Rachel’s journey as the Bachelorette ended in a three-hour live finale, which — love this show though I do — is at least one too many hours. Mark my words, if my nemesis Bryan wins, I am suing Mike Fleiss for whatever the monetary value of three television-hours of my life is. But whatever happens, Rachel will be sorely missed. I don’t want to tell you how to conduct your business, Disney-ABC Television Group, but something tells me the Magic Kingdom could use an animatronic Hall of Bachelorettes.
A fun innovation for 2017: Rachel watches the finale live in-studio with Chris Harrison and comments on the events as they unfold. Eric, Peter, and Bryan are on hand, too — two her exes, one her fiancé — but for now, all three men are sequestered backstage. (Okay, I don’t know if they’re technically “sequestered,” but “sequestered” is such a great word and you really don’t get too many opportunities to use it, do you?) In the studio, Chris Harrison mentions that, where we last left them, Rachel and Peter were struggling, at loggerheads over his reluctance to propose after such a brief courtship. “We started off so strong, and then to get that point and kind of be at this standstill, it was really hard,” she says.
Indeed, back in Rioja, things sure aren’t looking good for Peter. Rachel doesn’t want a boyfriend. She wants a fiancé. But Peter makes his case: He tells her again how much he cares for her, that their connection is something he’s never had before, and that just seeing how emotional she becomes over the prospect of losing him has “advanced me a long ways.” Rachel knows that his feelings for her are real. But is that enough?
She hands Peter the invitation to the fantasy suite. “It’s a very heavy note,” he observes, holding it in his hands. (Truly, I would love to know more about the quality of the cardstock used on The Bachelorette.) “I want to spend as much time as humanly possible with you,” Peter says, because he is cute as hell I love you Peter follow me on Twitter for real though. “Maybe there will be clarity in the morning,” Rachel tells the camera. But first, one can only imagine, there will be boning. The next morning, there is harmony, and there is a homemade breakfast. Peter says his doubts have faded (...some), and although Rachel’s still not thrilled about the prospect of a Schrödinger’s Proposal, their connection seems stronger than ever.
For their next date, Bryan and Rachel ride horses through a vineyard. (Umm, Rachel already took Peter to a vineyard, like, five minutes ago. I know we’re in Rioja, but come on, guys.) Over a glass of, you guessed it, wine, Rachel and Bryan talk about his visit to Dallas. Her family struck him as “a little resistant,” he says, but “I thought I handled myself pretty good.” The vibe is something less than wildly romantic.
To Chris Harrison, Rachel recalls that she was actually having a great time with Bryan on the date (okay, Rachel), but couldn’t get the emotional cocktail of her conflict with Peter out of her system. As for her pre-fantasy suite conversation with Peter, she says she was “right there” when it came to possibility of breaking up with him that night.
Back in Spain, Bryan acknowledges over dinner there’s been a “different energy” during their date. Rachel seemed a little distant, so he asks if something’s bothering her. She apologizes — the last thing she wants to do is take away from their time together. Blurp blurp blurp. Anyway, they are of course off to the fantasy suite, which for some reason tonight is about three times bigger than the bargain-basement hotel room they scraped up for Peter. Over breakfast in bed the next morning, Rachel and Bryan smooch and eat strawberries. Guess that went well!
Heading into the rose ceremony, Rachel all but writes “I AM ELIMINATING PETER” on a posterboard and waves it in front of the camera. “I want somebody who’s secure and confident and knows what they want, and right now that’s not Peter,” she first tells the camera. “I want a proposal. I didn’t come here to date. I didn’t come here to have a boyfriend. I came here to cultivate a relationship that’s moving toward the common goal of marriage,” she then tells all three men, while making laser-focus eye contact with Peter (and while wearing a dress with what are best described as bedazzled chainmail sleeves, which I’d be remiss not to mention).
The first of two roses goes to Bryan. She’s torn between Eric, the guy who’s probably not ready for marriage but thinks he is, or Peter, the guy who probably is ready for marriage but thinks he isn’t. She chooses Peter. Aww, I really like Eric. They share a very sweet goodbye — she loves him, but she’s not in love with him, a tried-and-tested line of star-crossed junior high schoolers throughout history — and he tells Rachel he’ll always love her. I don’t expect ABC to pick Eric to be their next Bachelor, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if they did.
Eric emerges from backstage, reuniting with Rachel for the first time since their breakup. (Now he has a full beard! Passage of time!) In the one thousandth version of this speech in franchise history, she delicately explains that she had no choice but to compare their relationship, for all that was great about it, to what she had with other people. He thanks her for opening up his heart to love for the first time.
On their last date, Bryan and Rachel take a scenic ride in a hot-air balloon. That night, he tells her, “I think it would be a mistake if you didn’t choose me…I would be the most heartbroken I’ve ever been in my lie if I lost you.” Then they launch into a makeout just as loud and squishy as the original face-mushing session that won him the first impression rose. Bryan has a gift for his beloved: “Bryan & Rachel’s Spanish Dictionary” comes with a little handwritten — suuuure, that’s really Bryan’s handwriting if the fantasy suite invitations are really Chris Harrison’s handwriting — cheat sheet of keywords like marido (husband), siempre (forever), salto de fey (leap of faith). I reluctantly give Bryan points — okay, one point — for whipping out the arts and crafts.
For her final date with Peter, Rachel takes him to a beautiful monastery in the mountains, where a monk takes them on a tour. “What do you think about being married?” he asks the couple, sounding extremely casual and not at all like a human plot device. “Marriage doesn’t scare me. The idea of having multiple marriages scares me,” Peter tells Rachel, while in the next breath describing how much he wants them to stay together. Rachel gets tearful in a talking-head interview: “I’m just so confused as how you can see forever with me, but you can’t do the stuff that you have to to get to forever. I don’t get it.”
That night, Rachel knocks on Peter’s door. She tells him she meant what she said about commitment at the rose ceremony — and that she was saying it for his benefit. So where’s his head at? He’s in love with Rachel, but those feelings are “so recent.” He’s not ready to propose, but he wants very badly to be with her. Meanwhile, she doesn’t want to repeat her mistakes from a previous relationship: What if they never move past dating? (Rachel, just a reminder that you could always pull a Brad Womack and pick…nobody. Then they might even have you back for a second season!) They both acknowledge that even if he did propose the next day, it would only because he knows it’s the only way to keep her. “I will make a sacrifice if I have to,” he says. She begs him not to, if it’s not what he really wants. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. This is the realest argument I have ever seen on this television program — Rachel and Peter, ironically, have never seemed more like a real couple. “I can’t do tomorrow if you tell me you just want to be my boyfriend,” she says. “Then I can do nothing but wish you the very best...I think we are both going to regret this decision,” he says.
Peter tells her he loves her. She says, “I love you, too.” This is excruciating. As far as I can tell, Rachel clearly wants to be with Peter. They hug and kiss and hug and kiss in the doorway. She can’t bring herself to leave for some time. It’s a genuinely heartbreaking scene. Rachel walks home in the pouring rain as a distraught Peter asks himself, “What is wrong with me?”
Is that it? That can’t be it. “I cried my eyelashes off,” Rachel says in the studio. Chris Harrison welcomes Peter onstage to talk to Rachel for the first time since their “devastating breakup.” No! No! No! So Bryan just…wins? No compromise? No surprise twist? I’m speechless. My brief but fervent hopes for a Jason and Molly-type reversal are pretty much shattered once Peter takes a seat next to Rachel. Unless this man is the greatest actor of his generation, that fight was really the end of their relationship. “I’m shaking like a leaf right now. I’m terrified,” he says.
Rachel explains that there were other issues besides the proposal that made her doubt her relationship with Peter, but she fails to elaborate on any of them. Peter says he’s felt “attacked,” but he declines to elaborate on that. (One reading of Rachel and Peter’s interaction here is that she’s torpedoing his shot to be the next Bachelor, particularly when she says this: “I just don’t think this world, this process, this journey, this show — I just don’t think, like, it’s for you. You need more time.” If so, well played, Rachel.) Apparently, he asked if he could reach out to her after their final conversation, but he was told he could not. “Of course” Peter still has feelings for Rachel — that’s why he’s upset — but they both had to remain true to themselves. I am rage-eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup right now. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually feel bad for Bryan. Even if they’re engaged now, watching this, it’s hard to deny that he was Rachel’s second choice.
Back in Bachelorette world, resident franchise jeweler (he’s chained up in the basement of the mansion between seasons) Neil Lane pays Bryan a visit so he can pick out the diamond ring of his dreams. But now Rachel says she’s wondering if she needs more time. Can she really get engaged to another man right after everything that happened the night before?
In about 10% the usual time the show spends on the ring selection and pre-proposal buildup, the moment is finally here. Bryan runs through a standard sugary spiel: “You are everything I could ever want in a woman, a wife, a mother of my children.” Though Rachel begins her response with a less-than-rousing “um,” her true feelings soon become clear: “Right here in this moment standing with you, I see my forever. And I see my future.” She’s in. The newly engaged couple giddily make out, kissing and cuddling and gushing about their futures together.
In the studio, Bryan re-proposes, and she puts on her ring for the first time in public. They seem happy — and maybe they really, really are. I hope so! All I know is that Rachel wanted an engagement, and that she got one.