When I read a piece of writing centered on a woman’s very personal medical condition and surrounding treatments, there’s always one thing I find myself longing for. “Wow,” I say to myself, “I wish I had the perspective of the dude that this young woman has been dating for 15 minutes.”
In an otherwise excellent episode of The Bold Type, the primary storyline is so bogus on so many different levels that it threatens to the enjoyable whole. Had the series focused on the piece of the story that matters—Jane’s unwillingness to let a loved one into a part of her life that’s scary and makes her feel vulnerable and exposed, the reasons for it, and if and how she decides to let him in—this might have been a great hour. Instead, the continued intrusion of Mr. Balance Ball makes basically the whole story insufferable. Jane, yes, is kind of the worst, but here, she’s got reason to be. The resulting implausibility and frustration nearly tanks the rest of “Plus It Up,” and that’s really too bad, because the other storylines of the week—Kat’s Queer Prom and burgeoning activism, Sutton’s work for a scattered Oliver and her struggle to find the right boundaries with Richard, and (briefly and deliciously) Balance Ball’s sexist, ageist ass—are good to great.
We’ll come back to the layers on layers of ridiculous and inappropriate that make up Jane’s bogus storyline, and start with Kat’s, which, like her dress, is just the right amount of extra. This isn’t the first time Kat has been driven to take some kind of a stand—memorably in the first season, an altercation with the cops led to her spending the night in jail, a storyline with potential that the show bungled somewhat. Here, she attempts to stop the dubious shuttering of one of the city’s only bars for queer women by throwing a party. While it’s a little funny that a character established as a social media powerhouse would choose to make her play primarily IRL, with actual paper money, it’s an undeniably joyful event, and it’s similarly joyful to see Kat speaking up and fighting for not just her community, but for a place that welcomed her as she came out.
More importantly, this storyline seems to be in service of getting Kat to that last beat in the story, in which she looks up her councilman’s primary challenger in a pair of AOC glasses (which, to be fair, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen her wear before). It makes perfect sense that The Bold Type would want to tell a story about the increase in the number of young women running for office or working for campaigns, and that the woman in question would be Kat also tracks. But The Bold Type lands a little soft here, giving Kat a subdued speech, the councilman a familiarly patronizing “I admire your passion,” and the bar... $20,000? Still, all in all, it’s an engaging storyline that makes sense for the character and the series in which she lives.
The same is true of Sutton’s story, only pretty much all of it works. The episode begins with moving day, and quickly lands her in two sticky, Richard-adjacent situations. First, she figures out that she’s just not comfortable having his housekeeper (now her housekeeper, too) do her laundry. Second, she realizes that she’s unclear on what concerning her work life she can discuss, and which she can’t. What’s so smart about both is that they’re both linked to existing points of tension in their relationship, each immediately heightened now that they’re sharing a living space. The laundry storyline is a simple one (also tied to the other) and ends just beautifully, as Sam Page shatters the last remaining memories of Joan Holloway’s terrible rapist husband while bragging about his laundry skills.
The Oliver storyline again feels a bit like set-up, but it’s well-handled. If nothing else, it gives the terrific Stephen Conrad Moore some good scene work, establishes the strength of his mentor/boss relationship with Sutton, and offers another opportunity for Richard and Sutton to navigate some tricky couple stuff with aplomb. Whether or not Oliver’s adoption continues as a storyline remains to be seen—my guess is yes, and that Sutton will be forced to choose between other interests (seen in the preview for next week) and his continued efforts to set her up as his successor—but it’s effective regardless.
That brings us back to Jane’s storyline, which is garbage.
The issue here is not that it’s laughably unrealistic—The Bold Type demands a major suspension of disbelief, particularly when it comes to media, publishing, and money, and it’s easy to imagine a story in which Jacqueline assigns Jane a personal story like it’s nothing. The issue is that it’s unrealistic and bad storytelling, because no one seems to react to anything in a way that makes any sense at all, right up until the last act. Take for example Jane deciding to talk to her boss about losing her virginity at a party, in the midst of a story that ostensibly is about her difficulty opening up to her partner and about her boss crossing all kinds of boundaries by assigning her a story with her romantic partner without her consent. Why? Why on earth does that happen? Jane oversharing is absolutely in character. Jane telling that story to that guy in that environment does not track at all, and it’s hard to see what it adds to the story.
Jane getting poached for the web half of the publication without accepting a new role doesn’t make sense, but let’s pretend it does. Jane being openly hostile to her new boss with no consequences doesn’t make sense, but let’s pretend it does. Jane being told she needs a sharper angle on her piece actually does make sense (though let’s not make “plus it up” a thing), but the Balance Ball hiring her boyfriend to write that piece with her—and in a circumstance where the Balance Ball has no idea of the nature of their relationship or how she feels about involving him in her medical decisions—makes absolutely no sense. Pinstripe agreeing to it without checking with her makes no sense. The idea that the story then becomes about her desire to exclude him, and not that huge overstep, makes no sense. The thought that a “digital wunderkind” wouldn’t realize that all this could blow up in his face actually does make a lot of sense; the fact that The Bold Type doesn’t seem to see that does not.
Of course, when the story finally switches its focus back to what really matters—Jane shutting Pinstripe out of this piece of her life—it all snaps back into focus, and Katie Stevens and Dan Jeannotte both do very good work. But the damage is already done. It seems as though the disbelief becomes increasingly more difficult to suspend when the fantasy becomes less appealing, and the bewildering overstepping of boundaries so common to the offices of Scarlet become a lot harder to ignore when they come out of the mouth of a Balance Ball.
- I can’t promise his nickname won’t change next week, but if I had to place a bet, I’d bet I’ll call him Balance Ball forever.
- No disrespect to Peter Vack, who seems much more willing to make the Balance Ball insufferable than the show is. He’s playing this role perfectly.
- No way Sutton, practical Sutton, waits to pack until her movers show up. No way any of those movers move boxes that aren’t taped up. No way she moves any of those boxes herself, that’s part of the deal. What a weird scene.
- Best Jane moment of the season so far: “Jacqueline’s friends with everyone.”
- Do we love or hate ‘Zambronis’?
- If you, too, love Sasha Velour, once upon a time this very publication let me write many, many words about how brilliant she is. Here it is.
- Look of the week: Kat’s prom dress, naturally. Richard’s silly bow-tie, also excellent. And really, it’s actually Sasha, but that’s just unfair.