By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 11, 2022 at 11:46 AM

Remember Michelle's season? Remember how she didn't want to deal with any toxicity or immature behavior, so irritating villains barely lasted an episode? Remember how the guys were generally good people who didn't want bad vibes? Remember how all of that ruled? Well, apparently the producers don't because, two episodes into Clayton's run, all of those positive developments appear to have been revoked and replaced with the kind of ugly behavior and doofy forced drama that I thought we left behind in Matt James' season. Maybe this season is gonna be as bad as we feared after all.

At least there was a bouncy house, though, so Monday's episode had that going for it.

After last week's rose ceremony, the remaining 137 women move into the mansion, which one of them describes as historic and legendary. Ah yes, we all know the famous wonders of the world: The Taj Mahal. The Great Wall of China. The Bachelor mansion. They do their ritualistic yell to prove they know Clayton's name, while he wanders around a nearby garden, looking lost again. Somebody get this poor man a Garmin or a phone charger already. 

With no further ado, however, it's time for the first group date of the season: a children's birthday party – complete with Lizzie McGuire and a bouncy house, so clearly THIS IS GONNA RULE! Well, not for the contestants, though, because they're on the job, taksed with setting up the party for a crowd of eager kids. Clearly one of the producers forgot it was their child's birthday this weekend and made their stars party-plan and organize it for them – and honestly I respect the laziness. 

The laziness I CANNOT respect, however, is Hilary Duff superfan and potential Amy Poehler/Emily Blunt evil twin Cassidy. She's supposed to help with assembling a doll house with Gabby, but she's not there to make friends OR houses so she bails to hang out with Clayton by a pool and makeout. LOUDLY. Listen, sound crew, you can back off the sucking and squishing sounds. Maybe next time we don't hook the microphones up to their uvulas. When Cassidy's not bailing on the party to makeout with Clayton, she's bailing on the party to hang out with Lizzie McGuire – who can see exactly what she's up to because duh. Any intelligent person could pick up on Cassidy's very forced villain routine and her attempt to get out of work. Unfortunately Clayton does not come off as a particularly intelligent person in this situation, and instead he thinks this all rules and that she's the best. 

Maybe he was distracted by all the kids, though, who arrive for the party clearly high on pure uncut Pixi Stix powder because they arrive at the party like 30 tiny screaming hurricanes – tiny screaming hurricanes that love beating up Clayton, at that. "It's fun to see him interact with kids," says one contestant. Smash cut to the kids grabbing water balloons, cornering Clayton in the bouncy house and then bombarding him to watery death. I'm starting to understand why Cassidy went to hang with Lizzie McGuire instead – and in fairness to her, she's not technically wrong that she's there to date Clayton and form a connection with him, not throw random kids a party. In unfairness to her, she also drops poor birthday girl Maya's cake into the dirt so she may just be rude and a monster. 

If you were hoping that Clayton might've picked up on any of this obvious villain behavior and noticed that Cassidy couldn't care for one second about kids, you're unfortunately watching the wrong season as Clayton rewards her for ignoring the little rascals, dumping a cake on the ground and TELLING A CHILD TO ITS FACE THAT SHE DOESN'T LIKE THEM by giving her the group date rose and another makeout session from audio hell. See, Michelle didn't allow time during her season to look like an idiot. If people weren't acting right, she called it out and sent it home. And now we have Clayton being like, "Yes, she lit the bouncy house on fire and told all the kids Santa isn't real  ... but lips though." It's not what you want.

Thankfully that date's over and we move onto the first one-on-one of the season, which goes to Susie aka Hannah Brown and Addison Rae's secret sister. Hannison Rae Brown is clearly nervous, talking a mile a minute, so obviously the cure for that is a helicopter ride around the city and even above the mansion. Honestly they seem like a nice pair ... but I found this date pretty boring. Maybe it's because we just went from the chaos of maniacal evil and kids possessed by vengeful bouncy balls to just normal people having a normal date (with a helicopter, so not THAT normal). But while they seem cute enough, there's no real chemistry, spark or personality to note. WHERE IS THE CHILDREN WATER BALLOON MILITIA WHEN I NEED THEM!? 

They end their night with dinner, talking about how her dad was really sick but how she tries to find the good in things – something Clayton wants in a partner – followed by a performance from Anonymous Country Singer Who Was Available And Cheap. The most notable part of the whole thing was that CLEARLY the decorating team took Monday night's episode off. Between having the ladies do the party-planning for them at the group date and then hosting the dinner and country concert in a basically empty studio, the decorators apparently had other things to do this week. Maybe this is how they're protesting Clayton's choice as "The Bachelor"? We'll know for sure when the finale hits and the big final proposal set is a moldy plank of wood on a dirty beach. 

Anyways, it's off to the second group date of the day – which Shanae gets primed for with the help a VERY intense Cassidy. She's preparing her with strategies about getting in there right away and attacking, leaving no prisoners and no doubt. NO HESITATION! Girl, are you prepping Shanae for a date or for D-Day?

Maybe she did need intense preparation, though, because the guest host for group date number two is Ziwe, a popular comedian and host most known for asking brutally tough questions that make people uncomfortable and sweat. ROAST! THIS! SHOW! ROAST! THIS! SHOW! Unfortunately, if Ziwe did try burning this thing down from the inside, the effort didn't make it to the final cut. WHY BOOK ZIWE IF YOU DIDN'T WANT HER TO DO ZIWE THINGS!? Somewhere I bet there's a blooper reel filled with Shanae, the rest of the girls, Clayton and maybe even the producers brought to tears. This is now my "Justice League: Snyder Cut."

Back to the date, where they play a riveting game of Never Have I Ever on the search for relationship red flags. You know what's a red flag? NOT SAYING CHEATING IS A RED FLAG! That's Clayton's move as Ziwe asks the group if they've ever cheated on someone – and a few paddles go up saying that yes, they have. Clayton's asked if that's a red flag ... and he just kinda stutters and mumbles and thankfully the show moves on. But come on, dude, where's your spine? You can't say, "Cheating on your signicant other is a red flag"? This should not be a controversial statement! WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR!?

We don't focus on that too long, however, because Shanae begins calling herself "Shanae-nae" and then, after some prodding, does the Nae Nae. I don't know what happened next because my eyes and ears were bleeding.  

I cannot emphasize enough how much Shanae we got during this portion of the show – beyond just the hemmorrhage-inducing nicknames and dance moves. Every time something happened – whether it was someone answering a question or sitting next to Clayton or merely breathing – we got Shanae's input. Clearly this woman's having a nervous mental breakdown of sorts, thinking too hard about her "strategies" while Cassidy's terrible advice swirls around in her brain. And unfortunately, it doesn't improve from there as they run through an obstacle course of milk-chugging, wall-smashing and pools of goo – a Double Dare date, if you will – and Shanae falls short. At least she got her rival Elizabeth eliminated too by pushing her into the goo pit. Can't imagine this turning into A Thing ... NO SIRREE!

The most important discovery from this all, however? There's a contestant named Marlena who's a FORMER OLYMPIAN! We've gotten every mundane thought going through Shanae's confused and rattled mind when we could've hung out with a former Olympian this whole time!? OUR PRIORITIES ARE NOT ALIGNED, SHOW! RED FLAG!

Speaking of red flags, Shanae flies a whole armada's worth of them during the dinner portion of the group date. She's tired of Elizabeth getting all of Clayton's attention, so she decides she's going to take her down, coming to Clayton with news that she's "two-faced" and the dreaded "not here for the right reasons." GASP! And what evidence does Shanae have of Elizabeth's bad behavior? Uhhhhhhhh, she was nice to Shanae but then ... wasn't so much, I guess? WELL THAT'S INDISPUTBLE PROOF OF VILLAINY! Shanae, Elizabeth is a self-professed former freestyle rapper from her college days – a red flag in its own right – so you really didn't have to work this hard to elimate her. 

Anyways, Clayton brings the accusation up to Elizabeth, who easily and calmly swats it away with facts and honesty while also smartly bringing up the fact that Shanae previously pushed her during the Double Dare date. She then talks to Shanae about what the heck is going on, and apparently, according to Shanae, this all started because Elizabeth ... didn't notice her or pay attention to her enough during a previous conversation? Folks, if you managed to watch these interactions without your brain self-combusting in confused rage, congratulations. Elizabeth explains that she must not have seen her or was distracted – she notes she has ADHD, so it might be part of that – but most of all, she's not interested in having this conversation any more.

So we move on, right? NO. SOMEHOW, UNFORGIVABLY, NO. Because Shanae decides that, when she returns to the understandably annoyed group, she's going to lie about how their conversation went, claiming Elizabeth said "I love you" and all was good, when ... nope. She alsso tells the whole group about Elizabeth's ADHD to perhaps shame her and then makes fun of her mental health, going so far as to question if she even has ADHD in the first place. It's all such a mess that, when Shanae reports back to the mansion, even Cassidy is like, "Clean this mess up." AND WHEN CASSIDY IS THE VOICE OF REASON, LOOK AT YOUR LIFE, LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES!

(By the way, Sara got the group date rose. Yay for a good human!) 

Thankfully, it's time for moving on to cocktail party and rose ceremony – but everyone just can't stop tempting fate. You know the part in a horror movie when the character says "All clear in here" or "We should be safe now" before getting stabbed in the throat spine? Yeah, this was a whole segment of that. "I just want a night devoid of drama," laments Jill, dooming everyone. "This was as good of a night as I could've wished for," notes Clayton, pausing for effect before adding a happy "No drama!" WHY NOT SAY BEETLEJUICE THREE TIMES WHILE YOU'RE AT IT! 

I would've preferred an undead weirdo gremlin in pinstripes versus what we got, which was another prolonged round of ADHD shaming from Shanae that NOT ONE PERSON ON EARTH asked for. She makes fun of Elizabeth's ADHD to the camera during her confessional time and she makes fun of it to the group and then she makes fun of it some more in the confessional. It's gross, rude and bullying – but perhaps most of all, it's just BIZARRE. I can't honestly tell if she's a mean person or if her brain's just fried from the strange stress of the show and close proximity to Cassidy – but no matter the case, it's crappy behavior and worse television. And I can't even blame Cassidy because even she's like, "Nope, I'm getting me away from this," as she bails on her former protege and joins the group in disavowing Shanae's unhinged drama. Again, when you've gone too far for Cassidy, you've REALLY gone wrong.

Don't get comfy, though, Cassidy. One of her fellow housemates just happens to remember that Cassidy told her that she's got a friend with benefits situation back in the real world – one she FaceTimed with as recently as the hotel before filming, talking about how they would meet back up after the show to snuggle and watch the season together. And in the wildest twist of all, THE SHOW BRINGS RECEIPTS! The show cuts to a previously unseen flashback where Cassidy just confesses this all to her. Just blabs it all to a competitor. WERE YOU NOT AWARE THERE MIGHT BE MICROPHONES AND CAMERAS AROUND!? The incompetence of our villains this season: It's out of control!

I will say, though, I appreciate the show's producers chucking Cassidy under the bus by including the flashback. In the past, they've left these things oddly vague and unseen, but in recent seasons, they've gone all "Real Housewives" and utilized flashbacks to show the reality of the situation. It's a good approach; it helps clarify the drama instead of letting liars and manipulators muddy the water ... and it's also just hilarious, watching the show fact-check a person in secret. It's like the narrator from "Arrested Development" got an editing job on the show – and I think he's doing a great job. 

Anyways, Cassidy's in trouble because Clayton summons Jesse Palmer for an important question: Can he take back a rose? OH GOD, I WANT IT! I WANT IT SO BAD! I WANT HIM TO WALK IN, TAKE THE ROSE AND BURN IT TO ASH IN FRONT OF HER AND EVERYONE'S EYES! THEN I WANT MAYA TO DELIVER HER A REVENGE CAKE AND DROP IT ON THE GROUND! Everything wouldn't be redeemed – we still have the Shanae-nae of it all to deal with – but it'd certainly improve things and, maybe most important of all, give Clayton a memorable moment beyond getting bullied by children.

Do it, "The Bachelor." After this two-hour battle to see who could be the most insufferable, you owe us. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.