The Bachelor Season 21 Finale Recap: Is This Real Or What?

I can’t believe it. We’re here. You and I, we made it — through all the tears, all the roses, all the naps, and all the belabored discussions of “emotional intelligence.” (I can’t wait till our televised wedding ceremony!)
Yes, it’s time for the finale of the 21st season of The Bachelor, on which future Dancing With the Stars contestant Nick Viall will choose between Vanessa Grimaldi and Raven Gates. Which of these two women has won has heart? And who, if anyone, will walk away with a gallbladder-sized Neil Lane®©™ engagement ring?
Nick will wrap up his, to quote Chris Harrison, “desperate search for love” (rude) in Rovaniemi, Finland. This city near the Arctic Circle is popularly known as the hometown of Santa Claus — who, much like the romances portrayed on The Bachelor, is an extremely improbable fantasy that entire cultures have nevertheless deluded themselves into believing in.
Nick’s family is there, too, a true non-Christmas Christmas miracle. (Reminder: Raven has already met the parents and hit it off with Nick’s little sister, Bella, but the Vialls have yet to be introduced to Vanessa.) After his not one, but three disastrous prior attempts to find a mate through the Bachelor franchise, Nick’s parents are understandably worried that he’ll have his heart broken again. In case you’ve somehow gotten this far without learning that Nick has already been rejected twice on national television, you are about to hear about it a lot. I’m pretty sure Andi and Kaitlyn have each been mentioned more than about half the contestants who actually appeared on this season.
Raven joins her could-be future in-laws for lunch. Nick’s dad — whose glasses communicate a vibe I’d describe as old-school NASA employee who stayed up all night handling emergency communications with Apollo 13 and chain-smoking — praises Raven’s unexpected “maturity.” His mother, who looks like she’s been crying and is about to start crying again at any moment, characterizes her as an “honest, true person” who doesn’t seem like she’d hurt her son, or anyone, for that matter.
Vanessa chooses an unusual route toward wooing the Viall family, taking this opportunity to express her doubts about the relationship and her uncertainty about whether they should get engaged at all. Cool tactic! Here is the gist of her conversation with Nick’s mother:
Vanessa: I have never felt like this before.
Nick’s Mom: Mhm.
Vanessa: I can’t picture myself not ending up with Nick.
Nick’s Mom: Mhm.
Vanessa: Do you think that it’s normal that I can’t sit here and say that I 100% am ready to be engaged at the end of this?
Nick’s Mom: Mhm — wait, what?
Sure, you have your doubts. But this woman isn’t your therapist. She isn’t even your producer. I appreciate the impulse for honesty, but is this really the right moment? What kind of insights are you expecting to come away with here?
“Do you think that love is enough to make a relationship last?” Vanessa asks Nick’s dad, who bursts out crying about a dozen words into his response. Then she bursts out crying. Then they hug. He still harbors “a little bit of fear” that Vanessa might hurt Nick, but overall this feelings-fest seems to have left a positive impression on him.
Nick has one final date with each of the women. First up, Vanessa. They embark on a so-called “Lapland safari,” riding horses through the snow-covered woods. The couple reaches a mysterious cabin, where Santa Claus himself greets them. Vanessa is a very good sport about playing up how excited she is about meeting a strange man in a costume for the camera. Santa presents the pair with a heart-shaped wall hanging decorated with their portraits and inscribed “Niko + Venla” (would love to believe those are typos, not translations). It also doubles as a fertility charm, because sure, why not. She and Nick retreat to sit around a fire outside, and for a moment I was positive that they were going to throw their gift into the flames.
Although their union has Kris Kringle’s magical blessing, Vanessa (I mean, Venla) is as confused and concerned as ever. She wishes she felt “different,” she tells Nick (excuse me, Niko), and that she isn’t thrilled about the prospect of getting picked just because their relationship was a teensy bit better than the others. I get it! These are two people who, if they were to date in real life, do not even know what country they would live in. A single perfect, frozen tear glimmers on Vanessa’s cheek.
That night, she wants to bring up all her questions that still need discussing. She rightly points out that Nick only gives her the most “general” (that is, bullshitty) answers when they talk. This is not about to change. For instance, when she asks him if he’s ready to propose, he says, “The week’s not over.” I feel like we’ve been watching these two people gradually break up for more than a month, and yet we’re almost definitely about to see them get engaged.
If he asks someone to marry him, Nick keeps saying, “I definitely want it to feel like a love I’ve never felt before.” Like Vanessa, I’m concerned and confused: If it were going to feel that way, wouldn’t it already feel that way, my dude? They continue to talk around each other. Vanessa says his indecision makes this process all the “less romantic.” He suggests that getting engaged in spite of a relationship’s obstacles and challenges is actually very romantic; I suggest that this is dumb as hell. They embrace. She cries.
For Nick’s last date with Raven, they go ice-skating — a cute nod to their time together at a roller-skating rink in his native Wisconsin. I can’t imagine that Nick and Raven will end up together, nor do I think they should, but I can tell you he seems to have a hell of a lot more fun with her than he does with Vanessa. After they relax by a fire (no Santa this time), he presents Raven with three insanely adorable husky puppies to snuggle with. “This is officially the best day of my life,” she gushes, and I find myself questioning whether applying to be on The Bachelor would be such a terrible idea after all, if the puppies could be written into my contract.
When they cuddle up that night, Raven very sweetly reassures him that she has “no hesitation.” She’s ready, she loves him, and — should he get down on one knee — her decision would be “really easy.” It is a significant departure from the chilly atmosphere we’ve come to associate with his time with Vanessa, but bizarrely, it seems like Nick might prefer that discomfort. Guess we’re all self-destructive in our own ways.
Nick signifies his emotional turmoil by wandering through the snow without a coat on. He throws wood on the fire in the cabin where he’s staying, which for some reason has a name, and for some reason that name is the “Bear’s Den.” Who but celebrity jeweler Neil Lane — who is to Bachelors what Q is to Batman — should appear at his door with a selection of massive rocks to choose from?
Without any further ado, it’s proposal time. First to arrive is…Raven, which of course means that she is not the woman he’s chosen. (You dump then propose, never the other way around. That’s just manners!)
He allows her to make yet another kind, loving, and almost uncannily genuine speech (does she even know what show she’s on?) while his face twitches and his micro-expressions silently scream, “STOP, OH MY GOD, STOP.” Finally, Nick tearfully breaks up with her. He doesn’t know if he’s in love with her, he explains, and his heart’s somewhere else. Ugh. I’m sorry, Raven. You will find someone better.
Despite his all-consuming fears of rejection, and despite the fact that Vanessa has time and again expressed her reluctance to get engaged, Nick is nevertheless going to ask Vanessa to marry him. He professes his love, and she tells him she’s the “happiest” she’s ever been when she’s with him — which, girl, doesn’t seem very happy. He proposes and she accepts, beside herself with emotion. They’re pulled away into their new life together on a horse-drawn carriage. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — and, um, also, true love is real. Goodnight!

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