By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 07, 2022 at 3:56 PM

To begin, an apology: I'm very sorry this recap is arriving so comedically late. I was unfortunately sick for much of the past week, rendering me useless for all tasks that weren't drinking Gatorade and sweatily sleeping on a couch – and I can only imagine subjecting myself to more of this season would've only made my nausea worse. (Do you or someone you know suffer from ECE, or Extended Clayton Exposure? Ask your doctor about Loveisblindia, the cure for bad dating show programming.) But perhaps I should've watched the latest episode of "The Bachelor" while sick after all, because this week's hometown dates were the saltine cracker of television: easily digested blandness. 

We begin in beautiful Virginia with our first hometown date: Susie, who wants to find out if Clayton likes being choked. NEVERMIND ON THE BLANDESS; WE'RE GETTING KINKY! No, Susie doesn't take Clayton to see Virginia's famous red room and the episode doesn't turn into "50 Shades of Clayton." Instead Susie takes him to jiu-jitsu class because Susie's a blue belt who sees her body as a weapon. Sure hope you don't do anything to upset her – say, HAVE SEX WITH MULTIPLE WOMEN AT THE SAME TIME DURING FANTASY SUITE WEEK – and end up folded up and murdered, Clayton! For now, however, it's all fun and games as Clayton learns a move called "shrimping" because, even with Shanae gone, this show just can't get enough shrimp talk. Did the National Seafood Board sponsor this season?!

Afterward, the two talk about how excited she is for Clayton to meet her family – especially her dad, who she loves very much and who set the standard for what she expects a partner should be. It's because of him that she turned into a "savage" (there's that word again; I sense a potential theme for a "Bachelorette" season ... ) in terms of her expectations for a significant other. So he's a big deal – and lucky for Clayton, Susie's dad seems to like him a whole bunch. Phew, he must not have been watching this season thus far. Her mom, however, seems a little less convinced – especially after she asks Clayton if he loves Susie and he responds with a whole word salad bar, all to pick around the word "no." She reports back to Susie to proceed with caution about Clayton. Be careful – and be careful, Clayton, because we've now seen that she could wreck you in a second, probably even while wearing that princess dress from that shopping spree earlier. 

From Virginia, we head off to Denver for Gabby's hometown date – and, to start, a nature hike complete with a gift for Clayton: a knife. Man, these women really want Clayton to know that his life could end at any moment if he messes this up. Honestly I appreciate the aggressive strategy. Jokes aside, it's technically for bears – not like any show up along the trail. Instead, they have a peaceful walk to "Proposal Rock," apparently a traditional engagement spot that has definitely existed before this very moment and definitely wasn't created by "Bachelor" producers. They also conveniently find a hot tub waiting for them to lounge in – but I can't even be mad at that. If I was on a long nature hike, I'd LOVE to randomly stumble upon a hot tub in the wilderness. 

The two dry off and head over to meet the family – or most of the family, as Gabby's dad is staying away since his girlfriend has been diagnosed with cancer and, with COVID still flying around, he's being safe with her at risk. But in his place, we get Gabby's grandpa, who is the undoubted MVP of hometown dates week. He's the most chipper and happy old man! He makes tons of jokes, laughs about Gabby's "sit on your face pillow" introduction from night one and probably has pockets overflowing with delicious Werther's Original candies. I TOO WOULD LIKE TO MEET THIS CHARMING MAN! Someone book him for that seniors "Bachelor" season that may or may not ever actually exist. Anyways, he's a treat, and as the hometown visit goes along, he ends up being a fan of Clayton.

That's not the best thing to happen on the date for Gabby, though. The highlight would come near the very end of the night, when she gets a surprise visit from her dad, who pulls up and ... Love Actuallys her? You know the iconic part where the guy pretends to be carolers and professes his love via cue card to a very married Keira Knightley? So yeah, Gabby's dad does that, silently professing his love for his daughter and his hope for her and Clayton via cue cards ... for some reason. The guy does it in "Love Actually" because Keira's husband is literally a wall away and he doesn't want to get deservedly punched in the face. But her dad does it because ... Denver has strict noise complaint laws, so he's politely keeping it down? You could still talk, my guy!

I don't know, but it's the thought that matters, and Gabby's very moved by the thoughtful gesture – so much so that she, with her family's approval of Clayton, finally busts out the L-word. And Clayton, very romantically ... does not reciprocate it at all. Nothing like opening yourself up emotionally only for your significant other to respond with "Thanks! Appreciated!" like you just dropped off a Grubhub order. I know he's trying to do the right thing and not say "love" to multiple women ... but he's just coming off awkwardly cold in the process. 

Speaking of chills, we're off to Oklahoma City next for Serene's hometown date and, most notably, a climb to the top of some crazy tower of terror in town. Yes, apparently in their boredom, Oklahoma City built some tall tower of climbing obstacles and vertigo-inducing highwire bridges. And Serene decides to take Clayton there, because if there's been a theme to this week's hometowns, it's been threatening Clayton's life. Clayton survives the climb – his dignity, however, less so, as he sweats and screams and panics his way through every step while Serene navigates it all with an easy calm. You see, she believes in taking risks and taking those big steps and leaps of faith, even when they scare you. Hmm, wonder what she could ACTUALLY be referring to there. 

Anyways, once they make their way down from Relationship Metaphor Mountain, Clayton and Serene meet her family – namely her brother, who's nervous for her because she's jumped whole-heartedly into falling for Clayton without thinking about how she very likely could get hurt in the end. He's no more confident after Clayton explains to him that he's not there yet when it comes to saying he loves Serene – mainly because he's not saying it to anyone during this process until he reaches his final person. Still, the date ends nicely between everyone, with Serene saying that she's in love with him and Clayton ... not saying it back. CAN'T SEE HOW THIS PROCESS COULD POSSIBLY TAKE A TURN FOR THE WORSE!

We end Clayton's hometowns in Clermont, Florida with Rachel and her poor decimated vocal chords. Yes, maybe it was Yelling Into Jet Engines 101 in pilot class that week or maybe she celebrated being home too hard with too many sandpaper margaritas, but Rachel's voice is not joining on the day's activities. And you know what? Considering the threat of alligators, bears and snakes on their kayaking trip down a swampy river, maybe her vocal chords were onto something. That's surely the case when they see a NIGHTMARE SPIDER in the bushes on the side of the river. NUKE IT! NUKE IT FROM ORBIT!

Thankfully, they survive that encounter and make it to the traditional kissing tree – from the makers of Proposal Rock from back in Denver – where the two make out on the branches and in the water and on the beach. DID YOU ALL JUST FORGET THAT MURDER SPIDER FROM A FEW FEET AGO!? This is how horror movies begin ...

Anyways, after not becoming spider nosh, Rachel fills in Clayton on her family – most importantly her dad, who is VERY SCARY and doesn't like ANYONE. EVER. Imagine a less friendly Bane from Batman – that's Rachel's dad, apparently, or at least that's what "The Bachelor" wants you to think. What will he do? What will he say? WILL CLAYTON SURVIVE!? I mean, even when they walk up to the house, the front door comes with a warning sign that this place is rated R. 

Yeah, rated R for "really underwhelming" maybe – because, as it turns out, Rachel's dad is just a stiff, intense guy. Which maybe we should've seen coming because that's ALWAYS this show's M.O. on hometown dates. There's always one date that "The Bachelor" tries to make seem REALLY intense and REALLY scary and imply that something REALLY dramatic is going to happen ... only for the allegedly imposing parent to ask maybe one tough question, then immediately cave and say all's well.

That's pretty much what happens here. Rachel's dad says a thing about how he once asked his daughter "Do you want me to beat him up?" about an ex-boyfriend – aka standard dad dialogue, nothing that makes him uniquely tough or intimidating – as well as asks Clayton about how he's dating four women and what does he know about Rachel's dreams, but after that, it's all pretty much smooth sailing. He doesn't give his blessing – because, honestly, who would in this situation – but their conversation isn't that confrontational, and by the end, he's giving Clayton a good hearty pat on the arm as a sign of acceptance. THIS was what we were so stressed about? The Cthulhu spider from before was FAR more intimidating and noteworthy.

That being said, Rachel's dad could end up much scarier if Clayton ends up kicking Rachel off the show at the episode-ending rose ceremony. But no, Rachel gets a rose along with Susie and – in a surprise, considering the life expectancy of contestants described as "silly" or "goofy" – Gabby. That leaves Serene headed back home and heartbroken – though considering how much of a mess this apparently is about to become, she should thank her lucky stars.

Perhaps the biggest moment of the rose ceremony, however, comes when Clayton explains to our weekly Jesse Palmer cameo that he's tired of feeling like he's not being fully open with the remaining contestants – especially since he's actually falling in love with all of the women. So he's no longer going to protect himself and he's going to give them his all. And considering next episode is fantasy suite week – and the clips we've seen of the disaster on approach – I think we know what "his all" may entail. 

There's gotta be a happy medium between being careless – like tossing the L-word around all willy-nilly – and being loveless, refusing to reciprocate any of the strong emotions and feelings that the women are offering Clayton only to meet a brick wall of empty smiles. I'm gonna make a confident prediction that Clayton's not gonna find that happy medium, though, next episode!

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.