By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 29, 2021 at 7:36 AM

After last season's full-scale, wholly encompassing debacle, the return of "The Bachelorette" needed to be pretty great to help get this franchise back on its feet and reminds audiences why they bother watching. And thus far, four episodes in, Katie's season has managed to do exactly that. Its star is charismatic and thoughtful, the new hosts are playful and inviting, the house is filled with charming and genuine husband potentials, respect and care has been a regular topic, sincere connections appear to have been developed and, best of all, when Katie has to end a fool, she does not miss. Now, there's plenty of time to muck this up – I see you, Blake subplot – but thus far, I've been drinking wine to enhance this season, not to help forget it like last year. So that's progress!

After some mild drama in the first few weeks, Katie's looking forward to a light-hearted date to start the new episode – so obviously everything's doomed and going straight to hell. Especially because the guys are all still gossiping and muttering back at home base about Thomas and his kinda confession last week that he originally came on the show with aspirations to be the next "Bachelor." Unfortunately for him, they all went collectively deaf for the part when he said that he'd changed and evolved since then – and they all, Thomas included, failed to recognize that if you mention wanting to be the "Bachelor" while on the show, you're never, ever, ever going to be the "Bachelor." I really don't think Thomas is that bad of a guy – he tends to just says the quiet part loud – but it doesn't help that everything he says and does has an incredibly insincere sheen to it. I don't trust that perma-Blue Steel face. 

But we'll get further into that later. In the meantime, it's time for Katie's truth or dare challenge ... which is really just a dare challenge. Like a desert-set "Double Dare," the guys race around a series of silly tests, starting with the mystery snack shack. Featuring four metal cloches, I first assumed the hidden foods were some "Fear Factor" nastiness – but instead it was apparently Christmas as these guys had to eat piles of delicious food. Mike, for instance, has to eat a small mountain of Twinkies –  and I'm sorry, am I supposed to feel bad for this man? Another guy is given a mound of mashed potatoes, which is my literal personal nirvana. Congrats, "The Bachelorette": This is the first time I've been tempted to audition for this show. I will start drama when I confess to the rest of the guys that I've actually just come for the mashed potatoes and Twinkies – which, if you ask me, is being there for exactly the rights reasons. 

The only one I feel bad for is Greg, who has to eat an Everest of fettucini alfredo that's almost certainly gone bad cooking and curdling in the desert sun. Cream and heat: famously a great combination! He may be dead from all the food poisoning next week – but hey, that leaves the front runner spot now unoccupied! WHAT CONVENIENT DRAMA!

Sweet Precious Greg, in general, has a rough day at the dare contest. One of the obstacles is an ear that they're supposed to tell dirty secrets to – secrets that get discreetly broadcast over to our spectators Katie, Tayshia and Kaitlyn. In the case of Andrew S. – the Viennese football player with the sexy accents whose life I want to hear more about – he busts out his sultry British accent that gets everybody turned on. Greg, on the other hand, tries a different approach: listing off the United States of America. Yes, what starts as a simple "Horrible Bosses" reference becomes a second grade geography lesson in which Greg tries to make the topography of Florida – admittedly our most phallic state – a sexy come-on. Greg is still the favorite to win Katie's heart – but this is a serious red flag. I don't want to kink-shame, but if he starts whispering sweet nothings next week about Idaho, he may have to be sent home – no SUV ride, just a long walk back to society.

Somehow, that's all more alarming than the guys – including Tre's butt – getting waxed "40-Year-Old Virgin" style. But even though they're in pain, this group date is a lot of fun. The guys are taking everything in stride and having fun while Katie, Tayshia and Kaitlyn amusingly watch from the sidelines. It's optimal "Bachelorette" content. 

The contest ends, much like it did for Tayshia's season, with a habanero proposal challenge, with each of the fellas – and our brave hosts in the post-credits – chomping down on the notorious peppers and attempting to propose through capsaicin tears. Minus Andrew S. forgetting the number one rule of spicy food – don't touch your eyes – everyone does well. Greg even avoids bringing up any more states. 

Later in the evening, Andrew S. further cements his place as potential Greg competition by spending some quality time with Katie and making a very special delivery: Taco Bell. The man is handsome, coos in a British accent and summons crunchwrap supremes: MARRY HIM NOW. He's certainly bumped up the standings tonight – though Greg, even with his odd 50-state fetish, clearly is still Katie's leading man. She pretty much literally says that during their alone time, as she giddily admits that she's falling for Greg but that "they have to let the process play out" – aka she's contractually obligated to not pull a Clare. 

Unfortunately, it couldn't be all fun, laughs and geography on Monday night as Tre brings up amongst the group that he wants to tell Katie about Thomas' confession earlier in the day. Andrew S., on the other hand, would rather they didn't ruin everyone's night with causing drama for Katie. It's actually a fairly fascinating debate: Andrew S. is making the argument I typically make in these recaps – why spend time on the drama when you could spend that time building a relationship? – but Tre explains his thinking here well, noting that if they know that Thomas is bad news and just let Katie fall further in love with a potential liar, how could they feel comfortable keeping what they know to themselves? Plus, Katie values trust and honesty. 

I land on Andrew's side – why ruin a good night and take up your relationship-building time by stressing out Katie with more bad, trust-damaging news and drawing attention to someone else – but it's interesting seeing the show think harder about why its characters choose to do what they do. Also: I like any subplot in which a character calls someone else "Buzz Killington," which sounds like Buzz Lightyear's "Child's Play"-esque twin.

So after Katie tells Tre how she's having a great time not dealing with any drama, Tre brings her some drama to deal with, revealing Thomas' "Bachelor" confession, lies and general disingenuous behavior. And while Andrew's convinced there's no way Tre gets a rose after using his time like that, Andrew should know to keep those thoughts to his damn self because if you put that energy into the world, the producers will make it reality – and indeed Tre gets the rose. Though really, it feels less like a romance rose from Katie and more like a "thanks for having my back" rose.

While everyone recovers from all those carbs back at the hotel, some nonsense breaks out. Because apparently the producers want more drama, Tayshia pops in to chat with Katie about a friend of hers who's interested in her and in joining the show. The mysterious man in the shadows (who DEFINITELY isn't Blake) apparently thinks he and Katie would hit it off, according to Tayshia, and would like a chance to see if Katie agrees.

Now, I tend to hate this subplot – it seems so transparent that it's the show desperate for bonus drama, and it does play like skipping the line, giving old cast members special treatment – but at least the show tries to make this version work. It's certainly better than last time: the Heather fustercluck that made literally everyone on the show – the contestants, Harrison, Heather, Matt James, me for watching it all – look bad. For one, the show doesn't have The Mysterious Suitor That We All Know Is Blake drive a mini-van all the way to the show's COVID bubble to beg to date someone they barely know, in the process reminding me WAAAAY too much of the NASA diaper lady story.

Also, the show has Katie talk about the decision whether to keep or nix Shadow Man aka Blake, instead of just hoisting the twist on her as a surprise mid-cocktail party and flustering her like Matt James. She notes, for instance, that it's her journey so if she thinks he has a chance to be the one, she should take it; after all, finding love is her end goal, not arbitrary reality show rules. But she acknowledges that "he has to be worth the risk" of utterly blowing up the house and, worst of all, blowing up all the relationships she's currently developed. For the guys, it'd be hard not to interpret bringing a new guy into the house as a message that none of them were good enough thus far.

Most importantly, the two aren't bad together. Katie finally meets this mystery suitor, and WHOA IT TURNS OUT TO BE BLAKE; CONSIDER MY BRAIN BOGGLED WITH AMAZEMENT! And unlike Matt James and Heather, the two somewhat click together. I wouldn't call it chemistry quite yet, but they've got some repartee – even when Katie calls him out on thus far unsuccessfully dating two previous Bachelorettes, which would make this third attempt look a little shady on his part. But they're a little charming together, and by the end, Blake gives Katie some time to consider allowing him onto the show. Hopefully the show learned the final lesson from the Heather kerfuffle: If you're gonna waste my time with this subplot, the least you can do is have it go somewhere instead of wasting most of an episode. 

Katie, however, doesn't have time to think too much about the Blake situation. She's got Thomas to deal with – something happening sooner than later as Sentient Blue Steel Face shows up at her door to have a private talk before the cocktail party. Or more like during the cocktail party because, while those two are chatting, everyone else is stuck in the party room, sitting around, drinking and harrumphing some more about Thomas. That is, everyone but Michael. While all the guys are speculating about Thomas and Katie, and debating the best way to handle the situation, our sweet and lovable single dad chimes in with, "Everytime I come in here, my hands start sweating!" It's a little Brick Tamland-y – but it's also adorably innocent and now I love him even more. 

As for people I don't love, Thomas sits Katie down, grabs her hands in a way that screams "I studied a lot of heartfelt speeches," and begins his very rehearsed speech about how his character and integrity's been "demonsterized." NOT A WORD! Somehow things get even worse than using a made-up word that doesn't even sound like the correct usage (wouldn't "demonsterize" mean to make something less monstrous?) as Thomas also tries to play the "well everyone else thought about being 'The Bachelor' too" card and Katie literally recoils from it. She quickly slaps down that premise, and pretty much the conversation is over from there. Things are going GREAT for Thomas.

And – surprise! – they don't get much better when he returns to the rest of the guys. He tries to explain that he wanted to talk to Katie privately so he didn't take away from their time tonight. Just one problem: It's apparently already midnight. SO MUCH FOR THAT PLAN, BLUE STEEL! But perhaps things are going better for Thomas than we think as, when Katie emerges to greet the guys, she says, "Thomas, I'm sorry you feel ostrasized from the house," making the rest of the guys concerned that Katie's been told something different – and far more Thomas-sympathetic – than reality. So starting with Brendan and his loomingly tall hair, the guys each take a turn – whether Katie likes it or not – explaining that nobody trusts Thomas.

Not all of the guys, though. Michael – smartly figuring that Katie's probably overwhelmed hearing about Thomas all night long – decides to use his time to (wow, here's a concept) develop his relationship with Katie, talking sweetly about their last date together and just being a generally good guy. He's just so gosh darn earnest and thoughtful and dad-energy dorky – I love it all, and it was just the brief salve everyone needed during this Thomas-athon. 

But how will said Thomas-apalooza end? First, with some potential last words from Blue Steel, who interrupts the rose ceremony to get in one last apology. Because if your first apology falls on its beautiful, chiseled-jaw face, try, try again. I'd roll my eyes, but I'm thankful for this moment because it finally delivers us some fresh Justin reaction shots. 

God, each one is like a sunset. A hilarious, bug-eyed sunset. 

Unfortunately, that high is brought down by one of the guys saying, "I just don't possibly see how Thomas could get a rose." ARE YOU NEW HERE!? Did you not read that thing I said before about putting that bad energy into the producers' orbit?! So yes, on the final rose, Katie announces Thomas' name, flabbergasting all of the guys in the room and letting out a nationwide groan. I hope she's just calling him up to pull out a Bic lighter and BURN THE ROSE TO ASH IN FRONT OF HIS BLUE STEEL FACE!

And you know what? She kind of does. 

In an immediate top-five "Bachelorette" smackdown moment, as Thomas happily steps up to receive his rose, Katie instead takes a dramatic step back and reads the man his rights, proclaiming him a selfish liar whose "Bachelor" audition ends tonight before pointing him to the door. PEAK. TELEVISION. I wanted to set off fireworks and high five everyone in the neighborhood. Katie surprise dunked that man into the Earth's core, and I for one want to throw her a damn parade now. I don't even think Thomas can come back for the Men Tell All now. Katie has ended him; he is deceased. Time of reality show death: 8:56 p.m., Central Standard Time.

Oh, Christian, Conor C. and David also get sent home, but you don't know who any of those people are, and I was too busy still throwing confetti in the air to really notice.

Unfortunately, the show doesn't wrap the final few minutes up with just this GIF on repeat:

No, there's the Blake subplot to address – which Katie does by showing up at Blake's apartment door. And Blake ... is not prepared. The man's not even clothed. (In fairness, it is probably about 2 or 3 in the morning at this point; THANKS THOMAS!) But after putting on his finest hoodie-and-boxer combo, Blake gets the news from Katie that she's inviting him to join the house and join the guys, trusting her heart and her decisions. And even though I still don't love this subplot, the two are a little cute. Just one problem: After Katie leaves and Blake celebrates, he tries to get back into his room and realizes he's locked himself out. WHAT!? A SINCERELY FUNNY MOMENT THAT WASN'T SAVED FOR THE BLOOPER REEL!? You can do that?!

Anyways, now that Katie's nipped several dramas in the bud before they barely started, I assume the producers will keep Blake – as well as any guys who aren't fond of the newcomer – around for a good while. But I couldn't FATHOM anybody not liking Blake showing up! No, no, no, that would be ridiculous. I'm sure everything will be calm and cool and – wait, why's that ambulance pulling up next episode?

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.