The Bachelorette Season Finale Recap: The Rules of Engagement

“This is the first chapter of the greatest love story ever told.” Behold the words that the “winning” suitor used to solidify his relationship with our tragically insecure heroine Ashley on Monday’s season finale of The Bachelorette.

Of course, the path to “true love” on ABC’s reality dating franchise is never a smooth one, and so before JP heeded the wisdom of Beyoncé and put a ring on it, we had to endure Ashley taking a sensual mudbath, Ashley’s tattooed sister Chrystie stirring up our Bachelorette’s darkest fears like a fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, and bewildered winemaker Ben getting his heart crushed like a ripe grape in the middle of wine-making season.

Things kicked off with Chris Harrison telling us we were about to witness “The moment we’ve all been waiting for.” For a second, I thought our trusty host was going to reveal the annual People magazine “Bachelorette Breakup” cover, but then I realized maybe I’m a horrible, cynical human being who’s become emotionally deadened by the horrors of reality television.

Oh well.

First stop on the 8:00 p.m. train from Heartbreak to Engagement: A very sweaty lunch starring Ashley’s family and a freshly shorn (but carefully bestubbled) JP. It must’ve been 100 degrees in the shade during filming, or 110 under the  burning heat of Chrystie’s judgment. I reacted with a mixture of surprise, horror, and admiration at the way Chrystie almost immediately dismissed JP based on Ashley’s tentative response to the question: “Does he make you laugh?” When Chrystie tenderly expressed her misgivings about a JP-Ashley betrothal — “I don’t think he’s the one” — it sent Ashley’s confidence careening like a kite in the path of a tornado. “I think you’re too much for him,” Chrystie continued, making me wonder if she meant too much drama, too much insecurity, or too much making out with other dudes over the past couple months.

This being the Bachelorette season finale, we didn’t get a measured discussion about whether Ashley and JP shared common life goals that would turn their burning passion into an eternal flame (did I seriously just bring the Bangles into this?), but rather found our leading lady sobbing and offering the kind of comments that really ought to be reserved for her therapist’s couch. “I wanna feel confident in how I feel!” “Inside, I’m kind of a wreck right now.” “You’re being such a bitch.” But Chrystie had a pretty good rebuttal, pointing out that Ashley’s gut instinct had led her to fall for Bentley only a few weeks prior. “I don’t want to baby you. You’re an adult,” said Big Sis, as Ashley clutched her binky and took a nap in her playpen.

JP was understandably miffed with the way Chrystie wrote him off after 15 minutes, telling him there was nothing he could really do to turn her opinion around. (In Chrystie’s defense, though, JP actually couldn’t offer a single, specific personality trait when asked what made him so certain Ashley was his soul mate.) “Talk about judging somebody. She doesn’t even know me,” JP huffed. “To just say you don’t feel it is bulls***.” Nice job by the Bachelorette editing crew saving Chrystie’s sound bite about her own failed marriage till the very end of the segment.

The following day, Chrystie re-sharpened her claws for a sparring match with Ben, but the sight of the broad-shouldered wine maker and her little sister goofing around and showing off the voices they use to communicate with their dogs melted her reservations away. No crying or yelling or opening of emotional wounds? Let’s keep it moving then.

With her family’s opinions solidified, it was time for Ashley’s final dates with her dudes. Ben may have sealed his doom — or at least his reputation as the worst-dressed guy in the history of the franchise — by showing up in aqua shorts with pink and lime trim and a pink v-neck. Ben’s trance-like “journey” through this Bachelorette season continued with flatly delivered comments like “I am floating. I feel really great.” But dude suddenly woke up when Ashley flew him to the site of a healing mud bath, where he delivered the most cringe-inducing sound bite of the season: “When you’re lubing each other with mud, it’s really quite erotic.” Ashley, not to be outdone, let her eyes travel down to Central America on the world map of Ben’s body, then declared, “I wish I could reach lower, so I could like…,” before dissolving into a fit of giggles. 1-800-NO-ME-GUSTA.

Things turned more serious as evening arrived, but the couple’s choice of attire said everything about the seriousness of their intentions: Ben in gray slacks and a checked dress shirt, Ashley in denim booty shorts and a flimsy tank. After a long and awkward silence, Ashley coaxed an “I love you” out of the guy whose heart she intended to break, then made out with him on his hotel bed because, well, it’s important for the ABC camera guys to give the editor some footage that can ramp up viewers’ suspense levels during the season finale, okay? Ben, however, interpreted the kissing in a different way. “She’s telling me she loves me the only way she can.” Oh, dude. It’s a good thing you’ve got access to plenty of free wine in your life.

Continuing the theme of suitors in sherbet tones, we then cut to a date with JP (and his yellow V-neck) and Ashley (and the voice of her doubting sibling). “Any good relationship is meant to be questioned,” she explained before lobbing some softballs that allowed JP to express his willingness to compromise and sacrifice, and to reveal the most important detail of all: No, not why his eyebrows are so tiny. “I told your entire family I’m madly in love with you.” Oh, that. Cut to some kissing on the beach — I chuckled when Ashley’s towel “unexpectedly” fell to the sand to reveal her toned, bikini-clad backside — and an evening smooch-fest in JP’s hotel room (complete with a photo album containing that “greatest love story ever told” shtick).

(We pause for this following mid-telecast prayer: Oh dear God in heaven, did ABC seriously schedule five hours of Bachelorette broadcasting over two consecutive nights?)

Before we can get to the good stuff, let’s take care of some housekeeping:

* Am I the only one who thinks Ashley looks better waking up with minimal makeup and without 10 lbs. of false eyelashes?

* Did anyone else think the gaudy engagement ring Ben picked out for Ashley looked like a diamond-encrusted string of DNA?

* Are all of Neil Lane’s salespeople required to ask prospective grooms “What happens if she says no?” Because that would be kind of amazing.

* Classy job by the ABC camera crew to give us a shot of JP’s Calvin Klein bulge as he prepared for his proposal.

* According to Google, “Ni Sa Bula” (the message on the side of the Bachelorette plane) means “A Warm Hello.”

* And random dark thought that occurred to me as Ashley entered the driftwood and flower ceremonial circle: Wouldn’t it be amazing TV if one year, the Bachelorette said yes to the first proposal she got, then left the mansion? Then the second suitor could show up in his tuxedo only to find Chris Harrison eating a BLT on an inner tube in the infinity pool. “Oh, dude, sorry, you’re too late.”

We prepared for Ashley’s final rose ceremony with an internal monologue in which she talked and talked and talked and talked (but at least didn’t mention the name Bentley). My favorite part had to be Ashley discussing how hard it was to know it would be the last time she saw Ben, and failing to acknowledge that in a year’s time, they’ll both probably be signing up for Season 3 of Bachelor Pad, coming Summer 2012.

Ben’s proposal and ultimate rejection were seriously depressing, especially since he expressed his feelings about how he would be gaining a family member in Ashley after losing his dad four-and-a-half years prior. But at least Ashley didn’t give the standard-operating bait-and-switch speech after Ben got down on one knee and proposed, instead coughing out a pained “I’m sorry.”

What followed was sensationally good for TV viewing, albeit sensationally bad for the soul. “Wow. I didn’t see this one coming,” said Ben. “I guess that’s it, right?” Ashley, programmed to keep talking for the cameras, began to tell Ben that he was “so interesting” and tried to explain how she led him on to the point that he was willing to commit to spending the rest of his life with her, but dude was having none of it. “What I don’t need you to do it sugarcoat it,” he said. And when Ashley seemed to indicate her hope that they could still be friends, Ben delivered four of the most salient lines of the season: “You can’t leave something like this on good terms: It’s not possible.” “Good things don’t end unless they end badly.” “There were no hints. Absolutely no hints.” “What the f*** just happened?”

Farewell, Ben! Your burial (or the burial of your chance at TV romance, anyway) will take place at sea! (See screengrab below.)

In the world of The Bachelorette, though, devastating heartbreak can turn to a happy-couple montage, a mushy marriage proposal, and a jaunty formalwear-sporting romp in the surf in the course of a single commercial break. And thus we got JP stepping out of the old “Ni Sa Bula,” expressing his inner fears to Ashley, and then declaring that his love for her was his leap of faith. “I don’t want to be with anyone else but you forever,” responded Ashley, as REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” (the couple’s official roller-skating jam) began to percolate in the background. And thus, Ashley got her engagement ring, JP got the final rose of the season, and we got our guaranteed happy ending. At least until Chrystie gives the Maid of Honor speech at Ashley and JP’s wedding reception.

What did you think of The Bachelorette finale? How did you react to Chrystie’s harsh comments for Ashley and JP? Did your heart break for Ben? And can these crazy kids pull a Trista-and-Ryan and make it work? Sound off below, and for all my reality TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!