By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 08, 2022 at 1:56 PM

Was it just me or was last night's "The Bachelor" episode ... better? Let's make it clear: still not good. Still not even in the same time zone as good. But I found myself rage-gulping wine less often and at a less liver-murdering rate. Maybe it was the change of location to the nicest place in the world, Canada, that happily put some good vibes in the atmosphere. Or perhaps it was the group date dedicated to roasting Clayton and Shanae to ash. Or maybe it's just the feeling that we're reaching the end of the tunnel with the Shanae mess – whether via Clayton giving her the boot or the rest of the women giving Clayton the boot. (I say: WHY NOT BOTH!)

Realistically, though, the reason Tuesday night's episode seemed like an improvement is because this season's officially broken my brain. Huh, so this is what the start of Stockholm syndrome is like!

Judging by how Jill and Rachel are lying in bed, staring rigid and dead-eyed against the far wall, listening to Susie explain Shanae's latest crime against decency at the football group date afterparty, it looks like I'm not the only one with Shanaeholm syndrome. The brain-numbing annoyance of it all has infected everyone – so much so the episode itself forgets it has one more solo date to get through. Love when the whole purpose of the show – people dating and falling in love – is so besides the point that even the producers forget it exists!

Anyways, Serene is the lucky recipient of this forgotten one-on-one date – and for one of the first times this season, lucky is not in sarcastic air quotes because this date actually kinda rules, renting out a pier full of games and rides. And best of all: SHANAE-LESS CONTENT! We had about a full 20 or 30 minutes of genuine human beings, enjoying one another's company and playing games and eating ice cream. What a glorious joy! This where my bar for enjoyable entertainment on this show – IT IS NOT HIGH! – and yet somehow this season's made these moments painfully rare. 

The best part is we still get stupid behavior and goofiness to make fun of and groan over! Serene eventually sits down with Clayton and says that, since people often accuse her of being mysterious or closed off, what would he like to know about her. And so Clayton responds with ... no questions whatsoever. Instead he just talks about how her eyes are filled with intrigue and how she contains mysterious multitudes and some other nonsense that probably made more sense in the Nicholas Sparks movie he was watching back at the hotel. "This was fun – but gorsh, I wonder if Serene and I can find a deeper emotional connection?" Clayton ponders later. SHE TRIED, DINGUS! THAT'S ON YOU!

This is perhaps the most frustrating part about the Shanae drama (actually, the most annoying part is the *gestures at all of it*, but stick with me on this): "The Bachelor" doesn't need it.

Dating – much less dating 30 strangers at the same time in front of cameras – is already awkward and full of drama! People miscommunicate and trip up and get confused and angry and make irrational decisions and become teary messes – it's terrific television! We could be having so much fun this season jabbing at Clayton's well-intended missteps and awkwardness, giggling at rivalries in the house bubbling amongst a variety of people, as well as enjoying the real connections and fun personalities blossoming over time. (RIP Jill: You deserved better.) But instead we sunk all of our screen time into Shanae and this ugly reality show toxicity, turning what could've been a light and silly hate-watch into something you just genuinely ... hate to watch.

Anyways, despite Clayton's best efforts, Serene does open up to him, having the requisite one-on-one trauma talk over dinner and discussing how she's dealt with a lot of loss over the past several years – first a close grandparent, then a cousin. I don't mean to sound so glib about this, but it increasingly grates me how rote the show makes these genuinely heartfelt and often truly difficult conversations feel, turning them into transactional "I've told you my backstory; we are close now" cliches. Make fun of the obviously planted "box of emotional letters" from Michelle and Rick's nature hike date last season, but it mixed up the formula, allowing him to open up in a different setting, in a ... well, natural isn't the right word, but less formulaic way. If Clayton picked up on what Serene was laying down at the pier, this conversation could've happened there in an organic fashion, and we'd buy the bond – and fall in love with them – a lot more. But no, "The Bachelor" still loves its structure, much to its detriment. Still works for Serene, though, who gets the rose. 

Wow, we're this deep into the recap and JUST getting to Shanae drama! NEEEW RECORD! And best of all, for a moment, it seemed like it might actually be done!

So Clayton starts the cocktail party by summoning the entire winning team from the football date to speak with him privately. This is ... a smart move? By CLAYTON!? That can't be right; surely he'll still mess this up, right? But no, he listens to the women as they explain that, after Shanae dive-bombed their party for private time with him, she yelled at them for having her name in their mouths, then chucked their trophy into a pond like the mature grown-up she is. And while everyone else back at the party talks about how Shanae might actually face consequences for her actions, Clayton talks sternly with Shanae and asks her if she feels sorry for the trophy toss. Shanae says yes – you know, like a liar – and then agrees to apologize to the women, one fueled right off the bat by crocodile tears.

Sure, the women accept the plea – because they're decent people trying to be the bigger person in this situation. But now Clayton knows Shanae is the kind of person who chucks trophies into ponds. So surely this will be the end of this! He's heard about Shanae causing trouble for three weeks now – this time complete with a confession of bad behavior – so he's definitely had enough, right? Before he could be given the benefit of the doubt for not having all the information, but now he has confirmation of sociopathy straight from the source. We've got to be done here! And oh look, I just got an email saying someone wants to sell me a bridge in Brooklyn! Why yes, you CAN have my social security number!

Yes, (*exasperated sigh #1,4379 of the season*) Clayton once again believes Shanae over every other person in his proximity and keeps her around with the final rose. Instead he sends home Jill (*plays "I Will Remember You" by Sarah McLachlan*) Lyndsey and Sierra, one of the people most urgently warning Clayton about Shanae. Sending home the Black woman sounding the alarm on a sociopathic white woman: HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH! Anyways, Sierra – a champion who should already have her flight booked to "Paradise" – is wholly unbothered. She makes the most of her exit, telling Clayton to not be an idiot on the way out (too late for that) before telling the camera that, hey, if he chooses to be with Shanae above everyone else, then she can have him – an attitude that we LOVE to see growing in the household.

Back at the scene of the crime, Shanae and her sweaty vagina (her words, not mine) are celebrating, particularly because – two hands to your jaw before it drops to the floor – she was never actually sorry, hos! WHAT A TURN! Truly we are witnessing the second coming of Machiavelli. I take everything back. Normally I'd say watching an arrogant person tactlessly manipulate people's better natures and repetitively sneer at their basic human kindness with no repercussions is annoying, tedious and a galling embrace of toxicity – but when you're watching a MASTER at work, a genius who can befuddle a sharp and clever mind like Clayton, you must pay heed. 

While Shanae once again grumbles about other people's existences and probably smiles and puppies too ("I didn't come here to make besties" – OH, WE'VE CAUGHT ON TO THAT, SHANAE!), the next solo date goes to Gabby, offering a relieving break from Shanae as well as nice tour of our new locale: Toronto! I'm so sorry, Canada, for bringing Shanae into your country – though consider it payback for beating the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Gabby, though, is a goofy delight, enjoying a helicopter ride over the city as well as a game of street hockey. "There are no rules," Clayton points out, revealing that he knows absolutely nothing about hockey. (Also: Could we not find them an actual hockey rink? It's Canada; they're on every corner like Starbucks up there.) The two also nom on some beaver tails – the pastry, not the animal appendage, as Gabby hilariously confirms – and deface some property with the world's most wholesome graffiti. In general, it's a fun date – two for two this episode! – but Gabby wants to make sure Clayton she's more than just a goofball, so at the dinner portion of the night, she opens up about how she's felt insecure and unworthy in the past due in part to some struggles with her mother. Sure, it's the usual formula – but thanks to Gabby being remarkably honest about the situation, straight up admitting that she's saying this because the show is such a consolidated process, the conversation pops and seems more genuine than most. 

While she gets a much deserved rose, we head back to the hotel to discover than one of the impending dates will be a rare two-on-one ... between Shanae and Genevieve, the latest poor contestant to get caught up with the Shanae-nigans. Can't imagine this going well for her, my brain cells or Canada. 

But thankfully, before that, we get the group date – a pretty loaded group date with frontrunners Rachel, Susie, Sarah and Teddi all along for the ride. Should be a pretty heated competition amongst the bunch, especially because the activity for the day is a roast. No, unfortunately it's not more barbecue – it's a comedy roast, hosted by Russell Peters who none of the women recognized. Poor guy walked in on the date, clearly expecting some big (or at least ANY) reaction, and instead everyone just looked confused. Right off the bat, egos are taking a beatdown today. 

The ladies do pretty well at the open mic, delivering some solid digs on Clayton and Shanae much to the delight of the loudest 30 people in all of Canada. Listen, there were some decent barbs, but the DEFINITELY NOT PIPED-IN laughter made it sound like our group date was killing at The Apollo. Or maybe that was actually what it sounded like and Canadian audiences are really just that nice.

As for the opposite of nice: Mara, who decides to make her first big imprint on this season by really going after Sarah. Sarah made a few jokes about Mara about being a cougar, so she returned the favor by making fun of Sarah being young and then just yelling a straight-up profane insult at her by the end. Not anyone's finest moment – but it says a lot about this season that somehow this bit of mis-fired stand-up is a burst of fresh air compared to The Shanae Show. But please, Mara, don't use the phrase "Let's roast the pig of the house" in reference to Shanae again. Don't put me in a place to DEFEND Shanae. My brain can't fracture any more than it already has (or so my doctors tell me). 

Gratetfully, things go back to pleasant during the dinner portion of the group date, where Susie maxes out her adorable points and brings out a microphone not to roast Clayton further but instead to say what she really likes about him. This Addison Rae/Hannah Brown lovechild is rather precious, and I'm rooting for her – almost to a degree that I hope she ends up without Clayton, who smugly sits back eager to hear all the compliments coming his way. YOU HAVE NOT EARNED THAT CONFIDENCE, SIR! And as if to prove my point, Susie doesn't get the date rose, with Clayton instead going with Rachel – another lovely contestant worthy of a better season. I'm very excited for when the Shanae-nigans stop and we can start really spending time and focusing energy on these other, infinitely more exceptional women.

But let's not put the cart before the horse: We still have to see Shanae get eliminated, which hopefully will happen on this two-on-one date at Niagara Falls. It sure seems possible – after all, the scenes from the next episode don't feature her at all (and also seem to spoil that the final four will be Susie, Sarah, Teddi and Rachel). But maybe that's just me trying to delude myself into thinking this nightmare is over, that we no longer have to spend time with a person who's 97 percent toxic bullying, two percent lies and one percent confusing dog threats. (Yeah, she has some weird metaphor about how Genevieve is a wet dog that she's gonna throw over the waterfall. THE FAMOUSLY PUPPY-LOVING CLAYTON WILL NOT APPRECIATE THIS!)

What's more comforting is the footage of the women back at the hotel, talking about how if Clayton chooses Shanae on the two-on-one date and sends home Genevieve, they're probably going to invest less into their relationship with Clayton. Yes! YES! I am here for a full-scale Juan Pablo-level rebellion against our lead. I've been sad that, judging from Clayton's behavior, he won't deliver a solid end to the Shanae storyline – that we'll have spent so much time on an ugly subplot only to end on a limp goodbye. You know how Hannah Brown saved her season by sending off Luke P. in glorious fashion? Yeah, I don't see Clayton doing that.

But judging by these small conversations at the end, maybe I'm looking in the wrong direction for a hero this season. 

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.