How dare they go to so many locations and not consider my extremely Victorian feelings?!
Hello again, friends! You would think from all the Channel Ten promos airing about the episodes this week that we’d come to the end of the road of this season – FINAL EPISODES, they’ve been blaring. However, to the best of my knowledge, we still have quite a few weeks to go and are thus still pretty much in the middle of the road.
Given this, the use of FINAL EPISODES is giving me some feelings about how desperate they are for a narrative hook, and it is not, shall we say, exactly filling me with confidence about how well they’re going to tell a story for the rest of the season.
I’m regularly critical of the storytelling decisions the franchise makes, but this season really has been disastrously bad, removing key incidents which would make various plot threads make sense and then running screaming away from the parts of the narrative that are actually interesting, eg. Lockydown. However, one thread began to emerge last week which I’m really quite fascinated by the potential of: Bella as villain.
Bella, as I’m sure you’ll remember, got a Disney princess introduction on the first night and has been an odds-on favourite to win since the moment Locky laid eyes on her. To use Unreal parlance: if there was ever a wifier wifey than Bella, I’m not sure I’ve seen her. But during last week’s episodes – particularly the one where they returned from Lockydown to the mansion – we saw things begin to shift. In the conflict that’s emerging between her and Irena (a friendship so strong that the narrative commented on it, something they don’t do a lot), Bella is clearly coming out worse-off.
So what makes a villain in the Bachieverse?
The answer to this isn’t necessarily straightforward, and, I think, differs substantially between the Australia and the US. One way to become a villain in the US is not to be especially into the Bach and to be quite public about that, but we tend to really, really value that in our contestants here, to the extent where contestants who have been all, ‘um, ew’ in the Bachie’s direction have tended to be fan favourites: cf. Laurina Fleure (S2), Vanessa Sunshine (S6), and even Areeba this season to a certain extent.
But one thing that has almost always a villain made, no matter what franchise you’re operating it, is emotionality that’s constructed as inappropriate and/or excessive. The classic example of this is the ‘stage five clinger’ – think, for instance, of the narrative constructed around Emma Roche in Dr Space Bachie’s season last year, where her insistence that she was in love with love cast her as unsuitable to be a winner (even though it was clear that Dr Space Bachie quite enjoyed some of that discourse, at least in the first part of the season). It doesn’t necessarily make you a villain – although it can, as Jamie Doran has shown us twice over in Angie’s season of The Bachelorette and then again in Bachelor in Paradise – but it pushes you to the margins of the narrative.
This is something we’ve seen several times in this season. First, there was Zoe-Clare and her hyper-emotional Rights For Redheads speech. Of course, the underpinning racism in that speech had a lot to do with how she was villainised, but the emotionality absolutely played into it. And then, more broadly across the season, we saw Roxi. Her reactions to nearly all situations were extremely emotional: and that emotionality was clearly positioned by the show (and by the dominant societal norms extant in Australia, and by the fact that she has a whole angry alter-ego called Ronda) as inappropriate and excessive, not proportionate to the situation she was in.
In her article ‘Fallen Women in Reality TV’, Rachel Dubrofsky argues that:
The action of the series is propelled by a drawn-out process of eliminating women until one remains, with the narrative focus on how and why women are not selected by the bachelor: the story is about failed love. Women who prove unsuitable for the bachelor are given the most screen time, especially if their unsuitability can be shown in a spectacular fashion. The common modus operandi for showing the women’s unsuitability is to first show them as ideal matches for the bachelor, and then show how they lose this status (2009, 355).
Dubrofsky goes on to say that ‘[m]ost women occupy the center of a storyline because they are excessively emotional… women’s emotions [are positioned as] spectacular and excessive, signalling that she is unable to control herself and [is] therefore unfit for love’ (2009, 355). This is exactly what we saw with Roxi – and, I think, what we’re beginning to see with Bella.
The show hasn’t thrown us into the deep end with this. Bella is clearly going far in the season, and I’m not sure they’re willing to commit to really vilifying her (especially if she wins). But last week, we saw the emphasis on some of her excessive emotionality in the disproportionate anger with which she responded to Irena texting their shared boyfriend. If this trend continues, then we might see Bella take quite a dramatic Dubrofsky turn: starting out as someone very in control and thus positioned as a wifey, and ending up as someone who is positioned as unfit for love due to her excessive emotionality.
(If you’re like, hmmm, this sounds troubling on a feminist level: it is! Women’s emotions are often used to undermine them, and the fact that we see not dissimilar storylines play out on The Bachelorette does not change this at all.)
But is Bella going to be a villain? Let’s dive into the recap and find out.
We begin this episode with a group date, hosted by yet another expert who is NOT ME, which I’m having some trouble not taking personally.
That said, I’m not sure I’d want to be the expert on this date, given that the pitch appears to have just been the word ‘horny’ scrawled on a piece of paper with lipstick. Locky strips down to his undies and is blindfolded. One by one, the women have to come in and ‘leave their mark’ on him.
…while the expert just sort of… stands there. You can bet that if/when the show finally caves and invites me on to shut me up, I will be inserting myself into the narrative much more.
Anyway, it’s as uncomfortably horny as you would expect. The women are drawing on him, putting on lipstick and pashing various parts of his body, the works. It is the kind of date you could never, ever do on The Bachelorette, because if you treated a woman’s body as an object to this extent, you’d never hear the end of the outrage (deservedly).
Three notable marks belong to 1) Bella, who puts on lipstick and kisses his heart, 2) Irena, who paints a heart on his heart, and 3) Steph, who just straight up pashes him.
This pash makes Steph the winner – Locky chooses her for the extra time, and they head off to a Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation. She does not get a rose on this CoWaIC, so…RIP Steph, thank you for the gift that was Daddy.
The real conflict, though, comes from 1) and 2), and we get some dialogue that sounds a little bit like this:
BELLA: Babe, you drew your heart right over my kiss.
IRENA: Babe, I didn’t, your kiss was above my heart.
BELLA: No it wasn’t, babe, I was just looking at him.
IRENA: I studied anatomy, babe, I know where the heart is. Your kiss was basically on his shoulder and my heart was on his heart.
Then, over a shot of Bella looking sour, we get the Ciarran Stott Memorial Snake Hisses in the soundtrack. If you weren’t convinced that Bella was the new villain before, I’m sure you are now.
Bella’s villain edit only intensifies the next day, when Irena is the person selected to go on a hiking date with Locky. ‘She doesn’t even like hiking!’ she sniffes. ‘Locky’s so going to call her on her bullshit now!’
‘…Irena does like hiking,’ Kaitlyn says to camera. ‘I have no fucking idea what Bella’s talking about.’
I cannot tell you whether Irena does or does not like hiking, but she keeps up with Locky the adventure boy perfectly well on this date, so… I guess she likes it, and presumably trusts Locky enough not to think he’s going to murder her even though he’s brought her to the bush in the middle of nowhere on what is only their second date.
‘I can see us doing this!’ Locky says, beaming widely as they set up their swag. ‘You can sit there and read a book and I can go and climb a tree or something and then when I start bleeding you can patch me up!’
What a prince. Who wouldn’t want to spend their life with a gigantic eight year old boy?
Irena doesn’t seem to mind, though, even when Locky tells her that he – he, the Bachelor! – rarely thinks far enough ahead to worry about marriage, kids etc… although he does tell her that he thinks about those things with her, which might take the sting out of it a bit.
‘There’s something I need to tell you,’ she says, after they’ve spent a good time of chunk making out in their swag. ‘I’m really falling in love with you.’
Obviously, they then make out some more.
This seemed to me to be quite early for a love confession; however, the temporal interruption of Lockydown has definitely messed with things. I just wish they’d given us a bit of a clearer timeline!
On the impact of the pandemic: Locky takes Steph to the Novotel for the Couch time. Locky and Irena run off into the bush. That makes three (3!) locations that they go to in this episode, which is two more locations than I have been to in the last six months, and I’m not going to lie: it stings.
So what they do now?
They go to a fucking FOURTH LOCATION, that’s what they do! On top of his date with Irena and the date with Bec that was tacked onto the end of last episode, Locky has a single date with Izzy. They had a date in Lockydown, as I’m sure you’ll recall, but because it was on Zoom, they couldn’t pash: and it’s very clear that Locky’s purpose on this date is to get a-pashing.
Obviously there is a veneer of a date first (quite a good one, even though it’s clearly poached from that timeline date they tried to make Matt and Helena do last year – I suppose Helena freaked out and didn’t do it, so the concept was going wanting). In a warehouse with some random accoutrements scattered about, they have to talk about relationship milestones and preferences and how they might approach them: things like travel (both into it!) and kids (both want them, but not immediately).
But one of the accoutrements is a bed, and so of course they end up snuggled up on it, and of course they end up pashing. I’m fairly sure Izzy got a rose, although I couldn’t tell you for sure, because I was too busy being horrified that they hadn’t taken their shoes off before getting into bed.
Next, it’s the cocktail party – and friends. FRIENDS.
I have been very critical of the storytelling this season. You know this. You’ve been reading these recaps.
But what follows is one of the single best couple of minutes in Bachie history.
So: Juliette is getting increasingly annoyed that she hasn’t had a single date, and she makes up her mind to confront Locky about it. ‘I was trying to talk to you in lockdown,’ she tells him. ‘A lot, and you never really replied much.’
‘I, uh –‘
‘There are other people I could be talking to,’ she says. ‘There are Tik-Tok stars with four million followers who follow me and talk to me. But I’m not talking to them, because of little old you, Locky.’
‘I have to remember who I am,’ Juliette tells the camera. ‘I’m amazing. And if that’s too confronting for Locky, he should send me home, because I’ve got DMs to get back to.’
Smash-cut to Juliette in the limo on the way home.
What an iconic exit. Truly. 10/10. I hope the hot men of your dreams slide into your DMs, Juliette. You deserve so much better than old mate here.
This would have been a great end to the episode, but now – now! – they decide to return to a conventional episode structure, so there’s still more cocktail party to go. Specifically, there’s Bella pulling Locky aside and hanging shit on Irena. ‘She’s been spinning a web of lies for you this whole time!’ she tells Locky. ‘Honestly!’
‘What Bella’s said doesn’t change how I think about Irena,’ Locky tells the camera. ‘But… it might change how I feel about Bella.’
This is evident at the rose ceremony. Three women (Bec, Irena, and Izzy) already have roses, and there are only two to be divided among the remaining four women. Kaitlyn gets the first of these, and then…
‘Bella, can I talk to you for a second?’ Locky asks.
He takes her outside. ‘I didn’t like the side of you I saw tonight,’ he tells her.
‘Irena doesn’t matter to me,’ she replies. ‘You matter, Locky. I’ve talked to you every day of the last three months. Don’t throw away what we have.’
I’m very grateful to Bella for confirming the timeline here. Inquiring minds – well, me – had a lot of questions.
Obviously Bella gets the final rose, which means Steph and Maddy join Queen Juliette on the limo out/fast train to Paradise.
But this all raises a question: we’re down to five women in episode eleven. Are they really going to try and stretch this out to sixteen episodes like normal, or are they going to put us out of our misery early? Was FINAL EPISODES not a lie after all?
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! If you like my writing (which, if you made it to the end of this monstrously long recap, I assume you do), don’t forget to check out my YA Valentine series, and you can always check in on me at my website: jodimcalister.com.au