The moral of the story from this week's heart-wrenching episode of The Bachelor is simple: Family matters. Shirtless Sean Lowe (who somehow managed to keep his impressive physique appropriately attired while meeting the four ladies' families) let it be known at the beginning of the season that he's all about family, and this week, it showed.
The episode kicks off with 32-year-old personal organizer AshLee in Houston, TX, who absolutely cannot wait to spend more time with her "future husband." She and little pup Bailey are ecstatic to see Sean, and the bachelor can't suppress his huge grin at the sight of AshLee and her perfectly curled hair either.
"AshLee's been a frontrunner from the beginning," the 29-year-old confesses to the cameras. The pair frolick in an open field and settle down for a scenic Bachelor picnic to kick off his visit, and AshLee cannot stop gushing about her man.
The only question, of course, is whether her very protective parents will feel the same way about Sean. The couple later join AshLee's parents in what looks to be a spontaneously erected dining table in the middle of a field to chat about their reality TV experience and Sean’s intentions with their beloved daughter.
"There was a lot of romance," AshLee eagerly shares of their most recent one-on-one date as Sean avoids her parents' gaze. "We rolled around in the sand." At this, her father grimaces. AshLee's mom doesn't seem too amused either.
When she later gets a chance to sit down with Sean, the protective mother tells him point blank: "You better not break her heart." The bachelor gets a few mild-mannered threats from AshLee's father as well, but ultimately, his blessing for a potential proposal.
"The moment that I saw her, I had a connection, I fell in love with her," the teary dad later shares with the table, about meeting AshLee for the first time as a 4-year-old foster child. "So whatever man takes her will have to fall in love with her like that."
Sean's next stop, to Seattle to visit Catherine, doesn't go quite as smoothly, and doesn't, much to Sean's disappointment, end with a blessing. The bachelor arrives in the rainy city and can't stop smiling at Catherine as the pair wander around the city -- ending up, inexplicably, at a fish market where they both take turns trying to catch a few finned specimen tossed at them over the counter.
"It's slippery!" Catherine exclaims at one point as she drops the fish. "I know! It's a fish," one of the fish market workers quips.
But for all of their chemistry and easy conversation, Catherine is still a little nervous about Sean meeting her family -- mom, two older sisters, and grandma. And her nerves turn out to be founded on some truth, especially since her sisters aren't just concerned about the pair's relationship, but Catherine's personality in general.
"She wants to be with someone who supports all of her dreams, and if not…" one tells Sean, trailing off ominously. Feeling a bit uneasy, the bachelor decides to try to find some reassurance with Catherine’s mom, but even that doesn't go how he'd hoped. She hedges around giving a blessing with a shrug and a "we'll see."
"Honestly, I'm not sure where we go from here," he confesses after the visit.
With his third hometown date, however, Sean's concerns are less about the relationship itself than they are about how to address Lindsay's two-star general father.
"Should I call him general? Or mister?" he quizzes the 24-year-old substitute teacher at her hometown in Fort Leonard Wood, MO. Lindsay just laughs. "Maybe just avoid saying hey," she responds lightheartedly.
The pair spend the day wandering around the area, and Sean says he feels at-home in the tiny town. But Lindsay has one more thing up her sleeve before the bachelor's allowed to meet her family: drills.
The giggly contestant runs Sean through some basic military drills before the two drive up to the house itself to finally meet her parents and brother. And though amicable, both Lindsay's mom and dad waste no time getting to the point.
"Are you falling in love with Lindsay?" her concerned mother corners Sean. He hedges around the question and says he's not the kind of person to "share those types of words with anyone."
Lindsay's father is a bit more wordy when Sean asks for his blessing, telling the bachelor that as a paratrooper, he's had to learn a lot about "managing risk" and having "the authority to make the decision" at a moment's notice. In other words, he finally relents with a sigh and a stern gaze, Sean has his permission.
Desiree's hometown in Los Angeles is the last stop on Sean's round of hometown dates, and the 26-year-old bridal stylist is excited to spend a "regular" Saturday afternoon with him, taking him on a hike overlooking the city.
Despite an amazing day of "enjoying his company and making out," however, things take a turn for the worst that night when Desiree and Sean get dinner ready for her family -- mom, dad and brother Nate. Before Sean can even meet her family, however, Desiree has a surprise for him: an actor pretending to be her ex boyfriend trying to get her back.
Sean's pulse gets racing, but he gives an awkward, hearty chuckle when Desiree reveals that he's been punked. The bachelor isn't quite so eager to laugh later on in the night, however, when Nate accuses him of being a "playboy" and not really caring about Desiree during their one-on-one chat time together.
"You're just having fun with the circumstances," he snickers at Sean, who tries his best to maintain his composure. "It is what it is, right?"
Sean is visibly upset when he returns to the table with Desiree and her parents, and even though he tries his best not to let Nate's comments get under his skin, they stick.
At the rose ceremony the next night, he confesses to Chris Harrison that he's torn between sending Desiree or Catherine home -- both, presumably, because of his interactions with their families.
"I'm not confident at all," he says. "My heart feels like it is really tearing."
After giving AshLee and Lindsay their roses, Sean is about to hand out the final rose when Desiree pulls him aside to apologize for her brother's actions and harsh words. It's a genuine apology, but ultimately, it's not enough, and Sean sends her packing in an emotional goodbye.
"I'm going to miss you so much," he says as he hugs in front of the waiting limo.
"Then don't let me go," she replies through tears. "It's not right. It's not."