Actions

Work Header

After the Final Rose

Chapter Text

Episode 1: Love at First Sight?

Our season begins with Lan Wangji meeting up with Jin Zixuan, last season’s Bachelor, and his fianceé, Jiang Yanli, to talk about the difficulties of finding love on-camera.

“The key is to be honest with yourself,” Jin Zixuan tells our new Bachelor. “It took me a long time to figure that out, and I almost lost A-Li as a result.”

“Be patient with yourself, and trust your instincts,” Jiang Yanli says. “And remember — it’ll all work out alright in the end.”

Lan Wangji then heads to the mansion to meet the suitors who will be vying for his heart on this season of The Bachelor. Memorable entrances include Jinzhu and Yinzhu, who put on a knife-fighting demonstration; Xue Chengmei sky-diving in to land in the driveway; and Su Minshan playing a guqin solo he wrote for Lan Wangji. Luo Qingyang gets the first impression rose.

At the rose ceremony, we go from 25 suitors down to 17.

###

“ … and then he smashed in all the windows on the guy’s car, and now he’s been sentenced to anger management for the next three months. So, yeah. Two weeks to go before the season starts, we don’t have a Bachelor, and Guangshan’s going to fire me if I don’t come in on Monday with an alternative.”

This — this being Meng Yao lamenting his work woes during Friday night dinner at the Lan house — is not unusual, but this is the first time Lan Wangji has seen his brother’s boyfriend look quite so distraught.

“A-Yao, I am sure your father won’t really fire you,” Lan Xichen says, mildly. “It’s not your fault Mingjue has anger issues.”

“Of course it is,” Meng Yao says, his big eyes filling with unshed tears. “I clearly didn’t vet him well enough. Ah! A-Chen, what will I do if I lose this job?”

Lan Wangji wonders whether Meng Yao practices this exact move in the mirror, times how long he can wait before letting one solitary tear trickle down his dimpled cheek. He is fascinated, in a clinical way, by the degree of control Meng Yao has over his emotional expression, and his ability to use it to his advantage. It’s a skill Lan Wangji has no knack for, himself. He may present a thick face to the world, but unlike Meng Yao, he cannot convince anyone that he feels something he does not. He can only hide the truth of his feelings behind the chill, stoic affect; the alternative is writing his thoughts on his face in red ink, inscribing them in the hoarse rasp of his voice.

“Now, now, A-Yao, it’ll be alright,” Xichen says, and lifts Meng Yao out of his seat and deposits him in his lap. Lan Wangji busies himself with another bite of tofu and mushrooms, pretending not to see his brother kissing his boyfriend’s neck. He would reprimand them about the PDA in front of the children — Sizhui and Jingyi, at the other end of the table, are watching with the wide eyes of ten-year-old boys who have accidentally seen some R-rated media — but he knows it makes Xichen happy to dote on Meng Yao. Happier, maybe, than Lan Wangji has seen Xichen since their father’s death. And since the only thing Lan Wangji believes about Meng Yao is that he is absolutely devoted to Xichen, he finds it hard to interfere.

“Do you know anyone who could do it, A-Chen? Anyone who’s bi or pan, single, and not a total mess would do,” Meng Yao sniffles. “And the single part’s probably negotiable.”

“Well …” Xichen glances around the dining room, as if it might contain a viable candidate.

“Please, gege,” Meng Yao says, and releases the single tear. Lan Wangji can see when it hits his brother, like a heat-seeking missile. Then Xichen look ups at Lan Wangji and says, a question: “ … Wangji?”

It takes him a moment to understand what his brother is suggesting, because yes, Lan Wangji is single; yes, he’s a 5.25 on the Kinsey scale (he’s never dated a woman, but wouldn’t rule it out); yes, in theory he has his life together, but — no. His brain short circuits at the idea. When it comes back online, he is pushing his chair back from the table and lurching up, blushing through his dawning horror.

“No, brother! Absolutely not. Absolutely not.”

###

Dailies: Episode 1

(A talking-head interview. JIN ZIXUN, 36, entrepreneur.)

JZX: Oh, yeah, he’s a fucking catch, alright. He’s rich, he’s hot, he’s a Lan. Like, he’s been ranked number two among the local bachelors for years, and now that his brother’s seeing someone, he’s number one, right? So, yeah, of course I want to win.

Offscreen voice: Do you know anything else about him, besides that he’s rich and hot?

JZX: (shrugging) What else is there to know?
________

(NIE HUAISANG, host, walks up a landscaped driveway towards an opulent mansion.)

NHS: … this season’s Bachelor has published three best-selling books about the history of food in China, plays four instruments, speaks three languages, and is a single dad to his ten-year-old son. Along with his older brother, he also runs a charitable foundation focused on literacy and arts outreach and educational programs for underprivileged youth. How he’s made it this far without someone snapping him up, I don’t know! But it’s lucky for our suitors that no-one has …
________

(A talking-head interview. XUE CHENGMEI, 33, extreme sports enthusiast.)

XCM: Yeah, I dunno, I tried out because I liked the look of the first guy they cast. That guy was a fucking Daddy, you know? This guy’s too buttoned-up. Like, I started talking to him about what a dead body looks like after it falls from a height — like, if you’re BASE jumping and your parachute doesn’t open, did you know —

Offscreen voice: Uh, yeah, you don’t have to recap it for me, that’s fine. What did he say?

XCM: He said he “was not interested in hearing descriptions of other people’s pain.” Like, what are you interested in, buddy?
________

(A talking-head interview. LAN WANGJI, 35, author.)

LWJ: I have not been successful in my attempts to find a partner by other means. And so I thought perhaps this might offer an alternative route to happiness?

Offscreen voice: (chuckles) You don’t sound very convinced, Lan Zhan. Be honest with me — who talked you into this?

LWJ: … It was my son’s idea. Sizhui. He is ten years old, now; I adopted him when he was four. My brother had asked me to go on the show, and after I said no, when I went to tuck Sizhui into bed, he said: “Baba? I’d really like it if you went on that show.”

And when I asked him why, he said: “I don’t want you to be lonely. You deserve to be happy, Baba.”

Offscreen voice: Do you think you do? Deserve to be happy, I mean.

LWJ: I am not sure I would say that I deserve happiness. I would like to be happy, of course. And in any event, I do not think a romantic connection is necessary, for happiness.

Offscreen voice: That’s true. But it would be nice, wouldn’t it, Lan Zhan? To find someone that really gets you?

LWJ: I would like to find someone I can be myself with. (short pause) Do you (coughs) do you have that, Wei Ying?

Offscreen voice: Oh, no, I’m totally single! I’m a bit of a tough pill to swallow, sometimes. You’ll see! We’re going to spend the next six weeks together, right …

###

The two weeks between Lan Wangji’s begrudging “Fine. I will do it” and the beginning of the shoot are a whirlwind. A horrifying, sand-filled whirlwind that grinds away at his dignity until all that remains is his stubborn insistence that he will not have his chest waxed.

He does, however, do all of the other shameless things Meng Yao demands of him:

First, Lan Wangji moves out of the house he shares with Xichen and Sizhui and into an enormous beach house owned by JGS Productions — it hasn’t escaped Lan Wangji that at least part of Sizhui’s desire to have him do the show is the resulting opportunity for an extended sleepover at Jingyi’s house, “and anyway, Dad, I’m already booked for summer camp for half of the time, so you’d need a distraction from missing me anyhow!” — and emails his editor to explain that he’ll be out of touch for a bit. Since he’s just approved final copy-edits on The Wanderer’s Plate: The Foods of Zhang Qian, he is, in fact — as Meng Yao pointed out, triumphantly, on that fateful night — “kind of at loose ends for the next two months, right?”

Yes, Lan Wangji thinks. He is at loose ends, and unravelling fast.

Then there is a contract, with a dizzying number of clauses, and a recitation from Meng Yao of The Rules of Being the Bachelor — “you can’t eat on camera because it sounds gross, just pretend,” and “no interactions with suitors off-camera” and “never say ‘process,’ you are on a journey” — and then tuxedo and bathing-suit fittings and a haircut and purchases of more watches than one person could ever find time for.

He passes the required STD screenings, the worst part of which is that he’s forced to announce, in front of Meng Yao and the sexual health nurse, that it has been two years since his last sexual encounter. It’s not that there haven’t been opportunities — the Lan family wealth and his best-seller status see to that — but something was always missing, in his encounters. It never felt like it mattered, like he mattered, to the people in his bed, at least not the real him, the person who’s more than just money and #1 on the non-fiction list for 16 weeks! and a handsome face. And Lan Wangji knows he has no knack for showing people his innermost self; his halting attempts at romance have taught him that most people find him cold (unapproachable, stiff, aloof, remote, he’s heard enough variants on this to fill a thesaurus). At a certain point, it became easier to stop trying.

Then, finally, after he passes a battery of psychological tests and a criminal record check and a credit check (“that one’s a formality,” Meng Yao chuckles), Lan Wangji is, improbably, The Bachelor: Lan Wangji.

“I hope you are happy about this, brother,” he says to Lan Xichen, when his brother comes to visit him at the beach house the day before production officially starts. “Because I am not.”

Lan Xichen laughs and has the audacity to ruffle his hair. “You’ll be fine, Wangji. You might even find you enjoy yourself.”

They are sitting in a sunny little library at the back of the beach house, a room Lan Wangji had stumbled into one afternoon after another round in the chest-waxing fight with Meng Yao. The room had been dusty, when he first came in; he doesn’t think many of the previous Bachelors have used it. Most of the books on the shelves are fake, but the reading chairs are comfortable and the window has a view out over the city. There’s a stand-up piano in one corner, in passably good tune. Along with his pre-dawn runs on the beach below the house, reading and playing the piano in here have been the best part of the last two weeks.

“I will focus on surviving,” he murmurs, dryly. “Enjoyment may be out of my reach.”

Lan Xichen smiles, but no longer looks so amused. “Wangji … would it be such a bad thing, to fall in love?”

That wasn’t what he’d been thinking; the opposite, really. You don’t really have to fall in love, you know, Meng Yao had said, when he and Xichen were taking turns wearing down Lan Wangji’s resistance. It’s fine if you don’t. Most of the suitors are just there for exposure, anyhow. And Lan Wangji knows that — knows that the likelihood of making any real connection in six weeks under the watchful gaze of a dozen cameras is close to nil — but that hasn’t stopped him from daydreaming about what it might be like if he did fall in love.

Lan Wangji has pictured himself standing in the driveway outside the mansion, a suitor walking slowly towards him. Their eyes meet — his heart beats faster, and something warm blooms in his chest —

But he knows what Xichen means, the thing that lies in the background of every conversation the two of them have ever had about love and relationships.

“It can be terrible,” he says, softly. He has wondered, sometimes, if it runs in the blood, the desire to fall so deep in love that you could drown in it. “We saw that, first-hand.”

“Love wasn’t the problem, Wangji. I know Uncle would have it that way, but it’s not true. The problem was … well, everything else, I suppose.”

“Wasn’t it love that made him forget everything else?”

He and Xichen rarely speak directly of their parents; they creep around the edges of the subject, like they are walking in the dark with a flashlight, the beam of light only touching bits and pieces, so that they never have to see the whole story. Lan Wangji isn’t certain if he and Xichen see different parts of the past, when they let the light linger.

“Maybe. No. And it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?” Xichen says. “You are not doomed to be Father. Or Mother, for that matter.”

When Lan Wangji doesn’t answer, Xichen sighs. “Will you try, at least, Wangji? Try for me?”

It is hard to say no, to Xichen. Which is, of course, exactly how Lan Wangji got himself into this farce in the first place.

“I will keep an open mind, brother.”

###

Dailies: Episode 1

(Shot of a young woman onstage, in Baroque costume. She is singing, in front of a large audience.)

NHS: (voiceover) Let’s meet a few of the suitors who will join Lan Wangji on his journey. First, Luo Qingyang, 30 years old, a rising soprano with the City Opera …

LQY: (voiceover) I sing love arias six nights a week. It’s hard not to want that for myself …

(Shot of a man carrying a giggling young girl on his back while hiking through the woods.)

NHS: (voiceover) Xiao Xingchen, 36 years old, a single father and human rights lawyer …

XXC: (voiceover) It isn’t always easy to meet people when you’re a single parent. I think Lan Wangji will understand that, will understand what it’s like to raise a child on your own.

(A talking-head interview. XIAO XINGCHEN, 36, lawyer, and XIAO QING, 12, Xiao Xingchen’s daughter.)

XQ: He’d better pick you, Dad.

XXC: Why?

XQ: Because I bet my friends three hundred bucks that you’d win …

(A shot of young man, dimly lit, white gloves on his hands, carefully inspecting an unbound manuscript.)

NHS: Mo Xuanyu, 29 years old, a rare books conservator …

MXY: (voiceover) He understands books, and he understands history. And so I think — I hope — that he might understand me …

###

“Okay, just touch him up a bit, something with a matte finish, I don’t want any shine, okay?” Meng Yao says, as he bustles around the light-filled terrace outside the second storey of the beach house. The ocean is a distant roar, a smudge of turquoise on the horizon.

Lan Wangji is sitting in a chair in the middle of the terrace, in the shade of a number of potted palms, trying not to vibrate out of his skin with irritation. There are at least ten hands touching him right now, or at least that’s what it feels like: someone doing his makeup, someone arranging his hair, someone shoving the straw for a bottle of hydrating water in his face (is water not normally hydrating, he wonders), someone adjusting his thin, clinging periwinkle blue sweater.

“Cozy, yet sexy. It’s approachable,” Meng Yao had said, when he’d seen the sweater. “Wardrobe did good.”

“Do I need to be approachable?” Lan Wangji shot back.

“You need to try,” was the reply, and Lan Wangji thinks, mutinous, that Meng Yao could at least try to act a bit more grateful.

Meng Yao shoves a potted plant over a few inches, frowning, then pushes it back and nods, apparently satisfied.

“Right.” He turns around and snaps his fingers, and the crowd of people around Lan Wangji disappears. Another skill Meng Yao has that Lan Wangji wouldn’t mind learning. “So, you know what’s happening today?”

“You are going to interview me,” Lan Wangji says. He has, in fact, seen The Bachelor, because Xichen watches it religiously, and hates watching television alone. Xichen had squealed in excitement when Lan Wangji finally capitulated. “About my intentions, on the show, and what I see as desirable traits in a partner.”

“Good. Now” — Meng Yao looks around, raises his voice so it’ll be audible inside the house, “where the fuck is Wei Wuxian?”

“I’m here, I’m here, sorry, I got caught in traffic!” someone yells back, and a man comes bouncing through the open sliding doors — that’s the only way Lan Wangji can describe it — and scrambles to a stop in front of the camera that’s pointed at Lan Wangji. The man (Wei Wuxian?) is dressed all in black: a simple T-shirt, black jeans tight against narrow hips, black Converse sneakers. His black hair is pushed up into a short ponytail, revealing a buzzed undercut. His eyes, purple-black in the shade from the palm trees, meet Lan Wangji’s.

Wei Wuxian grins at him, an enormous smile that almost seems to reflect light, like sun glancing off water.

“Hi. Lan Wangji, right?”

Lan Wangji pulls in a struggling breath. His lungs feel tight, and there’s something wrong with his heart. He doesn’t think it’s supposed to pause like that, and then flutter back to life.

“I’ll deal with introductions, just get everything rolling, please, we’re short on time,” Meng Yao snaps. “Lan Wangji, this is Wei Wuxian, he’s the cameraman assigned to you. He gets the close-ups of you. He gets the shots that show your hand trembling when you reach across the table for a suitor’s hand. He gets the shot that shows you on the verge of tears when you’re trying to decide who to let go. He gets the shot when you smile for the first time at your future husband, or wife, whatever. If you’re in the scene, Wei Wuxian is filming you, understand? He’s got a room here in the house, okay, across from yours.”

“Right,” Lan Wangji says, and his voice sounds like it’s coming from far away, an echo through clouds. He feels dizzy, and his stomach is boiling. It must be too hot on the terrace, he thinks. Or maybe breakfast didn’t agree with him …

“Nice to meet you, Lan Wangji!” Wei Wuxian says, as he begins fiddling with the camera set up.

“ … Likewise,” he manages.

Lan Wangji drinks a hydrating water, and then another one. By the time Wei Wuxian nods at Meng Yao that he’s ready to go, Lan Wangji has wrangled his heart and stomach back under control. Perhaps he had only been thirsty, after all. Nothing to do with the man crouched behind the camera, balanced gracefully on the balls of his feet.

Meng Yao starts in with the questions, stopping every few minutes to remind him to answer “by incorporating the question, you understand? We don’t air the questions. The viewers need to understand what you’re responding to,” but even with Lan Wangji managing to remember that, by thirty minutes in he can tell Meng Yao is about to combust.

“Okay,” Meng Yao says, leaping off his stool and swiping a hand through his hair. Meng Yao never messes up his hair, so Lan Wangji knows he’s actually frustrated, not faking it. “I know you are, like, prim and proper, old-fashioned, buttoned-up — however you want to put that, whatever — but I can’t just have you say I suppose I am looking for a nice person. That’s not an answer. I could get better responses than that from a chatbot. And you can’t say I have a son, he is ten, his name is Sizhui, and then clam up. The audience needs to be on your side, right? Rooting for you. The Bachelor can’t be a block of wood.”

Lan Wangji feels a flush crawl up his ears. He opens his mouth, to say — what? I will try harder, I promise I can do this, the same way he always did in high school when Uncle lectured him over some minor error?

“Can I try?” Wei Wuxian says, interrupting whatever Lan Wangji was about to blurt out.

“What?” Meng Yao snaps.

“Can I try interviewing him?”

“Why?”

“Well, look, no offence, I bet you’d be really good at this, usually? But Lan Wangji here seems like he might need special handling.” Wei Wuxian shoots a conspiratorial grin at Lan Wangji, like they’re on a team together. “And I spent the last three years shooting for Wild China and you learn some tricks, doing that, for dealing with the shyer animals. It took forever to get any footage of pangolins and when we did it was because I’d camped out in their territory for two weeks and gotten them used to me, you know? Not that you’re an animal, Lan Wangji! But the same principles apply.”

Meng Yao lets out frustrated sigh, checks his watch, and then nods. “Fine. Whatever. Go for it. I need to check in on prep at the mansion, anyway, so you’ve got, like, two hours to try your pangolin-charming technique.”

Then he’s gone. It’s just Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian on the terrace, in the company of the sea-wind and the slight fragrance of lotus wafting up from the pond below the house.

Wei Wuxian rises out of his crouch and stretches, arms lifting over his head. His t-shirt rises, revealing a trail of dark hair running from his stomach to the waistband of his jeans. Lan Wangji’s eyes follow it down, then snap away as Wei Wuxian flops down on the stool Meng Yao vacated.

“Okay. Let’s show him how it’s done, hey?”

“I am not naturally charming,” Lan Wangji says. Forces himself to say. “It may be difficult, to wrangle a passable interview with me.”

“I bet that’s not true, but don’t think about that right now,” Wei Wuxian says, in a voice that Lan Wangji can imagine him using with a shy, cornered animal. “Don’t think about anything at all. I’m just … we’re just going to talk, okay?”

“About … about what?”

“Not about the show. That’s for later. Look, Lan Wangji — wait, what should I call you?”

Lan Wangji frowns, puzzled. “My name is Lan Wangji. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know! But do you have a nickname? Something that the people who are close to you call you?”

There are very few people Lan Wangji is close enough with that he might exchange nicknames. Even Xichen always calls him Wangji, or brother. And Lan Wangji understands the trick, here — Wei Wuxian wants to manufacture closeness, it’s his job to do so — but still, he finds himself scrambling for an answer. The desire to exceed expectations (even if they are Meng Yao’s, for the concept of the “perfect Bachelor”) is hardwired into him, it seems.

“My mother called me Lan Zhan,” he says, after a moment. “I don’t know why, though. She died when I was young. You could … you could call me that.”

“Ah, yeah. My parents died when I was a baby. Apparently they named me Wei Ying? But my adoptive parents thought that was silly, you know? Because obviously I wouldn’t be a baby forever, and so they changed it. But I’d like it if you called me Wei Ying.”

“Wei Ying,” he says, rolling it around on his tongue just to try it out. It tastes sweet, somehow. “Alright.”

“So, Lan Zhan, what do you have against mapo tofu?”

“What?” he says, startled.

“Your first book, about the history of tofu, right? The section where you describe eating mapo tofu in Chengdu? I could tell you hated it.”

“You’ve read it?” Lan Wangji can feel all the muscles in his back, tensed against the chair for the last hour, begin to relax.

“I’ve read all of your books! Bottom of the Cup is my favourite, though you made me feel like I could taste the da hong pao. Which, let’s be honest, is probably the closest I’ll get to actually trying it, given the price point …”

“Ah. Well. I don’t like mapo tofu because it is too spicy.”

Wei Ying giggles and drops his jaw open in feigned shock. “Too spicy? Lan Zhan, most of the time it’s not spicy enough!”

“Perhaps we disagree on standards for spice,” Lan Wangji suggests, and finds he is smiling, too.

Wei Ying asks him a bunch more questions about his books —

“Did you really not try the modern recreation of the Jiahu wine, Lan Zhan? Like, just to see what alcohol was like seven thousand years ago?”

“I don’t drink. I have a bottle of it at home, in the cupboard, though.”

“Oh my god, I have to try it. You’ll let me try it, right? Wait, no, don’t answer that, please, don’t answer that, my brother always says I can’t just go around asking people things like that” —

until Lan Wangji finds himself talking about getting lost in the Wuyishan Mountains while tracing the path of eighteenth century plant hunters, and the incredible sweetness of the watermelon he’d eaten in a village in Tajikistan, for his latest book. Then Wei Ying somehow coaxes out his opinion on the inaccurate presentation of food in historical C-dramas — “it is perfectly rational to be angry about the presence of S. tuberosum in a drama set before the late Ming dynasty” — and Lan Wangji finds, with surprise, that he has made Wei Ying laugh.

Wei Ying’s laugh is free, easy, joyful. Lan Wangji wants to hear it again. He wants to do something that will make Wei Ying laugh, again.

Then Wei Ying tells a series of increasingly unbelievable stories from the filming of Wild China, about stalking snow leopards through sleepless nights and hang-gliding into remote locations to film red ibis. He ends with an anecdote (which cannot be true) about a Yangtze alligator, a camera lens, and Wei Ying running three li in his underwear, which finally draws a huff of laughter from Lan Wangji.

“Was that a laugh, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying says. “It was, wasn’t it? Mission accomplished, then. Now I think we can talk a bit about the show, huh?”

Lan Wangji has the odd feeling that Wei Ying could ask him anything and he would answer honestly.

“Mn. Ask me whatever you wish.”

###

Lan Wangji stands at the top of the driveway, and twenty-five people walk up to him (or, in one case, skateboard toward him before falling backwards into the shrubbery) and introduce themselves, and his heart remains sedate. It was nothing more than a fantasy, he tells himself firmly; and some of the suitors are very nice, and very attractive.

Some of the suitors, on the other hand, are horrible. Wen Chao comes up the driveway and immediately asks why Lan Wangji doesn’t write about something more interesting than food.

“Like, you could write military histories, right? Or weapons. Guns? Swords?”

“Did he just try to neg you?” Wei Ying says, as they wait for the next suitor to arrive.

As promised, Wei Ying is his unobtrusive shadow, camera always fixed on Lan Wangji’s face. The interview two days ago must have gone well, too, because after watching the dailies Meng Yao came by the beach house and announced that Wei Ying would handle interviewing Lan Wangji from now on.

“What does ‘neg’ mean?” Lan Wangji fiddles with the rosebud in the buttonhole of his tux, running a finger over the damp crimson of a furled petal.

“Like, flirt with you by tearing you down.”

“Why would anyone want to do that?”

“Ah, Lan Zhan, you’re a man of principles.”

During the cocktail party, Lan Wangji clings to his sparkling water and watches as some of the suitors get drunk enough to fall into the pool, crew scrambling to pull them out before they drown. He can hear Meng Yao muttering happily to himself — “what a disaster,” as if this is somehow a good thing — as he sweeps by the spot where Lan Wangji stands talking to Wen Qing, an internal medicine resident.

“You’re doing great, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying murmurs, after Lan Wangji politely announces to Wen Qing that it was nice to chat, but that he should speak with another of his suitors (and what a strange thought that is, his suitors).

His social anxiety is a low buzz at the back of his skull all night — Lan Wangji has never before attended a party where everyone is there to talk to him — but, to his surprise, he finds that he is enjoying himself, just a little bit. It helps to have Wei Ying beside him, to press down the nerves. Whenever he starts to freeze up and turn into a block of ice, he can feel Wei Ying’s gaze on him, and thaw. With each suitor, he finds it easier and easier to exchange little nothings, make jokes, ask questions about their jobs and lives. He just imagines he’s talking to Wei Ying.

By the time Nie Huaisang comes out with a tray of sixteen long-stemmed roses, Lan Wangji has a very short list of people at this party he might ever consider dating, if this was real life. That would make the rose ceremony easy (and the show very short), if it weren’t for the fact that he’s only allowed to cut eight people tonight, and — as Meng Yao made clear, during the “pre-rose ceremony debrief” in the mansion kitchen — he’s also required to keep four specific suitors for at least the first three episodes.

“I thought I was making the decisions. About who I like, and want to see more of.”

“No, no. I mean, yeah, you get to keep your favourites, you just can’t dump these four yet.”

“But why these people? Jin Zixun is odious. Wang Lingjiao is …” he gestures, trying to find a polite way to describe her, failing. “She threatened to tattoo her name on my chest with a pen nib.”

“Exactly!” Meng Yao says, cheerful. “They make great TV.”

###

Dailies: Episode 1, Cocktail Party

(A talking-head interview. WEN QING, 31, internal medicine resident.)

Offscreen voice: Thoughts on Lan Wangji? Do you think you made a connection with him tonight?

WQ: Lan Wangji is clearly intelligent, very well-spoken. Handsome. We had a very nice conversation about how I raised my little brother after our parents died. I think we have a lot in common, but I don’t know if I would say we made a connection. He’s … a little hard to read.

Offscreen voice: Impressions of the other suitors?

WQ: Uh. Well. There was a bit of awkwardness, when I first arrived. It turns out my ex-girlfriend is a suitor? But I’m sure it won’t be a problem, Mianmian is … well. Things are totally over between us, there’s no unresolved feelings on either side. Our break-up was amicable, we’re both grown-ups …
________

(A talking-head interview. LAN WANGJI, 35, author.)

Offscreen voice: So, Lan Zhan, do you think the love of your life was in the mansion tonight?

LWJ: It is too early to say whether any of the people I met tonight could be the love of my life. I found many of the suitors very interesting, however, and look forward to the opportunity to get to know them better.

Offscreen voice: But no bolts of lightning? No love at first sight?

LWJ: There was no love at first sight. That is for the best, however. What people call love at first sight is a chemical reaction: oxytocin, hormones. My parents — I have been told that my father fell in love with my mother the moment he met her. But it was not a good relationship, for either of them. It would have been better if they had taken time to understand each other, to develop a relationship over time, with trust, with understanding. To determine if mutual respect and affection were possible, or not. And so love at first sight ... I do not think I would trust it.
________

(A talking-head interview. WANG LINGJIAO, 28, social media influencer.)

WLJ: I don’t understand why she got the first impression rose. She’s, like, nothing to write home about, you know? Not even really that pretty. Like, I’m clearly prettier, right? Can someone bring me another glass of champagne?

###

Trailer — The Bachelor — 30-second spot

Voiceover: This season on the Bachelor …

(A series of shots, as the theme music swells:

Grainy black-and-white footage of two people falling into a pool.

LAN WANGJI, staring out at the ocean, pensive.

Two women, embracing in the starlight on a beach.

LAN WANGJI, weeping, trying to turn away from the camera’s unrelenting gaze.

A man, his face not visible, punches another man in the jaw.

A helicopter, flying low over mountains.

LAN WANGJI, tearing off his mic pack and walking away from the camera.

A half-dozen roses, lying crushed and broken on the ground.)

LWJ: (voiceover, tearful) I can’t do this. I thought I could, but I can’t.

Voiceover: … a journey like you’ve never seen before — and an ending that you won’t see coming.

(A shot of a man in a tuxedo, silhouetted against the sunset, standing at the end of a pier. He has his back to the camera.)

LWJ: (voiceover) It feels like … like I have been cracked open by love, and laid bare.