Wow. I’m almost (almost!) at a loss for words. Chris Harrison wasn’t lying when he said this season’s ending would be dramatic, shocking, and unexpected. But now that it’s all over, I’m left wishing I even knew what I just watched. I always want to be supportive of our new couple—whomever the actual last woman standing may be—just as I’d love to let whatever it took for that couple to even GET to this point become water under the bridge. But you guys, last night was hella FISHY.
First, before I get to dissecting this finale and the season as a whole, I have to say I feel for both Peter’s mother, Barbara, and for Madison. Frankly, if I were Barbara and had experienced her side of things, I’m not sure I’d like Madison a whole lot either. Even if Peter’s family’s having to wait three hours isn’t Madison’s fault directly (why couldn’t production have given them a separate chunk of time to talk things out?), it does represent an overall difficulty, a challenge in need of overcoming, which any mother (certainly mine) wouldn’t look upon lightly. Further, in general Madison doesn’t seem to show much reverence for the mother of the guy she’s dating and supposedly loves. I get that they got off to a rocky start, but clearly, despite months having passed since that meeting in Australia, no efforts had been made to improve this relationship. (Perhaps this is on purpose thanks to production? It’s possible. Madison seemed somewhat surprised by Barbara’s attacks.)
Meanwhile, I feel for Madison, too—that day in Australia looked downright awful. At the start of her conversation with Peter, I truly thought she might go home, she seemed so furious and unhappy. Given what she and Peter had just gone through (we’ll call it Fantasy-Suite-Ultimatum-gate) and the fact they’d never really discussed it further, it felt very wrong for the only time they’d have together to land RIGHT BEFORE they’d meet his family. That was just a crappy situation for all parties. Last night, I loved how Madison made it clear that this was her journey every bit that it was Peter’s, and she was right to clap back when Barbara laced into her and their relationship with shocking vitriol. It’s clear Barbara is involved, protective of Peter, and even meddles in his dating life—and that in and of itself shows that maybe Peter should have watched his words when first describing Madison. If he had kept Fantasy-Suite-Ultimatum-gate to himself, especially since the rest of their relationship was so great, his mother wouldn’t have had the same motivation (or ammunition) to go into that first meeting on the offence like she did.
Throughout this finale and the season as a whole, though, notice how the real culprit—production—somehow remained a blameless fly on the wall.
I got into a discussion with Nick Viall over the weekend about whether or not this season deserves the flak it has been getting for being “over-produced.” His argument was that every season is produced. Every season has its intentionally cancelled Rose Ceremonies, its strategically timed (and located) “stealing,” its usual producer poking and prodding. He conceded that making the final three women live together during Fantasy Suite week was taking things further than usual.
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I get Nick’s point and he’s absolutely right in some regards, but as I declared to him in the ever-so-official setting that was an Italian restaurant, I agree with the popular opinion that this season was indeed over-produced. We can go through this step by step, starting with Champagne-gate: It’s one thing to have Hannah Ann steal time with Peter, but another thing entirely to have her unwittingly steal an item, a bottle of champagne (a bottle of champagne that actually meant something to its owner, no matter how trivial) from another woman. It escalates the age-old Bachelor Time Steal into something far more pointed and personal. In Episode 5, Kelsey went to Peter’s hotel suite to clarify the “drinking problem” gossip, quietly, quickly and smartly nipping that awful rumour in the bud. However, in Peter giving Kelsey a rose in that moment (whether or not a producer suggested Peter do this, I don’t know, but it really smelled like production to me), it was impossible that Kelsey could have just gone and returned without detection, as MANY contestants of seasons past have done. (Hell, on my season, none of us knew Clare secretly went swimming in the ocean with Juan Pablo, just as no one from Ben Flajnik’s season knew about his and Courtney’s now-iconic skinny-dipping scene.) Further, Chris Harrison went the extra mile in how he told the women that evening’s Rose Ceremony would be cancelled—it wasn’t enough to just say Peter had made up his mind (as he’s done in all previous seasons). He instead specified Peter had made up his mind THAT AFTERNOON, precisely when Kelsey had been with Peter, causing even more friction in the house than already existed. Victoria F certainly endured her fair share of producer prodding, from the Chase Rice concert to Peter’s ex appearing at her Hometown date. A 1-on-1 date was obviously withheld from Mykenna to watch her unravel, just as Kelley was punished with an 11th hour villain edit, presumably for proving unravel-able. Was there a single woman who wasn’t specifically targeted and toyed with? Is simply existing in the Bachelor bubble—something that has provided ample drama for many, many years now—no longer enough?
Sadly, the extra special producer treatment didn’t let up as the season came to a close. Why did Chris Harrison needlessly tell Peter he was “not positive” Hannah Ann was coming to that proposal? Was he “not positive” or did he KNOW? Given Hannah Ann did end up showing up and we never even saw her really waffling (something we WOULD have been shown), it’s safe to assume this was totally made up to get a reaction out of Peter. Of course Peter’s “I’m about to pass out right now” from this moment was replayed in every preview all season long.
But the cherry on top, the crème de la crème, the tour de force of overproducing was the show’s decision to—without Peter’s knowledge—fly Chris Harrison to Auburn, Alabama to woo Madison back onto the season. Even I, the jaded former contestant-turned-critical recapper that I am, was gobsmacked by the license taken in doing this. Let’s be clear: If Peter wanted to woo Madison back, that would be a VERY easy thing to make happen. Remember, Arie was quick to appear at Lauren Burnham’s doorstep after dumping Becca Kufrin. Since when is it the host’s place to secretly knock on the lead’s doorstep and reveal details that aren’t his to reveal?
During the Live segment, after we were shown Peter’s breakup with Hannah Ann (who, by the way, was the picture of class and whose tongue-lashing of Peter was very satisfying), Chris Harrison asked Peter, “Was it your feelings for Madison that led you to to make that decision to break up?” Peter responded, “A little bit, yeah. It wasn’t all, but a little bit.” And remember, as we would later discover, HE SAID THIS KNOWING MADISON WAS BACK IN HIS LIFE AND CURRENTLY BACKSTAGE WAITING FOR HIM. I’m sorry, but “a little bit” is NOT a resounding “yes” (certainly not the way it was with Arie and Lauren). Yet, in Auburn, Chris Harrison took the extreme liberty of plainly telling Madison, “He ended his engagement because of his feelings for you.” He told her, “I think in his dream he would be with you.” Beyond this being obvious overproducing, it is simply overstepping. Peter is a grown man who can knock on the door of the woman he’s pursuing himself. We viewers have to ask ourselves: Why wasn’t Peter there? Did production suggest he fly to Auburn and he refused? Were they hesitant to suggest it because it was so soon after the break up? No matter what angle you use to analyze this choice, it was inappropriate. They essentially made a crucial decision on Peter’s behalf—whether or not to pursue an ended relationship—without his consent.
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The Powers That Be’s decision robbed Madison and Peter (and us, for our viewing pleasure) of him telling her to her face that he missed her/loved her/wanted her back. But, looking deeper: Had Peter a) looked legitimately happy to see Madison when she appeared by the pool, b) seemed legitimately happy to be sitting next to her at After The Final Rose, c) shown conviction at any point in declaring his love for her, or d) shown passion in defending Madison against his family, I might have thought production had been doing him a favour. (Certainly, they behaved as though fetching Madison for him was some favour.) But, I don’t know….something was OFF last night: the distant body language between the two of them (especially considering this is a guy who strokes the thigh of a woman he’ll send home hours later), her terse smile, his lack of any joy whatsoever. An actual quote of Peter’s regarding his and Madison’s future: “Do we have a million and one obstacles? Yeah. Is it all uphill from here? Probably.” Womp womp.
What happened to our hopeless romantic Bachelor? I get that Peter was struggling with the death glares his mother was shooting them, and that sucks, no two ways about it. But he’s a 27-year old man who can make his own decisions about who he dates. Above all, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that looking and seeming ACTUALLY HAPPY would go a long way in warming your mother’s heart to the woman you’re with.
The worst part of all? Not only did we not get any real answers last night, but we were left with one more burning question. During the Live segment, Hannah Ann revealed Peter had sought closure with Hannah Brown. Um, can we talk about this, since the show evidently didn’t wish to? First of all, seeking “closure” with an ex is, more often than not, pure bull crap. You seek “closure” because your new relationship doesn’t fully satisfy you and you still, at least partially or peripherally or even subconsciously, hold a candle for your ex. It was nuts to me that the show glossed over this massive detail, especially given it’s the kind of fuel that they’d normally pounce on and centre the majority of an episode around. Remember Episodes 1 and 2? Yeah.
My swirling questions as I attempt to get over this train wreck of a season: What would have happened had production NOT overstepped by delivering Madison to his door? Would Peter ever have gone out of his way to win her back, given his family’s vehement misgivings? (It’s not like he could have turned her away after she’d arrived in LA—that would make him the most hated Bachelor in history.) Would Peter have possibly pursued Hannah Brown in the end, and—OMG!—could she have been the one sitting next to him on that sofa? (It sounds far-fetched, sure, but also kind of… not?) Or could Peter have been sitting alone on that sofa, unsuccessful in his quest but a stronger, more mature and better informed man because of it?
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Let’s not forget: This show loves LOVE. When was the last time you saw any lead truly wind up—god forbid—alone? You might say Hannah Brown, but even her season (an inspiring self-love-fest in which a woman found her voice and strength) closed with the suggestion that she and Tyler C might rekindle their romance. This show relies on a happy ending (a happy ending between a man and a woman—a person’s newfound love for his or herself doesn’t count) and has never strayed from that, even if it would be a far better and more satisfying ending without it. My point is, we were led to believe Peter and Madison are together (together-ish?) and in love with one another, but based on sufficient evidence, I’m not fully buying what we were sold. It could be that what Peter and Madison share today really is some form of love. Perhaps they really are just “healing,” as Peter put it (a few too many times). But based on what we were shown, it’s tough to really hop on board the Peter and Madison (Peterson?) love train because, as of now, neither Peter nor Madison even look like they want to be on board.