RECAP: The Bachelor Shows His Dark Side

Over these last several months, Ben Flajnik has not distinguished himself as an especially complex fellow. But he proved awfully hard to read during the latest episode of The Bachelor. On the one hand, this is a man so careful not to hurt the feelings of the women fighting for him that he ended a date by giving a rose to someone he visibly has no connection  with. But only minutes later, he sent another woman packing in the middle of the group date because she merely asked if she was ever going to get more alone time with him. I think this is what my old girlfriends used to call “moody.”

But one constant is holding midst all this unconstant behavior: Courtney is more obviously than ever first among equals. It’s hard to know what to make of this. In recent seasons of the franchise, we’ve had Bachelorettes Ali and Ashley signal their favorite at an early stage, and there was no misdirection – that’s the man they chose in the end. But Brad Womack ended up going with the woman he idealized, Emily, instead of the one he wanted to jump on, Chantal. It’s hard to imagine Ben picking Courtney in the end if he’s in any way serious about getting married, but that looks like the road we’re heading down at this point.

The gang headed to the vicinity of Park City, Utah this week, and the fall scenery was a wonderful advertisement for this region of the country (if you don’t mind mercurial weather – we saw both a drenching storm and snow during the two hours). The first solo date this week went to Rachel, who has had a minor role in some of the early drama but otherwise hasn’t seemed to be a true contender. We saw why during the early phases of the date, which amounted to little more than paddling around a lake (it was gorgeous, but lacking in usual Bachelor glamour).  Rachel had openly worried about first date nerves and being slow to warm up to men, and that’s usually a killer on this show. Her conversation with Ben was filled with the pauses, silences, and non sequitur remarks that usually precede a trip home.

Things didn’t pick up much at dinner, and it appeared Ben was trying to find a way to transition into giving Rachel the bad news that there wouldn’t be a rose when she suddenly began talking about the issues with opening up that have harmed her other relationships.  Ben took her admission that she has trouble communicating as being real communication, and he jumped at this excuse to give her a rose. This was easily the least promising date I’ve ever seen on this show that didn’t end with someone driving away in a cab. Rachel can’t be long for Ben’s company.

Next up was the group date, which began with Ben riding up on horseback to lead the eight ladies to the old fishin’ hole. I’m not sure why The Bachelor seems intent on trying to convince us that a man who has spent most of his post-college days either producing or consuming alcohol is a Clint Eastwood character, but whatever. The major implied conflict here was between sweet Kacie, who is becoming the stock character who freaks out whenever the Bachelor even looks at another woman; and Courtney, who went into her typical spiel about how all the other women are mere trifles to be toyed with, etc.

Courtney isn’t easy to like, but she’s playing the game wonderfully: she doesn’t appear to talk about the other women around Ben, she pays attention to him, and she at least pretended to be interested in fly fishing where the other women couldn’t bother.  Ben has no problem with assisting her, and Courtney caught a fish while everyone else stood around grumbling about how mean she was. Courtney was plenty catty about her success, but only to the cameras. It’s easy to do this, ladies!

The major drama was saved for the party, and it came from a very unexpected place. Just after Nicki had told Ben that she was OK with getting to spend whatever time she could with him, even though she has only gotten group dates so far, pageant girl Samantha sidled up whining about only being on those same group dates, and expressing her impatience that things weren’t moving faster.

This didn’t seem especially out of line for The Bachelor, but Ben’s reaction was strangely cold. He said he had been observing how the women react with each other on the group dates, and that she been too emotional and hadn’t shown enough to deserve a solo date … and you know what? Maybe you should just go home right now! Startled that her attempt to be proactive with Ben – something they’re always saying is a good thing – had blown up so badly, all Samantha could do was cry as she said goodbye to the other women. Weird. Even Courtney winning the group date rose was anticlimactic after that, although it was another victory for her over Kacie, who is still having trouble grasping the notion that a Bachelor can say nice things to more than one woman at the same time.

The second group date was another typical Bachelor adventure-date, the single aspect of this franchise that I find most puzzling. Yeah, I understand it’s all about making good TV, but everyone involved actually seems to believe all this nonsense about how “you need to take chances” and “take a leap of faith” in a relationship, so that leads logically to getting lowered into a pool in an underground cavern. Jennifer, the lucky recipient of this date, was terrified because she isn’t insane, but chose not to admit that lest Ben feed her to the same piranhas that got Samantha.

Jennifer is attractive enough and seems normal enough, her red hair (fake though it may be) is a novelty for the show, and it’s easy to see why Ben enjoys her company. She might be a little too normal for Ben in the end, though, as he seemed concerned that she might not be able to adjust to his wild and crazy, grape stompin’ lifestyle. She didn’t go crazy when a humongous rainstorm interrupted their dinner, and this display of good cheer likely helped her nab a rose. I hadn’t thought much of Jennifer’s long term chances after she wasn’t featured in the premiere episode, but she’s looking like a strong Final Four candidate.

As the rain began transitioning to snow, it was time for the cocktail party, and a big misstep from Emily, one of the three women who didn’t have a date this week. Her position was pretty safe after she did well on her date in San Francisco, so it’s anyone’s guess why she chose to endanger that by using her alone time with Ben to complain that one of the women there is two-faced, and then more or less admitting that she was talking about Courtney. A couple of things here: first, most Bachelors do not want to be bothered with the infighting among the girls; and second, did Emily not notice that Courtney came back from the group date with the rose? Ben is showing signs of being deeply into Courtney, so trashing her was a big risk, and he let Emily know that she was going to be in trouble if she kept obsessing on the other women. Oops.

And a bigger oops ahead: Emily returned to the party and admitted she had brought up Courtney’s behavior to Ben, something a few of the others had said might be unwise. Unbeknownst to Emily, blonde Casey, who has done little in four episodes other than seem permanently narcotized, happened to be a big booster of Courtney’s and took exception to Emily’s tone. She raced to Courtney and told her Emily was gossiping about her to the others, and had mentioned her behavior to Ben. Oh, it’s on now!

Well, not quite. Courtney wasn’t too upset by the realization she was getting under Emily’s skin, but was still upset enough to make threats. After wandering back out to the party, she casually admitted she knew Emily had ripped her in front of Ben, which Emily lamely denied. The Ph.D. candidate just plain looked bad throughout this entire interlude, perhaps giving us some insight into how this apparent Catch to End All Catches is having to go on this show to meet guys.

11 women would leave the Rose Ceremony with a floral ticket into next week, and when it came down to Emily and Monica, it was Emily who got the second chance and the last rose. Monica may not have seemed too excited by Ben at the time of the premiere, but despite having not spent any real time with him since, and despite her apparent interest in exploring the other side of the Kinsey scale, she broke down in the Limo of Rejection just like any good Bachelor contestant. I’m sure being asked to do Bachelor Pad (I’m just assuming) will help her get over it.

Next week: Ben, Courtney, and their supporting cast head to Vieques Island in Puerto Rico, which the U.S. Navy used to bomb for practice. Are we sure they don’t need more practice?