If Love Is Blind is a show that thrives on mess — sometimes intentional, sometimes not — companion series After the Altar seems to do everything possible to avoid it.
It's not as if these three-episode follow-ups, which check in with the cast one year after their weddings, lack the potential for drama. The "experiment" requires couples to fast-track their marriages, and the participants speak openly about the pitfalls of this timeline, as well as their struggle to bring their relationships into the real world after saying goodbye to the cameras. For those who said "I don't," the forced get-togethers are often the first time they've seen their ex-partner since the wedding day, triggering anxieties about a possible confrontation and concerns about lingering feelings. The filming schedule adds another wrinkle: After the Altar typically films right as the season drops on Netflix, giving the cast an opportunity to address the public's reaction to the show, their overnight fame (or infamy), and the way their behavior came across on screen.
But despite all this, Love Is Blind: After the Altar has traditionally been an exercise in restraint. For the most part, the married couples have played up their wedded bliss — even when it was clear that wasn't the case, as fans saw with Season 2's Iyanna McNeely and Jarrette Jones and Danielle Ruhl and Nick Thompson, both of whom divorced shortly after filming (but before the bonus episodes premiered). Netflix has also gotten in the habit of teasing blow-ups that don't amount to anything. Season 3 hinged on a long-awaited discussion between Cole Barnett and Zanab Jaffrey, who brought their relationship to an end with an at-the-altar speech about how he "shattered [her] self-confidence," but both parties owned up to their mistakes and walked away amicably. In fact, the biggest After the Altar drama that season involved Matt Bolton's unneutered dog Jaxon, who was such a prolific humper that Colleen refused to move in with her husband until he was fixed. (Colleen and Matt have since purchased a home together, though there's not yet word on Jaxon's testicles.)
Season 4 continues this disappointing trend as it reunites viewers with the stars of Love Is Blind's Seattle-based iteration. The season's three married couples — Tiffany Pennywell and Brett Brown, Chelsea Griffin and Kwame Appiah, and Bliss Poureetezadi and Zack Goytowski — are more in love than ever before; their biggest problems are picking fair teams for Tiffany and Brett's flag football game or getting Zack's allergies in check. (Seriously, the first episode jumps through all sorts of hoops to suggest Bliss and Zack have begun the in-vitro fertilization process, only to reveal the "shots" they're discussing with a doctor are actually meant to minimize Zack's reaction to her pets.)
With the married crew celebrating their one-year anniversary in such joyous, conflict-free fashion, it's up to their single co-stars to deliver something more compelling. A few of these storylines develop over the course of three episodes, including Micah Lussier's attempt to make sense of her feelings for ex-fiancé Paul Peden and the love triangle between Jackie Bonds, Josh Demas, and Marshall Glaze — Jackie and Marshall were engaged before she left him to pursue a relationship with Josh — but they culminate not with a bang but a whimper. Micah and Paul agree to cut ties in hopes of one day rebuilding their friendship, while Marshall finally gets the closure he needs when Jackie apologizes for the way she handled their breakup. "You deserved everything and more. And I did, too. We both did," she says, the surest sign that Jackie has matured in the year since leaving the pods. "As long as you're happy, that's all that matters."
Even Micah's pal Irina Solomonova, whose bullying earned her a spot in our Ultimate Reality TV Villains Bracket, takes ownership of her behavior toward Amber Wilder. Though Irina's sincerity is questionable, Amber accepts her apology and expresses her desire to "move on from this," bringing a swift end to a moment that was clearly placed in the trailer and amped up out of context.
It's not until the final 20 minutes of the season that something truly worthwhile happens. After the flag football game, the group gathers at a bar, where they reunite with members of the "pod squad" who didn't get as much screen time — including Monica Rodriguez, who left the show engaged to Josh. Monica posted about her experience after the season concluded in April, explaining that the engagement didn't last long, but After the Altar has the receipts to prove it. Previously unaired footage shows Monica's first face-to-face meeting with Josh, and it becomes obvious just how ill-suited they were for one another. She grew increasingly uncomfortable as Josh cracked one joke after another — he even responded to Monica's comment about him having one-liners "in his back pocket" by pretending to pull something out of his pants pocket — and by the time they parted, she could barely manage a fake smile. "I'm engaged to a lunatic," Monica admitted at the time.
Monica's decision to share her truth has a devastating impact on her friendship with Jackie, who knew Monica planned to open up about her engagement (and seemingly approved the language in her post), but still feels it was handled in a "messy" and "vindictive" way. Things escalate further when Josh joins them at the table and accuses Monica of "trying to clout chase" in the wake of the show's release. "I don't know how you deal with this man every single day of your life. He's a six-year-old!" Monica tells Jackie, before turning her attention to Josh: "You're such a horrible human being you actually have to make things up."
The bombastic fight is the first time After the Altar comes close to meeting the bar set by the flagship show, a sad fact that underscores the missed opportunity here. With the exception of Season 3, every season has boasted additional couples who got engaged in the pods, but didn't make the final cut due to logistical issues. (Creator Chris Coelen has said there's "a lot of guesswork" that goes into determining which five couples to follow in the real world.) Season 4 had three unaired engagements beyond Monica and Josh, more than any other installment, and from what the ex-partners have told Netflix's Tudum, their romances were every bit as real — and their breakups just as complicated — as those featured on the show.
If Monica and Josh's awkward first encounter is any indication, footage of the other engaged couples is just sitting around, collecting dust. As a longtime reality TV fan, I'd hazard a guess that whatever's on there is more captivating than the rose-colored reflections on marriage or the mature, self-aware apologies found in After the Altar, which currently functions as a three-part extension of the reunion, minus Nick and Vanessa Lachey. It seems easy enough to stick a camera operator on each of these engaged couples while the main cast heads off to the beach and then turn that footage, plus their pod dates, into supplemental content — Netflix could even call it "Missed Connections." Doing so would alter the structure of the show, as there would no longer be a wedding looming in three weeks, but the tradeoff would be worth it if it means more on-screen drama and new, engrossing love stories.
However brief, Monica's appearance offers a glimpse of what Love Is Blind: After the Altar could truly be. Rather than solely looking ahead, Netflix's companion series would benefit from additional time spent looking back at the engagements that were sidelined by producers early on. Even if these relationships are a bust, watching them unfold is a better use of viewers' time than spending three hours with people who have long since moved beyond their issues.
Love Is Blind: After the Altar Season 4 is streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.