The Bachelor Rundown: Final Rose Edition
March 16, 2016
Filed under Arts & Sciences
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Once every year or so, ABC graces us with a season of television unlike any other; one lucky man (or woman) has the opportunity to date approximately 25 mostly-white women (or mostly-white men), all desperate for love. As the season goes on, the “bachelor” (or “bachelorette”) slowly eliminates people until they are left with two in the final episode. In the series finale, these final two contestants meet the parents of the bachelor, who then chooses one of them to propose to, and one to kick to the curb. As someone who has watched The Bachelor and all its offshoots religiously since 2010 (Ali Fetodowsky’s season), I found myself uniquely qualified to synopsize and review this Bachelor finale in the context of the many superb finales that have come before it.
This season has followed Ben Higgins, described by some as “the most boring bachelor of all time” on his quest for love. Ben began the season six weeks ago with 25 beautiful women, roughly 13 of whom appeared to be normal, gainfully employed and publicly sane. Going into the finale on Monday night, Ben had eliminated all but two: Lauren B., a fake southerner from Portland who won Ben’s heart early on by quickly snagging the first one-on-one date, and JoJo, something of a dark horse in this competition, who really did not seem to make much of an impression on Ben until the second half of the season. Here is all you need to know to be caught up: against the rules of the show and his own better judgment, Ben has told both Lauren B. and JoJo that he is in love with them. Only one of them can win.
The following are my live reactions from watching the finale on Monday night:
Looks like this episode is going to take place in Jamaica. I’m not even going to get into the socioeconomic implications of that. It looks like Lauren B. will meet Ben’s parents first – let’s see if she can use her fake southern charm to convince them that her son proposing to someone he’s known for six weeks is a good idea.
Lauren is able to immediately charm Ben’s parents with a witty anecdote about their first date but does seem a little intimidated going into her conversation with Ben’s mom (rightly so, perhaps – Mrs. Higgins has the facial expressions and general demeanor of a wryly discerning dachshund). Ben’s mom doesn’t seem all too impressed by Lauren B.’s golly-shucks southern belle vibe, emphasizing the difficult realities of marriage and occasionally suggesting with an awkward laugh that, perhaps, this whole experience makes her want to die inside. Mr. Higgins is little more forgiving in his chat with Lauren B., seeming most concerned by the length of his cargo shorts and occasionally gazing off into the distance, as if to wonder “I was young once, where did the years go?”
JoJo’s outfit choice for meeting Ben’s parents is a little more conservative than her usual apparel – definitely a smart play but potentially damaging in the long run, as wearing rompers have not boded well for women this season (we’re looking at you, Jubilee). Ben’s dad has little to say to JoJo, having seemingly DGAF’d the entire process by this point. Ben’s mom seems touched by JoJo’s tears, seemingly a little drunker than she was for Lauren B.’s visit and thus a bit more forgiving. By the time JoJo emphasizes that her and Ben’s relationship was founded on an ability to get through hardships (to the degree that hardships can happen on what is essentially a three-month-long romantic vacation), Ben’s mom is firmly in Camp JoJo.
Ben has taken after his father wardrobe-wise for both dates, opting to wear a simple blue polo that emphasizes the utter inoffensiveness of his personality, perhaps in a play to make us forget that he slept with three women last week only to send one of them home and immediately tell the other two that he loved both of them. His facial stubble, an interesting variable to watch out for in an otherwise bland season, has grown to the peak of its pathetic amplitude. After introducing both women to his parents, Ben returns home to get their take on the situation, which is, basically: “Aww, honey, we really liked both of them, especially that JoJo. They were both great, but that JoJo really is a lovely gal.”
Ben walks off into what looks to be a Chrysler Town & Country (at what point in the season did they stop chartering limos?), muttering to himself like a small child with an Adderall addiction. “What am I going to do?” he shivers dramatically. “I’m in love with two women. And I love both of them.”
When we return from commercial break, a freshly shaven Ben embarks on his (final?) date with Lauren B., emphasizing that he has prayed a lot for guidance about what the right decision would be. You go Ben, never compromise those morals that got you this gig. Lauren B. and Ben’s date consists of riding around on a boat in Jamaica and kissing each other’s necks, but it’s not all fun and games. In her talking head about two minutes into the date, Lauren shrewdly notes that “[Ben] has a heavy head,” beginning to worry about the state of his relationship with JoJo.
When she asks Ben if he has any doubts, he immediately replies, “No.” This is the man who has spent the entire episode telling us how conflicted he is because he is in love with two women. Ben goes on to say that Lauren B. is too perfect, ending his speech with a poignant thought (and this is an actual transcript that I rewinded multiple times to get right): “When things get too good to be true, I get v – really nervous. I mean, I, I, I knew I loved you f – in like, right away and I didn’t even know why. And it freaks me out and it’s weird and it’s crazy and it’s good and it’s life. What in the hell is hap – like, that’s where my mind’s at, is just…” That’s it. Never let it be said that men on The Bachelor aren’t perfectly capable of expressing their feelings.
Ben goes on to talk about how his relationship with Lauren is too perfect – as opposed to his relationship with JoJo, the other gorgeous women he has been traveling around the world with for the past six weeks, which is, apparently, not too perfect. But maybe better? At this point in the episode I’m unsure, confused and ready to get off Ben Higgins’ wild ride.
The night portion of Ben and Lauren B.’s date brings little in the way of clarity. Ben broods like a less interesting Bruce Wayne, staring at Lauren B. like he knows that she would never date him outside of this show. “Lauren, no matter what happens … you’ve made this whole thing better,” Ben says before leaving, not exactly providing the assurance she might expect of the man who is potentially proposing to her in two days. The date ends with the haunting words of a red-eyed Lauren B., looking a bit like a wounded baby hawk whose mother has not brought it food for some time now: “I feel like tonight was the last time I heard Ben say that he loves me. I don’t really know … I don’t really know what I would do.” And so we enter commercial break, our hearts somber and Lauren B.’s romantic horizons looking dim.
We come back from commercial break to even more stock videos of the Jamaican countryside, but JoJo walks into frame before too long. Ben immediately begins kissing her neck and making “grr” noises. “I am confident I am going to be Ben’s wife,” says a steely JoJo in one of her talking heads, presenting a stark contrast to the constant fretting of Lauren B. this episode. Us longtime Bachelor watchers, though, will be quick to note that finale bait-and-switches are quite common, so perhaps JoJo should not be so confident after all.
Stuff happens, Ben and JoJo are kissing under a waterfall and eventually she begins pressing a newly defensive Ben for information about why he is being such a weirdo. “Let me guess, there’s two people … and you’re confused,” probes JoJo, to which Ben tactfully replies, “Yeah.” At this point, both girls are terrified that Ben loves the other one more and the show takes a noticeable uptick in quality. This is why we watch The Bachelor – to watch people terrified of having their hearts broken have their hearts broken. When JoJo begs Ben to tell her one thing about their relationship that worries him, he replies that there isn’t one, to which she begins frenetically breathing and twitching. This is the face of desperation, of a woman who has no power over her own happiness.
“I feel like I always have to compete with other people; I’m so tired of competing,” cries JoJo after accosting Ben on the floor of his hotel bathroom, seemingly unaware that she is currently a part of a reality dating competition, where competing is sort of the point. After some more bathroom-floor crying by both parties, JoJo takes us into commercial break by powerfully setting the stakes for the rest of the episode: “The next time I see [Ben, he] could make me the happiest person or … could make me heartbroken, you know?” Oh we know, JoJo. We know.
After roughly another seven minutes of Ben brooding in a resort wicker chair, in a hotel bed, and on a balcony to his own dramatic voiceover (at one point, he actually says, “I’m a lost man right now”). Ben gets a special visit from Neil Lane, famous jeweler and perennial Bachelor finale visitor who gives the bachelor a free engagement ring, usually massive and gaudy, in exchange for gobs of free publicity. But alas! As Ben gazes at the ring he has chosen, he says with a sly grin, “I think I know who I’m going to pick.” Neil Lane doesn’t react – we all know he doesn’t give a s*** but, for how much they’re paying him, the least he could do is pretend to be interested.
Next, we’re treated to a montage of both women getting ready for Ben to either propose or break up with them. This is the moment we have all been waiting for, the peak of any Bachelor season and, perhaps, the part of the show that reveals the cruel barbarism it is at heart. Each of the women will helicopter to a private island to find Ben standing alone, suited up and holding an engagement ring. The first girl, whoever she is, is the reject, and Ben will cast her aside like leftover copies of Chris Harrison’s failed romance novel. She will probably yell at him and cry a bunch, but will then be driven off in a discreet black SUV, never to be heard from again. Next will come the other girl, who Ben will propose to, hopefully with some kind of speech that makes up for the fact that he really only just made up his mind about all this yesterday. We cut to commercial break with baited breath.
First we see her feet stepping out of the helicopter, then the body of her dress. Soon, it becomes obvious. This is JoJo, first to the island, first runner up, the woman Ben will send home in a monumental display of exploitation porn. As JoJo approaches Ben we get a voiceover from her about how much she loves Ben and how she knows he would never blindside her. JoJo gives Ben a heartbreaking monologue about trusting him, about him being her best friend in the world, about how she’s never going to run from this. Ben responds, detached, avoiding eye contact. “I didn’t know if I could find love… Um, I found it with you… but, I found it with somebody else more.”
Pure spite from JoJo, who angrily looks into the distance and passive-aggressively tells Ben “it’s fine” while on the verge of tears. “Can I walk you out?” Ben asks, to which JoJo replies, “If you want.” She is emotionally desolated, having just realized that her hugely embarrassing moment will be broadcast on national television. “I want to go home,” JoJo cries in the limo on the way home.
The rest of the episode is all kisses and roses. Lauren B. tells Ben that she didn’t know love like this existed before him and Ben tells her that he never wants to say goodbye to her, falling on one knee and pulling a massive rectangular ring out of a small black box. “Lauren, will you marry me?” Ben asks, to which she sputters like an animatronic owl. They kiss to some incredibly romantic stock music, and, as Ben offers Lauren his final rose, the episode ends on a hopeful note, suggesting that love is available to all of us, even those who type reviews of reality television shows alone in their rooms late at night. Yes, if this season of The Bachelor has taught us anything, it’s that love is available to all of us. Except for JoJo.