“If you are not here for me… If you are not here for an engagement — then get the fuck out.” Bachelor Nation fans have heard this weepy and enraged line in nearly every preview of Katie Thurston’s Bachelorette season. The snippet shows Katie, emotional and wearing an emerald green evening dress, confronting her men ahead of a rose ceremony cocktail party. Initially, it seemed possible the explosive scene would arrive later in The Bachelorette season 17 (such concerns create classic mid-season fodder).
Monday night’s episode, “Week 2,” reveals Katie gets her “wrong reasons” conversation out of the way within the very first regular week of the season — and Karl Smith is entirely to blame. Karl closes “Week 2” by stirring up a blowout argument that leaves the entire cast exasperated, suspicious, and yelling. It’s a classic bit of reality TV drama. After years of grim and disturbing villainy storylines throughout Bachelor properties, Karl’s frustrating heel turn is a sign that Katie’s Bachelorette season may alleviate some of the franchise’s worst impulses.
In the final act of “Week 2,” Karl joins Katie for some one-on-one time during the cocktail party. At this point in the episode, she has already eliminated Cody Menk under suspicion of him joining the season for opportunistic reasons. Katie has bounced back from the emotional hit of that recent experience, but is clearly still worried men are lying to her. This is a lead who started the week — prior to any infighting — telling hosts Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe, “This week, I’m hoping to figure out who is here for the right reasons.” Karl, seemingly sensing Katie’s worries after Cody’s exit, leans into that negativity.
“Looking around, I don’t really know if everyone’s being 100% transparent in the house,” Karl offers. He refuses to name “specifics” or “details,” but swears “some people” aren’t dating Katie with “the best intentions.” Katie takes the bait and immediately panics. Karl then sidesteps telling Katie anything more — like actual concrete facts — explaining, “You’ve already been through a lot and I don’t want you to stress about that.” Karl has crafted an effective way to make himself look like Katie’s truth-telling knight in shining armor, in a pit of snakes, without giving her a stich of helpful or conclusive information. To cinch this characterization, Karl promises Katie she can “trust him” and he has her “best interests in mind.”
What Karl could not predict, however, is how quickly Katie would approach the rest of her men with his rumors. She tearfully tells the cast before the rose ceremony, “I don’t know who is here for the wrong reasons, but from what I have been told, there are multiple people I should be looking out for.” It is obvious to the group that someone just shared this speculation with Katie and that there is a backstabber in their midst.
Realizing there is no way to keep his identity a secret, Karl reveals himself as the “culprit.” He claims he “heard some stuff circulating around” and says he is giving “the person” or “people” an opportunity to “fess up.” This would be a very smart game plan for someone who has no real facts and is hoping someone else will be witless enough to out their own secret scheming. No one falls for Karl’s trap and three straight minutes of bickering closes out the episode.
Karl’s puppet mastering — and the angry aftermath of that manipulation — is not unique. Nearly every season of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette has an easy to identify villain. However, most recent Bachelor Nation baddies come with a streak of true, real-world darkness that the series often fails to properly handle. The Bachelor 2021 was so enamored with the machinations of Victoria Larson, who actively belittled various women of color, viewers missed out on the love stories and friendships of the cast; Victoria’s accomplice Anna Redman was given more of a chance to show her humanity than the woman she falsely labeled as a sex worker. Tayshia Adams and Clare Crawley’s shared Bachelorette season was plagued with an ageist and sexist villain, along with bizarre classist squabbling between Bennet Jordan and Noah Erb. One of Peter Weber’s favorite contestants was embroiled in a White Lives Matter controversy and Hannah Brown’s long-time front runner was a sex negative slut shamer.
In one of the most upsetting “plot lines” in Bachelor Nation memory, Rachel Lindsay’s season as the first Black Bachelorette involved a racist and his obsessive campaign against Kenny King, a powerful Black man. Rachel has since repeatedly criticized the franchise for mishandling her tenure as Bachelorette.
Karl, who is a Black man, has none of this distracting and offensive baggage. In fact, Karl’s race currently has nothing to do with his narrative, and many other BIPOC men are his biggest critics (thereby mitigating the threat of white cast members attacking a single Black person en masse, which is plausible considering the franchise's track record). Karl simply seems to want to win the game of The Bachelorette, as he views it. The Bachelorette telegraphed as much before the season even properly began. In the pre-premiere teaser, Karl tells an unseen co-star, “You need to get the fuck out of my way” and later shadow boxes alone in a corner, like he’s preparing to fight someone. Over the premiere episode, Karl repeatedly presents the season as a chance to best his fellow contestants, rather than connect with Katie.
“I love the competitiveness and I’m looking forward to a fight to the death for princess, uh, Katie,” he boasts, later adding, “I feel like I have to step my game up.”
As long as Karl remains on The Bachelorette, this ruthless drive will be his singular motivation. In the wake of so much demoralizing Bachelor Nation “drama,” you should welcome it.