By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Sep 21, 2022 at 1:26 PM

This may not have been the worst season in the "Bachelor" franchise's history (Matt James' season waves hello!) but it easily qualifies as one of the most frustrating.

Lost in the drama surrounding The Unspoken One was the fact that last season was just ... tired. And sure, some of that can be blamed on casting a horny cardboard cutout instead of a human being as the lead – but a lot of it just felt boring and formulaic, running through the usual melodramatic motions and getting lapped by competition more ridiculous ("Love is Blind") and realistic (somehow also "Love is Blind"). "The Bachelor" franchise needed a refresh – and supplying two Bachelorettes for a single season seemed like exactly the Messi-like kick to the formula it demanded.

Unfortunately, it was the right idea done wrong as Rachel and Gabby's season felt like somebody wanted to do something different but had no idea how to go about doing it. Never did it seem like somebody – whether it was our two leads or the producers – had their hands confidently at the helm of this season, and the result was a chaotic mess no Marie Kondo or Home Edit could salvage. No proper drama formed during the actual show. Characters disappeared without closure. Episodes awkwardly bled into the following week. And now there's a finale that died how this season lived: sloppy and bloated.

But hey, in fairness: WHAT A FINALE! I've been ragging on Jesse Palmer for his seemingly excessive melodrama these past few weeks – but when the man said this would be the most dramatic finale we'd ever seen, he wasn't entirely lying! Sure, a third of its THREE-HOUR running time was just a normal "Bachelorette" finale, and another third just plain didn't need to exist. But that other third? Chef's kiss reality shenanigans. Just tremendous trash. 

So let's begin the ending. There's Palmer, once again sternly introducing the show on a blacked-out empty and solumn stage, talking about the intense seriousness of what we're about to see. OK, Palmer, you're not announcing that Beyonce died – pump the breaks on the dramatic gravity. But then he starts teasing what's to come. What happened between Tino and Rachel after the final rose? AND WHAT DAMNING TEXT MESSAGES?! And we brought out all the "Bachelorette" alums, like Michelle, Becca and Kaitlyn Bristowe, for support? Man, we might ACTUALLY have ourselves a finale worth talking about!

But first ... a trailer for the episode we're about to watch. I'M ALREADY HERE, ABC, JUST START THE DAMN SHOW! Ten minutes later, with the world's deepest sigh, Palmer proclaims, "Let's begin this thing."

First things first, we need to wrap up the final dates. I mean, we don't NEED to – we could've easily trimmed this material since there's no drama with only one guy remaining on both sides – but the producers deem it so. Now, you could've simply watched these final interactions and happy moments – but then you'd be missing the REAL show taking place in the picture-in-picture box in the corner, where Rachel's dead joyless face was a sentient spoiler. Taking up most of the screen are happy smiles, smooches and talk about marrying literal dream guys – but down in the corner was just a big ol' NOPE to all of that. Either Rachel is the next Meryl Streep or this is ending REMARKABLY poorly. 

After another quick studio chat where Gabby says the past season has felt like a lifeftime (YOU'RE TELLING US – AND WE STILL HAVE A THREE-HOUR FINALE TO CHOKE DOWN), we finally get to our first final rose and proposal of the night, starting with Rachel and Tino. Again, outside of watching Rachel laser-eyes the footage from the corner, there's not much drama here. There's literally no other guy to choose from, Tino's been Rachel's obvious pick since week one and for all of his red flags and shortcomings, he's never showed any sign of wavering about wanting to get down on a knee. So even though he busts out one of those verbal fake-outs that are NEVER as charming as they think – NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR PRANKS! – he does eventually propose and Rachel says yes, leaving happily together on a horse while a very vocal peacock voices its approval. Or perhaps it was a warning?! Maybe it's like the start of "The Thing" where the Swedish guy is trying to tell the scientists the dog is an alien monster but nobody speaks English so they think he's just a murderous crazy person. SQUAWK TWICE IF RACHEL'S IN TROUBLE! DO WE NEED TO CHECK TINO'S BLOOD!?

Tino may not be a body-snatching murder UFO – but Rachel, you are in trouble as their relationship hits some potholes after the final rose, having disagreements and communication issues. Weird how the real world is harder than living this fictional bubble entirely funded by ABC! After a bunch of highs and lows, things finally implode in full with Tino confessing that he cheated on Rachel.

Wow, sounds emotional and dramatic. Just one problem: ABC HAS APPARENTLY NO FOOTAGE OF THIS! You're a visual medium, and you can't SHOW ME THINGS!? Instead, in un-riveting fashion, Rachel just flatly tells her story on the live studio couch because the producers didn't think having cameras around for the transition to reality, THE OBVIOUSLY MOST DRAMATIC AND FASCINATING PART OF THE PROCESS, would be worthwhile. Please, show, take a page from "Love is Blind" and follow our leads as they figure out how to turn their fairy tale into reality. It's the most interesting, complex and human part of the process, and somehow the "Bachelor" franchise has never really bothered to care!

Thankfully, we do get cameras around for their big final confrontation, with Gabby and Rachel talking some things out first. It's been a rough go-around, but their enduring friendship throughout it all has been a delight – a bond I hope the show continues to foment and feature with its stars in future seasons. 

But then it's time for the main event, with Tino arriving looking like Justin Trudeau's evil twin went through the tumble drier. Now, according to Rachel, Tino's never truly apologized for his aggregious misstep, seeming more upset that he confessed to her about the cheating rather than, you know, THE CHEATING. So here's Tino's chance to properly plead for forgiveness and own his mistake ... OR SO ONE MIGHT THINK!

Justin Tru-dope instead opens with asking if Rachel wants to speak first (cue the first of many Rachel eye bug-outs) before pulling out a little notebook and seemingly reading his "heartfelt" apology, which quickly deviates away from holding himself accountable and turns into pushing the blame onto Rachel, pulling out receipts from past conversations – that she said things about giving the ring back and some stuff about therapy that feels both out-of-bounds and out-of-context. He also tries to excuse himself by saying that he thought they were basically on a break. Pro-tip for relationships: If it's something from a Ross Geller subplot on "Friends," don't do it. Anyways, A SHAME NOTHING IN HIS LITTLE DIARY SAID "DON'T READ FROM THIS; IT'S NO GOOD, VERY BAD!"

But really, point one: I get wanting to have your thoughts written and clear, but if you want to seem heartfelt and sincere, unless you're Daniel Day-Lewis, reading from a script is NOT THE WAY. But most importantly: My dude, I get that you might feel like there's two sides to the situation and that you want to explain the headspace that led you to cheat ... BUT YOU CHEATED! THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH IS NOT THE TIME FOR NUANCED RATIONALIZATIONS; IT'S THE TIME TO SAY "I REALLY MESSED THE HELL UP AND I'M SO SORRY" OVER AND OVER UNTIL YOU'RE GIVEN GRACE! 

Justin Tru-dope can't grasp that idea, though – so each time Rachel presses him for a proper apology and accountability, he pouts off into the house's yard, gets his steps in the for the day and battles with the concept of microphones. The first time he tries covering the mic with his hand. (Spoiler alert: ineffective.) The second time he tries removing the mic pack, resulting in an awkward moment where Rachel finds him in the yard all unbuttoned and shirtless looking like the world's saddest Abercrombie & Fitch promo shot. It's around this time when Tino comes to the remarkable discovery: Maybe say I'm sorry? So he busts out some tears and apologies, but he probably should've led with that instead because no one's buying it – including Rachel, who ends up returning the ring and calling it a day on their relationship. So our "baby back b*tch" escorts himself and his baby back notebook out of the house and out of this "Bachelorette" finale forever. 

OR IS HE!? After Palmer politely reminds the audience that Gabby does indeed still exist and shows that Big Tony is in the house, he informs the live studio crowd that Tino's in the house and ready to chat with Rachel and the world. Here's an unexpected sentence: Props to Tino. I mean, two villains who barely registered this season didn't have the stones to defend their actions in the Men Tell All but here's Tino – who screwed up not just in "Bachelor" terms but in basic real-life relationship terms – showing up, taking his lumps and, most important, PROVIDING EXCELLENT CRINGEY TELEVISION!

Indeed, the awkwardness when he takes the stage is palpable – and only gets worse as his attempt at an apology once again turns into trying to explain his rationale for cheating, which inherently comes off as pushing the issue onto Rachel. He also uses the verb "enlighten" at one point, which, unless you're talking about some spiritual revelation, is never not going to come off as condescending. And unfortunately for Tino, he wasn't. They debate Rachel allegedly saying things like "I can't love you anymore," edge up against discussing some stuff that CLEARLY wasn't meant to get broadcast on ABC and do some more Ross Geller cosplay – aka a terrible thing. In conclusion: GOD, I'M SO HAPPY THEY'RE NOT TOGETHER ANYMORE. Tino is a cheat, Rachel struggles with communication and together they're a mess on par with Meatball's tomato sauce act. 

Welp, Palmer was finally right: This was indeed some of the most dramatic stuff we've seen – BUT WE'RE NOT DONE! In a profoundly catty move that I can only applaud and cackle at like a mad man, at the end of Rachel and Tino's failed live therapy session, Palmer introduces a special guest to the stage: Aven. Yes, the show brings out Aven to ask a giddy Rachel out on a date – ALL IN FRONT OF TINO, WHO'S JUST STUCK THERE WATCHING IT ALL AND SMIRKING LIKE, "Yep, should've seen this coming." And if that wasn't enough, while Rachel and Aven hug and happily march off the stage together to the vigorous applause of America, Tino is just ... stuck there, unsure if he's supposed to leave or not. You can literally see him say, "Should I go?", a question answered by ABSOLUTELY NO ONE – so he's just on stage with nothing to do but confuse and frazzle Palmer. NOW THIS IS MY KIND OF MESS! Listen, if we're not going to have any producers this season, at least this time it turned into delicious awkward comedy. 

Oh, that's right: We have a whole other Bachelorette to discuss! Indeed, at about two-hour mark, we finally get around to Gabby's finale – which, after the glorious dumpster fire we just witnessed, has no chance to compete. It's like the Oscars after Will Smith's slap: No one's gonna remember this part. But it is nice, as Erich gets over his engagement heeby-jeebies and proposes to Gabby while The All-Knowing Peacock voices its VERY prominent thoughts on the matter. Maybe next time we don't mic up the garden bird. Anyways, for the rocky road it took to get here, the two are actually quite cute together as they motorcycle off the show and onto the After the Final Rose. 

But wait: Doesn't Erich has some baggage to unpack too? Yes – but as seen clearly by Gabby's smile in the picture-in-picture and by their big ol' kiss when Erich joins her on stage, it's nothing that's knocked them out of orbit like Rachel and Tino. Gabby – whose reputation as "the goofy Bachlorette" belies how well she communicates unlike SOME OTHER PEOPLE THIS SEASON – talks about their steps and struggles adjusting to their lives in real world, which include some controversial texts Erich sent an alleged ex from right before the show. Erich explains himself well, noting that he was both not entirely serious about that relationship and going on the show originally – only to fall for Gabby in the process. Fine, fair. And as for the blackface controversy OH WOULD YOU LOOK AT THE TIME MOVING ON HOW ABOUT GABBY ON "DANCING WITH THE STARS"?!

Indeed, that pretty much puts a bow on Gabby's plotline ... which is a problem because we technically have another hour to kill. Can we do the reverse of last week and call ABC to ask if we can end early? Clearly the show wanted to give Gabby her fair amount of screentime in this finale, only to realize they didn't have the material to balance out the Rachel and Tino debacle – so they drag out Gabby's segment with interviews with former Bachelorettes and couples in the crowd.

The only notable part comes when Palmer chats with beloved Grandpa John and actually asks him if he'd like to take his turn as the mythical Senior Bachelor we were teased all those years ago. I mean, it'd be a brilliant choice, seamlessly bringing in an already-hooked audience to a new spin-off – but Grandpa John passes. As it turns out, spending the past two hours witnessing Rachel and Tino's relationship implode in inglorious fashion: NOT A RINGING ENDORSEMENT OF THE PROCESS! Can't imagine why he wouldn't want in!

While we don't get a Senior Bachelor, we DO get a new "Bachelor" star – which would be thrilling if it hadn't been thoroughly reported on a whole week ago. OOPS! Yes, as was well documented last week, it's Zach, fresh off of self-eliminating himself last week. Palmer is thrilled because he's "finally a Bachelor who doesn't look like me." Oh dear, Palmer. USE YOUR EYES AND BRAIN, MAN! Sure, he's not LITERALLY a doppleganger the way The Unspoken One was – but considering this franchise's history with diverse leads, or lack thereof, it's a hilariously tone-deaf statement. But yes, Palmer: FINALLY a square-jawed, generically pleasant, muscular white dude will get his turn in this show's spotlight. My hopes that the show would continue to shake-up its conventions and formulas are about as dead as Adam Levine's hopes to write a marital advice book. 

Speaking of dead: THE ENERGY IN THIS ROOM. Zach may be a nice dude, but he is just a suit mannequin during this introduction. In fairness, everyone's normally rough in their debut – remember when Hannah Brown's season started with her barely able to form a sentence? But in most cases, the intro is only the last gasp of the finale. Here, we had 40 WHOLE MINUTES TO KILL WITH THIS MAN – and already 20 minutes past when we'd usually be able to call it a night. My god, how many "The Kardashians" ads are we going to have to pad this final stretch with?!

Well, funny I mentioned Hannah Brown's season, as it seems the producers remembered her clumsy debut as well – and particularly how they invigorated things by having her meet some contestants early. SO LET'S DO IT AGAIN! Instead of just LETTING ME SLEEP, DAMMIT, the show summons a fake "Bachelor" mansion backdrop because Zach is meeting five women right now. Great – he seems TOTALLY at ease and ready for it. But wait, there's a twist: They're bringing out a rose too because he's also giving out an early first impression rose – well, he's not because America's choosing for him via Twitter. Well, that's simply a great idea – no notes. Looking forward to his first impression rose going to Boaty McBoatface.

Also: As with before, how do the women he met early not have a massive advantage over the rest of the contestants? And will they have to do this all over again at the mansion? I HAVE TOO MANY QUESTIONS THIS LATE INTO THE NIGHT!

Anyways, let's meet some the women – starting with Brooklyn from Texas (make it make sense) who introduces herself with silence because apparently she said something not allowed on ABC. EVERYTHING'S GOING GREAT! She seems nice enough, though – and so does the next woman, Brianna, who shows up impeccably flirty and savvy with a polaroid camera to snap a photo with Zach. Only problem: Zach seems clueless about how to operate it. These women are coming out all energetic, peppy and charismatic, and they're basically flirting with the flat "Bachelor" backdrop. I know who's certainly NOT getting my first impression rose, and his name is Zach!

We continue with a contestant named Bailey who comes bearing a rhyme to help remember her name. I don't know, I would've showed up with a shot of Bailey's – an idea that the last contestant, a Kelsea Ballerini stunt double named Christine Mandell, seizes upon by bringing out little shots of vodka. MISSED OPPORTUNITY, BAILEY! I am already concerned for her. Also: Why does Almost Kelsea Ballerini get last name privileges?! Oh god, are there going to be like 17 Christines this next season? Telling which contestants are which will somehow be both easier and harder than ever before. Anyways, there's also Cat from New York, who peppily leads with saying that dating her is not for the faint of heart. DOOMED. 

After TOTALLY tossing Zach under the bus and asking him if he remembers any of these women's names, Palmer reveals that the first impression rose as voted upon by Twitter goes to – you guessed it – The Flash Enters the Speed Force from "Zach Snyder's Justice League." But no, it actually goes to Brianna, who continues to be effervescently flirty on screen to a man doing his best brick wall impression. 

But hey, that's three hours! We can finally call it a night – and call it a day for this well-intended but remarkably poorly crafted season. I'm hopeful the show learns the right lessons from these past few months – that they should putz with the formula, that they should allow for more normal interactions in between the usual "Bachelor" rigamarole, that they should lean away from toxicity and that they should let reality seep into its not-so-carefully crafted fairy tale world. There's no need to throw out this entire season ... even if we all, Rachel included, would probably be fine throwing out this entire season.

They had the right idea. Now they just need to, you know, do it right. Because they certainly didn't for Gabby, Rachel and their audience. 

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.