How dare they hire a love doctor who is not Dr Jodes?!
It’s our penultimate week, pals! We’re at the end of the middle and the beginning of the end. This episode represents our last in the show’s ‘normal’ pattern: that is, single date, group date, cocktail party, rose ceremony. Past this point, whole new structures take place, because things have got OMG! so! serious! that the narrative framework itself has to change direction.
But we’ll talk about that when we come to it, ie tomorrow, when it’s time for hometowns. For tonight’s episode, I want to talk about something which is a consistent theme of The Bachelor/ette but which has come up several times this season: the intersection of romance and truth.
This is an association we’re familiar with on a semantic level: ‘true love’ is, after all, a cliché. But it’s worth considering the implication of the combination of the two words. Why is it so important that love be ‘true’?
There are a few things going on here. The word ‘one’ is often added onto the front of this phrase – ‘one true love’ – so here, truth sets this love apart as exceptional. It has the somewhat unfortunate implication of casting all other loves as inherently ‘false’ loves, which absolutely might not be the case, but if we set that aside: truth elevates love, makes it special.
Truth and ideas of rightness and correctness are often bound up together, which is why ‘true love’ (and especially ‘one true love’) appears regularly as a narrative structure in stories about destiny. If you can find your ‘true’ love, you’re on the right path. You’re doing the things you’re supposed to be doing. You’ve found the correct person, and so everything is going to turn out all right. There’s no room for phrases like ‘truth is relative’ here, because it’s quite black and white: someone is either your true love or they’re not. You’re either meant to be together or you’re not.
This is, in many ways, the promise of the romance genre: by finding the right person, your true love, you gain access to your happily ever after. Indeed, something I think is fascinating is that despite the fact that we live in a largely cynical and ironic society where the concept of ‘true love’ is regularly sneered at and it would be easy to start hedging one’s bets a little, romance has only doubled down on it. As romance has become more and more serialised, we’ve started to see more and more into what An Goris calls the ‘post-HEA space’ (2013): that is, we see a lot of couples after their happy ending because they pop up in other people’s books. We see them living their happy lives, and it functions as proof that the happy ending isn’t hollow – they are, in fact, living happily ever after.
(This is even true in narratives with Happy For Nows, rather than HEAs. Think of how many serialised romances there are where HFN couples from previous books are still kicking around together. Now think of how many there are where said HFN couples have broken up. I’m going to venture a guess that it’s zero.)
This is what we could describe as the central fantasy of romance, and it’s definitely at play in the Bachieverse. Dana Cloud argues that ‘The Bachelor invites two kinds of investment simultaneously: the pleasure of the romantic fantasy and the pleasure of irony in recognising the fantasy’s folly’ (2010, 414). We could talk for ages about the last one – think of how many criticisms you’ve heard about this show re the possibility of true love – but I want to focus on the first one for a minute. Let’s come back to ‘true love’, and that intersection of truth and love.
We got a little window into the show’s own post-HEA space last week when we saw happy couples Sam and Snez and Matty and Laura. We can all agree that the Honey Badger was a massive misstep last year, but the reaction to it was so interesting, because what we saw in the audience reaction wasn’t necessarily ‘the pleasure of irony in recognising the fantasy’s folly’, per Cloud. No, we saw disappointment that the romantic promise wasn’t delivered on, that we got no HEA/HFN. There’s a real demand for that happy ending, even though we profess to be such cynics and to see straight through the artifice of reality TV most of the time.
That’s why this season, I think, there’s been such an emphasis on truth. If Dr Space Bachie is going to find his true love – if he’s going to give us not just a HEA, but a pleasurable glimpse into the post-HEA space afterwards via, like, his Instagram or whatever, which will presumably prove to us all that love is real – then he’s going to have to find a lady who’s truthful.
Truth is always a locus of anxiety in this franchise. It’s the deep worry at the heart of the phrase ‘there for the right reasons’. The titular ‘right reasons’ are never uttered aloud, because what they are – ‘true love’ – is a cliché, and saying that you want true love holds you up to ridicule. But that equation of ‘true love’ and ‘right reasons’ reveals itself when we consider what the wrong reasons are: generally, self-aggrandisement via TV time, presumably for the purposes of building one’s Instagram following or other career (even though I’m fairly sure you’d get more Instagram followers by offering people a glimpse into the post-HEA, but I digress).
A lot of this anxiety has centred on Abbie this season, who has been a fascinating figure because she’s simultaneously claimed to be extremely truthful and been held up as someone who isn’t truthful all at once (think of her claiming that she ‘literally cannot lie’ and one of the other women snorting that the only thing that Abbie is passionate about is her lies a few weeks ago). In the infamous Dogcunt Incident, Abbie was the one who told the truth about what Monique said. When Monique hedged her bets over whether she’d said it or not, Matt sent her home: ‘it’s not the word, it’s the lie,’ he said in that episode.
And yet at the same time as being an apparent truth-teller, Abbie has repeatedly been accused of saying what people – notably Matt, but also Snez and Laura last week – want to hear, in that she’s said a few times that she’s ready for marriage and kids, but this appears to be contrary to what she’s said to the other women in the house. Her dissemblance which raises its head again this week, and it puts Matt in an interesting narrative position: to find true love, he has to become the arbiter of who’s telling the truth, and make some black and white decisions of his own.
I could talk for ages about this, but to cap it off: you know all that Bachie language about being vulnerable and letting your walls down and being authentic? All of that is the language of truth. There’s so much going on here about love and performativity, and it’s almost paradoxical. In this extremely artificial setting, the requirement is that you be entirely non-artificial. This is what Laura and Snez valued last week in Helena: she didn’t say what they wanted to hear, she told the truth.
And yet, while being aggressively non-artificial, you have to admit to feelings on a certain timeline, and, to an extent, say what the Bach wants to hear: something that Helena struggled with immediately in the next episode. You have to tell the truth, but it has to be the truth the Bachie wants to hear, or sorry, it’s not true love.
…all of this is to say that being a contestant on The Bachelor/ette must be really fucking hard, because how on earth can you balance saying the right thing and telling the truth and liking someone and not shooting yourself in the foot by saying the wrong thing or a slightly not-quite-true thing?
TL;DR: Bachie contestants spend the whole show tiptoeing along a knife’s edge, and kudos to Abbie, who has somehow managed to dance. On with the recap.
We start tonight with our final group date. ‘I love group dates!’ Elly enthuses, which is surely a sign that she’s been in the Bach mansion so long it’s started to warp her thought processes.
And: you guys.
BACHIE HAS BROUGHT IN A LOVE DOCTOR AND IT ISN’T ME.
Granted, it’s a different kind of love doctor – this is a sexologist and relationship expert – but it is extreeeeeeeemely hard for me not to take this as a personal affront. I’VE BEEN OFFERING YOU MY SERVICES FOR YEARS, BACHIE, AND YOU TURN TO SOME OTHER LOVE DOCTOR INSTEAD? HOW VERY DARE YOU?!
Ahem. We find out in this little bit that Abbie has dreams of being a sex therapist, which I love. I can’t wait for the day she inevitably starts her Esther Perel-esque podcast. I will be a devoted listener.
In this date, Matt is blindfolded, and he has to hug each of his five girlfriends for a set amount of time (after which apparently oxytocin starts to be released? I’m not an expert on the chemical side of love). Then, without knowing which girlfriend is which, he has to pick which of the hugs was his favourite.
We skip quickly through Helena, Chelsie, and Emma, before we get to Elly and Abbie. And then, once again, we get the framing that I talked about in my nerdle the other week: Elly’s the nice girl, with the emotional connection with Matt, and Abbie’s the sexy girl, with the physical connection.
‘Which hug did you like best?’ Osher asks Matt afterwards.
‘Number four,’ he replies, and Elly beams, while Abbie fumes.
There’s a second part to this date, wherein Matt has to stare into the eyes of each of his five girlfriends for four minutes each, presumably for more oxytocin reasons. (Full disclosure: I tried this with someone once, and it was more boring than anything else. The oxytocin did not kick in. You know what is better than staring? Talking.)
Once again, we skip over Helena, Chelsie, and Emma. Elly tells us that she has something she wants to communicate to Matt, but I assume she means telepathically, because she basically stares right through him in her time.
Abbie – bless her heart – begins with a Fifty Shades–esque lip bite, and then cycles through a whole bunch of different facial expressions. The other women (who are watching on Gogglebox-style, by the way: they’ve done this panopticon thing a few times this season, and I fucking hate it) basically turn into that angry librarian in the first season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and point to a sign on the wall saying NO FACE JOURNEYS.
Abbie thinks she’s got the bonus time sewn up, but no, Matt goes for the emotional connection with Elly. He whisks her off to a Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation which is honestly the most beautifully set-dressed couch I’ve seen all season. They really got the extra strings of fairy lights out for this one.
Elly says a couple of very interesting things here. First, she tells Matt that she feels like how she imagines someone falling in love would feel: which, importantly, is not the same as telling him she’s falling in love with him. That narrative and emotional difference is intriguing.
And then secondly, she stops talking about herself and starts talking about Abbie. ‘I just want to tell you the truth,’ she says. ‘Abbie’s only here for social media. She’s not here for you.’
See how truth rears its ugly head again?
But is it the right kind of truth? Matt doesn’t seem especially happy that Elly is talking about Abbie instead of talking more about her feelings and their emotional connection. But still, he tells us, he has to dig deeper so he can find out ‘the truth’.
This means that the last formal single date of the season goes to Abbie (which mathematically it should anyway, as she’s the only one of the ladies not to have had two single dates). And then I had to stop and take a few deep breaths, because you know what’s not a sexy, romantic date?
HELPING SOMEONE MOVE.
GOD, BACHIE, YOU’VE GOT THE MONEY TO SPEND ON THAT OTHER DR LOVE AND NOT ON ME? WHEN YOU THINK SHIT LIKE THIS IS ROMANTIC? DON’T YOU KNOW HOW BADLY YOU NEED ME?
Literally. Matt picks Abbie up in a moving truck. I’m amazed she didn’t barrel-roll straight out of it. THERE IS NOTHING ROMANTIC ABOUT HELPING SOMEONE MOVE.
In vague defence of this date, it’s more about interior decorating than heavy lifting, but still: THEY HAVE TO PUT A DOONA INSIDE A QUILT COVER AT ONE POINT. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT’S A NIGHTMARE.
(It ends up with them hardcore making out on the bed and, in Abbie’s words, ‘slightly humping’. Because of course it does.)
Things get a little deeper and darker when we get to their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation, though. ‘So, um, I heard a rumour that you might just be here for social media,’ Matt says, almost shyly. ‘Can you, um, talk about that a bit?’
Abbie pinches the bridge of her nose. ‘That’s so far from the truth, Matt,’ she says. ‘I’m so serious about how I feel about you.’
‘And I’ve always believed you,’ he reassures her immediately. ‘I’ve never doubted you.’
…in short, Matt reassures Abbie that he’s very sure – that he’s always been sure! despite Monique! despite Sogand! despite Elly! despite his own best friend! – that she’s telling the truth.
A single crystalline tear trails down Abbie’s cheek. Somewhere, a metaphorical bell starts tolling.
At the cocktail party, once again, Helena, Chelsie, and Emma are irrelevant, and it’s all about Elly and Abbie. ‘Abbie, I have to tell you something,’ Elly says. ‘I said some things about you to Matt, because I’m not sure you’re here for the right reasons.’
‘I am here for the right reasons,’ Abbie says, ‘and I don’t want to have this conversation with you, because it’s going to upset me.’
Honestly, neither of them comes off terribly well in this conversation – Abbie calls Elly ‘pathetic’ and says she ‘disgusts’ her, which seems like rather a lot, and Elly comes off as a bit Year Nine. Normally, this would be a fairly straightforward Elly = hero and Abbie = villain narrative. And to be honest, it might have been what they were going for, but I’m not sure they succeeded. I’m finding it harder and harder not to find myself charmed by Abbie and her straightforward pragmatism.
Next: it’s time for the final rose ceremony before hometowns.
And you know who goes home? Do you know for whom the bell tolls?
I am genuinely surprised by this. I was fairly sure she was going to get eliminated this week, but I thought it would be in the hometown stage, and that Emma would be the one leaving tonight. But no, Matt took a harder stance on the type of truth he wants to hear than I suspected, and it was Elly who sobbed her heart out in a limo on the way out of the Bach mansion.
- Abbie tells the other women ‘I think he heard what Elly had to say about me and it reflected poorly on her, because he believes me’. This might be a) true, but b) what a passive-aggressive flex, and c) also a threat?!
- If a man wearing a suit the exact same colour as my bedroom when I was nine dumped me, I’d probably start crying too (although mostly from delayed embarrassment).
Sneaky end-of-recap reminder: not only do I write about rose ceremonies, but I’ve written a book with a rose on the cover (and Valentine was a sleeper hit at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival)! Check it out.
The show airs on Channel 10. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.