Even the most hopeless romantic among us came to accept long ago that ABC’s THE BACHELOR and its sister show, THE BACHELORETTE, have about as much to do with finding love as does THE DEADLIEST CATCH. And though billed as a reality show, the series has less veracity than Donald Trump’s faux presidential run.

But last night, the show went from fairly harmless entertainment to outright cruelty thanks to bad boy Bentley and his disturbing manipulation of our titular heroine for reasons that were never quite clear. From the start, Bentley made no bones about the fact that he was there for — as they love to say in the biz — “the wrong reasons.” But while we were told that he was there to promote his “business”, it was never clear exactly what that business was. What we did know is that Bentley has a young daughter at home… a child who will no doubt be proud when upon someday becoming old enough to watch footage of her father ripping the heart out of a woman on national television and doing so with glee.

Oh, certainly, Bentley made the perfect villain for producers. Charming and handsome, even witty in that way we expect our bad guys to be. Just before heading off to “make Ashley cry”, he quipped, “I hope my hair looks good.” And Ashley is certainly no innocent, having not only been through the process before (she was rejected by THE BACHELOR’s Brad Womack) but warned in advance by a previous contestant that Bentley was there for the wrong reasons.

So perhaps the real villain of the piece here is the folks behind the scenes. Producer Mike Fleiss took to twitter to gleefully proclaim in advance that the episode would be “one of the most shocking episodes… EVER!” Later, he defended the decision to cast Bentley — who expressed repeatedly before the cameras that he had no interest in Ashley whatsoever — by saying the cad “convinced producers he was open minded when it came to” the beauty.

In the end, the true blame lies with viewers — including this one — who allowed themselves to be lured in by the promise of watching a man completely destroy a woman for our entertainment. THE BACHELORETTE long ago stopped being about anything other than a series of blatant manipulations. Anyone who thinks Bentley won’t reappear later in the season hasn’t been paying attention. Because this is not reality, it is as scripted as any soap opera. And we all know that you can’t kill a good villain. He has to return in the final act in order to throw one final wrench into the works.

This viewer, however, won’t be sticking around to see that twist in the plot. And make no mistake, THE BACHELORETTE is as carefully plotted as an episode of LAW & ORDER. One can only hope that blatant, cruel, sadistic manipulations such as the ones on display last night will convince an ever-larger portion of the audience to abandon so-called reality and head back to shows on which the heinous acts are dictated by writers and carried out by actors. Then, maybe we can feel good about our entertainment – and ourselves – again.

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