The Bachelorette Grapples with Death

If you saw promos for this week's "Hometowns" episode of The Bachelorette, there were a few things you might have thought were coming. You'd have expected stuff about whether Andi was prepared to move to Iowa and be a homemaker and her concern that one of her suitors was more wrapped up in his brother's bid to join the NFL than his relationship with her. What wasn't teased much was the part that ended up being unmissable: Andi and the four remaining contestants finding out that their cast mate Eric Hill had died.

Chris Harrison had previously said that the show's producers hadn't settled on how they were going to address Hill's death, which happened while they were still filming. What they decided to do was show the group finding out together (in a house that, if it is actually Chris Harrison's, looks exactly like a smaller Bachelor set) that Hill had died. It was incredibly painful, but in a good way. This was the first time a death on the show has focused on the people remaining in a way that made sense. Death is largely about who we leave behind and how they cope with that. While the previous "farewell" to Eric felt empty because who he was as a person was bulldozed over, this one ended up feeling right because it was about people struggling to adjust to a new reality.

Because of the actual emotion and confusion shown by the castmembers, everything else in the episode fell by the wayside. Instead of a bizarre, scripted sit-down about Eric between Chris and Andi seen previously during this season that fell flat, we saw Andi really feeling things, sobbing to a producer about how badly she had left things with Eric. (The show then cut to commercial, asking fans to "vote on this week's Tide Bleachable moment," which was not ideal.) Andi was so emotional during the Rose Ceremony the following day she had to stop to cry before she got started.

"Completely understand & respect the fact that some won't understand or like this tonight," Harrison tweeted Monday evening, directly fans to read his full blog post about the episode on Entertainment Weekly Tuesday. Harrison's full post is arguably some of his best work yet:

There were those who didn't think we should shoot it at all and not include this news. I vehemently disagreed. I thought we should not only shoot it, but felt we should include it on this show for you to see as well. I knew this was going to be a brutally sad moment for all of us, but that's why I felt so strongly we should show it. There were a few reasons I felt strongly about this. First of all, I knew this was going to greatly affect all of us, especially Andi. How could we not show or talk about an event that absolutely changed and affected everything and everyone on our show? For 13 years we've built this franchise by showing you everything that happens, whether it's good, bad, dramatic, or sad. I just didn't see how all of a sudden because something so tragic affected all of us that we just wouldn't show it; it didn't make sense.

The reaction to Eric's death threw the rest of the show into sharp contrast, which is what happens every time there's actual emotion depicted on this show. Harrison went on to explain that in footage not aired, they all continued to sit together "sharing funny stories about Eric from our all-too-short time with him." You could even go one step further and argue that putting some of that on television could have easily solved the show's basic misstep of not memorializing Eric as a person – instead, they ended up remembering him as a mostly personality-less contestant of the show – but that probably would have been too much for anyone to handle.

The situation was best summed up by Marcus, who was sent home at the end of the episode. "Gosh this is weird," he said after leaving the room to cry. While watching I texted a coworker, "What if the show was like this all the time?" and she responded, "I can't even imagine." Would it be too hard to watch? Too inappropriate? Too much like TLC? We'll never know. Rare moments like these are all we have.

Image via ABC