“I wouldn’t say [I felt] powerless, only curious.”
When Melora Hardin’s Jacqueline Carlyle said that in The Bold Type’s first episode, it was in response to Jane’s assertion that being unable to cyber-stalk her ex made her feel powerless, and as Jacqueline remembers dating pre-social media, she must know how that feels. It’s one of several scenes that Hardin and Katie Stevens have in that episode, sometimes clad in complimentary colors, with Jacqueline pushing Jane to be more specific and more honest, while Jane desperately dodges the personal.
So here we are at the end (unless it isn’t—more on that later) of the first season, and what’s old is new again. But both women have changed and grown. We’ve learned more about them, and they’ve learned more about themselves. The same goes for Kat (Aisha Dee) and Sutton (Meghann Fahy). It’s not a universal truth, but generally speaking, that’s the mark of a damn good story.
So is “Carry The Weight,” an episode that neatly ties up loose ends, sets up new adventures, and sees its characters making big decisions that feel like risks and yet are totally in keeping with who we know them to be. It’s not without flaws—the timeline is a little confusing in places, there’s still an issue of big emotional pop songs trying to do the lifting when there’s often no need, and Kat’s silver boots aren’t in this episode at all—but it’s a moving hour that gets far more wrong than it does right. And it’s a perfect example of why this show, which can be silly and fluffy and easy at times, has got some real heft. It’s the kind of show we need, as a country, and it should stick around.
As per usual, each of the Bold Types has her own story. Kat’s chasing two million followers and planning a fashion week party, but every time she sees a photo of Adena traveling the world, she’s stopped in her tracks. Sutton’s still processing her drunken Alex hook-up and shoving her broken heart to the back of her mind. Tiny Jane begins the episode by steeling herself to quit, only to have Jacqueline assume their meeting is about performance artist/rape survivor Mia (Ana Kayne) after seeing an article about Mia’s activism and art on Jane’s computer. They’re three very different stories, and yet they’re all about personal growth and emotional honesty. Despite the differences, each of these threads reaches a turning point at the Scarlet Fashion Week party, sending all three women out of the party and into Central Park.
It’s an organic development—who wants to be at a giant crowded party when you’ve just quit a job you love, hurt a friend and been stung by a former lover, or realized your dreams might not actually be your dreams?—but it also exists to set up one of the most effective sequences of this young series. Mia’s performance piece involves carrying weight, playing on the image of Lady Justice. In an early scene, another young survivor (Jenny Brizard) walks up and offers to take the weight, a brief scene that’s understated but quietly powerful. And as the three friends stand, holding hands (another nod to the pilot), another pair of hands break into the line. They belong to Jacqueline, and she lingers there only briefly before she steps up, and takes the weight.
Not every television show has the guts to tackle important and emotionally difficult issues. Of those that do, even fewer do so effectively and well. This isn’t a sequence without issues—no scene on this show has ever needed a soaring pop ballad less—but it’s handled well for a few important reasons that other shows often seem to miss. This story and those scenes aren’t about the rapists. They aren’t about the emotional reactions of the protagonists—rape as character development for someone else—or about illustrating the horrors of rape to shock (or worse, titillate) the audience. That’s not to say that none of those things can work. Outlander, as one example, checked two of the aforementioned boxes and still managed to tell a powerful story (largely because the survivor didn’t just instantly recover once the episode was done). But what The Bold Type achieves here is important. It’s worth making, and worth watching, and worth writing and talking about.
Mia’s experience isn’t ignored, but she’s also not rendered a Very Special Guest Star, here to suffer and recover on cue. Her exchanges with the first unnamed woman and with Jacqueline aren’t centered solely on the woman who takes the weight, but instead centers on their acknowledgment of each other, of their shared pain and experiences. Much of this credit has to go to Kayne, whose grounded, matter-of-fact performance sets the tone for both those exchanges. Brief though her appearance may be, Brizard is also great. But the real story here is Melora Hardin. That she’s excellent is unsurprising, but that doesn’t make the work here any less important or effective.
It’s rare to see a television series look at lingering trauma in this way. It’s rare to see a woman talk about her assault frankly, years after the fact, and acknowledge the realities that often prevent women from reporting. It’s rare to see any of this done without flashbacks, or sobs, or men. It would matter even without Hardin’s graceful, textured, honest work. That a performer of her caliber was handed something like this makes it all the more exceptional. That it somehow ties into Jane’s story, into a story of mentorship and affinity and bravery? That’s good writing.
So yes, we need The Bold Type. This isn’t a perfect show. It can be silly and clunky (the incredibly obvious Macy’s product placement tonight is a giggle), and sometimes it bites off a bit more than it can chew (as was the case with Adena’s reality and Kat’s reactions to that reality). But too many properties, on television, film, and the page, get this stuff painfully wrong. There’s a responsibility inherent in speaking to young people , and while not all viewers, this one included, are “young,” some certainly are. The Bold Type may not always knock it out of the park, but it’s clear they take these women and their audience very, very seriously.
“Scarlet will always be that older sister, and we will always be there for the girls who need her,” Jacqueline said in the speech that ends the pilot. She tells the people who work for her to have adventures, to make mistakes, to have sex with the wrong people and the right people, and to unleash holy hell. The Bold Type seems to want to be that older sister, too, there to urge its audience to take their health seriously, to be unashamed of their sexuality or any difficulties they face, to learn from mistakes wherever possible but not live in them forever. Get on the plane, face the facts, take the job, carry the weight. Flaws and all, this is a series that’s baldly in the corner of complicated, daring, frightened young women.
Are you there, Freeform? Please renew The Bold Type.
Episode grade: A-
Season grade: B+
- So, about that end-of-season-or-not thing: Freeform billed this as the “summer finale” of the show. That’s a phrase you typically see in November, and it’s used signal that a show won’t be back until February or March (only it’s winter finale, obviously). So... maybe worrying about a second season is the wrong question right now, and we should be looking for an additional episode order instead? Regardless, more The Bold Type, please.
- No silver boots, but Jane revisited some boots and a top tonight (she sure does love black lacy stuff, huh?). More importantly, her wardrobe again mirrored Jacqueline’s, particularly in those gorgeous closing moments, one walking in the building, the other out. Still: more silver boots, please.
- I have spent far too little time singing the praises of Stephen Conrad Moore as Oliver. He’s the perfect Stanley-Tucci-in-Devil-Wears-Prada and I love it. Perfect comic timing, great at wearing costumes, terrific voice. More Oliver, please.
- Alex now has one definite personality trait: he doesn’t want to be walked all over. That’s a start! More personality, please.
- Meghann Fahy was particularly fun this episode. That yell for the taxi was perfectly, wonderfully weird. Felt familiar and funny. More Sutton yelling comically, please.
- Hey, this has been fun! Thanks for reading, and I’ll (hopefully) catch you when the show returns. In the meantime, find me on Twitter and tell me how much you, too, miss Kat’s silver boots.