Monday, March 14, 2016

The Bachelor Recap: Week 8

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You Are Enough

Ah, hometown dates. Let’s take a moment to remember the time we didn’t go to anyone’s hometowns because the producers knew Kaitlyn Bristowe wanted to marry Shawn Booth, and they didn’t bother to fly everyone all around the country. Instead, we got two awkward meet and greets in a Utah hotel suite! I’m glad that didn’t happen this time, although the certainty Kaitlyn felt is probably something Ben is a little jealous of at this point.

Amanda’s hometown date, the one I was most interested to see play out, started strong. Even the most cynical viewer had to feel a little something when she ran across the beach to greet her children, right? Ben was a pretty big hit with the kids. A little awkward, a little nervous, but not bad at all. The producers tried to play up the crying kids after the long day at the beach, but honestly, that’s not drama, that’s totally normal, and Ben seemed only about as uncomfortable as anyone would be in a situation where he wants to help but also can’t really do anything, because the kids are just tired and he’s still mostly a stranger to them. Getting grilled by Amanda’s father, on the other hand, was worth getting nervous about. While the overprotective men in this week’s hometowns irked me, Amanda’s dad had some fair points to make about the day to day reality of becoming a parent. Ben might not have realized this himself, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Yes, he wants this -- but not yet,” as I watched him with the kids. Amanda is young too, of course, and has chosen this life devoted to her children. Now she’s trying to make some space to be young, to date, to be other things in addition to a mother. But for Ben, at 26, diving into that life must look terrifying, no matter how much he cares about Amanda. He can’t have just Amanda, on her own, and even the most adorable children are not adorable all the time.

Leaving Amanda behind, Ben headed to Portland. Yes, The Last Lauren Standing is from Portland. Nothing about her says “Portland” to me, which I will readily admit is probably the fault of the producers for so rarely indicating what the women are actually like, in addition to my internalized Portlandia stereotypes. In any case, the most important take-aways from this date are, a) Lauren plans a better date than Ben -- food trucks and a whiskey library? Sign me up! -- and b) In case you missed it, Ben is in love with Lauren. When Molly first asked Ben what he likes about her sister I was pretty annoyed with his “I can’t put words to it,” response, which to me is the kind of answer that reads as, “She’s really hot and I’m infatuated, how can you ask me to actually talk about who she is as a WHOLE PERSON?” But then he started to cry, so I kind of forgave him, at least a little. This is not the last time we’ll see Ben cry.

Lauren’s dad kept the “overprotective male relatives” theme going for us. Did you notice that he said these weeks away for the show are the longest “LoLo” has ever been away from them? I want confirmation on that. Does she still live at home? Did she not go away to college? Is Lauren actually 18? I need answers as to how a grown woman in 2016 has never spent more than two months away from her family. This is a potential red flag, Ben. Time to ask some questions. Note that I have no problem with close-knit families -- of course close family ties are wonderful. It’s just that given the other undertones of this situation, I find it disconcerting that Lauren might essentially go from her father’s care to Ben’s care in the most patriarchal fashion. Granted there are some bachelors who are looking for precisely that, also, but I’m not entirely sure Ben is -- though it would also be fair to say that some of Ben’s desires potentially conflict with one another.

Caila’s hometown date had a similar feel to Lauren’s, insofar as she and Ben were predictably cute and happy together all day, and Ben was subjected to another fatherly interrogation over supper. Caila’s dad brought his A-game -- he didn’t bother stealing Ben away, but dove right in with the awkward questions at the dinner table. Caila was so mortified by his question about “microwave fame” that she was visibly squirming.

I’m now imagining Lauren and Caila’s dads horror at watching their babies have breakfast in bed with Ben next week after the overnight dates.

I’m getting worried for Caila, though. I fully expect her to make it all the way to that final rose ceremony, but I still can’t imagine Ben ending this with anyone but Lauren. Every time Caila gets misty eyed and says, “I think this is it,” I brace myself for the heartbreak to come. Dear, sweet Caila -- even if he picks you, the chances that this turns out to be “it” are not good.

Now, we’ve saved the best for last. JoJo’s hometown date in Dallas was so over the top. First off, rumor has it that when you go on the show you have to write down your ex boyfriends’ phone numbers, so it should come as no surprise that the roses on JoJo’s front porch that she kept awwwwwww-ing about in an incredibly annoying way were not, in fact, from Ben, but from cheating ex-boyfriend Chad. JoJo put an end to that mess pretty quickly, but then had to explain her tears to Ben when he arrived. This is another instance of the bizarre way that situations on this show supposedly bring people closer together. JoJo had to break up with her ex a second time -- that is, she had to remind him she’d broken up with him already, and why -- and somehow this is the thing that shows Ben that they might have a future together? I mean, this is very basic stuff here. She’d already ended things with Chad. Chad is a moron. Not wanting to be with your ex is step one for dating someone else, I think, not “Okay, I’m ready to meet your parents and maybe propose now!”

Anyway, apparently working through this Tough Situation brought them closer.

I’m not sure how to even address everything that went on with JoJo’s family. Her mother is awful and amazing at the same time. “You’re not going to get hurt, you’re beautiful!” she quips to JoJo (I wasn’t aware that beauty granted immunity from pain), and then moments later she’s drinking Moet straight from the bottle (I approve). This could be your future, Ben.

And the brothers. While I want to sympathize with their skepticism, I’m too busy being appalled at their blatant misogyny. They might think Ben brainwashed these women, that he sounds “coached” (newsflash guys, Ben has been the least coached sounding Bachelor ever), they’re the ones who seem to literally think that being JoJo’s brothers means they own her and control her life. They’re the ones who can’t believe JoJo could possibly know her own mind or make her own decisions, that she needs them to steer her in the right direction. There’s a difference between offering advice to a family member and this heavy handed control the brothers are asserting in front of the camera. I’d suggest that if JoJo does get that final rose she high tails it to Denver and away from these jokers to live her own life, asap.

As I watched the women reassembled in LA for the rose ceremony, I was fascinated by how the women in this group interact with each other as they walk in. I don’t recall another season in which the final four have honesty seemed to be friends, as best they can given the circumstances. I think this results from a combination of their abilities to compartmentalize, and the similarities between each them based on the personality and character traits that Ben seems most drawn to. The look exchanged between JoJo and Amanda when Chris Harrison came out to say, “This is the final rose tonight,” stunned me. In any other season I would have read undertones of “You’re going down” in one of their eyes, yet here it looked like genuine solidarity, the knowledge that one of them is going to be heartbroken in a moment, and whoever gets the rose will be sad even as she is happy. After Ben gave the rose to JoJo, her hand on Amanda’s back ever so briefly as she rejoined her in line was a small gesture, but it got to me.

Amanda seems to be a woman even the other women are sad to see leave, and it goes without saying that Ben struggled to say goodbye. As she gave her exit interview, weeping to the camera, there was much I wished I could say to her. I hope Amanda knows that her family is complete. That she is enough for her children. That Ben would be a bonus, but not this missing piece of some incomplete whole she’s imagining.

After watching the closing shot of Ben crying so hard he couldn’t speak, I wondered if I may have to stop watching The Bachelor after this season. People joke about the women crying, but Ben has shed as many tears over these breakups, often, as they have. It’s hard to watch, but it’s also refreshing. I think that after Ben, any future season will only disappoint me.

No doubt this is a testimony to the producers’ skill as much as anything, which is precisely why I'll keep watching despite whatever I say now.