It was a Classic 'Bachelorette' Premiere, Despite What's Shaping Up to Be an Unprecedented Season

Even more rumors than usual have swirled around the Bachelor Mansion — or should I say, the La Quinta Resort & Club — this year. Did Clare leave early? (Probably.) Did she secretly correspond with the winner ahead of filming? (Probably not.) Did production want her gone? (Hard to say.) But aside from the post-episode season trailer, which all but spelled out what Bachelor Nation has suspected about Clare’s early departure and replacement, Tuesday's season opener looked surprisingly familiar. 

Of course, there was one notable exception: the sentimental montages of Clare’s suitors wandering their home towns thinking wistfully about how hard it is to find the one were out, replaced by an exposé on how 20- and 30-something men spend their time while quarantined in hotel rooms. I, for one, considered it a major improvement.

But once ABC had finished justifying a large and physically intimate gathering in the height of a global pandemic, the episode all but returned to autopilot.

If you followed along on your episode one BINGO card, you almost certainly hit blackout. A tearful chat between the lead and America’s favorite therapist, Chris Harrison? Check. Our bachelorette gleefully calling, “Bring on the men!” and later declaring, “I feel like my husband is in this room tonight!”? Check and check. A seemingly endless parade of men in suits trying not to sound too memorized while saying, “Hi, I’m Robby. You look beautiful tonight”? Check.

Things threatened to take a turn for the interesting at the close of Man Limo No. 2, when the long-awaited Dale Moss (the rumored catalyst behind Clare's premature exit) stepped out onto the hosed-down driveway and set our bachelorette reeling. 

“I definitely feel like I just met my husband,” Clare whispered as the former wide receiver strolled away, which was apparently the incantation necessary to summon the elusive Mr. Harrison. 

“Did you say you think you just met your husband?” he asked, popping out of a decorative topiary. “I’ve been doing this a while. You are the first person who’s stood here and said, ‘I just found my husband.’” 

“I just know!" she insisted as Chris gave a bemused (or perhaps nervous?) laugh. "I’m 39! You know these things.”

For Reality Steve devotees, the moment felt like an inflection point that might send the episode into uncharted (rose)waters. But almost as soon as the intrigue began, things were steered forcefully back to the tried and true script that has governed so many Bachelorette premieres past. 

Clare played carnival games, accepted hand-made gifts from contestants’ relatives, and even had a first kiss with a man who most certainly was not Dale. By the episode’s conclusion, we’d also been treated to a pointless fight between two contestants without a chance at getting down on one knee and a rose ceremony stretching long into the morning hours, complete with celebratory trays of breakfast champagne. 

As for Dale? At least for the time being, he’s slipped quietly into the familiar role of front runner, earning himself a first impression rose (the recipient of which has won six Bachelorette seasons since 2008) and otherwise staying out of the way. 

Just how long Clare will spend in the California desert before she rides off into the sunset (presumably with Dale by her side) remains to be seen, but one thing seems clear: This probably won’t be the “most dramatic season ever.” That said, we might find that watching a woman who knows — and gets — exactly what she wants on her own timeline is exactly what 2020 needs.