We’re at that part of the season when a kiss isn’t just a kiss…
Three weeks left, pals! It feels like it was only yesterday that we were meeting our handsome Space Bachie with the big PE teacher energy, and yet here we are, rounding the bend onto the home stretch. We’re well into the shit-gets-real stage of the journey (sorry) now. We’re down to seven contenders for Dr Bachie’s heart, and – gasp! – he’s kissed every single one of them.
It’s worth thinking about what that says about the kiss as a textual milestone. Kissing has operated in a very clear way this whole season. It was the fact that Matt was snogging a bunch of ladies that provoked the infamous Dogcunt Incident a few weeks ago. In fact, said incident actually prevented him from snogging a couple of other ladies. One of them was Helena, and Matt felt like it was such an omission that he pulled her aside at a cocktail party a few weeks later, apropos of basically nothing, so he could snog her face off. The kiss this season has been a very strong marker of who is up there on Dr Matt Bachie’s official list of potential girlfriends.
That’s one of the reasons why in this episode, it feels like we’ve entered into a new phase. Last week, when we lost Rachael, Mary, and Nichole, we lost the last of the characters who are (seemingly, anyway) there mostly for entertainment value and/or their ability to commentate on the action. This week, we’re down to serious contenders only.
This, of course, adds some more weight to the decisions that our Space Bachie has to make from this point on. Because the kiss has operated in such a clear way as a textual symbol of who he’s into, it’s always been fairly clear who’s in danger for elimination: indeed, the only lady that he’s made out with that has been eliminated so far is Monique, for fairly obvious Dogcunt Incident reasons. But now, every choice has real emotional stakes, because with every remaining contestant, Matt’s formed some kind of palpable connection – connections palpable enough to manifest in the physical form of the kiss.
So in tonight’s nerdle: let’s talk about kissing.
The symbolism of the kiss has not always been constant across history (and indeed, it’s definitely not constant across culture – some cultures have no concept of or word for kissing), but it’s pretty clear what it’s come to stand for now. As Marcel Danesi writes, the kiss is ‘the ideal symbol of love in the popular imagination, empowering everyone to seek their own romantic destiny, apart from the wishes of family or traditional customs’ (2013, ix). This last part about family and custom – that is, other people – is quite important, I think. Because of how smashing your lips together actually physically works, kissing is an activity that only the lovers can engage in, and an individual kiss says a great deal about the two people partaking in it.
One question that the contestants frequently get asked by the other contestants when they return from a date to the mansion is a) if they kissed the Bachie, and b) if it was a ‘kiss’ or a ‘pash’. Kissing isn’t just a singular phenomenon: there’s a whole spectrum of kissing, and its meanings are culturally relative. For instance, the Romans had a whole language of kissing, with different Latin words describing different kinds of kisses. Osculum referred to kissing someone’s hand or cheek; a close-mouthed kiss was referred to as basium; and the word savium referred to a passionate, open-mouthed kiss, which lovers would often do in front of their families to announce their intention to marry (perhaps much as our Space Bachie pashes his girlfriends in front of the camera to announce to us that he’s into them?).
This distinction between different kinds of kisses persists today. We have the peck/kiss/pash spectrum – which is, I learned recently, something that’s relatively local, as the word ‘pash’ does not translate overseas. The (wonderfully flexible) German language has over thirty words referring to different kinds of kisses: my favourite is nachkuss, ‘making up for kisses that have not been given’… which is, I assume, kind of what Matt and Helena did the other week.
In his 1901 book The Kiss and its History, Christopher Nyrop argued that there are five kinds of kisses: kisses of love, affection, peace, respect, and friendship. Whether he’s right or not about these specific categories, what it does point to is the fact that the kiss is a kind of text. Something we’ll be asked as viewers to do a lot of in the coming weeks is read Bachie kisses: what does this kiss communicate? Is it passionate love? Is it companionate love? Is it friendly? Is it something else? As Keith Thomas writes,
There is an infinity of different ways in which a kiss can be delivered; and its meaning, both to participants and onlookers, will vary accordingly. It can express deference, obedience, respect, agreement, reverence, adoration, friendliness, affection, tenderness, love, superiority, inferiority, even insult. There is no such thing as a straightforward kiss (2005, 188).
This is definitely true for us now at the stage we’re up to in this season of The Bachelor. Because shit is well and truly real now, there is nothing straightforward about any of the kissing. The kiss becomes an even more fraught text, with more and more layers of meaning. He’s kissed everyone: so is anyone special? But not every kiss is alike, so which is kiss is superior? What is being communicated by each kiss? What does the fact that he’s chosen to kiss this person at this point even mean?
…in short, is it a kiss or a pash?
This is something I want to keep an eye on as the season goes forward, because I have a sense that this period is the one in which the kiss is the ultimate locus of anxiety. As we move into top three/top four territory, the kiss becomes assumed to a degree: we know how emotionally invested the Bach is in all these contestants, so of course there’s kissing. But at this point here, where everyone’s kissed and been kissed but it’s still not 100% clear who is a bigtime contender, then the kiss is really very important.
Also, I want to spend some time reading the kiss as a text because I need to distract myself from analysing kiss head tilt direction. I realised that Matt was left-headed very early on in this season, and now it’s the only thing I see.
Okay. Let’s stop talking about kissing in the theoretical and get to kissing in the televisual. Recap time.
Possibly to signal that we’ve entered a new phase of the Bachie narrative, our usual patterns of single dates and group dates are disrupted in this episode. Instead, it’s centred around what the show calls ‘Bachelor royalty’: two previous couples have come back to give Matt advice and to low-key spy on the women for him.
These couples are Sam and Snez (2015) and Matty and Laura (2017). I can’t help but think that the show is offering yet another corrective to the Honey Badger here, and reinforcing the model of what successful Bachiehood looks like, because these three men? FUCKING IDENTICAL.
Seriously. I don’t just mean that they’re three tall white men with brown hair, even though that’s true (and reveals a lot about what we think a romantic hero looks like, not necessarily in a good way). They could 100% be brothers. In fact, if you told me they were, I would believe you.
‘What do you want from us?’ the Happy Couples™ ask Singleton Matt.
‘Lads, I want some advice,’ he replies. ‘Ladies, I want you to spy on my ladies, and then bring one of them back to dinner so we can have a triple date.’
In the mansion, meanwhile, the women have been set up to expect one of those gross parenting dates. They’ve got a date card that basically says BABIES BABIES BABIES WHO WILL BE A GOOD MUM BABIES and have been forced to set up a baby shower.
They all scream when they realise they’ll be talking to Snezana and Laura (both of whom are pregnant, hence the baby shower) instead. I’m sure they’re very excited about the prospect, but I’m also sure a lot of this scream is sheer relief that they aren’t being forced to, like, tote around a robotic baby to prove their mum skills or some shit like that.
Snez and Laura sit down and interview all seven women. Loosely, this is what happens:
Kristen: talks mostly about China
Sogand: talks mostly about Abbie
Emma: talks mostly about being in love (‘does she love Matt, or does she just love love?’ Laura wonders)
Elly: is Elly
Abbie: tells them she’s 23 but that she’d be willing to compromise on just about everything she thought she wanted to be with Matt (provoking a bit of a yikes reaction from Snez and Laura, which I appreciated)
Chelsie: confesses that she really likes Matt, but she’s not great about expressing her feelings
It’s clear that Snez and Laura’s top two are Chelsie and Helena. They value the fact that both are quite cautious with their emotions – they’re not just saying what people might want to hear, but are being true to their own feelings – and believe both need a little extra time with Matt to finally get that out. But ultimately, the one they choose is Helena.
Back at the Bach Pad, the three Bachies are throwing a footy around (well, Tasmanian Sam and NSW Matty are throwing it: Melbourne Matt is AFL punching it). ‘Mate, you’ve got to be a little bit selfish,’ Sam tells him. ‘You’re the one that’s going to be in a relationship in the end. Make sure you think about what you want.’
This is incredibly good advice. Selfishness is hugely important when you’re getting into a relationship, because you have to make sure it’s what you want: and you have to maintain your own boundaries in something that can be incredibly all-consuming.
…this is why I hate that Matt’s most desired quality in a partner, as stated a few episodes ago, is selflessness. ‘I want someone that will do exactly what I want, no matter what they want’ is the underpinning desire there.
(Caveat: I totally understand why someone would feel like that. I would love it if I had someone that just did exactly what I wanted. But this is why my #1 most treasured fantasy is to have a butler, not a husband.)
But enough about what I’m not into. There are a couple of things that happen next that I like a lot.
- It’s clear that the three men cook the dinner for the three ladies, but they don’t, like, go on about it. There’s no OMG!!!1! what sensitive new age guys!!! They just get on with it.
- The reason Snez and Laura give for picking Helena is essentially that she didn’t just tell them what they wanted to hear (ie. the selfless response). She gave the selfish response. Essentially, they picked her because she has the ability to articulate her boundaries. FUCKING. YES.
The dinner itself is quite interesting, tbh. The women have urged Helena to confess her feelings more openly to Matt – and the two former Bachies urge the same thing over dinner – but they never really give Helena the time to do so. I guess there was a Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation after this dinner, because Helena gets a rose, but it wasn’t shown (which makes me think it wasn’t terribly compelling). This whole dinner is about something, but it’s never really delivered on.
However, they don’t make a point of telling us it’s not been delivered on, so maybe we’re just supposed to…think it has? I’m not quite sure what to do with this dinner date, tbh.
Oh, and also:
Kiss watch: none shown on screen.
I can tell you who my hero in it was in this date, and it was Matty J. When he finds out Helena is 25, he has some quite spectacular side-eye. ‘I didn’t know what I wanted when I was 25,’ he tells the camera. ‘She seems very mature, but… can you really know at that age?’
I very much hope Matty J said the same thing to Matt, and that he took it on board re Elly, Abbie, and Kristen. MY DUDE. THINK OF HOW OLD YOUR STUDENTS WHEN YOU WERE DOING YOUR PHD WERE. THAT’S THEIR AGE.
The cut after the ad break to the next single date is quite abrupt, because it feels like the Helena thread has not been delivered on, but…well, here we are. This date is with Emma, and she’s over the moon. More than over the moon. She jumped over the moon, landed, jumped again, and went over it again.
Is that possible? Ask the astrophysicist.
This is a chocolate date. I was a little worried that it was going to end in a cursed chocolate bath a la Richie and Alex, but thankfully all they do is melt some chocolate, swirl it around, pour it into some moulds, smear it all over each other’s faces, and kiss it off. You know the deal.
Kiss watch: lots of snogging, but it felt a little circumstantial? Like, ‘oh, we’re here, we’re smearing chocolate all over each other, snogging is the only thing that can possibly be done’.
When they get to their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation, it’s immensely clear that Emma doesn’t share the same problem as Helena and Chelsie. ‘I could see you in my life so easily!’ she enthuses to Matt. ‘I want marriage, I want children – a whole team of children! – and I want that with you.’
Matt is very impressed by this, and gives her a rose. This is interesting, honestly, because the Stage Five Clinger edit they’ve given Emma made me wonder whether this date was designed to let her down easily without the stress of a rose ceremony.
…also, I have worked out what Emma reminds me of. She seems like a lovely woman, but at least 75% of what she says makes it sound like she’s reading it directly off an embroidered pillow.
Next up: the cocktail party. And I’m super not into this, pals.
There have been a few instances this season where they’ve thrown in some cocktail party gimmick to make the women fight with each other, but this is the most awkward. ‘Matt wants you to take the initiative!’ Osher tells the women. ‘Here are two blank date cards. You have to decide who takes them.’
This Sadie Hawkins cocktail party setup leads to a whoooooole very awkward, very weird argument, where essentially, the women have to decide who ‘deserves’ time with Matt. Sogand immediately grabs one of the date cards, and everyone is cool with that, but there’s major competition for the second one.
Kristen and Chelsie aren’t in the picture. This is all Abbie vs Elly. ‘I have things I really need to say to him!’ Elly says.
‘Babe, so do I!’ quoth Abbie.
Eventually, the card ends up physically in Elly’s position, but somehow – quite remarkably, honestly – Abbie manages to guilt her into handing it over.
Elly doesn’t seem to know how this happened. ‘OMG, did I do the wrong thing?’ she asks the other women.
‘YES!’ they all tell her.
I’m quite interested by this narrative beat. This might be the beginning of the set-up of Elly’s eventual downfall: perhaps a narrative centred around an inability to say important things. Granted, this narrative could be applicable to many of the women, but this is the first time that Matt and Elly’s connection has ever diegetically been called into question, so circle this moment if you’re playing along at home.
Someone is definitely in trouble for not talking enough about her feels to Matt, and it’s Sogand. ‘I really like you,’ she tells Matt in her quick little date.
‘I didn’t know that until you told me right now,’ he says, quite sternly, with the same energy a PE teacher might have when addressing a student who hasn’t done their homework.
Abbie’s quick little date, on the other hand, is very different. ‘I’m absolutely falling in love with you,’ she says. ‘I really want you to know that.’
Matt just beams.
And then something happens that I think we’re supposed to think is just banter, but I know your ways, Bachie. I know what things mean.
ABBIE AND MATT A) TALK ABOUT AND B) EAT FROM THE CHEESEBOARD.
THIS IS A BAD, BAD SIGN.
Abbie gets the rose, though, so the dark promise of the cheeseboard has not yet been delivered on. Sogand watches Matt give Abbie the rose, and a single tear rolls down her cheek.
You can predict exactly what happens at the rose ceremony. Of course – of course – Kristen, Chelsie, and Elly get roses, and Sogand goes home.
‘I can’t wait until he sees the real Abbie,’ she fumes in the limo. ‘She’s just playing a sick game.’
I feel a little sorry for her, honestly, because the way the narrative reads, Sogand played herself. That’s one of the unspoken rules of the Bachieverse: the second you get more emotionally involved with another contestant more than the Bach – even if it’s a negative emotional involvement – then the writing is on the wall.
Sogand’s departure means we’re now down to five blondes and one sole brunette. Emma better watch her back.
Sneaky end-of-recap reminder: the heroine of my Valentine series is also blonde and sometimes has trouble expressing her feelings, so if that feels like something you’d be into, check them out.
The show airs on Channel 10. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.