There was always going to be a lot riding on Clare Crawley’s Bachelorette date with Zach Jackson, the man who brought a “Moon Ring” to Limo Night. From an initial gameplay perspective, the “Week 3” outing is a test of whether Clare could actually forge a solid connection with a contestant whose name isn’t “Dale Moss.” But, in the grand scheme of an increasingly dire world, the pressing stakes felt fairly silly — The Bachelorette is, after all, a highly produced dating game show.
Then Zach J. grabs Clare. It is an upsetting moment that immediately reminds us just how serious The Bachelorette can be. Despite Zach's quick elimination, the series doesn’t rise to the very triggering occasion to properly deal with the scary encounter.
Clare and Zach’s date is uncomfortable from the first second. The pair go for pedicures, which should be a tranquil experience. But, when Clare asks Zach if his avocado mask is relaxing, he growls, “I’m trying.” You can tell Clare is taken aback. “Zach J. has always come with a lot of energy,” Clare explains in a confessional. “As time has gone by, though, that excited energy has channelled into nervous energy. And… It stresses me the hell out.”
For most of the excursion, it’s easy to write off the date as a meeting of mismatched personalities. Zach J. is a self-described “high-strung guy.” Clare — as we learned during “Week 2” — is someone who has done a lot of work to move past her most stressful emotions. They’re probably not meant to be, and Clare recognizes this truth. Still, Clare is dedicated to “giving Zach a chance” during the pool hangout portion of the date, saying, “Maybe I’m communicating with him in the wrong way.” In hindsight, it’s heartbreaking to see a woman go against her intuition to contort herself into the person thinks she “should be” in a romantic setting. Especially when that person, like Clare, is a domestic abuse survivor, as she explained in the season 16 premiere.
Still, Clare leans in to kiss Zach while exiting the pool, placing her hand behind his head for increased intimacy. Zach doesn’t move. Considering Clare’s hand placement, it’s possible she felt him move back instead of towards her. Clare is instantly embarrassed at what she perceives to be a rejection (“Week 2” reveals romantic embarrassment is Clare’s biggest fear). Instead of forcing the kiss, Clare pulls back and begins to walk out of the situation. Zach’s hand immediately flies to Clare’s neck to hold her in place. He uses the move for leverage multiple times to try to push Clare's head into a re-do of the kiss. “Why did you stop?” Zach asks repeatedly, blaming the failed romantic moment on Clare (who, in reality, went “90%” towards Zach, to quote Bachelorette favourite Tyler Cameron).
Zach acts like his persistent romantic aggression is his way of proving he’s a prototypical Good Guy and genuinely interested in Clare. It’s only harmful.
Clare is left frozen with a panicked smile on her face. She is visibly terrified of escalating the unexpected confrontation. All she can say is, “Let’s get ready for dinner,” while trying to keep her distance. At one point, Zach closes the gap and grabs Clare’s neck again. He tugs her body towards his. There is a flash of true fear in Clare’s eyes that will make your stomach drop. She subtly rears back to protect herself. No one from The Bachelorette steps in to save her.
Bizarrely, The Bachelorette shows us Zach’s defense of the encounter first. Zach recognizes Clare is “hurt” but claims he has no idea “what else” he could have done. Then we check in on Clare, who is crying alone in her hotel suite. This scene would have been much more powerful if The Bachelorette immediately followed Clare — the protagonist of this story — from the moment she walked away from Zach. We could have heard Zach’s faulty explanation after a commercial break, particularly since Clare has a lot of necessary perspective to share.
“Zach just made me extremely uncomfortable,” Clare confirms in voiceover with shots of her tearing up. “The second I just try to walk away, he grabs me. That kind of triggers me. And kind of scared me.”
This would have been a great place for us to see a producer — host Chris Harrison included — step in to check on Clare. Or, even better, one of the psychologists we know the series employs. No one comes, at least in the footage we see. Instead, Clare is left to cry in the dark while clutching her dogs, Honey and Elby. It’s a disturbing model of how to care for someone in the middle of a crisis.
Clare’s confessional even explains why she, as an abuse survivor, deserves more visible care than what we see. “If I want to walk away because I’m uncomfortable, let me walk away,” she begins. “I might be a little extra sensitive about it because I have done all the work these last few years on healing my traumas.”
Over the remainder of the episode, we never see anyone ask Clare how she is doing after this devastating experience, which arrived directly after her distressing final conversation with Yosef Aborady. Yosef attacked Clare’s character — and followed her around the grounds of La Quinta criticizing her — for an alarming amount of time. Chris may have hosted one sit-down with Clare directly after the Yosef fiasco, but a second one seems necessary. Instead, Chris eliminates Zach without explaining the precise ramifications of his actions. In fact, he lets Zach call the damaging moment “a little hiccup.” In that same vein, we never see anyone from production explain to the remaining Bachelorette suitors what Zach did, why it is wrong, and why they should never put Clare in a similar situation.
No matter how you feel about Clare’s reality TV, Dale-obsessed shenanigans, she deserves better.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, please visit the Ending Violence Association of Canada to find a local hotline. In the event of an emergency, call 911.