At this point I suppose I should expect a rollercoaster of emotions when I tune in to Listen To Your Heart. Last night really ran the gamut with developments ranging from delight- to downright rage-inducing. I’ll start with the good but, I swear, unlike last week this recap ends on a positive note!
The good: This week’s bottom two were legitimately the bottom two in terms of performance. I appreciated how the judges didn’t ONLY focus on things like eye contact, and how they associated a poor performance with nerves, NOT a lack of romance in the relationship. Notice how the most skilled singers (Rudi, Natascha) weren’t really criticized for any lack of “connection” with their partner; if anything, it felt like romance was just an excuse to call out weaker players for not being more exceptional. When it came down to Julia and Brandon versus Jamie and Trevor, I would have felt no different about their bottom two status had we not known anything about their backgrounds, personalities, or relationships. They were, plain and simple, the weaker performances. A fleeting moment of genuine meritocracy!
The bad: You already know what I’m going to zero in on. I normally get a kick out of Chris Harrison—his wry delivery and justification of nonsensical rules usually amuses me—but even he can’t make this show’s twists and turns make sense. Last night, despite this being a show about coupling up and couples having thus been formed, those very couples were suddenly “tested” by forcing cherry-picked contestants to go on producer-determined dates. Chris Harrison, with an impressive straight face, rationalized this decision by saying the show is merely putting the couples (remember, couples still in their infancy) “to the ultimate test,” and that this would somehow ensure “that last couple standing really is committed.” This was an interesting call for a franchise that at least pretends there’s choice in the matter; Chris Harrison himself repeatedly tells the contestants to “listen to their heart,” an expression which inherently implies choice. Even on Paradise (hardly the poster child for exemplary TV dating), while contestants are no doubt nudged towards certain candidates, no one is assigned who they’ll take on their date. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible for a Bachelor show to be more manipulative than Paradise…
Looking back, I suppose an inconspicuous comment of Julia’s early in the episode gave away that a bomb of this nature would be dropped. She said of Sheridan, the morning after their first performance together, “I feel so good about what we have and after last night, I feel amazing.” It was clear she was finally in a good, if not complacent place. But no perfectly useful villain can be allowed to remain in such a peaceful head space! That sentence gave away that Julia probably wasn’t further going to rock the boat on her own, much less in pursuit of a seemingly disinterested Brandon. She seemed to be on the precipice of finally recognizing the ways in which Sheridan was good for her—an engaged, kind partner, not to mention a good partner on stage.
Sheridan, in his limo exit, would surmise that Julia’s habit is to go for the wrong guys, that she was falling back into old ways by pursuing Brandon. While part of me doesn’t love making assumptions about others and their choices, the other part strongly suspects Sheridan was accurate. As we would learn of Brandon later in this episode, he would prove to be the exact OPPOSITE of what a woman should look for in a partner: a passive, wishy-washy manipulator who obviously didn’t really care for either Savannah or Julia (at least, not enough to shelf his pride even for a second). Perhaps it was the chase, perhaps it was chemistry, perhaps it was the fact that Brandon did breadcrumb just enough to keep Julia interested. Regardless of what it was specifically, Julia indisputably traded in a quality human being for someone painfully inferior.
There are two reasons why the above is so terrible. First, what I hopped on my soapbox over last week: If this is a show about music, why couldn’t Sheridan have simply partnered up with Savannah instead? (I for one would have LOVED to hear them perform together.) Why must two musicians be romantically invested for their performance to be considered powerful or moving? It continues to be a crying shame that these talented individuals go home because of something unrelated to their talent—the show has basically turned what should be a talent competition into something of a popularity contest.
Second, a reason unfortunately far more insidious: Given all the evidence, it’s not a stretch to presume The Powers That Be preyed on Julia’s awful taste in men. Remember, this is a show about “love,” yet Julia was no doubt egged on in the direction of a worse candidate for her than she already had. Not only that, but she was specifically put on a date with him, for the sake of interesting TV. Given how many hours Julia surely spent in an ITM room with her producer, there is no question that all involved would recognize (except maybe Julia herself, since it appears she still has much learning to do) that someone like Sheridan, being patient, understanding, supportive, would be exactly what Julia needs. Any real-life close friend of Julia’s would want the best for her and would certainly point out Sheridan’s winning traits. But what do you think the odds are that Julia’s producer told her anything along the lines of, “just stick it out,” “maybe he’ll grow on you,” “he might be a great partner for you?” Doubtful. It’s unfortunately far more likely that she was regularly asked to compare Sheridan to Brandon, to speculate on the authenticity of Brandon and Savannah’s relationship, to generally keep Brandon on the forefront.
Knowing what I know about production, I wouldn’t be surprised if the arranged date twist was even presented as a gift of sorts to Julia, behind closed doors. Only production knew just how hung up on Brandon she was, and with that valuable intel, it’s hard to imagine them allowing Juliandon (Bralia?) to be laid to rest. We can all picture it: The Powers That Be brainstorming ways to reopen that can of worms. Should they try to get Julia and Brandon drunk together? Perhaps send them on some sort of group activity that didn’t involve their partners? Why not cut right to the chase and quite literally plop them on a date together?
Believe it or not, though, I’m not as enraged by all of the above as I thought I might be. It could be because the last two weeks have significantly lowered my expectations for this show, so there’s nowhere to go but up. But the fact that Brandon himself turned out to be so terrible is really what made last night’s twist an acceptable, even welcome one. This is why last night’s episode turned out to be surprisingly satisfying.
I detailed last week the ways in which Julia was made out to be more of a bitch (and therefore a villain) than she actually was. (If you’re curious on my thoughts over Julia versus Natascha this week, watch my Morning After video above!) But by showing us a bit more of Brandon last night, there was no fancy editing necessary. In fact, last night’s episode was a fantastic case study highlighting the difference between a produced villain (someone who is prodded, provoked, edited) and a true villain (someone who only needs a good amount of uncut footage shown).
Ahhh, Brandon. Now this is a villain we can sink our teeth into! We saw that—at least within the walls of Listen To Your Heart—Brandon’s a bit of a liar, the type who fudges the truth out of convenience for himself. (It was rich when he told Julia he’d “chosen” her, when literally moments earlier he was heard trying to salvage things with Savannah.) He’s disconnected and passive, opting for the path of least resistance. (He never went after any woman—Savannah, Julia, Mel—with any conviction, even if it meant losing them.) He tells women what they want to hear except when he doesn’t, at which point he deals their reactions by gaslighting and manipulating them (accusing an understandably upset Savannah that it was she who wasn’t invested and that “scared the shit out of him”). He’s passive aggressive. (He told an angry Savannah he’d “love it” if they “spoke like adults” and that they had “a lot of work to do on communication.”) He forever communicates with put-on yoga-speak, the kind where he claims to have “woken up full of gratitude” for Savannah, that he tried really hard to “stay present” with Julia, that he wanted Savannah to open up (which is not at all what he asked), but nonetheless had “grace and patience” for her (such a saint). In general, his way of speaking suggests an inner peace and self-awareness while his actual actions are those of a garden-variety narcissist. The cherry on top: He tacks a “sweetie” onto the ends of already patronizing sentences (as in, “I’m not going to be a choice. I deserve so much more than that”; “You deserve everything you want, sweetie.” VOM!). In short, watching Brandon show his true colours (which I highly doubt he did in his ITMs, hence why they were rarely shown), the true villain of the season ended up swooping in, grabbing the torch from Julia’s hands, and getting his comeuppance. So while I found this episode absurd in its liberty to all but force Julia and Brandon to get together, I ultimately felt the end (Brandon turning out to be the secret villain) justified the means (the convoluted and manipulated plot twists) it took to get there.
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A special shout-out paragraph must be dedicated to Savannah, a woman who was honest, who did show conviction. SO many Bachelor contestants would have put up with the above in order to last longer on national television. SO many women would have fallen victim to being made to feel at fault. But every step of the way, Savannah was an authentic, confident, respectful human. She legitimately did seem to care for Brandon; their partnership never felt forced or fake on her part. When Gabe revealed an interest in her, she didn’t leap into something with him just for security’s sake. (Remember, she wasn’t officially teamed up with Brandon at that point—she chose authenticity over airtime and security.) If anything, she seemed brokenhearted to have to turn him down. Even when Julia confronted her and made accusations about her, Savannah never spoke ill of Julia, not to other contestants or in her ITMs. She stood her ground when Brandon wronged her, maintaining her wits about her, never being manipulated or backing down. (It pains me how many women have likely fallen for his ways; for him to be relying on such tricks at 34, I have to imagine they’ve worked for him at least a couple of times.) Ultimately, Savannah left with dignity and self-respect. She was everything you could possibly want in a contestant on a show like this; someone who isn’t playing a part, someone you’d want to be friends with, someone you respect.