At the end of Monday night’s finale of The Bachelor, winner-turned-runner-up Becca Kufrin calls the episode "brutal"—a descriptor everyone would agree with but Arie Luyenduk Jr., the bachelor who spent the entire season making non-apologies and exposing himself as the ultimate "Nice Guy." And rather than leaning into Arie as the villain he turned out to be (one who told both Becca and Lauren he was in love with them, proposed to Becca, secretly reached out to Lauren to get her back, then dumped Becca), The Bachelor made a series of half-hearted attempts to salvage his reputation and garner audience support, while simultaneously capitalizing on the drama of the fiancée switcheroo.
The two-part finale begins with the usual Bachelor trappings: lunch dates in Peru, a despondent limo ride, and a proposal against a flower-laden landscape. "I choose you today, and I choose you every day from here on out," Arie deadpans to a giddy Becca.
For her part, she thinks she’s about to have a "happy couple weekend," an illusion the producers are all too ready to amplify—even as they try to soften Arie with interviews about his feelings before he dumps her. What follows is what Chris Harrison calls "raw, unedited footage" of their breakup, and what I would call amateur heartbreak porn.
After letting viewers in on his lingering feelings for Lauren in a series of interviews, Arie blindsides Becca with the admission that he wants to see if things work out with Lauren, his original runner-up. "For me, the more I hung out with you, the more I felt like I was losing the possibility of maybe reconciling things with Lauren," he offers sheepishly, basically just describing what always happens when one relationship ends as another begins.
Viewers are then forced to endure 30 grueling minutes of their breakup—proclaimed as the "first-ever" fully unedited scene in Bachelor history—made even worse with a split screen that showed both of their reactions throughout. "Just leave," Becca repeatedly tells Arie—but he doesn't. Instead, he knocks on the bathroom door and asks, "Are you OK?" Arie just keeps on hovering, waiting for some sort of absolution that he doesn’t deserve and pressuring Becca to perform the emotional labor of providing him closure before she's ready.
In past seasons’ breakups, we’ve always been relieved from intense heartache by fade-outs and panoramic views of the romantic destination du jour. But this time, we follow the camera’s invasive, zoomed-in focus on Becca’s pained face.
Throughout the finale and "After the Final Rose"—a sort of talk-back reunion episode at the end of every season—Arie defends his actions with wholesome Bachelor dogma: He was following his heart! He was looking for his fairytale! And while Harrison doesn’t look thrilled to do so, he tries to drum up pity for the franchise’s unfortunate protagonist, emphasizing the hate Arie’s gotten on social media and the importance of sacrificing everything for "true love."
Arie paints the breakup as a kindness to Becca: "I don’t think it’s fair for me to be half in with you." He implies that she should have seen this coming: "I feel like I’ve been pretty upfront with you." He felt too much "pressure."
Harrison eventually gets Becca to say she "forgives" Arie and wishes him the best—but she can’t exactly respond "um, nothing good?" to questions like "what do you wish for Arie?"
"After the Final Rose" is the franchise’s attempt at vindication, the macro version of what Arie wants from Becca. We’ve seen The Bachelor try to venture into the unfamiliar waters of self-critique before: Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette positioned Lee, the racist, as the villain, in stark opposition to the obviously-totally-not-racist franchise. An incident between Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson on Bachelor in Paradise devolved into a series of uninformed Chris Harrison lectures about rape culture and slut-shaming.
This time proves equally clumsy and tone-deaf, as Harrison tries to draw not-really-accurate comparisons between Arie and Jason Mesnick, the former Bachelor who’s still married to his own runner-up, Molly. Mesnick even makes an appearance with his wife to plead Arie's case, albeit a bit halfheartedly: "He’s a nice person," he proclaims to a near-silent, unimpressed audience. Melissa, the woman he left for Molly, was not in attendance or given an interview.
The resident quintet of Arie’s exes—Bekah, Seinne, Tia, Kendall, and Caroline—didn't entertain the show's attempt to redeem him. And former Bachelors Sean Lowe and Ben Higgins both said on social media that that painful, protracted breakup shouldn't have even been filmed. ABC tries to absolve itself of filming and exploiting this moment through conversations with other contestants and past bachelors. Prompted by Harrison, Kendall says she’s happy she saw the breakup because she got to see how "strong" Becca really was. Mesnick, doing his duty by the show, said that without witnessing the breakup, we wouldn’t have had any idea what happened—even though his own breakup was offscreen. Arie, meanwhile, claimed that he chose to film his rejection of Becca because he wanted audiences to know this was "all on him."
The Bachelor franchise has been all too willing to make villains out of many competitive or insecure men and women who have appeared on the show. But this season, Harrison and producers instead chose to try to clean up after Arie’s emotional wreckage.