By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 22, 2021 at 12:01 PM

Everybody hated Bryan Abasolo.

By the time we reached the finale of Rachel Lindsay's season, most "Bachelorette" fans were on the side of Wisconsin native and Winter Soldier stunt double Peter Kraus. Or maybe they were rooting for adorable sweet Dean. Or on Team Eric, another seemingly soft-spoken nice guy. Or even cheering for a Hail Mary in the form of wrestling dad Kenny or cool stylish Diggy making a surprise return at the last minute. But nobody really wanted to see Rachel end up with Bryan, the swaggery, slick bordering on slimy frontrunner who had already been on a dating reality show once before called "The Player" in which he busted out an eyebrow smirk that made audiences instinctually throw a drink at his face. (A lot of good televisions died that day.) 

So no one was pleased when Rachel picked Bryan of all people as the winner of her season – but lo and behold, four years later, they're a rare "Bachelor" franchise success story, still married and seemingly happy. Shows what we know. 

I thought about Bryan and Rachel A LOT Tuesday night as Michelle and (*dramatic drumroll*) Nayte to a soundtrack of the world's loudest beach and the entire internet yelling at her for "choosing wrong." It wasn't the audience's happy ending, but it sure seemed like Michelle's happy ending – and in the end, isn't that what matters? Plus, as I noted last week, after navigating this past season as entertainingly and as authentically as she did, there's no reason to doubt Michelle knows what she's doing with Nayte.

And if it does go bad, welp, she also got a bunch of Disney's money for a new house, so safe to say we can file this season under the win column for Michelle. 

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning, where Kaitlyn introduces the three-hour (THREE HOURS!) finale all on her own in front of a live studio audience. Unfortunately, Tayshia's absent for exactly the reason you might think: She's been exposed to COVID. And boy does that news come as an unpleasant surprise to the (in fairness, all tested) fans in attendance, suddenly remembering they're in a crowded room with strangers in the middle of a contagious pandemic for, again, THREE (3!) HOURS! After some mild collar-tugging and nervous gulping, Kaitlyn finishes introducing "Pauly Claus" as well as recent "Paradise" alumni Serena and Grocery Store Joe (YAY!) plus Thomas and Becca (...) in the crowd. This will not be the last we see of them – though we'll wish it was. 

Anyways, TO THE FINALE, DAMMIT! Brandon arrives to meet Michelle's parents looking adorable with a pile of flowers and a gift. Pardon me: He's "re-meeting" her parents since he already introduced himself to them after getting caught making out with their daughter in their hot tub. So yeah, considering that awkward start, they're VERY comfortable together now as he gifts the dad some neon bright swimtrunks/shorts before charming the hell out of the parents and everyone watching at home. I know I've been hard on him, saying his energy seems a little young for Michelle, but he really does seem to truly love her, saying without a hesitation that he would move to Minnesota for her. (He works remotely so not a problem.) Wow, maybe he really DOES like Minneapolis as much as it seemed! THE MAN JUST LOVES MICHELLE AND ALSO LAKES! 

Eventually it's Nayte's turn, and her parents ... well, Michelle, at least they really liked Brandon! Maybe he should've tried getting caught in a hot tub with Michelle first, because somehow this is all more awkward than that as Nayte tells her dad and her sister that they haven't really talked about the logistics of, uh, anything after the show yet. Even Michelle notes that she had to REEEEALLY nudge him to commit to love and engagement, and when he's asked straight-up "Is Michelle the one?", Nayte responds with a bowl of word soup that sounds like he's trying to hit a word count on a paper he didn't research. It is Not Great, Bob. By the end, Michelle's mom reports that, thanks to his frostiness, she's not feeling that Nayte's ready to propose – and also remember Brandon? Brandon was great. We like Brandon. 

Afterward, Michelle asks Nayte one last time how he's feeling and if he's capable of opening up and proposing – and he says he does indeed love her ... and that's that! Cue a death stare from Michelle and from everyone watching. 

Back at the live studio, Serena and Joe are making out surrounded by awkward onlookers – including Pauly Claus, leering over them with a mistletoe. We are a pro-Serena-and-Joe household here – but even so, it's a makeout sesh so awkward that everyone decides to start wearing masks after the break (and also because of COVID ... but mostly because the kiss was weird). 

Returning to the finale, Brandon gets his true final date with Michelle: jet-skiing. He seems so genuinely into her and so eager for a life with her ... and so dead meat. Every season, there's a person who from night one is a clear winner, and in the hopes of making things less predictable and obvious, the producers create a lot of drama and qUeStIoNs for that contestant while making another look damn near saintly as a smokescreen. And that's exactly what's happening here – to such an overwhelming degree that it actually undermined itself and made it obvious that actually Brandon was doomed. THE SHOW DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH, METHINKS!

For a horrifying moment, it seems like Michelle realizes it too – and is gonna break up with Brandon early. At the end of the date, Brandon gifts her the sweatshirt from their fantasy suite food fight, and Michelle responds by saying that, since Brandon's been so honest and open with her, she's going to be honest with him and tell her sincerely where she's at. OH NO, THEM'S BREAK-UP WORDS! She then says that she's not falling in love with Brandon ... ... ... because she's already in love with him. WHY WOULD DO THAT TO A PERSON'S HEART!? THIS IS NO TIME FOR AN AND1 MIXTAPE-LEVEL JUKE MOVE LIKE THAT, MICHELLE! If I was Brandon, I would be deceased. Full dead. My climactic proposal would take place at a graveyard because I am a corpse – cause of death: wordplay. But amazingly, Brandon's heart doesn't toss in the towel from that vicious emotional whiplash, and the date ends happily (minus the fact that Brandon is doomed). 

After we head back to the studio, where poor Pauly Claus is forced to eat a few heaping spoonfuls of "Elf" breakfast pasta and immediately get diabetes on live television, it's Nayte's final date. While Brandon gets a fun and light-hearted date, Nayte gets a therapy session as the show brings in a shaman to help bring him closer to Michelle – and closer to opening up about his emotions and feelings. Unfortunately, not even spiritual forces can break through Nayte's guard (or the producers' villain edit) as he tries a speech so clunky that even his incense flame is like "screw this; I'm out." Eventually, though, he spits out some words close enough to what Michelle wants to hear to reassure her that Nayte's ready for commitment. 

BUT WAIT! What's this at Michelle's hotel door, conveniently timed for maximum emotional confusion? A precious and poetic letter from Brandon, opening a vein about how much this journey has meant to him and how much Michelle means to him. Not since "Marley & Me" have a seen something so guaranteed to end in tears, heartbreak and a ruined Christmas.

Anyways, SUMMON NEIL LANE! Indeed, the jeweler comes out, and after Nayte and Brandon choose their particular Infinity Gauntlet-sized rings for the proposal, we're ready to see Brandon's heart implode on television discover who Michelle might possibly pick! And indeed, the first one to arrive is poor, sweet, unassuming Brandon, who definitely doesn't think his heart's about to be murdered. One of these seasons, "The Bachelor" is gonna finally putz with the formula and let the first arrival be the winner. Unfortunately for Brandon, and for his growing number of fans, this is not that season.

In front of a scenic ocean, Brandon pours out his heart one final time ... only for Michelle to say he's not the one. Or at least I think she said that he's not the one because HEY WAVES, COULD YOU SHUT UP FOR A SECOND!? Mother nature: Such a diva.

But indeed, bad news, Michelle's mom, because Brandon has been given the final and most devastating axe. And props to him, because he handles it beyond like a gentleman. Sure, he seems genuinely devastated – so much so that, at one point after everyone goes their separate ways, he chucks the ring onto the beach. (And considering the size of that thing, that required some arm strength!) But he never complains or whines; in fact, he's the one comforting Michelle at one point because she too is devastated to break his heart. He doesn't even argue for Michelle to change her mind; as much as he wants to believe it was a mistake and wants to fight for her, he knows this is her choice and he needs to let her follow her heart instead of making a messy scene for everyone. 

A cheers to you, Brandon, our affectionate and un-toxic king. Boy, if only there was an upcoming "Bachelor" season in need of a star that people had any emotional attachment to ... 

So yeah, it's Nayte at the end, who shows up and proposes ... and of course Michelle says yes. And as much as I want to dislike it or say Michelle got it wrong or launch my TV into the sun in anger, I trust that she's chosen exactly who she wants – and, if we're being honest and seeing through the show's machinations, who she's wanted since just about the first moments of the show. Plus, she calls him her "soul-Nayte," and if there's a pun, I must approve. It is the law. (The Founding Fathers were wild for that one.) Cue a celebratory mariachi band – and cue the After the Final Rose special, because somehow this finale is going to end up longer than "Dune."

As is tradition, Brandon comes out first, where he discusses his heartbreak and Kaitlyn surprises him with a photo of him post-breakup sitting on a tree branch on the beach, gazing at the ocean and looking like the world's saddest man. It'd be a frame-worthy image for Brandon if it also didn't look apocalyptically tragic and remind him of possibly the worst moment of his life. He also gets a chance to talk to Michelle – and because he's the best human, he says that instead of speaking, he'd rather listen to Michelle's view and let her say her peace. God, he's wonderful. (*crowd recites in unison*) "HOW WONDERFUL IS HE?!" He's so wonderful, when he sneaks an unbleeped F-bomb on air (gotta be faster on that trigger, FCC Man!), it's while he's talking about HOW MUCH HE LOVED SPENDING TIME WITH HIS EX-GIRLFRIEND'S PARENTS! God bless this pure teddy bear man boy.

So, one final time: Cheers to you, Brandon – and please don't make us eat all these words by being a jagoff on "Paradise."

It's finally time to see the happy couple – and indeed, they look very happy, even though Nayte is still struggling with opening up. He tries to explain his feelings for Michelle with some convoluted metaphor about songs and how some songs require multiple listens to become your favorite but others immediately become your favorite. At some point, for my mental health's sake, my brain stopped listening. It's quite possible that, instead of being chilly or too cool or slick to open up about his emotions, Nayte is simply bad at words.

VERY possible, actually, as Michelle and Nayte do seem really, genuinely happy – and so is her mom! Sorry "Bachelor" producers, but if you were hoping for a Barb-like villain for a Petey The Pilot-inspired disaster finale, you'll have to find a different family member because not only is Michelle's mom all in on Nayte but she's even BFFs now with Nayte's parents! Sure, more juicy drama would've been entertaining – but after Katie's once-promising season ended with a sour taste, it's actually really nice to end on a pleasant and entirely non-toxic note. 

There's still time to screw these good vibes up, though, as Kaitlyn asks Nayte if he's prepared to move to Minnesota – a looming question mark during his chat with Michelle's family, if you remember from earlier in the episode approximately seven hours ago. But now, Nayte says yes ... soon. OK, but really: When? SOON, DANG IT! Oh well. Baby steps. He better stick to his word, though, because ABC ends the season by gifting the couple a hefty check toward a down payment on their eventual new house.

It's a strong and sweet final moment on what was truly a strong and sweet season of "The Bachelorette." After The Season We Don't Speak Of and the bitter aftertaste of Katie's ensuing run, this show still needed to win back some love – and Michelle turned out to be just the hero to do it, confidently asserting her personality and her feelings over predictable drama and tedious formulas. This truly felt like Michelle's season, a true star as opposed to another cog in its reality machinations, and "The Bachelorette" was better for it. Hopefully they took notes. 

We'll find out if they did quickly, because we've got Clayton's season in two weeks – and OOOH BOY, ABOUT THAT!

Now, I've been notably critical of Clayton's selection since we barely got to know Clayton this past season beyond Generic Brand J.J. Watt Who's Good At Forts. But now it seems like even "The Bachelor" thinks he was a dubious pick – AND IS NOT SHY ABOUT IT, EVEN TO HIS FACE!

First, while bringing out Clayton to the live studio audience, Kaitlyn introduces him by saying, "He's a man who really does need an introduction because no one knows who he is." DAMN KAITLYN! Hope there's a cold bag of frozen peas on that stage so Clayton can ice that burn.

But that's somehow not all! The roast continues with a Jimmy Kimmel-inspired Mean Tweets segment where Clayton reads a bunch of vicious tweets about his "Bachelor" selection – and they're ACTUALLY REALLY MEAN, basically saying that women would be insane for finding him attractive and that his future children will look like Shrek. This is supposedly friendly territory! This is what PROMOTING HIS SEASON looks like! The producers have apparently decided "Watch this man we all hate try dating" is a selling point. Run, Clayton! THE SAVAGERY IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!

Anyways, see you all in 2022 when we'll see how the roasted ashes formerly known as Clayton fare on "The Bachelor." Maybe he'll surprise us and we – including apparently the producers – are all wrong. Again: Just ask Bryan Abasolo.

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.