By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Sep 14, 2022 at 1:56 PM

My, how things change.

Six months ago, Bachelor Nation was all Team Rachel, cheering her and Gabby on as she told off The Unspoken One's callous behavior and earned a role as a Bachelorette. And now here we are, in the very same year, with people acting like Rachel is the most vicious and soulless villain to happen to broadcast television since the invention of streaming.

However, I've discovered an even bigger change (*cue twinkly inspirational Hallmark movie music*) in myself. Because there was once a time when I would've totally agreed with Bachelor Nation and found Aven to be a tragic victim ... but here I am, about to defend Rachel and one of the core tenets of "The Bachelor" franchise. Maybe it's growth ... or maybe this show and the gallons of alcohol required to watch it have finally rotted my brain into gray vodka sludge. 

But hey, if the past seasons didn't sufficiently melt my brain into anger porridge, last night's finale (part one) certainly did the trick. So many LIARS crammed into a single episode of television – with JESSE PALMER THE GREATEST LIAR OF THEM ALL!

Indeed, last week Palmer cut the episode off early because what we were about to witness was just TOO shocking and TOO emotional to grasp in the time remaining. And he returned Tuesday night with the same tone, telling the live studio audience that we were about to be stunned into oblivion. Is Zach, pulling Rachel aside right before the rose ceremony, about to blow this entire season up? Are all of these men liars and frauds? IS A METEOR HEADING TO EARTH, AND THIS DATING SHOW IS THE ONLY ONE BRAVE ENOUGH TO TELL THE TRUTH!?

The shocking truth? It was just ... a normal "Bachelor" breakup. Zach ends up telling Rachel that their fantasy suite was really bad and he decides to leave because it's clear and obvious they're not right for each other. THIS was the horrifyingly intense finale that required Palmer to come out on an empty stage last week like he was about to warn the audience about the dangers of crack cocaine!? WE NEED TO LEARN THE DEFINITIONS OF WORDS, PALMER – because this is neither shocking nor stunning. The only dirt here is that, at one point, Zach says that he felt like he was talking to "Bachelorette" Rachel in the fantasy suite, not the real Rachel – which does rankle our co-lead a bit. She responds with a few digs at Zach during the rose ceremony, about how she feels like her character was questioned and how she's annoyed he took the power into his own hands. Meanwhile, a very smug Tino and Aven are pumped that their day just got a lot less tense.

Back to the live studio, the show reuinites Zach and Rachel for a sitdown, but the two just apologize profusely to one another and calmly explain their feelings. WHAT IS ALL THIS POLITENESS!? I AM NOT WATCHING "THE BACHELORETTE" FOR GOOD MANNERS! There has to be a middle ground between the ugly Shanae toxicity and ... whatever sentient bland Crispix this is now. FEEL YOUR FEELINGS, PEOPLE! Palmer tries to dig into the two's split a little more, asking what the hell happened in the fantasy suite that knocked their seemingly happy coupling off course – but the two just agree that, after some conversation, they realized it wasn't working. The only entertaining part is thinking of the two of them apparently stuck in the fantasy suite for the night, being like, "........... wanna watch 'Great British Baking Show'?" HOT AND STEAMY, AMIRITE!?

I do think that, at the core, Rachel realized that she didn't like Zach enough – but also didn't want to just bluntly end things. You ever know a couple who both realized they weren't happy, but neither one wanted to do the actual breaking up so they start checking out of the relationship and turning sour in the hopes the other one will pick up on the hints and call it quits first? No? Well, you're lucky ... but also I think that's what Rachel did here, priming and preparing Zach for heartbreak early with a poor fantasy suite experience, maybe so much so that he would do the breakup for her. (Which, if that was the case, SUCCESS!) 

Anyways, that drama dud is over – SUMMON ME BIG TONY! And not only Big Tony: Big Tony in a BIG PINK SHIRT! I take everything back, Palmer: This episode IS actually peak television. 

So yes, Big Tony is decked in his finest magentas for Aven, who arrives smiling and prepared with a peace offering for Rachel's dad: a cigar. The man didn't need a bribe to get Big Tony on his side, though, as Aven is very charming and amicable. Rachel's barely able to assemble a coherent sentence she's so smitten, describing Aven as "so incredibly so great." There's just one so incredibly so great problem: It turns out, like apparently every guy on this season, Aven isn't ready to get engaged ... which is strange because, last we checked, he told Rachel HE WAS READY TO GET ENGAGED. 

Indeed, while sitting down with Rachel's detective squad of friends, Aven says that he wants their engagement to be a perfect, one-time thing ... and that he can see himself getting there – which is NOT what he had previous said. Turns out he's pulling a bit of an Aaron Rodgers "I'm immunized" wordplay situation, and that when he said he was ready to get engaged, what he MEANT was he's ready to get engaged EVENTUALLY ... just not at the point of this show when people are supposed to get engaged. Rachel's friend-vestigators return with this new information, which throws Rachel right through a window and throws our once-happy couple into a fight, with Rachel wondering why he suddenly doesn't want to get engaged and Aven wondering why they have to rush into an important decision.

(*shuffles papers, stands up from table, adjusts suit, clears throat and prepares to do his impression of a lawyer from a classic Hollywood legal drama*)

Now folks ... I'm not saying my client Rachel did everything right in this fateful episode. Saying things like, "I'm not leaving this show not engaged," didn't reflect the best on her, and snapping at Aven for yelling when it sounded like his voice raised an entire half-decibel was ... peculiar. And I'm not even saying Aven isn't entirely off-base here! In reality, taking some time to actually live with one another and figure out each others' lives outside of this strange system is the smart, rational choice. This process is, indeed, snooker-loopy bonkers and not designed for, you know, ACTUAL long-term relationships. 

But folks, this isn't reality; it's reality television. And therefore ... why are we mad at a woman for wanting to get engaged on The Show Where People Typically Get Engaged? Especially (ESPECIALLY!) when said woman was told by Aven just a week ago that he was ready to get down on a knee – ready, implying at this very moment. But now, after she's told her family and friends that they're on the same page on this critical topic, he decides to reveal to them – NOT TO HER! – that it turns out they're totally not? Seems like a reasonable thing to be upset and confused by this unexpected and slightly embarrassing about-face! The man told her one thing, then double-backed and said another – even if he's being (in most situations) reasonable and smart, it's still not GREAT!

Let's be honest: Between the number of tears, endless complaints about Tino's family or whatever other reasons they might have, the people of the internet didn't like Rachel well before this episode. So when she voiced her displeasure (maybe not as best as she could've) about her boyfriend walking back his level of commitment, they decided that was the final straw, to give her exactly no benefit of the doubt and cast her as shallow, callous and worse than The Unspoken One. (To which I say HAHAHA HOW DARE YOU!) Because if it was the engagement demands that people TRULY had issues with, we'd have heard these same grumbles last week when Gabby split with Johnny and Jason because they too weren't ready for the level of commitment she wanted ... right? Didn't think so. 

So let's wrap this up: Aven told Rachel that he was ready for an engagement, a week out from Proposal Week on The Show Where People Get Engaged At The End, only to reveal to Rachel's friends in private during the second-to-last episode that his words weren't entirely true ... and Rachel's the bad guy?Folks, when you put the facts like that, you simply must acquit my client of being a reality show villain. Thank you for your time. 

(*sits down, gallery cheers, judge tries in vain to gavel them into silence, inspiring score swells, Aaron Sorkin nods in approval*)

ANYWAYS, on to far less fraught territory: Gabby – and fan favorite Grandpa John, who's there to meet her final guy and to get jokingly pitched as the next "Bachelor" by Palmer. SIR, DO NOT MAKE THAT VERY GOOD PITCH UNLESS YOU'RE WILLING TO DO IT! You've lied enough tonight – no need to add another. Also: Don't think we've forgotten the supposed seniors season of "The Bachelor" that has yet to exist. If there was ever a time to resurrect that idea – and if there was ever a person to resurrect it with as your lead – welp, here we are. 

But back to the family meet-and-greet: It pretty much goes fine! Erich charms the family, and Gabby has a slight breakdown thinking about her mother once again, but the family helps her gather herself – and notes that she should feel comfortable being this open and emotional with Erich as well. But that's that on that – honestly Gabby definitely drew the short straw in this half of the finale, and while I get that there's not much drama considering she has only one guy left and no actual choices to make anymore, it was weird that she had seemingly less screentime this episode than "Don't Worry Darling."

Speaking of drama, we return to Rachel introducing Tino to her family and friends – including Big Tony, who has ditched the pink shirt. Clearly all the Aven nonsense before put him out of his good mood, which means NO MORE CASUAL FRIDAY FASHIONS! Rachel's nervous because she's still hung up on Tino's family allegedly hating her – which, of all the things Rachel's done this season, is the most annoying and overdramatic of the bunch. GIRL, IT'S NOT YOU; IT'S THE SHOW THEY DON'T LIKE. MOVE ON! But it seems her nerves are contagious because Tino too is clearly stressed as hell, barely able to compose a coherent thought. For instance, when her parents ask about their time together on the show, Tino's response is "I GOT TO DRIVE A FORKLIFT!" So yeah, not exactly an expert conversationalist today. After the early stress wears off, though, Tino, Big Tony and the rest of the crew get along and Rachel is happy.

I, meanwhile, am bored because I WAS PROMISED THE MOST SHOCKING FINALE OF MY LIFETIME. Palmer's in a sweat desperately selling this finale like he's the Shamwow/Slapchop guy – and much like that guy's career, it's ending poorly. 

Maybe the next chapter of Aven and Rachel's relationship will bring some stunning revelations – or more like the FINAL chapter because Rachel's clearly donezo with this situation. Clue number one: When she stops by his room, he offers her champagne – and there's nothing she's ever wanted LESS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Her "no" could be felt through the television. My dogs were scared and stopped barking and playing.

Anyways, Aven continues to be rational and very understandable, trying to get on the same page with Rachel and explain that he wants to be with her – just maybe not via an rushed engagement on a reality television show with no footing in the real world. Again: This is all fair ... but DID. YOU. NOT. KNOW. HOW. THIS. SHOW. WORKS!? The seasons generally don't end with our happy couple deciding they simply want to date some more; they end with proposals. Neil Lane doesn't show up every season to offer million-dollar promise rings or frat pins; he offers ENGAGEMENT RINGS. 

Aven emphasizes multiple times that, even if he doesn't want an engagement RIGHT NOW, he wants to get engaged with Rachel soon – but at this point, Rachel's not hearing any of it. And while it's frustrating (*puts on defense attorney suit one more time*) I understand why Rachel's done. Let's say Aven ends up agreeing that he's ready for an engagement now. Wouldn't she have this voice in the back of her mind saying, "He's not actually ready. He's just doing this to make you happy. This is a lie." Suddenly her sweet romantic ending is guaranteed to have a dark cloud haunting it, questioning it, making it feel insincere. And even if Aven IS totally sincere on his knee, there'd always be a feeling that maybe he wasn't. Is that how you want to feel during your proposal? Like this wasn't a mutual situation? The sturdy foundation they once had got cracked – and there's no fixing it this close to the end. 

So yes, Rachel sends Aven home defeated and feeling like he failed – which really he didn't. I don't want people to confuse my defense of Rachel with an attack on Aven – who truly does seem like a good guy with good intentions. If your greatest flaw on "The Bachelorette" is that you take your relationship and the concept of marriage too seriously for the show's ridiculous process, you're a high-quality human. I don't know what you were doing on this show ... but you're a high-quality human. And he keeps it up during the live segments, where he could be bitter and steamed (probably to cheers from the live audience and certainly the internet) but instead he's kindly apologetic that their communication broke down and that he didn't explain his growing doubts to Rachel before their fateful family meeting. I'd say he's a sure-fire "Bachelor" lead in the future ... but considering he got booted from the show for thinking the process moves too fast and fictitiously, NOT SURE WHY HE'D SIGN UP FOR MORE!

At this point, it's about five minutes to 9 p.m. – so I guess Gabby will get most of the finale's second half? JOKES! In another display of this season's clockwork-like precision and craft, Tuesday night's episode goes too long, going all the way to 9:15. But it's OK, everyone: Palmer asked permission from ABC to extend the episode – because SUUUUURE, THAT'S HOW TV WORKS! I like to imagine the head of ABC and Disney's CEO getting a call from Jesse Palmer in the middle of the night, saying "The Bachelorette" MUST go long because they've got something TOO IMPORTANT to hold until next week. I'm going to have to imagine it – because THERE'S NO WAY IT WAS A REAL THING.

Anyways, the VITAL and IMPORTANT content that needed to be broadcast on Tuesday night? Yet another contestant on this show realizing that engagements are scary. YEP!

Gabby and Erich have one final hangout before the climactic rose ceremony, a generally harmless interaction that suddenly becomes VERY HARMFUL when Erich tosses off mid-hug that "I don't want there to be any expectations or for us to rush into anything." Cue Gabby with a TERRIFIC "pardon me?" face that lasts ten outstanding seconds, just staring at Erich with a cold-ass look that says "you better not be saying what I think you're saying." And unfortunately for her, he's saying exactly what she thinks he's saying: He just wants to date after the show's over, not get engaged.

I don't want to say this for approximately the 78th time this season ... BUT ARE YOU NEW HERE?! 

Welp, that sound you just heard was all of the Gabby stans, harranguing Rachel for demanding an engagement on The Engagement Show, suddenly getting DEATHLY quiet. Sure, Gabby's much better at communicating her feelings in an egalitarian way, emphasizing that she doesn't want to pressure Erich into an engagement. But also: SHE WANTS TO GET ENGAGED! And she thought Erich was committed equally to that ... only for him, at LITERALLY the last moment, to soft-pedal his assurances. So we've got two Bachelorettes suddenly finding out no one wants to get engaged at the very moment they're supposed to get engaged. Well, Tino does – but nobody seems to like that idea anymore. And judging by the scenes from next week's finale, that includes Rachel – who, by Tuesday's end, does not have the look of a satisfied customer. 

Yep, this is ending bad for Rachel. Or she – like the rest of us – is simply disappointed after spending more than two hours on this heavily over-sold and under-delivered finale installment. SEE! (*puts defense attorney cosplay one final time*) RACHEL'S RELATABLE!

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.