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1987

Requiem for a Dean

On Monday night, two women watched the 8th episode of Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette. This is their story.

Kate: Well, I for one thought last night’s episode was the most interesting in some time, and it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that I had multiple friends tell me that they thought it was the “realest” episode they’d ever seen. Let’s roll through it in order of how the hometown dates were shown to us (though of course, that was not the order they were filmed in). First up: Rachel’s trip to Baltimore to meet Eric’s family, where she had what I found to be a refreshingly honest conversation with his aunt about race and dating on The Bachelorette.

Madeleine: Yeah, I was glad the conversation happened so explicitly, though it felt egged on (like most things, to be fair!) by producers in a way that made it feel strangely performative. Still, though, I’m glad it happened because viewers should know how much more complicated and complex things are for Rachel as the first black Bachelorette. As she’s mentioned a couple times this season, she is under a lot of pressure to be perfect in a way that no other Bachelorette has before. It was also pretty cool that the conversation could happen in Baltimore, a city where—according to the U.S. census—63 percent of the population is African American, and not, say, Waukesha or one of these predominantly white small towns that the show often visits.

Kate: The conversation was, as usual, a little scripted. Their talk began with Aunt Renee energetically saying, “Let’s bring up the R-A-C-E word. Race!” But that did prompt Rachel to explain how she worries about the judgment she gets from “black people” and then “everybody else” over who she’ll pick. Of course her party line every time is that she wants people to experience her journey for love the same as all the other leads before her, but that’s what we would expect her to want, and the messaging the show would push.

It was interesting to me that all the hometowns had a very specific, equally compelling storyline—usually there’s at least one dud in the bunch. Moving on to Bryan’s hometown, his controlling mother really stole the show.

Madeleine: Like everything Bryan does, his story about his last relationship dissolving because his ex-girlfriend didn’t like how close he was with his family rang like a complete LIE to me. I don’t know his ex, but I do know I am on her side—a little bit because Bryan seems so phony, but also because, after we “met” them last night, I can completely see his family being horrible to anyone they think isn’t good enough for their prodigal chiropractor son.

There was one thing Rachel said while in Miami that I wrote down: “Miami just screams Bryan. It’s hot, it’s steamy, there’s something sexy about it… Sometimes it speaks to you in Spanish.”

Kate: Shocked the quotes you wrote down weren’t the two different references he made to Pitbull! I can’t tell if I hope he wrote that dialogue for himself or the producers did it for him.

I think you summed up Bryan’s fam completely and I have nothing more to add, save that Rachel called him “babe,” the ultimate tell on how she’s feeling about him (posi!). What I really want to hear are your thoughts about Peter’s date, which took place in his and your hometown, Madison, Wisconsin.

Madeleine: Yes, our hometown, mine and my future fiancé Peter’s. First of all, it was fun to see Madison on TV because it is, scientifically, one of the most beautiful cities in America. The date he took her on, though? Basic as hell. There’s a reason they were getting swarmed at the Saturday farmers market and that’s because it’s packed with a lot of jerks. (Pro tip from a native: Either get to the Saturday farmers market before 8am or skip it in favor of one of the weekday farmers markets that offer just-as-good produce and less people.)

The bar they went to—Cask & Ale—opened long after I moved away so I can’t comment on quality (seems fine) or their unnecessary Pier 1 table runners. What I can comment on is that a bar called Paul’s Club used to be in that space and it had a fully grown oak tree inside. Also, I once went on a date with a barista from the coffee shop next door.

What were YOUR thoughts on Madison, Kate?

Kate: Madison looked as beautiful as I remember it from my two trips there (well, one trip was in the winter, so as beautiful as the trip I took in the summer). As a non-Wisconsinite, what was more notable to me was Rachel’s comment to Peter’s friends: “He said, ‘I have 10 really close friends, and you said, eight of them are black.’” Obviously a funny thing to bring up, but also just so without any context. Those moments always make me think about all the stuff between the cast members that doesn’t make it to air.

Madeleine: Peter and I (Peteleine? Madeleter?) have some mutual Facebook friends and from my light investigating, I can tell you that Peter’s statement to Rachel is true and not just for the show. In a less sincere move, however, I gotta say that I think Peter—as per his high school yearbook quote—is gunning more to be the next Bachelor than he is for Rachel (a statement that’s probably true for most contestants on this show). All that talk about not feeling comfortable enough to express his feelings or being sure about being in love… I don’t know, man. I could definitely see him working through his issues with a harem of dental hygienists and kindergarten teachers on The Bachelor.

But what about Dean? Poor Dean!

Kate: Dean was clearly the goldmine of footage they were looking for in this post-Kenny and Lee world—I tallied it up, and half an hour was devoted to his hometown date, while the other men got like 15 minutes. There were a lot of mixed reactions to Dean’s date; many people believe the show exploited his uncomfortable family situation for ratings, while others felt it was some of the most honest television they’ve delivered yet. (There are obviously people who fall into both these categories.) Towards the first point I’d say that while Dean’s relationship with his father is terribly sad, it was the length of time the show dwelled on it—particularly the long scene where Rachel wasn’t even around—was what made it seem so crass. Otherwise, I wonder: was it really so different from, for one example out of many, airing the story of a contestant whose boyfriend died by suicide and was very clearly still processing his death?

What was most compelling to me was how Dean, truly the golden boy of this season, approached his relationship with his father; as you’ll see in his Instagram below, he wanted to make it very clear before the show aired (but after the promo aired that made his dad look insane) why he and his dad don’t get along and how it doesn’t have to do with his religious conversion. And during the episode, Dean said he hadn’t spoken to him in two years, but I wonder if going on this show was a prompt for him to try to work things out with his dad? Their conversation was so lengthy and so serious it seemed like he really wanted to get some stuff out, even though it didn’t end particularly well. Alternatively, he could have just signed up for the show and not really thought about getting that far along, and then gotten caught up in the moment.

The one truly positive thing I took away from their exchange and how Dean has handled its airing was the nuance he’s brought to exploring how different people can grow apart after tragedy, something this show tends to gloss over in its quest for easy storylines. Which is just a credit to him and not the show.

Madeleine: Not to kick a man while he’s down, but why is this sweater so long?

Sweater aside, though, I really like Dean. In his time on the show, he called out a contestant’s racism AND used the word “patriarchal,” two very non Bachelor/ette moves. While it was sad to see his lil heart broken, I actually felt relieved for him that Rachel let him go. I’m sure she did it with the producers’ urging, but the way she was pressuring him into this very painful and impossible reconciliation with his truly terrible dad rubbed me very much the wrong way, not entirely for the reasons you listed (though that was there, too).

If we’re to believe the conceit of this show—that Rachel truly cares for these men and is grappling over which to pick—I can’t also be expected to accept someone not trusting their potential partner’s judgement of their own family. If an otherwise nice and caring person says that his relationship with his dad is broken and he has no interest in repairing it, you—as that person’s partner—should probably support that decision! But the good news is that, for the most part, we don’t believe that conceit. So we can instead sit back and witness Dean’s personal hell.

Kate: I wonder if I’m so jaded by this franchise that watching anything genuine occur seemed somehow worth it to me, even though the setup by which it came was entirely masterminded and potentially cruel. Probably!

And for those who were heartbroken Dean was then kicked off after such an intense public airing of his business, as these things tend to go, he seems fine, at least by Bachelor standards.