FYI this post contains some spoilers.
After The Bachelorette finale concluded, as Chris Harrison announced that Rachel and her now-fiancee Bryan would be given a trip back to Rioja, Spain, and then directed us to watch the teaser for the upcoming season of Bachelor In Paradise, I felt like I was going to throw up. I had just spent three hours watching what felt like a death march toward marriage, and the prospect of watching ever more idiots attempt to "find love" made me sick.
I just couldn't take it anymore. My experience watching the show unfold had been punctuated by moments of cynicism and optimism. I found myself oscillating between "trust in the process"—the idea that Rachel and the male contestants were truly searching for a lasting relationship—and the despairing feeling that everyone was, as they say, there for the wrong reasons. I left the finale viewing "party" (by the end of the night, the vibe more like a funeral) desperately trying to put everything together in my head, as though I was trying to tackle a complex mathematical equation.
The finale was bizarre. The last stretch of the road to engagement, which was interspersed with live reactions from Rachel and her three remaining suitors as they were shown to be eliminated, focused on Rachel and Peter's will-they-or-won't-they storyline. In the previous episode, during the start of the pair's fantasy suite date, Peter had been expressing that he didn't feel ready to get engaged to someone he'd known for two months, even though he wanted to continue the relationship. Rachel, conversely, had been affirming that just won't work for her. She wanted the experience to end in engagement.
Whereas I had previously been an advocate for Peter, and thought it seemed normal that he would want to take it slow, I found myself getting irritated with this back-and-forth. If you apply to be a suitor on The Bachelorette, you know what you're in for. The whole point of the show is to get married at the end. What's Peter's deal?
This question kept tormenting me, and Rachel, as we moved into Bryan's fantasy suite date. Rachel looked extremely tired. During dinner, it was like America's least favorite chiropractor was whispering banal platitudes to a corpse.
When Rachel took the three men to the final rose ceremony, I started to feel angry that Peter was still around. I began to become more suspicious that he was playing a strategic game to become the next Bachelor, or is at least just an extremely annoying person who won't take a leap of faith for someone he professes to care about. In my head, in previous episodes, I had a dichotomy set up between Peter (good) and Bryan (evil). But as Eric went home, I felt like I had discounted that, all along, he was truly the pure soul on the show.
It is also at this point that I realized we were only one-third of the way through this godforsaken three-hour special. I turned to everyone in the room and complained loudly: "I don't think I can look at Bryan anymore."
Like an ancient and unspeakable curse, Bryan reappeared, and he and Rachel proceeded to go on a hot air balloon ride. It was extremely boring. Obviously, I was only concerned about one thing: What's going to happen with Peter? It seemed extremely unlikely that, within the span of a few days, he was going to go from "I don't want to propose" to proposing. So maybe Rachel would compromise for him and forgo an engagement and the ring?
Rachel and Peter then went on date to a monastery, where they came across an unhelpful monk. Outside the church, they returned to their central rift. "While marriage doesn't scare me, the idea of having multiple marriages scares me," Peter told Rachel. "Multiple proposals is, to me, one and the same." In short, he still wasn't sure if he was able to commit, and apparently if he proposed to Rachel in uncertainty and they later broke up, that would be the worst thing to ever happen in the history of mankind.
Again, I felt myself questioning Peter. Rachel was ready to marry him, and he kept telling her that she might not be enough. That's pretty infuriating. "It's messing with me… all the future talk," Rachel told the camera. "It's like I'm forcing something to happen, and you just don't want me in that way."
Later that night, Rachel went to Peter's hotel room. What followed was maybe the most confusing scene I've ever watched on reality television: Peter tells Rachel that by tomorrow he won't be ready to ask her to marry him, because he only has one opportunity to propose to someone for the first time. (He seriously treats marriage the way evangelical preachers talk about virginity.) But then he says that he will ask her to marry him if that means he can still be with her. In other words, he's fully freaking out.
It was at that point that I rejoined team Peter-is-here-for-the-right-reasons and the I-understand-that-two-months-is-an-absurd-amount-of-time-to-date-someone-before-marriage train. I still sympathized with Rachel. The show is called The Bachelorette; it should be about the wants and needs of the titular character, and the damn Bachelorette wanted to get engaged. Peter just couldn't give that to her.
Rachel started sobbing as she realized this. In fact, she wept so hard that her false eyelashes slid off. Peter cried, too. It was bleak. Confusingly, Peter and Rachel then proceeded to make out for a long time and tell each other, "I love you." When Rachel leaves, Peter rips off his sweater in anguish. We then cut to Chris Harrison, in real time, who grimly announced that they broke up.
When Peter came out on stage at the live show, he appeared broken. (The camera previously panned to him backstage, crying.) When he sat down next to Rachel, she looked pissed. "I watched you walk out the door and I knew that you were a person that I could spend the rest of my life with," Peter told Rachel when asked to recount how he felt after break-up. "I knew that you held all the qualities in a person that I would want in my life, and I let you go because I couldn't get to the same point as you at that time. All I could think of was What was wrong with me?" He said he thinks back constantly on what could have gone differently. And after the break-up, he gazed wistfully at her eyelashes on his hotel floor for days.
Rachel responded defensively, and made the case that the show's time crunch didn't dictate their relationship: It was Peter, not "the process," that wasn't right. "I just don't think that this world is for you," she told him.
To me, it seemed as though Rachel was defending her inevitable engagement to Bryan against the implicit accusation that she's rushing into something foolish. It also seemed like she was defending herself from the possibility that Peter was the one who got away. Or was I just projecting, wishing there was more to the needlessly long story?
The show's disorienting editing was bizarrely unsatisfying. The producers clearly decided that Peter and Rachel's relationship would be the focal point of the closing episodes, making her actual engagement to Bryan an afterthought.
It's true that this whole season Rachel has been lusting after Bryan. I even predicted he would win. But the way things shook out left people on Twitter wondering if all Rachel was after was a ring—as opposed to a meaningful relationship. Indeed, the show hasn't given us any reason to like Bryan, nor any clues that he is actually a real person. ("I will not believe without actual evidence of accreditation that Bryan has the right to refer to himself as a doctor in his Instagram display name," my colleague Callie said.)
"If Bryan is good, the producers really did him dirty and for that I apologize. He never was shown to discuss, like, their future or his past relationships," one Bachelorette fan complained, after calling Bryan a string of insults. "However, what I saw, and what America saw, was this cornball chiropractor."
She added, "As a black woman, I only watched this show because Rachel is the first black lead. They really did a disservice to her by showing a love story with Peter and not her actual man."
On the live show, Rachel assured the audience (and Peter!) that she is currently "living my best life," but that didn't stop the proposal sequence with Bryan from being droll, anti-climactic, and despair-making. The show's construction made Bryan feel like Rachel's consolation prize. People on Twitter joked that it felt like election night. It felt like the worst three hours of my life.