Bachelor in Paradise Has ... Serious Things to Say About Abuse

No, but really.

Lace and Chad, before (most of) the chaos ensued (ABC)

[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

Bachelor in Paradise is a thoroughly absurd summer TV show, and it is, as such, a perfect summer TV show. The all-star version of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, it gathers contestants from previous seasons—a combination of the most likable, the most controversial, and the most dramatic—to spend a few weeks at a beach resort in Mexico. The stated purpose of all this, as host Chris Harrison puts it, is to give the contestants “a second chance at love.” The real purpose, though, is to give ABC another way to profit off of the Bachelor franchise, and also to give superfans of The Bachelorette a way to cope with the show’s loss, now that its season has ended. In that capacity, as wacky televisional methadone, Bachelor in Paradise is extremely successful. “It is truly a train wreck,” Harrison said on Monday, introducing a teaser of the show to viewers of the Bachelorette finale. He meant this as a compliment.

But: That’s not all that Bachelor in Paradise is. The premiere of the show’s second season, on Tuesday evening, also functioned as … cultural commentary. No, but really. The episode took on, in its haphazard way, serious topics—violence and abuse and consent and its absence. The episode had Things to Say about those topics and the way they can mingle into, yes, rape culture. No, but really.

Here’s what happened, in a (coco)nut shell: Chad—nickname: “Meat Chad,” the villain of JoJo’s season—came to Paradise with a stated objective of, as per the show’s framing, maybe “finding love.” And for a moment it looked like he might have found it. Chad and Lace, the villain of Ben’s season (the lady best known for her unfortunate, repeated insistence that “I’m not crazy”), hit it off immediately. They flirted. They drank. They power-struggled. They seemed to feed off of each other’s wackiness. They fought, playfully. They made up. They made out. They got really friendly with the wall of an infinity pool.

“You know how rats will have a lot of sex and then, like, eat each other?” one contestant said, observing the pair’s singular mating rituals. It was, for a moment, reality-show perfection.

But then things—jarringly—took a turn. Suddenly, Lace was telling Chad to get away from her. He ignored her, seeming to treat the request as a joke. She persisted: “No, I mean it.” And, at that point, all talk of joking disappeared. Chad called Lace a bitch. Joining the group, he made fun of another contestant’s physical disability. He called that woman a bitch, too. He also, summoning his MO from The Bachelorette, threatened violence against several cast members. It was a threat that, made in mixed company rather than toward several similarly beefy men, effectively transformed Chad from villain to menace. “Chad’s talking about murder, rape, killing,” Daniel, Chad’s friend from JoJo’s season, said, seeming genuinely shocked at the turn things had taken.

“If this continues,” Carly, one of the other contestants, said, “it’s gonna get so messy.” This, it turns out, was an understatement. “At one point I was scared for multiple people,” Amanda, from Ben’s season, said.

Many of the other women on the show came together to decry Chad’s behavior—to the camera, and ostensibly to the show’s audience. “Every time Chad’s around, it just makes me nervous,” Carly confessed, “because that’s actually scary and abusive and weird behavior that shouldn’t be happening.”

“I didn’t come to Paradise to be surrounded by drunk, aggressive, abusive jerks,” Sarah, from Sean’s season—the woman he had called a “one-armed bitch”—told Chad.

And then:

“The way you’re talking about women is so disrespectful. I want nothing to do with it. Nothing.”

“To let Chad stay on the show and talk about women the way he does—I just can’t.”

“Chad’s behavior here doesn’t belong.”

Daniel, Chad’s friend, tried to warn him about the mutiny among his fellow cast members, particularly the women. “People are really scared right now,” Daniel told him.

Chad responded to this by accusing his friend of being insufficiently “murdery.”

Chad passed out, drunkenly, soon after that exchange, and that seemed to be the end of things. The next morning, though, Chris summoned the cast—to the “Rose Palapa,” natch—to make an announcement: Chad would be leaving Paradise.

“I saw what you said to Sarah,” Chris told him. “I saw what you did to Lace. I saw what you did to the staff of this hotel.”

Chad protested. He tried to write off his behavior, again, as a joke. “This is fun!” he insisted, to Lace.

“I didn’t have fun last night,” she replied.

And that was the final word. Chad departed, angrily. The scene was unsurprisingly dramatic, but surprising, too, in its lack of drama: His condemnation was universal among the show’s host and cast and crew. So was the need for his departure. And that in itself was notable—and perhaps even praise-worthy? Bachelor in Paradise, particularly through its women contestants, summoned the language of abuse to describe Chad’s behavior. Its cast members mentioned rape and murder—not as accusations against Chad, but as logical extensions of the angry misogyny and blithe entitlement that Chad was suggesting through that behavior. Bachelor in Paradise, in its way, was tacitly illustrating rape culture.

Very tacitly, to be sure. This is a show that, when Chad arrived, showed glasses of water and margarita shaking in campy, Jurassic Park style. It’s a show that featured swole-dude Daniel (profession: “Canadian”) declaring, “I’m like a disease that won’t go away, like herpes or something.” It is also a show that found Evan (“Erectile Dyfunction Specialist”) going through Chad’s luggage and finding, still in its clam-cased packaging, a meat scale. Bachelor in Paradise offers a firm, bikini-clad rebuke to any contemporary notion of “prestige TV” or “premium viewing” or “human dignity.” It is not serious. It is actively, aggressively absurd.

But that is also what made the show’s treatment of Chad’s antics, in its way, especially powerful. Bachelor in Paradise, reveling as it does in the ridiculous, professes no political or cultural allegiance; it sees itself as so far beyond the confines of everyday life that it sets itself within an actual country but reclaims that land as, simply, Paradise. It offers pretty much the dictionary definition of “escapism.” And yet even this silly specimen of a cultural product—even a reality show that features a contestant declaring, “I’m in Port-o Vayart-ee and I’m ready to party!”—treated Chad’s behavior as beyond the pale. Even here, even within this context of no context, violence and abuse and misogyny would not be condoned. They would not, however good they may be as TV, be tolerated. It was a valuable, if sobering, message: Even in an escapist world, bad behavior can’t be escaped.