This season of The Bachelorette is off to a relatively slow start, but the second episode of the season has already landed a franchise first, which feels like a statement on the new post-Chris Harrison era. As a result of Karl spreading a vicious rumor about multiple men not being in the house for the right reasons (shocker), Bachelorette Katie Thurston decided that the next group date would be centered on telling the bare truth. For some reason, former Bachelor Nick Viall was invited to the truth-telling circle as a moderator of sorts, even though he did absolutely nothing. But the real breakthrough did not come from the multiple weepy men sitting around trying to tell Katie they used to be scumbags.
Through tears, Katie shared something with the group and the viewing audience that she claimed she’d never shared before, not even with her own mother. “I was involved in a situation where there was not consent,” Katie said. What she went on to describe with sparse detail was sexual assault, and the segment was punctuated with a title card for RAINN, the anti-sexual violence organization.
While it was very clear what Katie was talking about, the language she chose to use was cautious. Her admission of what had been done to her started off with a line she’s been pushing all season: “As you all know I am very sex-positive,” she said, before explaining that her outlook on sex was the direct result of a negative experience. “For a long time I didn’t want to have sex and I was in such denial about what this person had done, I tried to be in a relationship with them. I felt responsible for being too drunk but it wasn’t my fault... Consent is important and I did not give it that night.”
Like most emotional revelations on this franchise, the moment felt staged despite Katie’s bravery for sharing something so intimate on national television. The setup and the language had the distinct thumbprint of producers who get their checks signed by a network owned by Disney. Katie shared this huge revelation and instead of talking more about how she felt about it or even gauging the men’s reaction to something like this, the segment was quickly closed down, with Nick Viall thanking the men and Katie for their honesty. This admission, and Katie’s feelings, were left dangling in the air, unaddressed. The whole exchange was as sanitized as a discussion of sexual assault can possibly be.
Katie and Nick specifically asked the men to come forward with any red flags that she should know about before getting involved with them. Hardly any of them shared anything of note, and Thomas skirted the question entirely. Yet at the end of it, it was Katie who was baring her soul in front of a group of men who had no other reaction than shaking their heads and thanking her for sharing, as if all she had done was split the last slice of pizza.
The moment also betrays the very notion of consent itself that Katie was trying to put forward. How exactly did the producers gain her consent to have this extremely personal story aired out on national television as little more than an Episode 2 plot point that played second fiddle to an argument between Thomas and all the men in the house? If the entire marketing behind Katie’s season is that it’s a brand new girl power season with a sex-positive cool girl and her two new lady pals running the entire show, then where exactly on the feminist spectrum does a semi-scripted admission of sexual assault fall?
The sense that Katie’s admission was reluctantly made tainted the entire episode. It was nearly impossible to listen to the men squabble or talk about their feelings when a giant truth bomb had gone off in the first hour and, by the second hour, it went completely unaddressed—almost as if it had never happened. It feels as if the season is taking micro-steps into the 21st century with the inclusion of a conversation some couples might have but as usual with the Bachelor franchise, such truth and discomfort don’t seem to have a safe home in the mansion.