SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead, if you have not watched part one of ABC’s “The Bachelor” finale with Clayton Echard, which aired on Monday, March 14.
If you were hoping to get some clarity from watching part one of “The Bachelor’s” Season 26 finale, you were severely disappointed.
Following last week’s dramatic fantasy suites episode where contestant Susie Evans left the show after leading man Clayton Echard admitted to sleeping with two other women and confessing his love to all three contenders, viewers were left wondering what would happen with his finalists, Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia.
Well, turns out, the love triangle has turned back into a love rhombus.
The episode began with Clayton telling host Jesse Palmer that he was lost and didn’t know what to do after Susie had surprised him with her ultimatum.
“I’m hurt right now. Bad. Last night, everything blew up and Susie left. And I feel terrible that I was so upset and angry,” Clayton said, sitting in church. “I’m just so messed up at this point, and I don’t know what is going to happen. I want to believe love is here, but it’s all up in the air at this point.” Through tears, he continued, “I need somebody to help me because I’m so broken.”
Enter the rose ceremony from hell. (And Palmer wasn’t lying when he told Variety last week that it really would be the most “emotional” and “unforgettable” rose ceremony in “Bachelor” history.)
Rachel and Gabby had no idea that Susie left, and they certainly had no idea that Clayton is heartbroken over her departure.
“I don’t know how, after they hear that, they’re going to move forward,” Clayton says. “I know that tonight could be the end of this whole thing for me.”
Standing in front of both women at the rose ceremony, Clayton says he is “shattered into pieces at the moment.” He tells them about Susie’s departure, saying, “It just had me questioning everything about what her and I had, and I felt like at the end of it, I couldn’t even look her in the face and I didn’t even know who I was looking at.”
The women are stunned. He says he wants to tell them the truth and wants them to feel comfortable to ask him any questions. But then, things get worse. Much worse.
“I was in love with her, and I was in love with each of you, too,” Clayton tells Gabby and Rachel, before the real zinger. “I am in love with both of you. And I also was intimate with both of you.”
Cue the waterworks. (Truly, this episode of “The Bachelor” might have secured its place in Bachelor Nation history for the most tears ever shed in a finale.)
“He’s in love with all three of us?! And he’s heartbroken that Susie went home?” Rachel says, laying flat across the stairs, crying hysterically. “Oh my god. I feel like I can’t breathe.”
Gabby tells a producer off-camera, “I don’t know what to do. Maybe it’s easier just to go.”
Clayton tells the host that he knew this honestly would hurt both of the women, but they deserve to know the truth. “I can’t go into a relationship with secrets,” he says, explaining that he wants to continue dating both Rachel and Gabby, so he can continue to take his time to figure it out. Then, Clayton speaks separately with both Rachel and Gabby. There are a lot of tears.
“Ultimately, whoever I pick, I love the most,” Clayton says to Gabby, who tells him this news is hard to hear, wisely asking, “Like, why wouldn’t you just save it?”
“That’s what I’m figuring out,” Clayton starts to explain. “Who is the best fit for me? Who do I love the most? Once I make that decision, all the other love, it was real, but it ends there. It didn’t mean I didn’t mean it. It just means I have a stronger love for somebody else.”
Gabby asks, “How would you feel in my position?” She storms off and tells the cameras, “This is bullshit.”
“I don’t think you just tell multiple women that you love them, thinking there would be no consequences,” Gabby fires off. “For him saying, ‘The woman I walk out with is the women I love the most’ — like wrong fucking answer! Love isn’t measured. You can’t measure it. So like, don’t say that.”
When Clayton talks privately to Rachel, he says, “The love that I feel for you is not the love that I feel for Gabby… It’s different. It’s not the same…. You both are two different people. I have different feelings. I’m in love in different ways.”
Crying uncontrollably, Rachel’s voice is breaking and it’s hard to understand her. “I am just so in love with you,” she utters. “I feel like my heart is breaking.” Rubbing her back to console her, Clayton tries to assure Rachel. “We could be at the end of this, too. This isn’t over,” he says, “Unless you feel like it needs to be. But for me, I believe this is worth fighting for. And I love you, I do. I know that’s what we have. There’s no question about it.”
Rachel tells Clayton she’s scared and unsure if she can handle this situation. “I just want us to take it day by day,” he says, telling her that he wants to introduce her to his family and asking her to trust him to take it day by day.
Back at the podium with two roses, Clayton tells the women, “I want to apologize for putting you both through this tonight. I do appreciate you giving me the time to talk with you both.”
Rachel ultimately accepts his rose. Gabby does not.
“I can’t, I’m sorry,” Gabby tells Clayton. “Do you want to walk me out?” Rachel is in shock, her eyes bugging from her head, as she quite literally drops to the ground.
“Oh my god, this is the worst thing that could have ever happened,” Rachel says, sitting on the floor. “Two people he’s in love with just left, and I’m just the only one, and that’s not fair to anyone. It’s not fair to him or me. Do I stay? How do we move past this?… This feels awful.”
Meanwhile, back in Clayton-and-Gabby land, Clayton is begging Gabby to rethink her decision and stay.
“I just want to level with you,” Gabby says. “I came here tonight thinking that it could be you and I at the end, that we do have something very special and my trust in you and us is what carried me forward… I’m not in the business of competing with anyone for love.” Clayton responds, “It’s not meant to be a competition and I’m sorry if that’s how it felt.”
After an emotional back-and-forth, Gabby decides to stay and walks back into the rose room with Clayton. She apologizes to Rachel. Both women display an impressive amount of support for one another, especially considering the circumstances.
Now that both women are sticking around, it’s time to meet Clayton’s family. As we’ve seen in promos, Clayton’s father reprimands him for his botched handling of women’s hearts.
“You screwed the pooch in my opinion,” Clayton’s father tells his son. (In another moment, when Rachel says she trusts Clayton, his father is surprised and responds saying he would have “smacked him.”) As for Clayton’s mother, she’s disappointed in her son and says she feels as if both of the women are a “consolation prize.” He firmly disagrees.
When Gabby arrives to meet Clayton’s parents, she has a smile on her face and says she’s very happy with her decision to stay. “I’m so glad I listened,” she tells him. “I have so many deep, deep feelings for you, and really do love you.”
Rachel is also still in love. “I really do hope it’s him and I at the end because I do see him as my husband…I see it and that’s what’s so scary,” she says. “I do see the engagement. I want to be married to him. I want this to work. And that’s why I’m still here.”
Both meet-the-parents meetings go well. Clayton’s parents like both women, though Clayton’s mom seems to take a stronger liking to Rachel. When chatting with Rachel, she says that she feels confident in their relationship, explaining, “Before we even met and heard the story, I just thought, ‘Wow, that really speaks volumes about you that you didn’t decide to leave — which you could have, and that would have been understandable and respectful — but the fact that you were wanting to stay, I thought spoke volumes about you as a person.”
By this point, both Rachel and Gabby are all-in, ready to call Clayton’s parents their in-laws. They trust Clayton, and seem to understand the complex situation.
Well, good thing his parents didn’t seem to fall completely head-over-heels for either of the women because Clayton still hasn’t come to his own understanding. In fact, after professing his love to both Gabby and Rachel, and pleading for their trust in him, guess what? He misses Susie!
“I love both Gabby and Rachel, but when Susie left, my whole life just got flipped upside-down. How am I supposed to just let that go?” Clayton tells his parents, explaining he is “lost” and “confused.” His mother and father think he is absolutely nuts.
“My heart is here with these women, and now my heart is out beyond these walls with Susie,” Clayton tells his parents. “It was just a little bit more special with Susie.”
“Clayton, she left you,” his mother says. Then his father chimes in. “You’re grasping at straws,” he says. “She made that choice to walk.”
Clayton has thought about this a lot. In his mind, he has rationalized that him and Susie were just overwhelmed. “I think the moment became too big for the both of us,” he explains. “I understand where she was coming from. I understand why she couldn’t see past it. I stopped listening with Susie. It’s not that she stopped. She was still talking. I was the one that decided that I was done.”
“You’re too caught up at ‘the one that got away,’” his father says.
“She had everything,” Clayton responds. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime woman.”
His mother then says what everyone is thinking: “But then you were intimate with these two women? Why did you screw that up?” she asks her son.
“I know that my heart is telling me to go do this. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” Clayton says.
In a moment of true “Bachelor” magic, suddenly Jesse Palmer walks through the door. And guess why he’s there? To tell Clayton that Susie is still in Iceland! She never left!
“I didn’t realize she was still here,” Clayton says. “I just want one more shot. That’s all I can ask for. I just want an answer.”
What happens next? We won’t find out until tomorrow night when part two of the finale airs. But one thing is for sure: Rachel and Gabby won’t be happy.
“The Bachelor” continues Tuesday night when the Season 26 finale wraps up.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism