'The Bachelorette' Has Confused Racism with Entertainment
For the second week in a row, the show has kept a racist antagonist around to stir up "drama."
I just noticed that this is the synopsis for The Bachelorette on Hulu: "ABC's romance reality show lets one lucky lady narrow the field of bachelors, leaving only her dream man."
This description characterizes participation on the show as a rarified opportunity for love—a golden ticket out of the dregs of Tinder and, you know, impossibility meeting someone in real life. The titular Bachelorette is so lucky to be able to find her dream man in only a few short weeks!
Anyone familiar with the concept of reality TV has no expectation of this being true. I became somewhat addicted to the Bachelor franchise because it's a fascinating human experiment, not in love, but in social behavior more broadly. The show's true premise is cruel—how do people react when ostensibly trying to make a human connection despite only getting to spend a total of, like, 24 hours with the object of their affection and countless more time with their rivals?—but usually it's benign.
This season, however, has revealed how dark the show actually is. I winced all through last week's episode, barely able to watch the aftermath of Lee, a maniacal racist, being kept around to be a troll. The show doesn't work without a villain, but Lee's racism isn't entertaining. And the fact that the producers are subjecting a cast of black men to it, in the name of drama and ratings, is pretty gross.
Not that they'll admit to it! The voiceover that starts this week's episode contextualizes Lee's racist crusade as "jealousy" and "ego." Picking up where we left off, at the spelling bee after party, we see Kenny confronting Lee about what he just said to Rachel. When Kenny pulls Lee aside, Lee loudly says, "What now? What the hell happened now?" as if he didn't just tell Rachel that Kenny was aggressive and that she should be wary of him.
The show doesn't work without a villain, but Lee's racism isn't entertaining.
Meanwhile, Bryan, whom I dislike, has a talk with Rachel. He says corny stuff—"You think I'm too good to be true, and I think you're too good to be true, so we're a perfect match"—and Rachel loves it. I'm distrustful of Bryan because he talks a lot but it seems like he never really says anything, and even more than he talks he kisses. He's both boring and socially competent, which is a quality shared by everyone I hated in high school.
Cut back to Kenny's talk with Lee. Kenny is trying to explain to Lee why Lee pisses him off in a strained-calm voice because he's no longer allowed to express his emotions, and Lee just trolls him. Later, Will has a talk with Lee and is naive enough to think that he can reason with him. Will, who is black, mentions that charging black men with the nebulous crime of being "aggressive" has typically been used as a justification to kill them, and that's why Kenny is upset. What then dawns on Lee is not that he should be more understanding, but the idea that Kenny is "playing the race card."
Ah, yes, the race card! That special privilege black people can use to win arguments with white people. It's always cool to be reminded that there are people who view being on the receiving end of racist attacks as an advantage.
When Bryce gets the group date rose, Kenny uses the opportunity to shade Lee (Bryce deserves the rose because he "hasn't snaked other dudes," etc.) and Lee gets mad. Then Kenny gets mad, and tells Lee he's going to shit in his boots. I want this to end!!
Thank god a one-on-one date with Jack takes us out of this mess for a moment. Right away it's apparent that Jack is not going to make it. On the date, he professes to the camera that he really likes Rachel and thinks the date is going well. Rachel, meanwhile, is telling them that she isn't feeling it at all, which is understandable. Jack's eyes are intense and scary and he can't dance. He's also possibly a murderer? When Rachel asks Jack where he would take her if they could just leave the competition behind, he says he would "lock the door, push everything out of here, and just hang out." WHAT. Jack does not get the rose and goes home.
Now the rose ceremony: Once again, everyone attempts to use the power of positive thinking to send Lee home and it fails to work. Lee gets the last rose so he can keep ruining my life, and also Kenny's. Though Rachel really did seem to enjoy his company, Jonathan, a.k.a the Tickle Monster, gets sent home. He gets one last tickle in before he leaves and vows to find "a girl who appreciates a good set of tickling." Iggy also leaves, which is a small victory.
With hopes of leaving the drama behind, but in reality entering a deeper circle of hell, Rachel and the remaining men are off to Norway. Rachel swiftly takes Bryan, whom I want to refer to as "lips" from now on, on a one-on-one. They rappel down the Olympic ski jump in Oslo, devour each other's lips, and Bryan says more stuff that is meaningless. It's pretty romantic, but again, I don't like Bryan. However, Rachel really, really, really likes Bryan.
It's then announced that Kenny and Lee have been chosen to go on a dreaded two-on-one date, because of course. Most likely, one of them will be eliminated by the end of it. Maybe both? Who knows. It's going to be awful to watch either way. Kenny is being put through so much.
But before that is the group date with the rest of the beleaguered suitors. The men play a game of handball in skintight leotards, which at least a nice way to lube us up for the painful two-on-one. (I wrote in my notes, "I like their little outfits.") Peter looks particularly hot, and he's opening up more. He's not good at handball so instead he chooses to mess around with Rachel and make her laugh. It's cute. Josiah, who took the position of goalie in the game, goes a different route for Rachel's affection: He blocks all her shots and doesn't let her score once. Unfortunately, it doesn't make him look particularly athletic or like a fun person. The title of MVP goes to Will, who is actually impressive on the court.
The after party is wild. Usually everyone just has a little chat, but apparently Rachel can just decide to spend hours in a hot tub with one guy? Peter and Rachel somehow obtain swimwear and make out like crazy in the hot tub. I approve. Whereas he once did not know how to kiss, Peter is really blossoming. Though there's a plot twist: Will gets the group date rose for sharing more about his personal life.
Back at the hotel, Kenny facetimes with his daughter to gather the necessary spiritual strength required to face off with Lee. She is, like, 10 and has amazing eyebrows. Lee prepares, apparently, by making his hair look especially stupid. I hadn't really noticed how bad his hair is because his racism is so distracting; it's like he's wearing a bump-it.
The two-on-one: Rachel solemnly takes the men out to a far-flung Norwegian field where no can hear them scream. First, she talks with Kenny, who tries to clear the air between them and underscore that he's not a violent monster. He tells Rachel that he thinks she's amazing and would be the perfect role model for his daughter. He says he just wants the chance to further their relationship and wants to leave the past behind. Rachel seems to be open to that, and for a moment it seems like all could be set right in Bachelor Nation.
But then it's Lee's turn, and he ratchets up his lies against Kenny. He says that Kenny got mad at him and things got physical, that Kenny "pulled him out of a van." Shocked, Rachel talks to Kenny again to get his side of the story and he's just like, girl, that dude is a liar. It's surprising that he doesn't cry because at this point I'm seriously overwhelmed and I'm crying, and this isn't even my life. Kenny just walks off, looking somewhat crazed, and laughing in disbelief.
As for Rachel, she just looks sad about being in this position.