By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 22, 2021 at 7:59 AM

What are all these genuine emotions doing in my silly reality dating show? When I signed up for recapping this franchise, I was promised wine and ridiculousness – and now here I am tearing up on a Monday night because of people being sincere and open and talking about serious topics, not just because I discovered there was less wine in my Bota Box than I expected. 

"The Bachelor" or "Bachelorette" getting serious will always be a little strange, feeling the show tonally whiplash between people having a serious and difficult conversation about trauma or painful memories, only to hop over to a subplot about how a guy's smiling too much or some other comparatively preposterous reality show melodrama. But the conversations that happened Monday night were not only important – furthering conversations about consent but also normalizing men being unabashedly open and emotional – they helped develop the relationships on the show into something less shallow or surface-level. We're only three episodes in, but I'm already finding myself caring about Katie and many of her Handsome Stubbles – certainly more than I invested in anyone during last season's brutal catty-tastrophe. 

Karl, however, is not one of those people. Last we checked, Karl rolled a nice grenade into the house by telling Katie that he wasn't 100 percent sure that 100 percent of the guys were genuine – not that he had any evidence or proof or even a valid hunch about any of them. He keeps insisting that he won't put anyone on blast (while putting LITERALLY EVERYONE on blast) but that whoever's being a untrustworthy person should admit to being dishonest – nevermind that no one knows what they're even supposed to be admitting to since Karl's being so hilariously vague.

The man's trying to prove a negative, and it's driving everyone in the house crazy – especially Justin's face, which is the obvious MVP (Most Valuable Physiognomy) of the episode. The man's face may be terrible at poker, but it is wonderful at reality entertainment, his eyebrows and eyes bending and bugging into soliloquies of perfectly silly reaction shots. He constantly looks like he just saw the pie eating contest scene from "Stand By Me," and I love it. 

What I love less is that Katie's having such a bad time that she shuts down the cocktail party early and heads straight to the rose ceremony. All the guys understandably harrumph about Karl killing the night's mood, plus any time they were hoping to get with Katie – all the guys except for Sweet Baby Boy Greg, who of course goes to check on Katie and make sure she's feeling OK. Because OF COURSE HE DID, THAT LITTLE SAINT MAN! There wasn't much of Greg tonight, but that just makes him even more of a front runner now. Each season, some guy always stands out right away as the obvious winner, but then the show pushes him into the background to make it less blatant who the favorite is – and that's Greg right now. I imagine we won't hear much from him until late July – but he's still got a spot in Hometowns week saved, I guarantee it. 

After the guys decompress and while Karl ... I don't know, does some Tae Bo in a separate room, it's time for the rose ceremony. But the ritual doesn't go far before it's interrupted by Mike P., who accepts his rose but greets it with a statement – a joint statement, in fact, from the whole house, saying as a unit that what Karl said wasn't the truth and that no one knows what he's talking about. I like this! So many times, the villain is allowed to stick around despite the fact that everyone in the house knows they're awful (*coughs* Luke P. in Hannah Brown's season *coughs*) because they try to take the situation on one-on-one. Rarely do you see the cast unite to say, "Hey, we ALL agree this guy's a problem." I'm sure Katie wishes Matt James' season had more of that togetherness ... 

Katie takes a moment to process Mike P.'s report from the house, with Tayshia and Kaitlyn reminding her that it's her choice, no one else's. And apparently she was planning to keep Karl at the start of the ceremony (sure LOL; maybe as a favor to the producers). But now? With the entire house saying he's nonsense? Karl, meanwhile, is babbling about how they'll have to get the military to drag him out of this mansion, and GOSH, COULD WE PLEASE!? I WOULD LIKE TO SEE IT. In the end, Katie decides she would as well because she gives her final rose to Aaron, sending Karl home along with nice guy John and some guys supposedly named Kyle and Garrett who were allegedly there this entire time.

And despite being a professional talker, Karl has nothing to say at the end, doing some fake dramatic thinking poses before jilting Katie entirely and walking out without a word or a goodbye. Good riddance. Sleep well, Carl the Corgi; your name will suffer no more. 

Carl the corgiX

Karl may be gone, but Katie's still a little shaken by his accusations. So, for her next group date, she gathers a bunch of the guys together for a group therapy session, led by the nation's leading relationship guidance counselor: yes, of course, Nick Viall. Sitting in a harshly lit circle, Katie's looking for the guys to be honest about the mistakes in their lives, the times they may have fallen short or failed others. Poor Hunter, realizing "this is a more soul-searching date" when he thought they were going to run around in a woods and play tag while holding Cabbage Patch Kid dolls or something like that. And Nick and his clipboard of secrets must've noticed that because he calls on Hunter to go first. Classic high school teacher move, calling on the person who clearly and desperately doesn't want to get called on. I've been in that calculus class. 

But credit where credit is due: Hunter does indeed open up, talking about a previous marriage and how he let it fall apart by focusing too much on work – a decision that not only impacted his life and his ex-wife's life, but also their two children. Everyone follows Hunter's lead after that, actually leaning into the exercise and being painfully honest. Aaron talks about a relationship that he let collapse as well, Quartney opens up about what sounds like a potential cheating situation and Connor talks about how he was a crappy drunk who cheated on his significant other.

And instead of it being a one-way street, as "The Bachelor" or "Bachelorette" can often do – coldly accepting and pocketing people's traumas and stories with an empty "thanks for sharing" – Katie talks about her struggles as well, most notably when she was the victim of a sexual encounter without consent and how that really impacted her view of herself and sex in ugly ways. It's a striking and powerfully open, real and honest moment on a show few would typically associate with the words "real" and "honest." If viewers didn't feel close and bonded to Katie before, there's no doubt now after that brave conversation – both opening up herself but also providing a safe environment for others to do the same. 

That being said, this is still "The Bachelorette." So while we're having conversations about intense topics like sexual assault, broken relationships and emotional wounds, we also have reality show drama about Aaron getting sulky because Thomas smiled too much during his confessional. DOESN'T SEEM ALL THAT IMPORTANT IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS RIGHT NOW, PRODUCERS!

But hey, we got rid of one villain earlier than I'm sure they preferred so I guess we've got to get a new one – and Thomas fits the bill as his "honest and open" story during the group therapy session was less of a confession and more of a shmoozy pitch. Sure, he admits that he maybe arrived on the show more interested in "the platform" than falling in love, but he spends the rest of his time talking about how good of a guy he is and dodging any real, detailed conversation – all with a smile that drives Aaron nuts. (Though, considering this is now Aaron's fourth conflict in three episodes, all sentient things might just drive Aaron nuts.)

Things don't go much smoother in the evening portion of the date, as Thomas gets another chance to be honest with Katie – but instead spends it all sounding again like he's just reading a transcript from past "Bachelorette" winners. A lot of empty words and smooth-as-Teflon sentiments that don't stick. Even Thomas knows after their time together that he could've done better and that a better connection could've been made. So he decides to go back to Katie for a second attempt – and, of course, the person he interrupts is Aaron. (Smooth move, producers.) But Thomas says there's something he has to tell Katie, so Aaron politely – but perturbedly – gives up his time.

And what was that important thing Thomas had to say? NOTHING! NOT ONE THING! Instead, it's just another round of faux inspirational poster quotes, "Bachelorette" cliches, empty platitudes and "Matrix"-esque dodging. Dude's a "Live. Laugh. Love." Instagram post that got struck by lightning and became human. Thankfully the act doesn't entirely work on Katie – who I was sure was going to give Thomas the rose, if only for the drama, but instead gives it to Connor, who still hasn't been outed as a Jed yet. Meanwhile, Thomas digs himself a deeper grave by not only saying that his important thing he NEEDED to say was that he's falling in love with Katie (cue some more outstanding Justin facial expression fireworks), but also sharply answering that his time is indeed more important than others. You almost get the impression he's not here to make friends!

Anyways, if you thought the group date was emotional, "The Bachelorette" isn't done wringing out those tear ducts quite yet because we've got Michael's one-on-one date with Katie – a key one for Michael because he wants to explain his story of how he became a single father. He's honest with no Nick Vialls needed: I like this guy. And I like him even more after this date, doing the requisite off-roading – listen, the producers rented the ATV, and THEY'RE GONNA GET THEIR MONEY'S WORTH DAMMIT – but then really opening up about his past. He was apparently married before and had a child, but mere months after the birth, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and eventually passed away.

It's an intense story, but one Michael tells with love, affection, tenderness and honesty – including toward Katie, letting her know that he doesn't want this to diminish the uniqueness of their potential love story, that "what a blessing it is to fall in love twice." He also notes that while the show ends with an engagement, relationships actually begin with an engagement, evolving well afterward – a nice and sincere sentiment, one this franchise often forgets trying to craft a happy romantic ending while forgetting that relationships go far beyond the ring and the honeymoon phase. Michael just seems wonderful, a sweet and lovable goober – and I mean that in the utterly best, most complimentary way possible. TAKE NOTES, THOMAS; THIS IS HOW YOU ACTUALLY TALK CUTE AND SWEET! Get your algorithmic love talk outta here ... 

Unfortunately, he's not gone yet. Back at the tumbleweed ranch, Aaron continues to sulk – his regular state – while Hunter tries to explain to Thomas that his "eff everyone else" attitude will eventually backfire, as it always has in the entire history of this whole franchise. And while I wouldn't normally take advice from a guy who looks like if Dexter and Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz had a baby, and who also has an unpleasant habit of – and I don't know how else to put this – nervous snot-sniffing, Hunter brings up some solid points. Solid points that he brings up again, not only to Thomas' face but in front of the entire group.

But first, this:


Anyways, after ... that, Hunter works up the nerve (and the snot) to challenge Thomas on his attitude toward his fellow competitors and the show. He points out that Thomas' story about the Very Important Thing he needed to tell Katie changes every conversation – sometimes he says that he told Katie he was falling in love with her; sometimes he says that didn't happen – and eventually asks him if he just came here because he wanted to be the next "Bachelor." And Thomas, incredibly, says yes, that was something on his mind. WAY TO SAY THE QUIET PART LOUD ... AGAIN.

On one hand, I almost want to give him credit for saying what everyone knows is true: that a not-insignificant percentage of the people who come on this show know that there's a potential second career to be made on this franchise. And also, I think a lot of the digging into Thomas is coming from the fact that he admitted to coming here originally for a platform – something the guys smelled out as something to be exploited as evidence that he's insincere and here now for the dreaded Wrong Reasons. Despite the fake smiles and question dodging, he might ... be the most honest guy here? Nothing he's saying – that he came for the platform, that he thinks his time is more important to him, that he's thought about having a further role in the franchise – is untrue. It's just stuff you don't say out loud and without tact. 

And also: IF YOU WANT TO BE THE NEXT "BACHELOR," DON'T SAY OUT LOUD THAT YOU WANT TO BE THE NEXT "BACHELOR!" For somebody who seems to know so much about how and why this game is played, he's sure bad at playing this game! The way this is currently going, Thomas will be lucky if he gets merely an invite to "Bachelor in Paradise." Heck, he'll be lucky if he just makes it through next week's episode.

Plus, this is all a moot point because we all know who the next "Bachelor" will be:

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.