In which Dr Jodes questions the narrative that says some women are more deserving of love than others.
Bach is back, all right! We’re well into the swing of things now with dates and cocktail parties and elimination. We’re at the stage where we almost know everyone’s name (almost … there’s still a few that could be crew members who donned sparkly frocks and decided to switch roles), but before anyone has developed proper real feelings.
…well, apart from Cass. Poor Cass.
But we do not begin with Cass. We begin with Sophie, the recipient of tonight’s single date. Sophie, you might remember from episode 1, has recently been seeing Cat’s ex-boyfriend, something which seemed like it would be the subject of MEGA DRAMA, but which seems to have fizzled away into the background.
Speaking of fizzling: this date is a bit of a fizzle. Sophie and Nick go on some … I don’t know, boat? A water vessel of some kind? It goes fast and kind of levitates and they dangle over the edge and go WOOOOOOOO while a bunch of dudes hold ropes around them?
Maybe it is an adrenaline-filled experience that bonds them for life, but you know what it is not? Interesting. Neither visually nor narratively. There is only so much WOOOOOOOO you can make the subject of a story.
(cough Bachie this is why you need a dramatic overhaul in how you do your dates cough I can help cough call me cough)
The fact that this date is a bit of a fizzle is articulated neatly by Sophie. The most enthusiasm she can muster after this portion of it re her relationship with Nick is, ‘…yeah, we’ll have to wait and see,’ which is typically the kind of thing you say after an underwhelming but not outright terrible Tinder date, not your first ever date with the love of your life.
The awkwardness continues when they reach the Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation. Like, it’s not bad, but it’s just so … nothing. Like, this is a paraphrase of what they say:
NICK: …so how do you feel about opening up?
SOPHIE: …about what?
NICK: Um … when we did that yoga photo shoot, you didn’t hold my eye contact.
SOPHIE: We were doing yoga. My arms were literally collapsing beneath me.
SOPHIE: Also it was cold.
NICK: …let’s pash.
SOPHIE: …yeah, all right.
Nick then gives Sophie a rose, and he’s all optimistic about their future and whatnot, but it’s not exactly the site of amazing chemistry and/or conversation, you know?
You know what it is the site of, though? A great cheeseboard. Like, a scene-stealing cheeseboard.
NB: this is more an indictment of the scene than praise of the cheeseboard.
But let’s move on — it’s group date time, and the ladies are meeting Nick’s family.
Let’s talk a little bit about why meeting the family is so hyper-emphasised in the Bachelor franchise. This is actually quite early to throw the ol’ fam-bam in there: normally, families have their own space in show’s diegetic rituals. The Bachie meets the families of the final four during hometown dates, and then the final two contestants meet the Bachie’s family. So why is it that families are so significant?
There’s quite a simple prosaic reason for this: if you fall in love with someone, chances are you’re going to have to deal with their family. There are one million and one in-law jokes for a reason. Families are, in some senses, an extension of the individual. They’re something that can’t be changed: they are, for the most part, non-negotiable. If you want to have a successful romance, chances are you’re going to have to get the family on side.
But in Western culture (I’m sure it’s true in other cultures as well, but this is the one I’ve studied and have the authority to speak to), there’s a long history of families meaning even more than this, because a marriage between two people was an alliance between two households. We tend to think of this at the dynastic level — kings marrying their daughters off to secure alliances with other countries and nobles, for instance — but it’s historically been true at many different levels of society. Familial politics played huge roles in which romantic unions were possible and sanctioned and which were not. This is true even at a working class level. Families who practiced certain trades, for instance, would want someone marrying in who could perform the same trade, or at least contribute in some way. There were utilitarian politics in play at basically all levels of society (and still are, in many cases, even if they’re less overtly articulated).
All of this was especially relevant to women, who were imagined as leaving their own family and joining another. The gender politics of this have flattened somewhat in the modern West — men now also have to worry about their in-laws — but shadows of this still remain, and we see that in the way Nick’s family is imagined here. They’re essentially auditioning the women to become a new member of their family, to marry in (well, perhaps more of a figurative ‘marry’, at this point, but still). Because of the power dynamics inscribed in The Bachelor, where the male Bachie has the power, there’s not a lot of consideration about Nick joining someone else’s family: it’s all about a lady joining his.
There’s a key way in which this dynastic throwback/‘auditioning’ to be part of the Cummins family thing is emphasised here, and it’s one that is very, very weird.
NICK IS NOT THERE.
This is a date. On The Bachelor. And the GODDAMN BACHELOR IS NOT THERE.
This is, like, the king and an assortment of princes and princesses going to audition prospective brides for the crown prince of all the land, and leaving the crown prince at home. I mean, it’s not quite that heightened, but the family’s task is to pick one lady to continue on post-date to a Cummins family dinner (an event in which Nick will actually be in attendance), so it’s the same principles. Like, why not just throw a ball and commit to the whole royal fantasy of it all and throw around a few glass slippers, if you’re going to depend on a narrative like this one?
This also really made me consider whether you can, in good conscience, call this a ‘date’. I mean, the whole concept of the group date is kind of pushing it as it is, but the reason that works (well, ‘works’) as a concept is because we’re familiar with the romantic connotations of the word ‘date’. A ‘group date’ wherein a bunch of ladies meet a dad and some siblings troubles those connotations, and I’m not sure this whole situation can really be contained within the romantic paradigm of a date, especially considering the family is, like, a breath away from checking the women’s teeth.
Anyway, anyway, obviously the family pick Brooke, because they, like us, have immediately worked out that she’s so far ahead as a frontrunner that she’s basically lapped everyone else. Brooke goes with the family to dinner, whatever whatever, they have a nice time. The only thing that’s of much interest is that Nick’s dad tells her that ‘being real in a surreal environment’ is a gift, which just made me question a whole bunch of stuff. Does this mean that you can be talented at being on reality TV? Or is it a learned skill? What does that talent/skill matrix look like?
But I digress, because I am entirely aware I am probably the only person in the world interested by this. What is of more note is some drama between the ladies.
The drama is this:
Cass has feelings. A lot of feelings. She sits down with Nick’s brother (who was also privy to her previous relationship with Nick) and talks his ear off about her feelings. He mumbles some advice, but mostly doesn’t know where to look, something I relate to very hard as a sister of many brothers. I might have a PhD in romance, but that does not mean I would have any idea where to look if someone sat me down to spill their guts re their love for my brother.
Romy has a lot of feelings about Cass having a lot of feelings: ie she thinks it’s sad and pathetic and desperate. She tells these feelings to Nick’s sister … loudly.
Blair overhears Romy’s loud feelings about Cass having a lot of feelings, and promptly tells everyyyyyyyyyyyone that Romy is talking shit.
Of course, Romy, as one of our designated villains, is like UM EXCUSE YOU GET MY NAME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH and Blair is all I JUST REPEATED EXACTLY WHAT YOU SAID, while Cat sits in the corner and gleefully cries GAME ON, MOLLS in a desperate effort to be gif-worthy. Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.
I’d really like to see some data on whether or not the use of the phrase ‘game on, moll’ has been repopularised in common parlance since it became popular in Bachie. My sense is that it hasn’t, and they’re trying to make fetch happen, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.
Next: the cocktail party, where we get more of this Cass plot.
Well, look, I say plot. They haven’t really given it a plot at all. They’ve taken something that could be fascinating, whacked the standard stalker edit on it, and called it a day. They’re milking her for what Rachel Dubrofsky calls ‘money shots’ in her article ‘Fallen Women on Reality TV’, when she writes:
Most women occupy the center of a storyline because they are excessively emotional. A key way The Bachelor shows the women as excessively emotional is through a “money shot,” a term borrowed from film pornography. This shot shows a woman’s emotions as spectacular and excessive, signaling that she is unable to control herself and therefore unfit for love. In a single season, The Bachelor uses the “money shot” for key moments over several episodes. At least one woman in every season provides “money shots.” This woman becomes the center of the narrative for several episodes until her elimination (2009, 355).
To unpack this: because Cass has strong feelings for Nick and they’re constantly making her talk about them (check how obvious the producer interventions are in her interview spots: it is VERY), they’re using her to deliver these money shots over and over again, which is exactly what happens at this cocktail party. The goal of this show is to produce love, but she’s feeling too much, too soon, and they’re using this to show her as excessively emotional, as unable to manage those emotions — as borderline hysterical. And we all know that unruly women are not worthy of love, amirite?
The thing is, there’s a way more interesting and nuanced story that could be told here — one that isn’t a retread of a thousand edits past. Imagine that you went on The Bachelor to get over a persistent crush that you couldn’t shake; and then imagine your crush was the Bachelor. That’s the stuff of chick-lit. That’s a rom-com right there. If they’d thought about the nuances instead of seeing the gimme money shot, we might have had a way different edit of the Cass situation: one which was way, way more interesting, and potentially way, way less exploitative.
To return to this idea of who is and who isn’t deserving of love — this word ‘deserve’ is always an interesting one to track in this show, and it gets thrown around a lot in this rose ceremony. Some of the ladies say that the mean girls are bitchy and therefore don’t deserve love, which therefore positions love as something only nice people are allowed. Some of said mean girls retaliate and accuse other ladies of not deserving a rose because they don’t have a personality, which gives us a different equation again. Cat says she deserves a rose because she’s moving her jewellery business to Australia, which is … a thing. That she said.
What I’m getting at here is that even though love is nominally this deeply individual thing between two people, we often think about who does and doesn’t deserve it in relation to broad concepts, and it’s always a rupture point when we hear those concepts articulated, a point where cultural subtext penetrates the text. And I think it’s important we keep in mind and interrogate these concepts, because if we’re aware of them, we can problematise them. For instance, if the Bachie team kept this in mind a bit more when they were casting the show, then we might not end up with such hyper-white casts all the time.
…so yeah, this recap went down a rabbit hole, but it’s to mask the fact that this episode wasn’t very interesting. Tonight we farewell Blair in the rose ceremony, most notable for overhearing Romy talk about her feelings about Cass’s feelings.
This has, I have to say, not been a great season so far. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the Honey Badgelor, but I didn’t expect it would be quite so dull.
The show airs on Channel 10 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7.30pm. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.