Penultimate episode, friends! This was a long one but also a relatively uneventful one, so… might this be the shortest recap of the season?
(I wouldn’t bet on it. I have bad, wordy habits.)
This is the episode that stands in for what once would have been hometowns, but Screen Vic is clearly not willing to let the production out of Melbourne. Everyone’s families have flown in, and they’re all meeting each other, in one – well, three – big tumultuous banquets.
…well, not really tumultuous, aside from my favourite scab to pick at Wesley. I feel like they could have tried a wee bit harder here.
This is something I want to think about a little bit more before we get into the recap of events – the idea of norms and how something like The Bachelor reveals them.
The Bachelor is, I think, the most normative of the reality dating shows, because it has the fewest gimmicks. Unlike something like Married at First Sight, where the gimmick is in the name, The Bachelor steps through the milestones of romance in a heightened, fairytale-esque setting – meeting, liking, dating, kissing, committing. Meeting families, which everyone is doing tonight, is one of those milestones.
Because of this, unlike more gimmicky shows, The Bachelor has the capacity to both reveal and shape norms. The Bachelor himself is usually positioned as both an aspirational figure and an everyman, which makes him function as a kind of arbiter of norms. Because his role is to choose his partner, we tend to read the attributes of that partner – or, at least, of the serious contenders – as the attributes one should have to be worthy of love. For example, the show has tried to tell us that Amelia doesn’t have the correct attributes, thus making her elimination feel narratively deserved.
However, in this multi-Bach format, the Bach doesn’t need to function in quite the same way. Because there are three of them, he doesn’t need to be an everyman in the way, say, a Matty J needed to be – which opens up the door for us to consider him as sometimes transgressing, rather than setting, the norms.
With Ben, I think they’re trying to draw from that old everyman playbook. Whether they’re succeeding or not is another matter – the fact he has apparently never heard of the question mark continues to be infuriating – but they are, for lack of a better word, trying to position him as the “normal” one, your standard Bachie.
With Luke and Wesley, I think we’re getting some alternatives. Luke is a good alternative – embodying a really blokey Australian masculinity but with bonus emotional intelligence. Wesley, however, is clearly being positioned as… not a particularly good alternative.
Instead of Wesley functioning as the arbiter of norms, he’s so far outside them – in a way abetted by comparison to the other Bachies – that the architecture of the show has been turned around on him. When the Honey Badger rejected both Britt and Sophie in the finale of his season, the anger of the audience was generated because the implication was that he had somehow found these two women the show had set us up to like as unworthy of love. But when Brea inevitably rejects Wesley…
…let’s just say I don’t think that’s how the audience are going to react.
So I can show you what I mean – let’s get into the recap.
Rather than each Bachie and their family meeting a contestant and their family individually, they’ve smashed everyone together. The idea here is obviously to generate conflict, but much like the weird day spa date the other day, I think it just makes it more awkward than anything else.
That said, this episode is already long enough for how little happens in it, so maybe that’s for the best.
Ben, Mckenna and Angela
Ben and his two brothers meet Mckenna, her mum, and her cousin; and Angela and her best friend.
Truly so little happens in this lunch, even with the awkwardness of everyone having lunch together (which probably has something to do with how incredibly incurious Ben is – my dude, please learn about the question mark!).
The biggest conflict comes when Ben is waxing lyrical (by his standards) about how deep his initial connection with Mckenna was, which obviously does not please Angela terribly much. Angela’s best friend takes him aside to be like, “dude,” to which he’s like, “oh”, and then he goes in and says a bunch of nice stuff about Angela so Mckenna can feel just as awkward.
They really have done their best to turn his lack of communicative ability into a narrative, but this man just has zero conversational intelligence.
Luke, Lana and Ellie
Luke, his mum and his sister meet Lana, her sister and her brother-in-law; and Ellie and her parents.
My favourite thing about all of this is that Lana’s sister’s name is Lina. Some real cartoonish name choices in this family, clearly.
This lunch has a bit more of a narrative to it. I’m not quite sure what the Ellie piece of it is supposed to be – her dad takes Luke aside and says a few things that involve the word “intimacy” that make Luke feel very awkward (what is he actually saying, though? I couldn’t work it out) – but the Lana piece has an arc.
Lana, it turns out, has a history of dating men who drink, and is keen not to do that again, especially given she has a daughter. When her sister and brother-in-law hear that Luke is an ex-NRL player, they’re immediately wary, given the reputation that NRL players have.
When they take Luke aside to discuss this with him, he’s very honest. “When my career ended due to injury I did drink a lot,” he says. “But then I realised things would have to change, or I was going to end up dead. I started seeing a psychologist, and now I’ve got coping mechanisms and a support network that I never had before.”
“If something bad happened again, do you think you’d turn to alcohol again?” Lana’s sister asks.
“No,” Luke said. “I know how to ask for help now.”
This is great! What good narrative! This is the kind of thing they could have leaned on much earlier in the season, to be honest – Luke is very good at narrating his own story, and they definitely could have exploited that more.
Wesley and Brea
I feel like we all saw this trainwreck coming.
Brea, her mum and her sister meet Wesley and his stepmum Baby (the one he Zoomed the other episode and who told him to NEVER COMPROMISE), and it does not go well.
The fact that Brea starts crying before the meeting even starts isn’t a great sign. “I’ve realised that I make all the compromises in our relationship, and he makes none,” she sobs to her mum.
“Brea, you shouldn’t need to compromise,” her mum – very sensibly – says.
This is not the opinion of Baby. To say the least.
This lunch is a lesson in clashing norms, and it really shows how far the needle has swung that we’re now perceiving a contestant as the arbiter of norms rather than the Bachelor. Brea and her family are pushing for something that they – and we, the audience – are encouraged to identify as very normal: she wants to sleep in the same bed as her partner when she goes to stay, even if they’re not having sex. “I think this is a pretty small and reasonable request,” she says timidly.
Baby is not having that. “You’re going to need to compromise on that,” she says. “You need to raise your standards, Brea. You’re not used to being treated with respect, by a gentleman like Wesley.”
Wesley, through all of this, says nothing.
Brea eventually gets so frustrated that she bursts into tears again, and her mum goes to comfort her. “I don’t think I’m asking too much,” she sobs.
“You’re not,” her mum replies through gritted teeth, clearly furious at the suggestion that Wesley being with Brea is him “lowering his standards”.
After the lunch, Brea does her best to lay down a boundary with Wesley. “I’m doing all the compromising,” she says. “I’ve agreed to no sex. You need to meet me halfway.”
“I don’t know how to do that,” Wesley says, somehow managing to be a worse communicator than Ben.
I suspect a lot of people will be cheering tomorrow when Brea inevitably dumps Wesley.
(We also find out that he sleeps in a single bed? And Brea is willing to sleep with him in said bed? RUN, BREA.)
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this recap – thank you! I assume that means you enjoy my writing, so don’t forget that I’m the author of three reality TV rom-coms. Here For The Right Reasons (Bachelor + the first contestant he eliminates) and Can I Steal You For A Second? (contestant + contestant) are out now; while Not Here To Make Friends (villain + producer) will be out in January and is available for pre-order.
You can also catch me on my website: jodimcalister.com.au