Season 25 of “The Bachelor” had a grim end.
Bachelor Matt James appeared at the “After the Final Rose” in real pain. Monday night, we learned that he gave his final rose to Rachael Kirkconnell. Though after photos of her attending an Antabellum-themed party were revealed online, he had to end their relationship.
Watching the first black Bachelor in franchise history be in so much pain was difficult. Heartbreak is one thing; racial trauma is another. Having to suffer through both in the name of entertainment on live TV is not fair. “I didn’t sign up to have this conversation,” he said on the episode.
Here’s everything that went down on the tough season finale.
Matt’s family meets Michelle
His mom Patty — an absolute peach — and brother John sat down with his lady loves, the first being Michelle. Off the bat, Patty was doubtful. She said it would be a “long shot” for Matt to get engaged.
When sitting down with Patty, Michelle was blunt: she’s deeply in love with Matt, and wants to support him. Patty told her that it was “an honor” to hear her feelings for her son.
Matt’s family meets Rachael
Rachael was beaming when she opened up to John about how strongly she feels for his brother. The couple seemed natural when hanging with his family.
Speaking privately to Matt, Patty noticed how her son could be his real self around Rachael. When the two ladies sat down for a chat, Rachael talked about her faith: Matt began his journey on “The Bachelor” with a prayer, and she felt like God brought them together. Patty broke down in tears.
After Rachael left, the family gathered to help Matt with his decision: The conversations went much better than Matt’s difficult (and contraversial) talk with his dad during last week’s episode. Patty and John loved both girls — but were still iffy on the idea of Matt getting engaged. They know first-hand what happens when love fades. Matt started to question himself — was he really ready for that next step?
Michelle’s final date
Matt took Michelle to repel down the side down a building — a metaphor taken way too literally. It was scary as hell, but not as tough as their chat afterwards. Michelle was overflowing with affirming thoughts about their relationship: she was 100% sure he was the one. She came prepared, complete with custom jerseys with “Mr. and Mrs. James” written on the back. But Matt was doubting himself, and had to tell her that. “This is the first time I’ve felt anything outside of wanting to be with you forever… I’ve been pushing through that feeling today,” he told her. “I don’t think I can get there with you.”
Michelle was shocked and heartbroken. She curled up in a corner and cried.
Rachael’s final date
With only one woman left, he still had a decision to make: He didn’t want to put Rachael through what his mom went through, getting engaged to a man who wasn’t ready for marriage.
Because he needed time to figure out what he wanted, Chris Harrison canceled his time with Rachael, telling her Matt was feeling lost.
To make matters worse, ring peddler Neil Lane showed up to therapize Matt, and have him pick out an engagement ring that he may or may not use. He opted for a pear shaped-sparkler that made the pressure even more real. “If I put this ring on Rachael’s finger, I never want it to come off,” he said.
The final rose
The next day — the day they’re supposed to get engaged or break up — Matt asked Rachael to meet him by the lake so he could explain himself. “This isn’t how I expected to feel on this day … I love Rachael, the more sure I am in that feeling,” Matt told Chris, clearly torn. He said he would know his decision when he saw Rachael — which probably isn’t how you want to feel before committing to spend the rest of your life with someone.
Rachael was terrified. “When I imagined how it would feel standing before you like this, and the yesterday happened and changed everything,” she said. “I hated, more than anything, the thought of you hurting and you being confused.”
“I can’t propose to you today, but that doesn’t mean I want to lose you,” he told her. “When I think about the life I want to live, I think of you. I want to leave here with you.”
Rachael was fine with that — they kissed and confessed their love to one another. Of course, Matt gave her the final rose. They rode off in a horse and carriage. It was a happy ending.
Until it wasn’t.
After the Final Rose
Unlike usual, this wasn’t a live special and it wasn’t hosted by Chris Harrison (instead, Emmanuel Acho took his place). He brought a much needed perspective that Chris never could, given the issues and race that were made front and center while this season aired.
First up, Michelle: She told Emmanuel that on the night of their breakup, she asked Matt for a conversation so she could understand why he broke her heart, but he refused to give it to her. “I had to fill in the gaps of what our relationship really was, and I wasn’t OK,” she told her ex. Matt knew that there was no justification for his actions, and apologized. Though she doesn’t hold any ill will towards him, “I hope you find more expressions than ‘thank you for sharing,’ she said.
Next, Matt talked with Emmanuel about the pressure he faced to represent all black men as the first black bachelor in franchise history. After filming ended, Matt compared his time with Rachael to a “honeymoon,” until the rumors about her past came out. At first, Matt tried to support her and dismissed the talk as just that, rumors. But when Rachael publicly owned up to the photos, Matt had to take care of himself and the hurt she caused him.
They’re no longer together. “If you don’t understand that something like that is problematic in 2018, there’s a lot of me that you won’t understand,” he said of the three-year-old photos. “I stepped back and let her do the work she’s committed to doing.”
Rachael then took the stage to own up to her ignorance. “People need to realize saying ‘this is normal where I come from’ doesn’t make it right,” she said. Though she grew up in the south, she never questioned what those dresses meant and what she was celebrating, which she says was on her.
Though she was “blindsided” by Matt breaking up with her, she it made her realize that “he must be really, really hurt” by her actions. “I lost the love of my life … I love him so much and I always will,” she said.
When Matt was brought back out, Rachael apolgized to him. He was visably upset and could barely speak. “It’s heartbreaking, it’s disapointing,” he said. “When I questioned our relationship, it was in the context of you not understanding my blackness … that’s why we can’t be in a relationship.”
Though Rachael is educating herself, Matt knows it can’t be his burden to usher her through this reckoning: “I don’t want to be emotionally responsible for those tears,” he said.
The show tried to end on a happy note: Both Katie Thurston and Michelle were announced as “The Bachelorette,” they’ll start filming their subsequent seasons soon.
Here’s to hoping Bachelor Nation does better next time around.