Obstacle courses of the literal and metaphorical kinds
Hello again, friends! Can I just say: if you’re still reading these, after the slog of a Bachie year we’ve had, both in terms of content and seasons stacked on top of each other willy-nilly, thank you. It’s always nice to know when you sit down to self-indulgently nerdle about reality television that people are reading.
So what am I self-indulgently nerdling about tonight, before we get into the main body of the recap? Let’s talk narrative theory, friends. Specifically, let’s talk about closure, and why it irritates me so much when the show asks questions and then skates right over the answers, as they did about fifty times last night.
Last week, I wrote a little bit about how texts operate at the level of expectations and the level of questions (Abbott 2008, 58, in which he adapts Roland Barthes’ concepts of proairetic and hermeneutic codes). The show needs to meet our expectations to be recognisable as a Bachieverse product. We need dates and cocktail parties and rose ceremonies, those formal markers of the Bach. But the show also needs to ask questions. How are we going to make our way to the end, to the final declaration of love? it asks us, and it needs to set up enough questions along the way for us to want to keep watching.
Expectations and questions are both related to the concept of closure. We get closure when our expectations are fulfilled, and closure when our questions are answered. Closure is something we’re trained to look for in narrative, because we exist in the world and have consumed a million stories. As Abbott puts it, ‘closure brings satisfaction to desire, relief to suspense, and clarity to confusion’ (2008, 64).
This isn’t to say that the show should be in relentless pursuit of closure the whole time – as Abbott goes on to say ‘we don’t want closure too quickly. We seem to like the experience of remaining in doubt while moving toward closure’ (2008, 64). This is where the level of questions comes in handy. We expect closure from a Bachie show: that’s clearly set up via the level of expectations. But that level of questions is where the real magic happens, because the show needs to make us ask how they’re going to get there, and sometimes, if they’re going to get there (something they tried to seed with Locky, showing all that footage of him crying from the finale in the ads and vaguely implying that both women ditched him).
So, that thing I’ve been screaming about, where they ask a question and don’t answer it? Not always terrible! Sometimes it’s good to leave a question open for a while, because it drives narrative. The question about what really happened with Elly and Joe is a good example of this, for instance. It was left open for several episodes, and the uncertainty that seeded in the men pushed the narrative forward. It created suspense: less around what happened (I mean, come on, it was very obvious), and more about how the men would react.
But – we have to believe that the question will be answered eventually (when it’s not? then you have the TV show Lost, my friends). The way the show was structured last night, with Frazer and Elly having that big talk, was set up to function as an answer not just to the question of what happened between her and Joe prior the show, but how the men would react (if Frazer was standing in for all of them: mostly fine). But because they didn’t show that to the audience, they denied us closure: and that is hella frustrating when you’re working in a format like this one, where all the audience expectations are tooled towards closure. There are media and formats and texts where some ambiguity is fine, but you know what isn’t one of them? The Bachieverse.
…and from a whole other narrative standpoint, when they refuse to show us answers to questions like in the party games last night and in the human chess (chest) incident, they’re throwing away a golden opportunity for characterisation. Come on now, Bachie.
So what questions are going to be left frustratingly unanswered tonight? Read on, and we shall see.
We begin tonight with a double date. Despite the fact they’ve already taken both these boys on single dates, Becky takes Pete and Elly takes Frazer.
…I wonder who’s going to win this season. It’s just such a mystery.
They begin with a bit of a Budget Bachie fakeout. They meet by the water, and spend some time zipping around the harbour in some tiny red dinghies (maybe? I don’t know shit about boats). They yell WOOOOOOOOOOOOO very loudly a lot, and… look, I feel like the show needs to stop, take stock, and have a serious think about why they believe people shouting WOOOOOOOOOOOOO very loudly a lot is compelling television, because they do this all the fucking time.
Another thing they do a lot? Superyachts! Yes, of course the foursome upgrade.
Both pairs look pretty snuggly. ‘So Pete, what do you like about Becky?’ Elly asks.
Pete launches into a litany of things, which makes Becky smile but gives Elly some pause. ‘I wish Frazer would say shit like that,’ she tells the camera. ‘I think he has feelings for me, but he just never says them in words.’
I’m sure you could hear about 90% of the straight female viewership groan in tired recognition when she said that.
He does eventually come out with it in their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation time, but Elly has to do a lot of prompting. ‘I’ve always had a soft spot for you,’ she tells him. ‘You remind me of my dad, actually – the best guy in the world!’
(Not sure how I feel about this as a romantic declaration – a bit too Electra Complex for me – but you do you, Elly.)
‘I don’t often get feelings for people like I’ve got feelings for you,’ she says.
‘Yeah, it’s mutual,’ Frazer says, and they pash, rose, etc.
It rings a little hollow to me, tbh, but this might be because it comes on the heels of quite a lovely little scene between Becky and Pete. They’re discussing practicalities. He lives in Adelaide, she lives in Newcastle – how does that work?
We get quite a lot of insight into Pete in this scene. He’s got a younger brother recovering from a brain injury, so he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time away from him. We don’t get any real resolution to their two-city problem, but they resolve that if they end up committing to each other, they’ll make it work. There’s still the sense, though, that this is an obstacle between them: one that they’ll have to overcome.
And – as I said last night – that’s what makes a good romance narrative! A happy ending feels earned if the couple has to overcome something! This was one of the most interesting snippets of conversation we’ve had so far on the show, and it’s because it actually had a narrative to it.
It made me wonder whether a lot of the conversation prompts they’re using for these Couch scenes need to be rethought. They’re always pushing them to talk about their feelings and to discuss how they’re falling for the Bach, but if they prompted them for stories instead – like with Pete here – that might come organically, and we’d learn a heap more about the characters in the process.
(Also: I know heaps more about Pete than Becky now, which really is a bit of an issue in a show she’s the star of.)
Obviously Pete and Becky pash and he gets a rose too, and I cared about this a TON more than in the Elly/Frazer scene.
Next up, it’s a group date! Somewhat surprisingly, the theoretical underpinnings here are fairly solid. It’s an obstacle course which they all have to complete. Given that a relationship is all about overcoming obstacles, then: bam! sense! made!
Not that that’s how they frame it. Everyone’s in wedding wear, and it’s framed as a ‘race to the altar’, with Team Becky pitted against Team Elly (no thank you no thank you NO THANK YOU).
It’s a fairly standard muddy obstacle course. Most of the drama comes from the fact Adrian has been disqualified for medical reasons and so is acting as the ref. As a Becky boy, he thus proceeds to be extremely corrupt so that Becky’s team wins (much to the chagrin of James in particular).
Because her team win, Becky gets to pick one boy to take on some extra time. In recognition of the fact that her team would not have won without his corruption, she picks Adrian, and they spend some time canoodling in a very uncomfortable looking hot tub (fresh from Locky and Irena’s final date, if I’m not very much mistaken).
‘So last time we talked, I kind of felt like you were Mr Right Now, not Mr Right,’ Becky says, somehow managing to express this without saying the word ‘fuckboi’.
‘Oh, I’m totally Mr Right,’ Adrian says, clearly having realised his strategic error. ‘I can see a future with you. Definitely.’
This phrase – ‘I can see a future with you’ – is one that gets uttered a lot. Weird how no one ever specifies what kind of future. It’s easy to imagine a future: much harder to imagine a nice one.
Adrian eventually mutters ‘I’m pretty invested in you at this moment’ while staring off into the middle distance. I didn’t find it especially convincing, but Becky did – at least, convincing enough to do a spot of classic Bachie hot tub pashing with him.
We’ve had quite a lot of Becky this episode, but the cocktail party is all Elly. First, Joe takes her aside and gives her a recreation of their first lunch date from back before the show. I’m not sure that recreating the first date of a relationship that fizzled is the best move I’ve ever heard, but on the flipside, feeding the Bachelorette seems genius. I can’t imagine they get much time to eat during the cocktail parties. If the contestants want to please them, they should just bring them snacks.
Second, James pulls Elly aside to read her a feelings letter (not as good as Juliette’s, alas) and to give her a rose quartz he’s obtained. He talks about it like it’s something he’s been carrying around for a while, but if you told me that he and Adrian bought their respective crystals at the same Tree of Life, I wouldn’t gainsay you.
Once again, we only lose one man at the rose ceremony. Becky had to cut Aggi last night, so this time it’s Elly’s turn, and she loses Damo. Who’s Damo, you ask?
…sorry, I’m just trying to remember a single sentence he said, and am coming up with nothing.
On the subject of people not saying a single sentence: we heard nary a peep out of the Adam the beautiful rock boy tonight. GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, BACHIE.
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