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Marshall explaining something while sitting on couches with Brett, Tiffany, and Micah Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

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Everything about the Love Is Blind season 4 reunion special was messy

From Zack’s ‘receipts’ to Jackie’s texts to the airing of the special itself

Well, that was a bit of a mess, huh?

After the wildest, pulpiest season since the first, Love Is Blind season 4 ended on an even more chaotic note. The reunion special — which, as Netflix hyped over and over again in the lead-up, was live, and even the cast didn’t know what they were in for — was much delayed by technical mishaps. Some were able to watch the reunion just an hour and a half after it was supposed to start; others had to wait until the episode dropped on the service the next day.

And the resulting special — well, that was its own thing too. With a “record-breaking number of love triangles” this season, couples breaking up before they even made it back to Seattle or the altar, and wedding day tailoring madness, there was a lot to unpack in the live special. Did the reunion live up to the soapy fun of season 4? That’s what we’re here to find out.

[Ed. note: This post discusses the events of the season 4 Love Is Blind reunion special. Spoilers, such that they are, abound!]

Zosha: What stood out most to me in this special was: It felt packed to the absolute gills with people trying to set the narrative. This is true of virtually any reality show, but almost everyone’s efforts were pretty overt in the season 4 reunion — particularly with the “live show” element of it all. It was like a weird, low-stakes, emotional game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, where everyone was feverishly pouncing on the narrative that best propped up their side. Only this time everything was pulling more and more from the internet’s take, to mixed results. Truly the best thing that could’ve happened to Zack here is realizing Irina got the villain edit and he could condemn her on live TV.

Bliss wiping away a tear while she holds hands with Zack Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

Austen: This really was a special just for the comments sections. Everything from Vanessa Lachey’s very pointed questions — and aggressive follow-ups — to the way everyone wanted to spin their stories felt specifically designed to cater to the throngs of speculators on Instagram and Twitter. Zack, in his quest to distance himself from Irina and make himself look like the good guy, literally posted some giant thing on his Instagram then shouted it out on the show!

But I did think overall that it lacked a bit of real human drama in favor of playing to the conspiracy-minded cheap seats. Irina felt like she was auditioning for more Netflix reality shows with her to-the-camera apology, but Marshall felt even more shameless with his insistence that he was cheated out of some of the show’s major moments, like the altar and the reunion confrontation. And for all that, it still never felt like we were spending as much time with any one dramatic scandal as I would have wanted to. Give me 40 minutes on Micah not wanting to marry Paul, let’s see some text messages!

Joshua: [smiling big] I liked it!

I think Love Is Blind has been around long enough that everyone who auditions for the cast and ends up on the show knows what it is and what it’s going for, so I kind of dig this self-aware narrative-jockeying a lot. Especially because the winning idea for most of them is to out-sincere one another? Which makes the gravest accusation at this reunion insincerity.

Something about that strikes me as funny, and kind of sweet. They’re trying to seize control of their narratives in a cynical way, but it also seems like they’re trying to sell themselves on it. Sometimes this is exhausting (Micah and Paul droning on forever about who was the more aggrieved party), with others it’s fascinating (when the cast members argue with the edit, as Zack and Bliss do), and precious few times it’s confrontational, as the cast is happy to get when Irina shows up.

Irina looking sullen Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

Austen: I actually did like the sincerity, and if this was the format the show was going to have, then I’d rather that than almost anything else. But I do have some questions for you both about that sincerity and narrative angle because as much as I think everyone had the same goal going in, I do think they approached it in a lot of different ways. For instance, I think it’s almost admirable that Irina shows up exclusively to defend herself, get booed, and generally be a villain in front of everyone on an (almost) live television special. She knew she was the asshole and she came in rehearsed, teary-eyed, and totally ready to project “I’ve grown and changed.” It’s definitely an approach, even if the act never really convinced me. But I’m curious what you all thought of the idea of coming in to be the villain? Especially considering the Jackie and Josh option, which seemed to be to drop themselves from the endless narrativizing completely.

Zosha: I think you all are touching on part of the uncanniness of the special for me: Netflix reality shows are often inconsequential or unfocused enough that it’s hard for any one person to fall into a traditional reality show archetype. Even the early episodes of the season framed Micah and Irina’s antics as such and then that kinda fell by the wayside. (Even the supercut here goes mostly merely apologized for.) So the reunion was all people self-assigning these roles for themselves, and then arguing or defending their assignment.

The Jackie and Josh and Marshall thing felt representative in this way: For whomever is “right” there (she’s a little unpolished about what she wants; he’s a little self-righteous), there’s this weird defensiveness of “the record,” and an attempt to marshall the public opinion. And so Jackie comes back simply to say she’s happy taking it slow, while Marshall gets to say he merely wanted the (apparently production-paid-for) ring back as a symbolic gesture. Is anyone playing the game of Love Is Blind there? Is anyone winning? Who cares, maybe?

So what’s left is a bunch of weird internet fervor and conspiracy theories getting discussed as totally outlandish, but also the hosts are totally down to clarify that Paul didn’t cup a bridesmaid’s butt on his way out. That’s a lot for just Vanessa Lachey (and technically her husband Nick, though his hosting skills are more like if ChatGPT took a stab at creating a sentient himbo). And while I had a lot of fun watching it, I’m not always sure the special succeeded at plugging away at these narratives, since there were whole sections that felt very long and drawn out. (We have all moved past the Micah/Kwame/Chelsea debacle of episode 4. Please let us go.)

Joshua: I really like your point about the uncanniness of this whole thing, Zosha. And I think, from a very basic standpoint, this season of the show ended with very little actual conflict. Few personalities clashed in a notable way (which is part of why Jackie and Josh’s absence feels so huge here, and Irina almost single-handedly has to bear the burden of Show Villain). This is kind of the sham of the show laid bare: If most people are actually into the premise of Love Is Blind, well, Love Is Blind just isn’t very interesting.

The cast and hosts of Love is Blind season 4 Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

Zosha: Exactly! For all the joking we’ve done about how people take their engagement to a person they’ve only known for 10 days through a wall too lightly, most of the couples this season were really committed to working it out and it left little room for surprise on the wedding day(s). So once Jackie decides this isn’t the right “experiment” for her, she refuses to engage with the ruse of the show, up to and including returning for the full reunion. Marshall is left pretending he was there “for the right reasons” and is ready to move on while also wishing his ex had come on a reality show reunion episode for them to hash it out. Meanwhile, Brett and Tiffany’s only wedding drama was Brett’s pants being badly tailored (shout out to North Bend’s finest for fixing that).

Austen: I think you’re both right that part of the reunion’s fun and problems are that it is dealing with such ultimately meaningless drama — and it’s probably not a coincidence that most of the moments we’re highlighting came from the single people in the room. For all the in-experiment drama of season 4, all of the couples seem to have ended on solid enough ground that they either have to dig up old stuff that the couples have already worked through, or problems with the edit — which could have been an excellent idea if the special was more produced rather than the live gimmick that ended up sinking the whole ship.

But for all that, I do think that there’s one person at the reunion who did nearly everything wrong: Zack. On top of his Instagram shoutout, he constantly placed himself dead center in the drama, either because it was about Irina (which was at least half his fault to begin with), or because he wanted to defend his boy Paul from accusations of being generally annoying and bad — a baffling choice for the world’s blandest man. On the other end of things, Zack also aimed to be the most sincere by… performing an entire song and slow-dancing on camera with Bliss, which was by far the most uncomfortable part of the entire special.

I think my biggest question from this special at this point was whether or not the format can sustain itself if reveals are what we’re really after. Love Is Blind is so completely consumed by social media at this point that almost everything about the couples had been mined from their online lives (and Mariners game attendance) that there wasn’t much left to share except for old drama. So if we want more than just narrativizing and recasting of the show’s version of events, do we need a different kind of reunion?

Joshua: Maybe! Maybe not. I think, at this point, I might be done with Love Is Blind. This might just be the post-binge haze talking, but like a lot of Netflix reality shows, it feels like the fast-casual version of reality TV — which is already one of TV’s more quick-and-dirty modes. Love Is Blind is too much about its own conceit, and it leaves little room for cast members to interact with each other. It is admittedly boring (and barely humane) to watch these people in the pods talking to walls for presumably days on end, but once they’re out the couples deal with the outside world in such same-y, structured ways I’m not sure the show is really capable of surprising much, give or take a Shake or Irina.

Kwame and Chelsea kissing Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

Austen: Yeah, I think that’s maybe a better read on the whole thing: This show’s premise is fundamentally broken as a reality show. It’s telling that the only good drama of the season comes from the couples interacting with each other or with outside factors (shoutout to Bliss’ dad and Micah’s friend Shelby) rather than with their partners. In other words, it comes from all the stuff that makes most reality shows work: getting lots of similar people in the same room, making them compete over something, and letting sparks fly. Which makes the central conflict of Love Is Blind the fact that it’s at its best as a reality show when the entire premise breaks down. When everyone’s happy, the show’s just bland and weird… which certainly highlights the weird cruelty inherent in watching it. This is probably not what Netflix wanted me to feel when I got to the end of the reunion.

Zosha: Yeah, in a weird way, Love Is Blind’s strangest form became kind of its ultimate ideal: messy and weird and maybe just at the tipping point of the show really going too far in either direction. Where can the show really go from here? Who can really top Zack saying that the only receipts that matter are “the ones he posted on [his] Instagram”? No one. The show has gotten too big and self-aware for either the contestants or the hosts to really get a handle on it even though they’re desperately trying.

The only thing to do now: Watch the After the Altar special, move on, and continue to think that Shelby was right about Paul.