It is International Women’s Day and also Fantasy Suites. This probably wasn’t intentional, but as the show reels from a scandal that has caused its host to step away–perhaps permanently–it is a reminder that just because the show has a race problem, it doesn’t not have other problems. They are spending International Women’s Day airing a show that implies the lead will be kicking the tires on up to three girlfriends in the bedroom. Let’s not forget we are not too far removed from the time a producer claimed that the show facilitated a sexual assault in Paradise. Also, a few weeks ago they aired an allegation by one contestant that another contestant was an escort. The Bachelor is like the NFL. There’s always something awful happening,* and if you think about it… Never mind! The show is starting!
*See, e.g., the way the NFL is allegedly attempting to avoid paying out damages to players whose brains they damaged by claiming that Black players were starting from a lower baseline of intelligence and thus less likely to show cognitive decline.
But hey, at least Chris Harrison didn’t express to Rachael his concerns about the skin color of any babies she may (or may not) be having with Matt… What do you think this show is? A production from the Institution?
We open on the three remaining women. Michelle the teacher from Minnesota; Bri the former employee of a tech company from California; and Rachael the graphic designer from Georgia who, per the show’s host, is one of fifty million people who attended an antebellum-themed party in 2018.
Chris Harrison arrives to leave the “first overnight card” for the three women. So I guess we learned they won’t be editing Chris Harrison out of the episode since they don’t need to establish a chain of custody on this date card (at least Michael Eric Dyson will be happy). Also, Chris Harrison calls it an “overnight” date, which is their new euphemism for “fucking.” Allegedly. The first date goes to Michelle, but we won’t be starting there.
Matt James One-on-one Date with his Dad
Matt James says “there’s a conversation I need to have” before he commits to one of these three women. It is with his dad. For ease of typing, I will refer to Matt James’s dad as MJD. MJD starts off being very impressed with Matt James’s success. Perhaps he is reading too much into the suite the show put Matt James up in? Though it is fair to say Matt James has had a wildly successful life thus far, from his fame to his impressive charitable endeavors to his athletic achievements.
Matt James tells MJD that he (Matt James) wants to start a family, but he needs to know things that MJD was not there to tell him because MJD was “off starting other families.” Things get serious, and fast. It is possible there was editing here, but it went from “this is a nice place” to “I thank God my mom left you” in less time than it took me to type this sentence.
I’m not sure what production told MJD about why Matt wanted to talk to him – but it seemed like MJD thought they’d be kicking it and celebrating Matt being the Bachelor. The mood turned dark when Matt told MJD, in no uncertain terms, that they were not going to Chuck E Cheese (this actually happened).
MJD told Matt James that his own father (MJD’s D) was killed when MJD was five years old. This apparently happened in Africa, where MJD grew up (they did not name the country or MJD for that matter). From context clues it seems MJD cheated on Matt James’s mother, who left MJD when Matt James was two or three. And while I recognize there is a difference, Matt James has not been monogamous as he dated as many as 30 women simultaneously and potentially will be taking three into fantasy suites over the course of the week, which MJD was too polite to point out. It is also clear that Matt James had not fully reckoned with the absence of MJD during his childhood. In an ITM Matt James tells us “[MJD] would stop by with shoes or a pizza” before breaking down into tears and saying “I didn’t need shoes or a pizza, I needed a dad.”
The room got a bit dusty when I saw this. My dad took me to the $2.99 pizza buffet at Mr. Gatti’s and to Famous Footwear for discount shoes at the start of every school year – and I wouldn’t dream of asking for anything more – because I knew I had a dad. I may have never gotten “expensive” Domino’s delivery pizza or shoes from the current decade, but I knew I could always count on my dad – and it triggers me every time I hear about someone who didn’t.
MJD says “I tried” and “I’m sorry I hurt you son.” He says “whatever I can do to make it better, I will work on it, because I want you to have a relationship that’s healthy and not like what I went through” and also “I don’t like it that you are far away from me.” Again, it could be editing, but Matt James immediately says “I forgive you” and they hug and like five minutes have elapsed. The show could have spent more time with this, considering how much time we spent on Victoria, Sarah, Jessenia v. MJ, and a bunch of other things that don’t matter at all. I’m not sure we have earned this emotion from our lead. We have not really gotten to know Matt James, so we essentially found out that he had this issue right as it was being solved.
It certainly doesn’t help that this confrontation was shoehorned into the season leaving the uncomfortable impression that it introduced MJD solely to tell a story about an absent and sexually promiscuous Black man who did not take care of his children. I doubt MJD is the first father in show history to cheat on a contestant’s mom and I doubt that Matt James absolutely needed to have a televised conversation with MJD before he could be in a serious relationship. Maybe if the show had done a better job of laying the foundation for this encounter, we wouldn’t be left to wonder. Instead, the show–which is undergoing an unrelated and simultaneous scandal about racial insensitivity–essentially plugged in a vignette about an absent Black father who “started other families” with his own backstory about (possible?) violence “in Africa.” And it appears we aren’t the only ones who think that it was a bad idea to air just this portion stripped of broader context.
I just wanted to say that too often, we see dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media. And they have consequences when presented without context https://t.co/658oxEKuxo
— Matt James (@mattjames919) March 9, 2021
The seven or eight minutes the scene stayed on the conversation was, by far, the seven or eight most compelling minutes of the season – I just wish they showed more of it. A LOT MORE OF IT. I would literally scream in excitement if we got to know more about Matt’s childhood than literally anything Victoria did on the show, including her literal repetition of “literally.” The fact that I have more questions than answers about Matt and MJD even after this scene shows how much time the show wasted on Victoria. It is impossible to capture the contours of a father-son relationship in a seven-minute segment, especially a seemingly complicated one like this one. But it seems that’s what the show attempted to do. But by presenting the conversation as a neatly-wrapped vignette, the show abandons context for simplicity, and substitutes archetypes for full-dimensioned human beings. After a season of manufacturing intra-house drama, this show just isn’t the optimal forum to present a relationship like this. I’m not even sure a two-hour special with Oprah could authentically present this relationship.
Michelle Fantasy-Suite Date
Matt James tells Michelle they will be taking a “spa day.” “It is basically all we can do at this resort” he doesn’t add. This is actually a “Pennsylvania Dutch Spa Day,” which sounds better than “German Spa Day.” No Pennsylvania Dutchperson is there, so they are left to try to navigate what appears to be an old-timey dairy on their own in their swimsuits. They rub butter on each other, take a bath in milk, and put their feet in a tub of oatmeal.
After presumably taking a real bath to get the butter and milk and oatmeal off, they talk through their hometown. Matt James says he felt “more comfortable” about Michelle’s family than any of the others. It is possible that after seeing MJD and Matt James together, Matt James will be looking for a more traditional nuclear family for in-laws, which would be bad news for Bri. Michelle leans into her awesome family, saying that a challenge is “staying in love” and that her family has shown her how to do that. I think her mother also taught her how to play lockdown one-on-one defense if her mom guarding Matt James during hometowns pickup basketball was any indication.
At dinner Matt James and Michelle sit down in front of some food neither of them will eat. Michelle says she is excited to know “why [Matt James] is the man he is.” Matt James says it “starts with [his] family” and he thinks it is because of MJD and his mom’s, uh, turbulent relationship. Matt James notes “distrust, unfaithfulness, and lack of communication” as the defining features of that relationship. It was, as Matt James tells it, MJD’s fault. But Matt James says he is going to be a better partner and husband than MJD. Michelle assures Matt James that he has a lot to offer, even if he doesn’t have Michelle’s excellent example of in-love parents. Michelle says she looks at Matt James “as [her] person” and they kiss. Michelle reads the letter from Chris Harrison inviting them to forego their private rooms and says she would “love to take that time” with Matt James. Their fantasy suite is a nice room in the Nemacolin resort. Matt James pops champagne like he has never done it before, almost certainly taking out a chandelier or a cameraperson’s lens, then Michelle tells Matt James that she is in love with him and they kiss again and head to the bedroom.
The next morning we are treated to the show’s traditional stock footage of birds and, when available, bees. Michelle tells Matt James how glad she is that she was able to tell him that she loves him, and Matt James says “thank you for sharing that with me.” Matt James tells the camera that Michelle is “an amazing woman and where we went last night was incredible.” The implication we are left with by the edit is that that place was “pound town,” though I tend to be of the opinion that the show features less actual sex as the implication is so easy to convey and, you know, they have only one night to actually talk off camera before maybe getting engaged.
Peter and Hannah B would like a word with you.
As if to prove this point about the implication of a lot of sexual congress, we see Michelle returning to see Bri and Rachael. They are going to hang out now! Rachael is physically suffering at the idea that Matt James is with the other women. It happens every season to at least one contestant, and this is a way to guarantee you will get the last fantasy suite. Rachael is nauseous and clearly not happy to see Michelle return with a smile on her face. And not because Rachael wishes that she had been able to dip her feet in oatmeal and slather butter on herself in place of Michelle, because we know Rachael’s idea of a fun time harkening back to an earlier era is more… politically incorrect. Of course the next date goes to Bri, so Rachael can relive the experience of knowing one of her roommates is spending the night with her boyfriend.
Bri Fantasy-Suite Date
We see Bri gingerly picking her way through a muddy path in boots that look more outdoorsy than they probably are. Like it will be very hard to clean those boots, and she is walking through some muddy woods. This show seems to love covering Bri in literal mud. Matt James says they will be hiking and camping. Which… I mean, Michelle got a spa day and a nice hotel suite. Bri “gets to” camp. With Matt James, who has never camped before. They talk about “pitching a tent” and they are actually trying to pitch an actual tent. Pitching this tent took about four times as long as it took for Matt James to work through all of his issues with MJD. Bri ended up taking over, which seems to fit with my perceptions of their comparative capability.
Bri notes that it was tough to see Michelle coming back from the first date. Then they talk about Bri’s family, and Matt James has nothing but nice things to say about Bri’s mother and friend. They kiss. It is still light out, so it appears they will not be sleeping in this tent.
Matt finally breaks it to Bri that there’s a real fantasy suite date awaiting them, and Bri is visibly relieved. I’m 100% Team Bri here – humankind has made a ton of progress in inventing dwellings, insulation, indoor plumbing, etc. Who am I to turn my back on centuries of human progress and pretend like I’m living in prehistoric times? The world doesn’t need more people pretending they are survivalists with their $1,000+ worth of gear from REI and collection of badges from their time with the Boy Scouts, what it needs is more affordable and minimalist houses to reduce homelessness.
Let’s not forget that humankind also invented direct flights to Mexico and the Four Seasons in Cancun for when dwellings, insulation, indoor plumbing, and electricity all fail. Right, Senator?
At dinner, Bri and Matt draw on more parallels by remembering back, all the way to their last date, about Bri’s mom and the strength they both draw from their single-mom upbringings. Matt tells Bri about his meeting with MJD – and how it cleared his head and prepared him for the next step in his relationship. He does not tell Bri that this next step involves banging her and two other women – but that’s because Bri already knows.
Bri talks about her dad and that while he has not been a constant presence, Bri still wants him to be a part of her journey. I’m not clear what the implication is from that, but Bri is ready to visit Poundtown. She accepts the fantasy suite card, written by the former host of the franchise, and breathes a sigh of relief that there is an actual bed and indoor plumbing to go along with it.
The morning after, Matt is cooking some eggs, and Bri is telling us that she’s extremely happy and telling Matt that it was everything she expected, and then a little bit more. I’m going to assume that this means they got to play three games of Scrabble and figure out the New York Times crossword together.
Bri goes back to the resort and the obligatory hang with her sister wives (for the week). Rachael is forced by production to ask Bri what she did on her date (because her face tells us that talking to Bri is the last thing she wants to do). Bri tells Rachael and Michelle that the time with Matt is worth the wait, and Rachael hops off the couch like it was on fire. Apparently, she did not anticipate coming on the show and catching feelings. She must have thought the show would be nothing other than a Kappa Alpha formal, with some splashes of color.
Rachael Fantasy-Suite Date
Rachael is still in her feelings and greets Matt with the most unenthusiastic hug I recall in recent seasons of the show. I’m pretty sure Colton greeted Hannah G with more warmth on their fantasy suite non-date (where he knew he was going to dump her). It is hard to say that the most jealous person is the most in-love, but there is probably a correlation. Rachael, based on everything we have seen, is quite into Matt James.
This is a ceramics date, which may mean nothing to these two because Ghost came out before they were born – though, to be fair, Rachael has shown some appreciation for exploring history.
Rachael is having trouble getting her pottery started and is getting frustrated. She pulls Matt away and tells him that this week has been unbearable for her because she cannot hold the thought of Matt being intimate with the other women. Matt senses Rachael’s anxiety and decides to remind her about the time that she almost died while filming the Bachelor. Rachael did not forget her less-than-graceful skydiving fall, and Matt again tells her that he wondered, ever so briefly, what the world would be like without Rachael, and he didn’t like it. According to Matt, that experience centered him to always be genuine, and that he’ll always be honest with Rachael as to his feelings. This somehow puts Rachael in a happy mindset for the remainder of their date.
Pro tip: In no context other than the Bachelor will reminding your significant other about their near-death experience on a date you allegedly planned for them put them in a good mood. Don’t try this at home.
Ha. It does show that these relationships are still in their embryonic states. “Remember that time a skydiving instructor used you as a crashpad?” is like one of the only things Matt James knows about Rachael. “I would have been sad if you had died” is his grand romantic declaration. And he’s thinking about proposing to her.
Their dinner date is at Mallard’s Landing at Nemacolin. Matt again tells Rachael about his conversation with his dad. Producers, there’s no reason to air the same conversation with three different women. I’m 100% certain that Matt and the women talked about things other than his conversation with his dad. I get it, it’s important. But it is editing jobs like this that remind us of how exhausting it must be for the lead, to convey the same anecdotes to different people, over and over again. This reminded me of interviewing for jobs out of school. With interviewer one: I was telling the anecdote with animation, emotion, and just the right amount of passion to suggest that I care about my work, but I’m not crazy. By interviewer five, I was falling asleep halfway through my own anecdote.
Where was I? Oh yes – production – show us different conversations!
Rachael tells us that she’s ready for a proposal and wishes that Matt would just buy a ring during the overnight and she would say “Yes.” She tells Matt the same thing and accepts the fantasy-suite key by whispering “I’m really really looking forward to that time with you.”
Matt James – time to take it to Poundtown.
Without spoiling anything (and feel free to mock me at Matt James’s wedding when he marries Bri), it sure seems like he picks Rachael. Otherwise the move would be for Chris Harrison to say “sure, that party was a fucked up idea, but he didn’t pick her, so…” Since no one has done that, we can probably guess the ending. The same thing happened, albeit less publicly, in Becca Kufrin’s season when she ended up engaged to Garrett Yrigoyen, whom Victor dubbed “Garrett Kushner” and MAGArrett because of Garrett’s problematic social media. So I am assuming the ending is going to be Matt James and Rachael celebrating an engagement and blissfully unaware that things are going to get rocky. And whatever, I hope they are very happy together.
All the women come dressed in black. A prescient production assistant must have told them about this being the final fantasy suite rose ceremony attended by Chris Harrison. Matt tells the women that he’s following his heart.
Rose one – Ms. Young – you will need to wait one more week before reconnecting with your students over Zoom and explaining what a milk bath feels like.
Rose two – Antebellum Partier – you don’t know it yet, but your life is about to be a lot more complicated.
Matt walks Bri out and explains that it wasn’t anything that happened on the date, just that his heart was pointing him elsewhere.
In her exit, Bri tears up and wishes she was still in the room with a rose, but alas, she’s now in a limo, with no job but plenty of offers for IG sponsorship ahead of her. I’ll say this: the franchise could do a lot worse than to name her as the next lead of the Bachelorette.
Tune in next week for the last episode and ATFR. There will be a lot to cover, including a final rose, an interim host, and maybe a new Bachelorette. It could be an even longer post than normal…