On Monday night, The Bachelor headed to four distinct hometowns so Nick could meet the families of the women he is still courting. As the newly minted Bachelorette, Rachel’s date was by far the most interesting, due to its heavy emphasis on the conflicts that can come along with an interracial relationship and the glimpse it provided as to how the show will deal with those conflicts during her season.
Rachel and Nick started their date off with Rachel telling him that they were “going to do something you’ve never done before,” which meant taking Nick to her very large black church in order to show him her “version of Dallas.” Whether this was an idea the producers had, Rachel had, or both, it resulted in Nick explaining that of course the church wasn’t that different than the one he grew up going to, though naturally, he still got plenty of attention when he was there. “I would love this to be a regular thing we do as a couple,” he said of their church date.
“I’m not colorblind; I know you’re black,” Nick joked to Rachel afterwards. “Everyone else may make this an issue, but for you it doesn’t matter, and for me it doesn’t matter, and that’s all that matters to me,” she told him, later explaining, “In this family, you don’t need to have black skin, but you need to have thick skin.”
This focus continued at Rachel’s home; though her federal judge father did not make an appearance (the show explained this as a work conflict, but Chris Harrison revealed in his blog about the episode that because he’s a judge he “could not appear on our television show, but you should know that Nick and Rachel’s father did get a chance to talk before he left that night”) but that didn’t stop the conversation from being largely focused on their status as an interracial couple. Rachel and Nick joked about his familiarity (or lack thereof) with okra, and then had a funny conversation with her sister Constance and brother-in-law Alex, who are also an interracial couple. “I can’t help but notice that you are a white,” Alex said somewhat funnily, somewhat awkwardly, to Nick.
But it was Constance who shared the most absorbing and relevant comment of the night, pointing out that “Right now with this climate that we’re in, I feel like you have seen more racism come out,” and that that’s something Nick and Rachel will need to learn how to navigate as a couple. (Noting that these scenes were filmed right before the election gives the whole thing an even heavier tone.) The segment essentially acted as a sneak peek as to how the show will likely tackle Rachel’s “historic” turn as the first black lead of a Bachelor show—on the one hand, it should open up the door for more relatively real, perhaps sometimes actually engrossing conversations. On the other, it will likely continue to offer mostly vague platitudes from people saying things like “I don’t see color.” Whatever they crow, this is not a platform devoted to real explorations of the dynamics of human relationships—all that work comes afterwards, once the camera stops rolling.
That message was actually doubled-down on on a different hometown date, when Nick went to visit Vanessa’s family in Canada. During the visit, her family was relatively hard on the couple, pressing them about the viability of their relationship. Her sister even went so far as to mention the name of the show (rarely something that’s included, given the producer’s propensity to act as if the program is a bubble unto itself), asking Nick, “Have you guys spoken about real things, like what real life will be outside of The Bachelor?” and specifically questioning him about what they’ll do with the fact that they live in different countries.
For Rachel, this episode set up the tone and characters we’ll see more of in her season, like her smart, calm mother who said things like “only you can make that total judgment” when asked what she thought of Nick. But all those scenes actually worked nicely in tandem with Vanessa’s, making the episode on a whole more real than it normally is, and prompting reflection on what this show could be if these moments were encouraged because they’re thought-provoking, and not merely as rote entertainment. Well, that would be another show entirely.