Hello! It is with honor and sadness that I introduce myself as your Bachelorette recapper for this week. Like all of you, I would prefer to be reading an Ali Barthwell recap right now, but I’ve been told Ali got trapped in a windowless black room with Nick Viall and was forced to reveal her greatest shames on national television, and because she (rightly) refused to do that, she is still trapped in the room. We will all wish her the best of luck in escaping so that she can rejoin us all next week.
That said, I’m pleased to be here for this episode of Katie’s Great Journey because: the men unionized! Like many of your favorite media companies, including this one, the contestants on The Bachelorette decided they were more powerful as a bargaining unit, and came together in opposition to exploitative management practices. They are demanding racially equitable screen time, better snacks, more nonalcoholic drink options, humane filming hours, and a contestant representative in the editing bay to guarantee that no one’s words get taken out of context!
Just kidding; they formed a union to kick out Karl.
First, the guys all grouse to one another and attempt to confront Karl about his lies and manipulation, which goes about as well as that scenario ever goes. Katie then calls off the rest of the cocktail party and jumps straight into the rose ceremony. As is always the case this early in the season, canceling a cocktail party causes even more angst because all the guys who haven’t had a chance to make much of an impression suddenly realize they could be going home just because they have extremely forgettable faces. Everyone gets even angrier about that, and meanwhile, Karl is off in a room by himself shadow-boxing the ghosts of his enemies.
Let’s see what Justin, King of Reactions, feels about all of this:
The rose ceremony starts; Katie picks the first handful of guys (David, Hunter, Conor C.), and then gets to Mike P., who has apparently appointed himself Bachelorette Contestant Union Rep. “This isn’t something we want to do right now,” Mike P. tells her. “We’ve come together in solidarity that we think that unfortunately what Karl said wasn’t the truth. And as a unit, we feel that’s what we need to do.”
My feelings about this are so mixed. On the one hand, a union drive! We love to see it! You can tell it’s legitimately a little rattling for the franchise, too, because Tayshia and Kaitlyn (who are now Management) have to come over to Katie and remind her that she is still in charge, she can still fire any of these people whenever she wants. And sure, the guys have come together to try to expel a player they don’t like, but think of the broader potential here. What if they unionized against stupid group dates?! What if they pulled together and decided that, as a group, they would no longer be participating in humiliating exercises like being forced to bare their darkest secrets in front of Not a Licensed Therapist Nick Viall? Just a thought!
On the other hand, it does put Katie in a truly tough position. She wasn’t going to eliminate Karl at this point, but unless she wants every other guy in the house to think she’s either an idiot or willfully ignoring their wishes, she has to get rid of him. And now, there’s a precedent. If Katie eliminates Karl — which is ultimately what happens — does she have to follow along when the group picks its next Here For the Wrong Reasons Dude? (Spoiler: That happens immediately. It’s Tom.)
After Karl is gone, this episode of Bachelorette moves along to the evening’s next most important business: asking a large number of contestants to join a mutually damaging blackmail cult where they all reveal something terrible about themselves in a show of vulnerability and transparency. It’s never great when the series heads in this direction. Trauma becomes narrative currency, and whoever can claim the most trauma and flay themselves open widest for TV consumption wins the Sadness Olympics. It’s gross! Hunter cries about how he messed up his first marriage. Tom, in shades of what’s to come, gets a truly deranged musical edit while he admits that he wasn’t initially here for the right reasons and can’t stop smiling as he does it. Connor B. seems to win, though, after he tells a story about an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and cheating on his girlfriend. To cap it all off, Katie describes a time when she was “involved in a situation where there wasn’t consent,” and discusses how that’s affected her relationship to sex. All of these seem like major, complex, serious events in people’s lives that deserve to be treated as individual experiences rather than lumped together in one big Circle of Bad, Moderated by Nick Viall.
Here’s the other thing about the Nick Viall Dark Room of Shame and Tragedy: It was all a trick! It was designed to let everyone get all sad and vulnerable and let the whole thing be edited so that there’s a clear winner of who was saddest and most vulnerable. But the whole time, there was an outside sad-and-vulnerable winner, just sitting on the sidelines waiting to trounce everyone with his much, much more overwhelming story of sadness. Michael A., just hanging out with a bunch of gym equipment back at the house, starts telling the other guys that he’s there because his wife died two years ago. They were going to be together forever, but she died of cancer and now he’s a widower with a young child who’s ready to embrace love and hope again. Suck it, everyone in the Sadness Circle, because Michael A. just crushed you.
Inevitably the one-on-one date is awarded to Michael A., who gets to tell Katie his very, very moving life story. Katie is duly overwhelmed by his openness and the depth of his capacity to love, and this is one of those instances where the fact that I’ve been watching this franchise for way, way too long comes in handy. There is more than a little echo of Bachelorette Emily Maynard Johnson’s Tragic Race Car Fiancé, happening here. It suggests Michael A. could go a long, long way.
Things are much iffier for Tom. After his bout of scary smiling over in the Sadness Circle, the men latch onto Tom as the next subject for potential unionized extermination, but Tom puts up more of a fight than goofy shadow-boxing Karl. Tellingly, in his first brief one-on-one conversation with Katie, he totally fails to communicate that he understands all the “red flags” he may be throwing up. He dodges every specific question, and Katie leaves looking pretty unimpressed by him. But Tom has better self-preservation instincts than Karl had, so he jumps back in, interrupting Aaron’s conversation, and gives Katie a much more effective demonstration of his passion for her. In all of his interactions with the other men, though, Tom continues to be a slippery snake of a dude, lying about exactly what he said to Katie and generally failing to convince anyone that he’s at all sincere. Let’s see how Reaction King Justin feels about Tom telling Kate that he’s falling in love with her.
Although the episode edits the big Michael A. date into the middle of all of this, the Tom story is clearly the big through line for the second hour, and the episode ends with a big awkward meeting of all the guys in the house where Tom becomes the center of attention. He admits that he originally came on the show because he wanted to be the next Bachelor. Everyone is shocked.
Yes, okay, he’s gross. Also … this is just how the franchise works? They’re mad at him because he’s just doing what the franchise asks of people. The problem isn’t that he wanted to be the next Bachelor. The problem is that he was very bad at pretending that wasn’t his goal. You should be so much better at pretending, Tom! Will the Union of Bachelorette Guys kick you out? Will Katie decide you’re too much of a snake to be here? Will anyone in Bachelor world offer a meaningful response to this incredible essay by Rachel Lindsay? For the final thought on this, we return once again to King Justin:
Update: an earlier version of this recap mistakenly referred to Michael A. as Michael B. It has been corrected.
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