By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 28, 2023 at 5:56 PM

In many senses, this "Bachelor" season is exactly what many of us asked for. We have a Bachelor who actually seems to care, and who seems disinterested in petty grievances and indulging bad behavior. We have a cast of contestants who seem to like one another (and Zach) rather than like the idea of using this as a springboard to Instagram and podcast fame – or reality show infamy. And we have a show, in general, of positive energy rather than toxicity and people we don't want to spend an elevator ride with, much less two hours a week.

It's everything we wished for ... except for also being compelling television. If only there was some sort of tired old idiom about wishing for things and being careful because they just might happen. Dammit, I hate it when cliches prove why they're cliches!

But yes, this season has been good vibes but not exactly good entertainment. The thing is, if the show wants to get rid of the toxic drama that grew cruel and tedious over recent seasons, that's terrific – but it's gotta amp up the personality of the show and its participants in return. Sure, Shanae was terrible and annoying ... but it was at least something to remember from that season. And this year, with the purposeful shift away from dragged-out conflict, there's not much else to grip onto. It's a recipe that thankfully got rid of the strong essence of frog poison ... but didn't add any spices or herbs in the process either. Props for no longer killing me – but would it kill you to make it tasty too? "Not deathly" should be, like, a baseline benchmark to hit. 

The result? Monday night's "Bachelor" episode, not the worst two hours I've spent in front of a TV but also two hours you could pleasantly half-watch while also cooking dinner or checking emails or throwing a one-person wine rager. (Highly recommended!) And that's even with witchcraft, wacky wife-carrying contests, nudists and a kinda-sorta-maybe villain in attendance!

So we begin in Tallinn, Estonia, a locale the women are very excited about – though maybe don't ask any of the cast members to find Estonia on a map. They're very excited about Tallinn, though, because Zach has been freed from quarantine and dates are back on! Well, not for Greer, though, because she's tested positive and is now asymptomatically enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds of Tallinn ... 's in-room hotel entertainment. What, she doesn't get the footage of roaming around her room looking sad and reading a book she found lying around? Disappointing – but still, NO MORE "SAW"-LIKE ROSE CEREMONIES! NO VIRTUAL DATES GIVING US HORRIBLE FLASHBACKS TO 2020 AND BAKING SOURDOUGH BREAD! 

Last week's weirdness, however, isn't all forgotten as Zach gives his first Tallinn one-on-one to Charity, who got COVID-blocked from her solo date in London. Well played, Zach – yet another drama-dodging, good guy move that everybody agrees is the right thing. The vibes: They're good ... until Kat decides that she's going to steal Zach away before the date to hang out in the hallway and tell Zach ... "hey." Clearly critical information that COULD NOT WAIT! Because it's Zach, the two also kiss – and when he returns to grab Charity for their date, he's got some very apparent lip gloss that wasn't there before. Not exactly the way you want to start your private time with your boyfriend, if you're Charity ... or if you're any of the other women, who think it was a low blow on Kat's part to steal some shine away from Charity's moment and special day.

Annnnnd I guess this is what constitutes a massive kerfuffle this season! Listen, I get that it's not great form to dive-bomb Charity's already once-delayed romantic moment and it's certainly a little greedy ... but the date hadn't really started yet. Kinda seems like open season! It's wild to see a basic tenet and strategy of the show – stealing away the star – suddenly turn into the MOST DIABOLICAL THING a person could do. Not stealing away the guy more than once in a night or LITERALLY during a person's one-on-one time, but just ... standard-issue "Bachelor" theft. 

While everyone in the house debates whether or not Kat should be tried for her crimes against contestantmanity, Charity and Zach have a charming day about town in Tallinn, starting with a carriage ride that gets interrupted by a wacky festival featuring strong men sprinting through an obstacle course while lugging another person around their neck. OH, HOW CONVENIENT THAT THIS QUIRKY EVENT IS TODAY! I love how the "Bachelor" producers use their foreign travels to just come up with zAnY traditions that definitely don't exist in reali– wait, what do you mean wife-carrying contests are a real thing? And that Estonia frequently dominated the international competitions, so much so that the particular technique done on the show is called "the Estonian carry"? Well, my apologies, "Bachelor" producers – and to the country of Estonia for disrespecting your wife-carrying prowess. 

After that somehow non-fictional athletic feat, the two hit the bar and drink a mystery alcohol shot that I'd normally say is a production team's concoction – but what do I know anymore?! EVERYTHING I BELIEVED IS A LIE! Anyways, apparently it's terrible, tasting peppery – which not normally an adjective I like to use to describe beverages. But Zach and Charity wash it down with some roasted nuts and marzipan – the latter, again, confirmed to be a real thing on the British show "Travel Man" – so all is forgiven.

Even with all the foodie fun, though, Charity's starting to get concerned because she has An Ominous Past to discuss with Zach at dinner that night – which ends up being the reveal that she was in an emotionally abusive relationship previously and was embarrassed that she felt like she lost who she was during it all. As has been the case with Zach this season, though, she ends up having nothing to worry about, as he understands and relates as best as he can (though not sure "I lost myself in a relationship; I don't even know what my favorite genre of music is" is exactly the same as "I lost myself in a relationship; I was in an emotionally abusive situation with a cheater" – a noble effort, though). Sure, it's all a week later than expected thanks to COVID, but the two still form a great connection and she gets the rose.

Back at the hotel, things are a little less cool and comfortable, though, because we're still litigating Kat-Gate. Brooklyn's still upset about the poor form of the whole situation, while Kat goes to Ariel to explain her side. She definitely assumes Ariel is going to nod her head, validate her bold move from before and tell her she's fine ... which she doesn't do. Instead she tries to explain and rationalize to Kat why everyone now thinks she's kind of a jerk, and Kat's like, "THIS IS NOT WHAT I ORDERED!" 

Kat's not the only one on hard times in the house, though, as Jess is starting to get in her head about one-on-one dates – namely the fact that she hasn't gotten one yet. Only she and Ariel haven't scored solo time with Zach ... and with the reveal of the group date names, it's down to just her. The other women try to affirm her and tell her that Zach does actually have feelings for her and that she's still there for a reason. Gabi D'Amelio tries to comfort her with saying, "I don't think this is a bad thing." Well, D'Amelio, it's certainly not a GOOD thing!

Shockingly, listening to a bunch of people with one-on-one dates already under their belts doesn't help Jess out – but you know what might ease her tensions and vibes? WITCHCRAFT! Yes, we're off into the woods to get our hocus pocus on – though with a lot less talking black cats and curses, and more smoking sage and candles. Still better than "Hocus Pocus 2"! Indeed, Zach cleanses all the women first with some burning sage that Brooklyn feels strangely unsettled by, then it's off to a special candle ceremony – and if I learned anything from the two "Hocus Pocus" movies, it's that stuff involving special candles NEVER goes awry. Lo and behold, when it's Zach and Jess' turn with the flame, the light flickers out, and Jess' waterworks threaten to turn on. At least when there was messy drama in the house, contenders had something to distract them from overanalyzing their relationship and worrying about any potential shortcomings. With the house at peace, all you have is emotional nits to pick ... and lovely Tallinn, Estonia, I guess, too. 

Things don't improve for Jess at the cocktail portion of the group date – though the fashion definitely does, as everyone shows up in their finest coats. Zach wears a peacoat, Gabi wears a blazer situation – what is this, a Hallmark Christmas movie with all this coat focus!? You know the season's a real barnburner when we're distracting ourselves with outerwear fashion discourse.

Anyways, we finally get to the drama when Jess chats with Zach about how she's not feeling confident about their relationship and how she doesn't know why she hasn't gotten a one-on-one date yet. Cue Zach's gast being completely flabbered. He says he doesn't understand why she NEEDS a one-on-one date in order to feel like she can open up to him and be confident in their connection – which now his confidence is through the floor. The two seem sincerely flustered, bordering on angry, with one another, ending with Jess calling it a night as well as a season and basically walking herself out to the Minivan of Sadness.

I get why Zach would feel like Jess shouldn't need a solo date to be open and personal with him ... but also, why are you so confused by her wanting the validation of a one-on-one date? And not loving the sensation of being the ONLY person you haven't SPECIFICALLY CHOSEN to spend time with? It's a rare moment of Zach lacking empathy this season – though a lot of it feels like the two simply miscommunicating and misunderstanding their specific feelings, which tells me it's probably best that they're donezo. And so is the group date – without a rose exchange at the end because Zach is so gosh darn flustered and annoyed.

Enough of that, though: IT'S TIME FOR NAKED PEOPLE! Yes, Zach and Ariel's solo date takes them to an Estonian sauna, but not just any Estonian sauna: a NUDIST Estonian sauna. And yet even with that reveal ... why is this date so dull? HOW IS A DATE WITH NAKED PEOPLE SO DISINTERESTING!? Part of the problem is that Zach and Ariel's connection was so late-forming – and, thanks to the edit, seemingly formed fairly recently when Ariel wore a bikini and took a SUDDENLY VERY INTRIGUED Zach to a hot tub, which doesn't exactly make it appear like he's got the deepest connection to her. Zach keeps saying things like "gosh, there's just something about her that I'm drawn to" – and when that's their origin story, welp, it's hard not to think that THAT'S simply the mysterious something. Especially when Monday night's date didn't quite explode with crackling chemistry and compelling conversation. It ... was fine.

But also: Come on, commit to the nudist bit! The two wear their swimsuits the entire time, through the ritualistic branch-whacking part and through the sauna itself – even when two random Estonians show up flashing their full porgandi ja lihapallid. Listen: If you're wearing your swimsuits at a nudist sauna beach, YOU'RE the oddballs, not the people actually participating in the place's whole shtick. And when they showed up butt-ass naked again to interrupt their private hot tub time, that ... OK, that was weird, fair enough. I appreciate them livening up this otherwise fairly bland date, though, with a recreation of the famous "The Love-ahs" SNL sketch. 

But really, though, that sauna bit feels like the date in a nutshell: never quite as loose and free as you wanted the date to be. Ariel might make it decently far this season (mainly because I'm not so sure Brooklyn and Kat's warring ways will be long for this drama-allergic season) but I don't think anyone sees her in the finale – save for as a part of the Women Tell All. And save for probably accepting an invite to "Paradise."

So we get to the cocktail party – a PROPER one this time, with an actual live Bachelor and not some weird Zoom call. While Gabi D'Amelio and Zach attempt to Lady-and-the-Tramp some Estonian pancakes (goes about as well as expected), Kat and Charity go to a separate room to hash out their harrumphs – though mostly it's Kat talking and semi-apologizing, and Charity just nodding along. Sure, it's not the best – but Charity seems ready to move on and Kat's DEFINITELY ready to move on, so both parties seem ready to finish this lukewarm beef and call it well done. NOT SO FAST! Hearing a drama siren only she can hear, Brooklyn struts into the chat uninvited to check in on things and make sure Charity's doing OK. Brooklyn, Charity is a grown woman; she doesn't need assistance. 

But really, Brooklyn's not there to make sure Charity's OK – she's there to make sure Kat's not. And Kat takes the hint fast, pretty much bailing from the conversation as soon as Brooklyn meanders over. So THAT went well – and to make matters worse, when Kat gets her alone time with Zach, he brings up feeling disconnected and distant from her during the witch's ceremony. THAT CURSED CANDLE STRIKES AGAIN! With all this hanging on her mind, Kat spends most of the following rose ceremony with her mouth agape, in a dead-faced stupor, seemingly braced for the worst ... until it doesn't happen! Nope, Kat gets the final rose, sending Aly home instead. Should've figured when Aly's one-on-one date featured the two sky-diving, attached to two different people on literal opposite sides of the sky. Read the body language ... or the complete and literal absence of it, in this case.

That leaves us, somehow, already at just seven women remaining going into next week's travels – but who cares about that when FANTASY SUITE WEEK LOOKS BE AN EVEN BIGGER FUSTERCLUCK THAN USUAL! Sorry, Zach: You can fight it as hard as you like ... but drama remains inevitable. Bad news for him, but great news for us as this respectably pleasant season might finally get some requisite pop.

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.