‘The Bachelor’s’ uncomfortable silences speak volumes in emotional finale special

A woman in a red dress and a man in a blue suit sit on a couch.
In “The Bachelor” special “After the Final Rose,” Rachael Kirkconnell and Matt James discussed, for the first time on air, racially insensitive images featuring Kirkconnell.
(Craig Sjodin / ABC)

The following contains spoilers for the season finale of “The Bachelor” and the “After the Final Rose” special.

The curtain has finally fallen on the “landmark” 25th season of “The Bachelor” — the first to feature a Black leading man. The ending was more messy than rosy.

As many fans predicted, Matt James offered his “final rose” to graphic designer Rachael Kirkconnell, sending the other finalist, elementary school teacher Michelle Young, home in tears. Unlike many previous seasons, which have ended with a proposal or engagement, James did not offer the eye-popping ring from jeweler Neil Lane. But James did tell an elated Kirkconnell that he could easily see her as his wife and the mother of his children. The couple agreed to move forward with their relationship.


But the “After the Final Rose” special, which usually updates viewers on events since the season finished filming, took an awkward turn when James and Kirkconnell were forced to deal together with the firestorm over race that had cast a shadow over the whole season.

After pledging ‘real change’ amid last year’s protests, ABC and owner Walt Disney Co. stayed silent as a firestorm over race consumed its reality-TV flagship.

March 12, 2021

The special was hosted by author and former NFL player Emmanuel Acho, who replaced host Chris Harrison after Harrison became embroiled in a furor revolving around offensive behavior in Kirkconnell’s past.

The season showed James falling for Kirkconnell, unaware that she was photographed at an antebellum South-themed party in 2018 and that she had “liked” racially insensitive social media posts.

An uproar erupted midway through the season when former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay questioned Harrison during an interview on “Extra” about Kirkconnell’s delay in addressing the incidents. Harrison defended Kirkconnell, making what he later admitted were “racist” comments. He apologized three times for his statement while also relinquishing his “After the Final Rose” stint. ABC and Warner Horizon, which produces the franchise, announced Friday that Harrison would not host the upcoming season of “The Bachelorette,” which is scheduled to start filming later this month. Former “Bachelorettes” Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe will host the season.

Since the filming of the finale, James and Kirkconnell have broken up. “After the Final Rose” marked the first time they had seen each other since the split.

Here are five key takeaways from tonight’s “Bachelor” finale and special:


Chris Harrison, host of “The Bachelor,” says he is “stepping aside” after making controversial statements about race.

Feb. 13, 2021

Emmanuel Acho and Matt James seated in chairs next to a coffee table.
Host Emmanuel Acho and “Bachelor” Matt James on the “After the Final Rose” special.
(Craig Sjodin / ABC)

Harrison’s absence from the special was glossed over

Though Acho opened the special with a reference to Harrison’s absence, he never detailed the reason why the longtime host wasn’t on set this time around. It was an omission made more glaring by the fact that Harrison was a constant presence during the season finale, demonstrating his value not only as the host and face of the franchise but also as a figure who serves as counselor and therapist to the leads. Rather than relying on his friends and family, James turned to Harrison for support and advice when doubts about his path forward cropped up. Harrison’s sympathetic demeanor and calm presence are likely to fuel the debate over whether he should permanently leave the show because of his controversial comments about Kirkconnell and concerns about alleged past episodes of racial insensitivity.

Acho was walking a tightrope — unsteadily

The producers of the series never publicly explained Acho’s selection as “After the Final Rose” host. And although he was pleasant enough, Acho behaved more like he was auditioning for a more traditional emcee role than like a figure who could bring the probing seriousness and perspective that the discussion of this season’s hot-button issues required. Though he kept up the hype — “This is the most shocking ‘After the Final Rose’ ever!” — he also countered his allusions to the racism controversy with lines like, “But first, let’s not forget what this show is about, which is love and romance.”

Much of the time, Acho seemed to be walking a tightrope, asking mostly surface questions about the controversy while also placating fans more interested in the show’s fairy-tale formula. To wit, he repeatedly prodded James to be more communicative with Kirkconnell when they reunited on the special, despite James’ apparent anguish.

James’ uncomfortable silences during his reunion with Kirkconnell spoke volumes

When asked for his response to Kirkconnell’s apology about the offensive images, a combination of heartbreak and anger registered on James’ face, and for several moments he seemed unable to speak, even after being pushed by Acho to express his feelings. He told Kirkconnell he was heartbroken when she had initially failed to understand why the images from her past had wounded him so deeply. The most striking moment came when he refused to play along with Acho’s request for the pair to embrace for a final time, denying Acho and viewers the image of a possible reconciliation.

Kirkconnell ‘was living in ignorance,’ she said

In his one-on-one conversation with Kirkconnell, Acho displayed an image of her in a pink antebellum South costume and asked her what she saw in it. “I see someone who was living in ignorance without even thinking about who it would be hurting,” she said. “I never asked myself at any point, ‘What’s the tradition behind this?’” Kirkconnell, who first apologized on social media in the aftermath of Harrison’s contentious “Extra” interview, later became emotional as she apologized to James for that ignorance, telling him she loved him so much that she could not visualize ever loving someone again. James mostly regarded her emotions in silence but insisted that she had to walk her path to greater racial sensitivity and awareness without him.

There are two new Bachelorettes

The special ended on a more upbeat note with the announcement that Young, who is Black, will be a future Bachelorette. She will be featured in the season following the upcoming one, which will star Katie Thurston, who also participated in James’ season.