Dr Jodes unpacks the way Bachie uses the Other Woman trope, but it’s not quite the karma-geddon we were led to believe.
We’ve reached the halfway point of this season of The Bachelor! Tonight, we have an episode marketed as ‘karma-geddon’. I feel instinctively that I should hate this, but I can’t help but respect that terrible, terrible pun. Fistbump to whoever came up with that one.
This episode was set up neatly by last night’s one. Tenille was bullied so badly by the Mean Girls™ — in particular, Romy — that she literally fled the mansion and ran off into the night. In my recap of the last episode, I discussed some of the symbolism of this: for example, the fact that Tenille flees in a beautiful gown into the woods surrounding a shining palace locates her, symbolically speaking, as a fairytale princess, with Romy as a wicked queen. Think here of something like Snow White — it’s the same narrative structure.
(I usually talk about Bachie mostly in narrative terms — I’m most interested in how they tell the story, rather than what’s real and what’s not — but it’s worth noting that the way Romy and her posse of mean girls behaved was genuinely dreadful. There’s only so much work editing can do to turn you into a wicked queen.)
But we know how fairy tales go, right? The princess triumphs, and the wicked queen does not prosper. They’ve set up the first part of this narrative; tonight, we get the second.
It takes us a while to get there, though. Let’s start at the beginning. This time, it’s a group date. This one draws on what Osher assures us was one of Nick’s favourite things in high school: the swimming carnival.
Imagine if you went on a date with someone and they were like ‘cool activity: we’re going to be doing a swimming carnival, high-school style!’ You’d run away so fast that you wouldn’t even get up to the bit where they told you seven of their other girlfriends would also be in attendance.
It’s also worth noting that Nick tells us that he loves group dates, because ‘they really bring normality to this whole situation’.
Normality. The group date.
WTF, Honey Badger.
Anyway, the group date. They start off with some weird bingo/water polo hybrid (yes, it’s more ball sports, just aquatic this time — did you know that Nick played sport? I feel like they haven’t made that clear) which they play in teams. The winning team — which is made up of Tenille and Emily — then have to battle each other to see who will get alone time with Nick.
The winner is Emily, another person who I swear has never been on this show before, but what follows is actually really lovely, because she and Nick seem to get on immediately. ‘What do you want out of this show?’ she asks Nick.
‘I want to create a team where we can launch out and conquer the world,’ he replies. ‘I don’t want to settle down straight away.’
‘Yeah, I definitely want a partner in crime,’ she responds.
‘Do you want one, or do you need one?’ he asks.
‘Oh, I don’t need one,’ Emily says, laughing. ‘But it would be nice to have someone to share things with.’
I have a magnet on my fridge that says ‘I’m not needy, I’m wanty’. I feel like it would resonate strongly with Emily.
Nick is super impressed. ‘I really want to take you on a single date,’ he tells her. ‘In the meantime, will you accept this rose?’
She does, and they snog, and who knows? We might have a dark horse coming up on the outside.
Though can anyone catch the frontrunner that is Brooke? She has another single date — much to the chagrin of Mean Girl™Cat — and seems to be so far ahead of the pack we’re just marking time until she wins. (‘Why am I here if she’s just going to win? I could be working on my business,’ Cat grumbles. ‘This is beneath me.’)
And you know what? For once in their damn lives, Bachie has planned a good single date. Not even a good one — a great one. Sure, it’s a repurposing of Matty and Laura’s first date from last year, but it’s a smart one, one in which the ante is upped.
(If you call me, Bachie, I can make all your dates this good. Just saying.)
Brooke and Nick go to a mansion on the North Shore, where they meet an artist. He faces away from them, and they have to take turns describing each other to him so that he can draw them.
It means that what he draws is (theoretically) not how they look, but how they see each other. The way they view each comes bubbling to the surface, and it’s quite sweet. He thinks she has eyes like a panther that he could stare into all day. She emphasises his kindness and openness. It’s a beautifully put together date, and — sniff, Bachie. I’m just so proud of you.
The portraits aren’t revealed to them until they get to their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation — and, to their surprise, they’re actually pretty accurate. ‘I look like Dennis Lillee,’ Nick enthuses. ‘I should get my hair cut like that. It looks neater.’
‘No,’ Brooke tells him. ‘Don’t change a thing.’
He looks at her, and she looks at him, and I do not want to be, but DAMN IT I AM HEARTWARMED. And I might actually be invested? in them? as a couple?
Might be, anyway. Let’s not get too hasty.
Nick is certainly invested in Brooke. ‘I can’t put a title on it,’ he says. ‘It’s awesome. The feeling of that connection … it’s not like any of the others. Maybe I knew her in another life.’
NO NO NO I WILL NOT SHIP IT NO.
…I ship it, you guys. At least a little bit.
Next, it’s time for the cocktail party — and this is where the bulk of the drama goes down. And we should note here that this cocktail party is a toga party, so all the drama goes down while the Honey Badger is wearing a sheet and has one of his nipples out.
Nick pulls Tenille aside and asks her to tell him who’s been causing shit in the mansion. She hesitates, but eventually he pulls it out of her: Cat, Romy, and Alisha.
This is supposed to be romantic, I think: Prince Charming realising something is wrong with one of his princesses, and then being sensitive and intuitive and fixing the problem for her. But something about the vibe of the scene just makes Nick seem like a PE teacher who’s doing his best to get one of the girls in his Year Nine class to tell him which of the other girls have been bullying her.
Let’s take a brief detour into theory for a minute, because I want to talk here a little bit about the figure of the ‘Other Woman’. Despite the fact that all the ladies have technically the same shot with the Honey Badgelor, the way that Romy, Cat, and the other Mean Girls™ are portrayed draws a lot on the iconography of this figure. We have the heroines and the Other Women: the virtuous princesses like Tenille, who must flee into the woods, and the wicked queens, like Romy and Cat, who make them flee there.
In her book about Mills & Boon, Jay Dixon argues of the Other Woman in those novels that she:
acts as a foil for the heroine. Thus, a virginal heroine will face a sexual adversary; a domestic heroine a sophisticated woman; a career heroine a homebody; a clever heroine a woman who is just an adornment to hang on the hero’s arm (1999, 93)
We see some of those binaristic traits mapped onto the ‘good’ girls here versus the Mean Girls. Tenille, for instance, wasn’t too thrilled about the notion of pashing on the first date; whereas Romy basically attacked Nick and tried to eat his ear. Tenille’s response when Romy came at her was flight; Romy’s response when people come at her is to fight. These oppositions are set up over and over again by the narrative.
As Jan Cohn says (in a book that I don’t love, TBH, but which is pithily quotable on this subject): ‘The Other Woman represents all that the heroine is not… [t]he heroine, as a result, must demonstrate that she is different not only from other women in general but from the Other Woman in particular’ (1988, 48).
I don’t quite agree with Cohn here — at least, not for the purposes of Bachie. Here, I think it is not that the heroine must prove that she is different from the Other Woman, but rather, that the Other Woman proves herself to be different from the heroines, and that is ultimately her downfall. Nick starts from a default position that all the women are lovely: think of how many he’s called ‘a good sort’ over the course of this season. Here, however, he comes to realise that the Mean Girls™ are not, in fact, good sorts. They’re not heroines: they’re, like the Other Woman, villainous.
But let’s get back to what actually happened. First, Nick pulls Cat aside at the cocktail party. ‘It’s got back to me that you’re a bit of a shit-stirrer in the house,’ he tells her. ‘I can’t be having with that. Cat, you’ve got to go.’
Cat’s eyes well up with tears. ‘I’m just honest and I say it like it is!’ she protests. ‘I hope you don’t believe what people have been saying about me.’
‘I don’t want to stuff up my chance at love,’ he says earnestly. ‘I’m sorry, Cat, but it’s time to go.’
‘Can’t blame a girl for trying,’ Cat tells the camera, dry-eyed.
This clear contrast between the performative tears and the dry-eyed reality functions to highlight Cat’s Other Womanness. Someone like Tenille is honest, making that confession about who’s bullying her to Nick, while Cat is constructed as deceitful.
Then it’s time for the rose ceremony. With Cat gone, the other two Mean Girls™ — Romy and Alisha — are clearly on edge.
And they have good reason to be. With only one rose remaining, it’s down to Romy, Alisha, and ‘oh, I was just in Japan! Konnichi wa!’ Brittney.
‘Romy,’ Nick says. ‘Will you accept this rose?’
‘I’m not sure,’ she replies.
They go outside and talk. ‘I’m not sure I can keep doing this process thing,’ Romy says.
‘Right, decision made. Hoo roo,’ Nick says, and basically shoves her into a car.
Nick’s clearly not too upset about Romy’s departure, but considering this episode was marketed at KARMA-GEDDON and last night’s episode showed Romy engaging in some pretty hardcore gaslighting, this all felt a bit underwhelming. There were some steps missing from the narrative. Why did Nick, having found out from Tenille that Romy as well as Cat was bullying her, want to keep her? Why did Romy — who had hitherto had zero issues with the Bachie process — want to leave? It was a moment that the show wanted to frame as a comeuppance, but it didn’t have the right ingredients: what we ended up with was kind of underwhelming.
That said, we did farewell all three Mean Girls™, as well as the intruder involved in the horrifying incident which was Nick ‘drop[ping] it like it’s hot’. So all’s well that ends well, I suppose.
The show airs on Channel 10 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7.30pm. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.