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Nick headed to Hoxie on one of his hometown dates. (PHOTO: YouTube/ABC)

"The Bachelor" Rose Rundown: Hometown dates don't disappoint

It took weeks, but this was probably the season's best episode of "The Bachelor." Did it have something to do with the fact that Nick was sidelined for most of the episode while the far superior women and their sweet, natural families took center stage? Probably. And that when Nick was on screen, he spent that time being tastily grilled by said family members? Oh, most definitely.

It was an episode so solid (by "The Bachelor" standards, of course) it almost made me forget that the show's "Bachelorette" reveal last week has ruined all of the remaining scenes for one of this season's best contestants and connections.

So it's off to hometown dates, starting first with Raven in Hoxie, Arkansas, a city that couldn't have a more delightfully Southern name even if it was called Wrastlin or Mommasclassicgrits. The two ride around in an ATV – Raven really guns it on that thing – and then climb on some grain silos, which is apparently what all the cool edgy kids in Hoxie do when they're not smoking cigarettes behind the Hardee's and challenging Kevin Bacon to a game of tractor chicken. Also: The silos aren't full of grain; they're full of secrets!

Before they can get to any sexy, rusty silo makin'-out action, however, Hoxie PD shows up and stops the couple so they can't debase all the perfectly good grain in town. The officer asks Nick and Raven what they were doing up on the silos, and Nick awkwardly stutters before – PSYCH! – it turns out Officer Oblivious To Cameras is actually Officer Raven's Brother, just having a little fun with ol' Nick. Then he tazes him (no, he doesn't, but in my dreams, he does, and we all laugh and have a great time).

Instead, Raven and Nick go back out mudding on ATVs and start making out and stripping in the middle of a swamp. Just ... right in the muck of it, with all the mud and mosquitoes and snakes and swamp monsters squirming around underneath and on top of them. There's no way their cute wetlands rendezvous didn't become a group date between Nick, Raven and a whole god damn posse of leeches. It was an actual nightmare to watch, and I spent the following commercial break just bathing in Purell.

Presumably several GermX showers later, they went to her home – and Nick coming was just the second-best news of the night, as Raven's dad unveiled that he's cancer-free, much to the tear-filled joy of the family. Considering Nick's past tactless moves when it comes to his dates' personal lives, I half-expected him to break up with Raven right there. But no, he congratulates her dad on his recovery, the two have a nice chat outside and things go generically well. Raven wanted to bust out the L-word – and have Nick return it – but despite both getting to the border of Love Town, the only L-word busted out was "Later!" as Nick left for the night. A bummer – but hey, your dad survived cancer, so we'll call that a successful day.

We stay down South for Nick's second hometown date, this time with Rachel. And the two are just delightful together, bantering cutely. They even head off to church, which is a low-key test for Nick to see how he handles being in an almost entirely black community. He passes that test – but only to come home to Rachel's family (or at least most of Rachel's family; her dad was not in attendance) and get a real grilling about whether he's considered what it means, especially in today's climate, to be a biracial couple. They also make fun of okra, because screw okra.

Sure, it's a little awkward ... but it's also one of the most real, genuine, interesting and thoughtful conversations I've seen so far. For a show about relationships, this episode – and this discussion, in particular – was about the real work and serious thought that goes into making a bond with another human being last, and not just shallow "We talked about how great and cool and attractive we were while ABC paid for a space flight" chit-chat.

It's a shame, however, that this conversation came during a part of the show that doesn't matter.

Last week's announcement that Rachel would be the show's first black star on the upcoming season of "The Bachelorette" was awesome, beyond-due news – especially because Rachel has been such a bright personality this season. But it severely cripples all of her remaining scenes because, well, what's the point? We know she's gone. We know they don't end up together. We know all this talk about relationships ends in nothing. The exact details may still be unknown – maybe Nick picks her and she says nah; maybe he kicks her off a mountain – but the result is common knowledge, rendering all of her scenes dramatically limp and needless. It's like watching a game you DVR'd despite knowing the final score.

Of all the terrible things that have happened this season – and there have been A LOT – rendering one of its best character's scenes a waste of time is arguably the worst. And we really don't know why. The ratings so far have stayed strong, so maybe it's ABC reacting to the lack of enthusiasm this season, trying to assure viewers, "Yeah, this season's a little lame, but hey, look at what we've got coming!" Maybe network execs were just too excited about finally addressing the race problem after 23 seasons that they simply couldn't wait another few weeks.

No matter the reasoning, though, it's been a bummer to watch these past two weeks on "The Bachelor."

We jump, however, from serious race discussions to SHOPPINNNNGGGGG with Corinne's hometown date in Miami. Like a parody of a parody of an annoying privileged white lady in a Tyler Perry movie, Corinne takes Nick to the mall to try on trendy outfits for her champagne-swilling amusement and then buy him an outfit that costs as much as I still owe in student loans. Nick, like most people watching, is horrified by the amount of money Corinne is casually throwing around. He notes he's more of a "bargain shopper," which they laugh off – but boy, this spells trouble ... as if that's been something that's stopped Nick before when it comes to Corinne.

After spending the GDP of a second-world nation on clothes, the two drop by Corinne's home to meet her family – and, most important of all, her nanny, Raquel (the cheese pasta unfortunately does not make an appearance). Nick even chats with Raquel about Corinne and his time on the show, which results in a delightful moment where he explains he's dating three other women and Raquel gives him verbal side eye in the form of an "Ooooooh?"

After dramatically eating an olive, Corinne's parents take the two lovebirds individually aside to talk about things. Corinne's dad is concerned about how Nick might feel about not being the breadwinner in their relationship and if he can do everything that her high-flying, high-spending lifestyle demands. These are fair questions; see, this episode even made Corinne's relationship goals seem real and honest! Like with all of the hometown interactions, however, Nick passes the tests, and as they kiss their goodbyes outside, the family gazes down on the two from their swanky apartment with happy approval – all while Raquel quietly cleans off their table scraps, ignored. #FreeRaquel

Vanessa is the last of the hometown dates – as well as the most truly dramatic of the bunch. At least it started off well, though, with Nick heading to meet Vanessa's students, who are sweet and delightful – and Vanessa is just as sweet and delightful in return.

After File #127 in Vanessa Is Too Good For Nick: Just Leave Him Already, the two head over for two home visits since Vanessa's parents are divorced. Neither one, however, goes all that great. At her mother's house, her mom cuts to the bone of the matter with Vanessa, making her question Nick's real feelings through this whole ordeal, while her sister more generically threatens Nick about breaking her sister's heart. Fair and standard meeting-the-family procedures. I mean, if somebody doesn't threaten to mess you up for being a dink to their beloved family member, then they might not like that family member too much.

The real fireworks come out, however, at Vanessa's dad's house, where he wastes no time pulling Nick aside to ask, "So what the hell is this?" I'm paraphrasing, but Vanessa's dad does not mess around – especially when Nick asks for his blessing and he pokes a hole into the show's icky premise, noting that he's almost certainly asked the other four fathers for their blessing, as well. And what does that mean if he's asked four separate men for permission to marry four separate women? It's an awesome moment – and our oh-so-Shakespearean wordsmith Nick predictably doesn't have the ability to dig out of that hole.

After all that huff, Vanessa's dad still gives his blessing – but things aren't dandy with Vanessa, who hears about that news after yet another concerning conversation, this time with her step-mother, about getting her heart broken and what Nick's thinking. It's all building to a pre-rose ceremony confrontation, with Nick staring longingly over the rails of his hotel balcony and Vanessa popping dramatically out of an SUV. There's an urgent high-healed strut down a hallway, a firm knock at Nick's door and then ... Andi.

I know I'm supposed to have a "?!" there, but as one who hasn't watched a season of this show before, Andi might as well have been the maid asking if he needs more towels. And frankly, judging by this season, I'm looking forward to wrapping up this generally undercooked, fake ex-girlfriend drama within the first 10 minutes of the next episode and then moving on immediately after. And then hopefully the Earth falls into the sun so I can stop watching this season.

Gone

Nobody! In fact, we technically gained somebody with Andi showing up at the very end. I liked this show more when Nick was shipping home overqualified women three-by-three and blazing me toward the finish line in record time. Alas ...

Contenders

1. Nobody

A happy ending for everybody except Nick and Corinne ... so basically, a happy ending for everybody. YAY!

2. Corinne

*sigh* Can this just happen already? Can these two just decide to be with each other, and then break up when Nick freaks out that Corinne wants to buy a $45,000 wedding cake topper, walks down the aisle in a whipped cream bikini and takes a nap during the vows?

3. Raven

Good news: She's still met Nick's family, and their hometown date was one of the more casually successful and drama-free. Bad news: I feel like I know more about Raven's dad than I know about Raven.

Pretenders

1. Rachel

Seriously, "The Bachelorette" better be worth ruining all of Rachel's remaining time on this season by dangling a Sword of Damocles over her head this entire final stretch.

2. Vanessa

The show's really laying the groundwork for this to fall apart, from Vanessa's previous questions about Nick's behavior with Corinne to now with her parents' interrogation and Nick's quadruple blessing-ask. And really, as we all keep saying every week, she's way too good for this. If Nick ends up picking her at the end, Justin Trudeau should do something about it. Low-key invade the U.S. and take her back to Montreal. No one will question it.

Oh hi, Wisconsin!

Two Sconnie mentions this episode, once when Nick was very naturally and completely unpredictably being interrogated by Officer Raven's Brother in Hoxie, and later by Vanessa recapping their globe-trotting adventures to her family. During her quick travel report, I'm pretty sure she also failed to mention Bimini – and I don't want to read too far into anything on "The Bachelor," but obviously that means she likes Wisconsin more than Bimini. Yet another reason Vanessa doesn't deserve this ish ...

Fantasy update

While I've been quite comfortable chilling in the basement of the ABC Bachelor Fantasy League, I decided to quick take a gander at those at the top of the charts. Currently, it's a two-way tie for the lead between "ABibby" and "Leather." Personally, I'm rooting for "I'mHereForTheRightReasons," currently 20 points back of the lead and tied for sixth. I've just got a feeling she's here for ... you know.

Line of the night

Twice – TWICE! – last night, Nick was caught overly describing his dates based on physical attraction, and it was like I saw the face of God. I shed a tear, it was so beautiful.

The first time happened while Nick met Rachel's family, when her brother-in-law noted that, during Nick's adjective spree, he said "good-looking" twice. Then it happened again during Vanessa's hometown date, when her mom shut down his oogling with "Yeah, I don't really care about her looks-wise." After she dropped that line, I renewed my passport, hopped on the earliest flight to Montreal, found Vanessa's mom's house, politely introduced myself and gave her a hug and a high-five on behalf of America. I told you this episode was the best.

Meanwhile, the worst line of the night belongs to Nick, asking if he should call Corinne's father "Dad or Daddy." Sweet Jesus, Nick, don't call someone else's father "Daddy." Corinne definitely said "Daddy" too, so ABC absolutely has footage of Nick calling Mr. Corinne's Dad "Daddy" and then getting punched into oblivion. RELEASE THE TAPES, ABC!

Mom-mentary

A whole week after the last episode, my mom's main thought watching "The Bachelor" is still "I really want to go to Bimini." So good job on this product placement, Bimini Department of Tourism and Public Relations!

Eventually she broke out of her Bimini-induced hypnosis to talk about the show itself. We were both bummed about how Rachel's awesomeness has been dulled by knowing she's doomed this season – or maybe the opposite of doomed considering Nick, according to Madre Mueller, "doesn't seem genuine." Or, according to me, "sentient oatmeal."

Much like earlier in this season, Madre Mueller's vote for the winner is still Vanessa – even with, and maybe because of, the tension the show is trying to put between them. According to her – a much more seasoned watcher of the show than I, which is to say she'd watched at least an entire episode prior to this season – this is common procedure on "The Bachelor," trying to create tensions with the obvious, overt winner in the hopes of maintaining drama. By the end of the episode, however, even Madre Mueller submitted to the idea that Corinne and Nick will wind up together – and probably deserve each other.

Welcome to the dark side, Mother.

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