We all must have been very, very good this year, because the Goddess has seen fit to bless us yet again with Bachelorette hometowns — the once-a-season televisual event bringing Americans together like the Super Bowl, the moon landing, and the Ford Bronco chase.
Rachel’s whistle-stop tour around this great country begins in Baltimore, Eric’s hometown. As they cuddle on a park bench, Eric explains, “This is the nice part of the city…This is not where I grew up.” He frankly describes the violence and crime he witnessed in his childhood. As he and Rachel drive through his neighborhood, Eric points out a drug deal in progress on the sidewalk. They shoot hoops on the court where Eric grew up playing. That’s where Eric’s buddy Ralph joins them. The last time he can remember Eric bringing a girl home is “...prom?” Eric’s parents have never even seen him kiss. Rachel’s a little overwhelmed by the prospect of being the first woman he’s brought back to meet the whole family, as they head to his aunt’s apartment to do exactly that. “I wanna go home,” she says nervously before they enter, a statement that is both entirely a joke and entirely not a joke.
Lucky for our Bachelorette, on the other side of that front door, the most lovable family in recent hometowns memory is waiting to cheer her arrival. As Eric recounts the first time he met Rachel, on Nick’s (lol remember Nick?) “After the Final Rose” special, the entire family reenacts the couple’s spontaneous dance number in unison. Everyone is thrilled to meet her, and it seems the feeling is mutual. Rachel asks Eric’s aunt if she thinks her nephew — who has never been in love before — is ready to get married, and she answers affirmatively, without any doubt.
I had Eric polling fourth out of four dudes (he only narrowly made it through last week, lest we forget) going into hometowns, and I still think he’s too immature to be marrying anybody, but now, I’d like to give his entire family a rose. Eric toasts them all: “Y’all made me who I am today. And I’m able to attract a lady like this into my life.” That night, Eric tells Rachel that he’s been thinking, “I really do love this girl” — but hold on, don’t activate your Official Bachelor Nation “Love” Klaxon just yet. What he means by this, he says, is that he really, really cares about her. Well, okay. That’s something, even if it doesn’t quite round up to a full-on L bomb.
Next, Rachel is off to Miami, as indicated by a batshit ‘80s ski-movie score that proves this episode’s music supervisor deserves an Emmy. This date feels much more like a slice of good old-fashioned city tourism bureau propaganda than the intimate, unsparing look we just had at Eric’s Baltimore: Bryan and Rachel play dominoes with the pros of Domino Park, chow down on arepas, and dance salsa on Calle Ocho. (“That’s what Pitbull was talking about!!!” I exclaim aloud, to no one but my computer screen. Dale.)
Smooth talker Bryan is very close with his mother, a human-shaped collection of red flags. As we learned last week, it was tension between her and his last girlfriend that led to their breakup. I can’t imagine why! It seems like this woman, who alternately refers to her adult son as “my pride,” the “love of my life,” and the “most precious thing that I have in my life,” would be the chillest of mothers-in-law. (Loved your Balboa Bay Windows cover!) And indeed, she’s not taking this spectacularly well. Marriage is a very serious commitment, she reminds her son. “You have gone out with so many girls, and you go to a show and you fall in love with the girl of the show?” She laughs. “I’m in shock.” On the one hand, fair. On the other: Run, Rachel. Hitch a ride back to L.A. if you have to.
Thankfully, when Bryan’s two favorite ladies sit down together for a chat, no violence ensues, not counting one low-key death threat: “If he’s happy, I’m happy. If not, I will kill you.” In fact, Mom even says that she can see in Rachel’s eyes that she’s a good person. (That’s not to say she wouldn’t kill a good person, mind you. She’d do it in a heartbeat.) Getting the OK sign from his family has emboldened Bryan to tell Rachel — mid-makeout, about an inch and a half from her face — that he loves her: “I am letting myself feel all the feels,” she says in a talking head interview, obviously smitten.
Rachel travels to Madison, Wisconsin for her hometown date with Peter, the handsomest boy in America I love you Peter follow me on Twitter. They stroll through the farmer’s market and eat pickles and honey sticks, which, apparently, are things a person can eat. (Sadly, I experience no Pitbull-related revelations during this segment.) Rachel really, really (really, really, really) likes Peter, but she’s anxious that he isn’t all in about the possibility of a wedding.
They meet up with two of Peter’s friends, who, it’s worth noting, are both black men in interracial relationships with white women. (Knowing The Bachelorette’s signature sledgehammer approach to race, this guest list hardly seems like a coincidence.) As his pals praise Rachel’s genuineness, Peter admits the idea of proposing is “fucking terrifying.” Well, “don’t fuck it up,” one of them tells him.
Then it’s time for the main event: meeting the family. As Peter plays with his adorable niece, even the most Grinch-like uteruses among us grow three sizes. I wish we could engage in more varied topics of conversation than Peter’s emotional walls and if, and when, they’ll come down — because believe me, I get it — but here we are. Rachel asks Peter’s mom if she thinks her son is emotionally ready for marriage. Well, he’s ready for a family and a partner, but she’s not sure about marriage. That’s not the answer Rachel wanted to hear. She’s not here for a boyfriend; she’s here for a husband. (Watching The Bachelorette, it is surprisingly easy to forget how ludicrous it is that we’d expect any of these people to propose after knowing each other for a matter of weeks.) “She fits in my life flawlessly,” Peter tells the camera, but he’s well aware that the other guys may have already told Rachel that they love her, which could mean she’ll send him home. (I mean, I doubt it, but.)
Last up is Dean’s family in Aspen, Colorado. He hasn’t seen his father in two years. But first, he and Rachel go for an ATV ride, then drink champagne on some hay bales as he briefs her on what to expect. His father is a Kundalini yogi who has converted to Sikhism. He’s now known as Paramroop, which means “divinely beautiful.” (“It’s a self-given name, so that speaks a little to his character,” Dean says. Solid burn, Dean.)
Rachel is concerned by Dean’s estrangement from Paramroop, and particularly concerned that he hasn’t tried to close the gap between them. She encourages Dean to confront his dad about the emotional distance he kept from his kids after their mother passed away, which seems like an objectively terrible plan for a high-stress reunion taking place on a national television show about dating. Also, quick reminder: Some parents are toxic and their children have every right to cut them out of their lives. That’s all!
“I am legitimately terrified. I’m not nervous, I’m terrified.” Dean whispers as they approach the house. His body language is like a flare begging any passing spacecraft to abduct him as soon as possible. Inside, Paramroop, who wears a turban and a long beard, instructs Rachel, Dean, and Dean’s siblings to lie on the floor, heads pointed towards his gong as he plays it. (Rachel, by now a seasoned television professional, is an extremely good sport about this and everything that is to follow.) Paramroop gets choked up talking about his late wife, who told them before she died to consider feathers a sign from her. He offers Dean and Rachel feathers as a welcome gift. But outside, Dean’s sister tells Rachel that their dad totally failed to be there for them when they lost their mom. She cries over how strong her brother — who’s clearly still processing his anger toward his father — has been throughout everything.
Dean is increasingly irritated that his father is projecting the facade of a happy family when they’re anything but. When pressed on his failings as his parent, Paramroop lashes out, stubbornly refusing to apologize or acknowledge why Dean could possibly have felt abandoned by him. “Obviously you still got one fucking foot stuck in the past,” he says. Rachel tries to initiate a conversation with Paramroop outside, but he leaves her alone by the fire: “No, no. I regret. This doesn’t work.”
I want to be clear about this: Dean’s hometown date feels incredibly exploitative. This is a traumatized family whose private, painful conversations — which, by the way, have hardly anything to do with Rachel and Dean’s romance — I don’t think I have any business eavesdropping on. It’s terrible that Dean was put in this situation. Before they leave his father’s house, he tells Rachel, “I know that I’m falling in love with you.” She says she’s falling in love with him, too.
Rachel is distraught about the prospect of sending someone home, but in an emotional rose ceremony in Dallas, she eliminates Dean. She’s not sure if he’s ready for the next step. He reminds Rachel that he told her he was falling in love with her, and that she said the same thing. She stands by what she said, though he can’t bring himself to believe her.
Well, we have our final three. And next week, they’re going to Spain.
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