By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 29, 2023 at 6:01 PM

I've spent much of this season defending Zach. Yes, he's boring on an borderline Ambien level – but he's trying to do this right, trying to avoid the toxic drama that can turn the show irritating and trying to avoid leading anyone on. A lot of people – even former Bachelors! – tried to say he was callous in how he would seemingly eliminate women right after talking about serious emotional traumas or complications, but I never got that impression. I really thought it seemed like he was genuinely engaging with these women! And even during his now infamously botched fantasy suites week, I argued that he was TRYING to be good, hoping to avoid creating a mess only to fall into a trap of entirely his own making. More often than not, for most of this run, I gave the benefit of the doubt – and that there are greater sins that to be boringly nice. 

Welp, so much for that.

Zach's season may have been filled with good intentions – but you know what they say about those and the infrastructure on the road to hell. He may have attempted to do right this season, but Zach's season finale went all wrong, resulting in a happy ending that couldn't escape this lingering crushing sadness and a "good guy" leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth. But hey, at least when the final episode wasn't soul-punchingly painful, it was super predictable, irritatingly padded by even "Bachelor" standards and even a basic technical nightmare with the sound shouting "screw this!" before bailing midway through. No wonder the show seemed eager to jump right into Charity's new "Bachelorette" season before this one even wrapped: Between the graceless finale and the long stretches of drama-devoid blandness that came before, everyone seems eager to put this behind them.

After Palmer drops the devastating information that the last "Bachelor" to end a season engaged was Petey the Pilot – and we all know how well THAT WENT – as well as the devastating information that this will be a THREE-HOUR episode, we start not with the actual finale but with Ariel in the live studio segment, looking like Meg from Disney's "Hercules." She was last seen getting dumped after fantasy suites week, the only person actually misled on the dates by Zach's chastity promise yet somehow the only person he decided NOT to talk to about everything. And yet, during her interview, she's mostly got nothing but nice things to say about the experience.

Turns out all of that is a smoke screen, though, as when Zach comes out, Ariel calmly and coherently decimates him on a cellular level – starting with a fresh jab about all the shower scenes. (Spoiler alert: Somehow more to come!) Like the John Wick of rational relationship grievances, Ariel incisively and effectively slices apart Zach and explains why he sucked during fantasy suites week, noting that he betrayed the honesty of their open relationship, leaving her in the dark during the Thailand rose ceremony, as well as inadvertently making the weekend ALL about sex by trying to remove sex from the equation. He apologizes for all of that, but Ariel still makes sure he understands that when he made his stupid pact, he went basically from partner to dictator, deciding for the women rather than discussing with them. In fact, if he'd had a real conversation with Ariel about his fantasy suite feelings, he'd have discovered she was on the same page with him about not looking for physical intimacy from the night.

For all of the savage honesty, Ariel delivers it with the maturity and composure that we've come to expect – and are utterly confused to see on this very silly, ridiculous television program. Looking forward to seeing how that holds up on the even sillier, even more ridiculous "Paradise!" I feel like she's going to end up being the beach therapist – so have fun?

Anyways, after all of that, we FINALLY start the actual damned finale – starting with (what else?) another friggin' Zach shower. Meanwhile, Kaity's staring into the middle distance while walking on the beach while Gabi D'Amelio stares into the middle distance ... while meandering around in a koi pond? I am very confused about the staging here.

Gabi understandably does have a lot on her mind, though, as last we checked she got the most recent final rose but in the process got her physical relationship with Zach outed to the world and with Zach talking about their night like it was some regrettable mistake. So before she takes things a step further and meets his family, she wants to sit down and chat with Zach to make sure he's not harboring any resentment toward their relationship. He tries to explain that the mess-up was him thinking from the beginning that he could control things, not their fantasy suite date – an attempt that goes over so badly that the live studio audience chuckles while a confused Gabi tries to compute the logic.

When that doesn't work, Zach busts out the L-word AGAIN with Gabi. Man's getting sloppy with that word near the end here – especially considering everyone assumes that Kaity's the actual one. But I guess it works – FOR NOW – and Gabi meets his parents, who are delightful. (His famous uncle, Patrick Warburton, is not in attendance, perhaps knowing this would turn into a calamity.)

Kaity then gets her turn to meet the family and ... it's fine. She keeps talking about how things have been hard lately and the challenges they've had to face – which doesn't seem, you know, good. Like, you're trekking the globe on ABC's dime living in a bubble with no obligations other than to sightsee and swoon – and you're already talking about how hard things are? You guys haven't even gotten to mortgages, jobs, politics and dividing up household chores. BEST OF LUCK! Overall, everyone seems kind of out of it for this family meet-and-greet – including me, the viewer – but it still ends with her stating once again that she's falling in love with him. 

It won't be the last time, either! After going on a nature hike and lying to Zach that, no really, his blue shirt actually looks good on him, she reiterates that she's crazy falling in love with him, to which he ... doesn't return the sentiment! What's the deal here, guy!? I am getting increasingly concerned you're just sloppily using the L-word right now to appease Gabi when she's feeling conflicted about things – either that, or you've juked us all out and you're actually picking Gabi at the end of this all. 

It's at this point we hit the first big twist of the night: WHO NEEDS SOUND! Yes, the technical forces that be apparently wanted no part of this last chance date because the sound disappears entirely from the broadcast. Ah yes, returning to our roots and watching a silent "Bachelor" nickelodeon like our great-grandparents used to! While ABC has a panic attack behind the scenes, we watch Gabi and Zach ride horses on a beautiful beach that probably sounds gorgeous too while the director gets a shot of the two riding through a giant heart shape that they're DEFINITELY going to put on their professional sizzle reel. 

Eventually the sound does come back – though Zach and Gabi probably wish everything stayed on mute because he steps in it once again. Gabi asks how he's feeling about everything, and he responds that, though she probably doesn't want to hear this, to be completely honest, he's totally torn on what's going to happen but feels like whatever happens will be the right decision. WRONG ANSWER, BUD! For one, if you're starting a sentence with "you probably don't want to hear this," STOP THE SENTENCE! That's like saying "no offense but"; you CLEARLY already know what you're about to say is gonna be a problem, so lock it up. Second: Stop being "completely honest." At some point, honesty becomes cruelty. Remind me never to ask you if I look good in my outfit. And last, way to TOTALLY word-vomit some vague nonsense that is not only uncomforting but also is clearly dodging and setting things up for disappointment. That's certainly the way Gabi reads it, who goes from cuddling Zach to crying down the beach, growing a pit in her stomach feeling like this is ending poorly for her. 

She clearly represses and swallows those feelings – always healthy – for the night portion of the date, telling Zach that he actually did great and that she's better now because she just needed to get out of her head. NO, GIRL, HE SCREWED UP! After trading horse compliments, she gets down to brass tacks: She's confident about their relationship and wants to know what his heart needs to figure out a final answer. He doesn't know – BUT he does have a big ol' word salad to serve up that's dangerously close to pulling a Miles Bron in "Glass Onion" and talking about "embreathiating" moments. He also has another L-word to drop on her – that's three now for Gabi versus none for Kaity – a point that he makes right afterward saving that he doesn't take that word lightly and that he's saving it for one person. Well, either that means you've chosen Gabi OR YOU'RE A LYING LIAR WHO LIES. And considering we ALL KNOW he's picking Kaity at the end of this, I guess it's the latter!

We'll find out if that's true in a second – but obviously that's secondary to TALKING WITH SEAN LOWE AGAIN?! Yes, back in the live studio, we apparently need to get some feedback from the routinely-visited "Bachelor" alum, providing such essential analysis as "it's hard!" Glad we stretched this out to three hours for such critical insight. 

After Sean and Catherine Lowe gets their moment to show that, no, see, this process totally works and isn't a sadistic televised emotional torture chamber, Palmer says to brace ourselves for what's about to happen next. And it's a rare case where I actually take heed, because Palmer seems genuinely nervous and shaken by what's next – and no, it's not the conspicuous absence of Neil Lane. The lord of the rings appears to agree with the folks who say Zach's too boring and decided just to let the rings themselves deal with this season. 

But after that, it's misery time – and tragically, it's Gabi D'Amelio who arrives first, aka is doomed. And the worst part is that she seems to already know it from the first step out of the car. She steps into a slippery mud spot and says to watch out for that when they drop off Kaity for the ACTUAL proposal. It's crushing to hear Gabi so pessimistic and defeated before a single word's been spoken – and it only gets worse when words ARE actually spoken, as Zach starts monologuing about what a journey they've been on together and a bunch of other stuff that struggles to hide the finality behind it all. And indeed, Zach eventually gets around to a big teary-eyed " ... but ... " and Gabi's worst assumed fears and self-doubts come crashing down.

It's all terrible and painful, as Gabi talks about how she knew she wasn't the one and hates that she let herself hope – though not as terrible as Zach trying to keep on with his breakup speech while Gabi tearfully cries PLEASE STOP I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT! And he just keeps trying! Listen, dude, I get the impulse to want to say something to hopefully bring some reason or comfort to a bad situation – BUT NOTHING YOU WILL SAY WILL MAKE THIS NOT SUCK! Not compliments, not rationales, not memories or some saccharine nonsense, not one word at this moment will fix this pain. You're trying to be a good guy, but it'd turning you into a bad guy, man. Finally, he takes the ... well, I wouldn't even call it a hint, but more like the BLATANT SOBBING REQUEST that he shut up and lets Gabi leave, crying and calling herself unlovable on the van ride away. It's awful and devastating, and I'm quite sure all of America was lining up to give her a hug and tell her that she's great and super lovable. 

Back in the studio, Gabi's there and feeling no better. She feels led on by Zach and not only that but humiliated during the final process. I get it: The "Bachelor" way sucks. A process that requires someone to get dressed up, go up onto a platform and get their heart punched in the face is a bad process but it's the one built into the show. I have a hard time blaming Zach for that ... but what I have a VERY EASY TIME blaming him for is all the L-word dropping and REALLY keeping her wriggling on the hook even while she was clearly painfully struggling. There's maybe a way to supply the show with its customary finale process and also cushion the emotional blow of it – and Zach sure as hell did not find it and, in fact, made it so much worse but giving her L-word wrapped hope. 

And that's just the very end of Gabi's torturous finale experience, as Palmer carefully opens up the studio conversation to the fantasy suite week debacle, to which Gabi explains that she feels violated not only because it became something attached to guilt, but because Zach aired out something that was supposed to be private to everyone. That's the whole point of fantasy suite week, after all: It's not just coy filmmaking when the camera lingers on the door closing or shades going down; it's that THIS NIGHT IS THEIRS AND THEIRS ALONE. They can say what they want to afterwards, but otherwise that's their private time ... and in this case, Zach immediately belched out of theirs and went to Palmer revealing how he had sex and, even if he doesn't regret it, does feel Not Great about it. Just how you dream your fantasy "Bachelor" date encounter will go! And the worst part for Gabi is that they had really wonderful and thoughtful conversations on the night – but instead the night was defined by their choice to have sex. Say what you will about Rachel and Zach's fantasy suite experience, but at least the two respected their privacy of those moments and kept mum about the details. 

Actually, the WORST part of all of this is, during their reunion chat, it's revealed that Zach HAD TOLD GABI IT WAS THEIR SECRET! He told her this was their moment and then immediately backtracked and told everyone – quite literally, just about everyone. (Except Ariel, somehow.) I get wanting to be honest to your future significant other, but the way our guy went about it all made it so much worse for everyone – most of all Gabi, who in addition to the inherent feelings of rejection and self-doubt after a breakup also now is fighting a sense of shame and embarassment. It's a full and terrible mess that doesn't get to end on any remote sense of satisfying catharsis or closure – not only because Gabi's clearly not reached that sense herself but because we have to rush through some of their conversation. WE HAD THREE HOURS AND SOMEHOW STILL RAN OUT OF TIME!? Sure glad we used five minutes to chat with Sean Lowe again!

So while everyone's still coping with Gabi's wounds, "The Bachelor" attempts to abruptly pivot to Zach's happy ending – and BOY, DOES IT NOT SUCCEED!

Back on the Thai beach, as we predicted weeks ago, Zach proposes to Kaity (finally busting out the L-word in the process, still putting her two behind Gabi) and she says yes, and the crowd dutifully applauds with approval. But the cloud of what happened to Gabi and what she's still processing hangs over everything. Despite Palmer's big smiles and the audience's grinning nods, the joyful energy and enthusiasm you're supposed to get from this long-awaited moment isn't there. Even Zach looks a little bummed out on the live stage, surely knowing that the vibes are no longer entirely in his favor. Sure, Zach and Kaity are all fine and good – the two decent people seem happy and cute together; we predicted them as the final pair for a reason. The audience's sympathies and care, however, aren't with their romantic fate, but with Gabi's mental wellbeing – and no amount of cutesy questions about Zach's shower fetish, talk of moving in together in Austin or cutting to former contestant Nate for his approval managed to fix that. 

But hey, congrats Zach, Kaity and "The Bachelor" process as a whole: You finally got someone engaged in the finale for the first time since Peter Weber. Truly esteemed company! 

That all explains why the franchise decided to cleanse its palate so quickly and move onto "The Bachelorette" as soon as possible. Yes, even with everything going on during this finale, the show found time to preview Charity's first night at the mansion and her first arrival ... and, as Palmer portends, it's somebody she already knows. It's ... her brother? HEY MAN, I KNOW I SAID I WANTED SOME MORE DRAMA AND VEERING FROM FORMULA BUT THIS IS GOING TOO FAR! Oh, phew, incest alarm off: He's not here for dating purposes but to "Undercover Boss" this nonsense, putting him in the world's worst makeup to help provide insight for Charity. Seriously, they should've just given him one of those cartoon fake-nose-and-glasses. Also: Why does Charity need her brother's help vetting men? She's a grown-ass woman; she can do this herself. Or if you want spies, bring in her friends. Otherwise, it's giving "overbearing dad" energy. 

But hey, it's already an improvement over this season – one that started with a seemingly good guy and now ends with a bad taste in all of our mouths. Ironic that a guy whose main character trait was cleanliness would create such a messy result. 

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.