nayte keeps trying to think of what to say, and the ceremonial smoke keeps going out. He also keeps asking if what he’s saying is enough or correct. Someone, please, just give this guy a pat on the head. He’s trying so hard because he cares so much. Nayte seems to know he needs to accomplish this, and he just doesn’t really know how to do this. He does manage to say he wants to release the nervousness and the fear of the unknown. “Is that good?” Yeah, that’s good, buddy.
He tells Michelle that he didn’t expect to last this long and he only brought two suits, but now he’s thinking about how the thing that would make him the happiest could be taken away from him. He’s able to identify that he needs to do this and he needs to do it now. On the night portion of the date, Michelle asks him if he has the words for a proposal, and he says he wants that forever with her, and they lean on each other on the couch and whisper, “I love you.” Michelle knows she got that last piece from Nayte and all her doubts are resolved. Okay, so off into the sunset we go? Right?
Nope. Brandon has written a note. Brandon understands this is a game where the person with the last possession wins, and he’s coming for it. But in my opinion … it’s a bit much. Michelle has to make the hardest decision of her life.
It’s time for the proposal, and Michelle heads to the angry sea to wait for her men. The first person out of the limo is … Brandon. If you had any sense in your head, you knew this was coming. Brandon and Michelle attempt to be heard over the waves, and weirdly it’s easier to hear them when the music kicks in. Brandon says that he doesn’t want to spend another day without her, wake up another day without her, and he would be the luckiest man on earth if he got to be with her. Michelle says that she’s never met someone who is like him, and she meant what she said, but her heart has taken her in a different direction. Brandon wishes her nothing but happiness, and he says that every second has been worth it. He’ll never regret it and always be there for her. The most emotional breakup in Bachelor history, everyone! I said to myself several times, “Oh, this is what it looks like when adults are on the show.”
They say they love each other one more time before Brandon is floated out into the waves.
It’s time for Nayte to arrive upon the altar. He says his heart and his mind have never been more in sync. He’s great in the talking heads! Maybe everyone needs to sit directly across from him and let him explain how he feels. Nayte keeps his pre-proposal short and sweet and plays off Michelle’s major themes from the season. He’s ready and willing to make sure she’s chosen first and feels seen. Michelle fakes him out and tells him that their love hasn’t always been easy, and she has had moments where fear crept in. But … she’s not willing to let him walk away and she’s never felt a love like this before! She says that her soul mate is standing in front of her, and he gets down on that knee and proposes! She says yes, and they scream, “We are fiancées!” into the waves. A mariachi band magically appears, and Nayte just keeps chanting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Guys. He’s so happy, and she’s so happy, and they love each other so much.
It’s time for the “After the Final Rose,” hosted by Kaitlyn and the Omicron variant. Tayshia had a COVID exposure, and she doesn’t want to answer any more questions about her breakup. The audience was scolded by Twitter into putting on their masks! Our country is broken!
Up first is Brandon. His suit is bad and inadvertently matches Michelle. Kaitlyn snapped a weird photo of him from her hotel room when he plopped down on a log after his breakup with Michelle. He says, “That’s the best representation of the beauty in the struggle.” Uh … okay. Michelle comes out and sits down with him. They both monologue at each other about their feelings, and after two hours, it’s a little hard to follow. Michelle basically says that she wanted to let Brandon know everything she was feeling even if they didn’t end up together, and Brandon says it felt like his openness wasn’t appreciated after seeing how hard Michelle was working to push Nayte to be open. They both admit that it’s possible to fall in love with two people. Okay, if everyone is on board with being in love with two people, why can’t Michelle be engaged to both of them?
Also, Brandon says her family gave him strength, and her parents gave him pointers on a successful marriage?!? Too much. Not sexy. Michelle made the right choice.
It’s time for Nayte to come out! They are purposefully matching!! Light-skinned people look great in a merlot!!! They’re both so excited to scream about their relationship and are so ready to go public. Nayte tries to explain what it’s like to fall in love with Michelle, and he says it’s like listening to a song, and you have to listen to it a bunch of times before you realize that it’s your favorite song, but with Michelle, he was with her a few times but not a lot of times, but it took a few times but not a ton. And Michelle is like, “I understand completely, baby. You get ’em!” Adorable. Michelle also says that Nayte is so vulnerable now and is so expressive and never misses an opportunity to tell her she’s beautiful. Their parents are best friends! Michelle’s mom loves Nayte now, and he sends her texts that are so heartwarming she cried. I’m crying!
Nayte says he’s going to be moving to Minnesota, and that will be the key to this relationship being successful, and to further incentivize them, Kaitlyn gives them a down payment on a house! If my lip-reading is right, it’s $200,000. Oh? So now they’re all-in on this relationship??? Cool. They also show a montage of their love story, and where was this all season?
It’s time for Clayton to come out and for Kaitlyn to humiliate him. They try to do a whole self-deprecation thing where Clayton reads mean tweets and some of them aren’t even funny but just straight-up mean. Also, when a tweet about Rodney being the Bachelor shows up, Clayton agrees that Rodney would have made a great Bachelor.
Oh? So you agree that you’re really boring and a man of color might have been a better choice? The show does nothing to convince us that Clayton is a good choice, and in fact, he spends most of his time thanking the audience for not booing him and talking about how stupid he is. Please. Free us.
Here’s to love and Clayton telling three women he banged them all!