Katie Stevens, Meghann Fahy, Aisha Dee
Photo: Philippe Bosse (Freeform)

The Bold Type knows itself. It knows its audience, its tone, its format, its strength and weaknesses. It knows what it can pull off, and what it can’t. It knows how messy it can get without overtaxing itself. In that way, “Betsy” is essentially the baby-bear-porridge of Very Special Episodes. It’s doesn’t overreach. It doesn’t oversimplify. It’s not mind-blowing. It’s somewhere in between, and that’s right where it belonds.

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“Betsy” is, in some ways, a quintessential episode of The Bold Type. It lacks the power of something like “Carry the Weight,” which took the sadly rare approach of centering a story about rape on the lives of survivors and the best ways for others to act as allies. But in another sense, it’s absolutely of a piece with that hour, which is The Bold Type’s finest to date. It takes something big, something important, and looks at it on the micro level, but it doesn’t ignore the complexities. The stakes are set high on a personal level, but it never crosses into event territory. There’s no active shooter, no terrifying crisis, just people butting heads about something that’s both personal and political. It’s focused but thoughtful, emotional but matter of fact, and it treats its subject as lowercase-i important, not capital-T Timely.

Of course, there are some downsides to this mode, too. The Bold Type is thoughtful, but also tidy, sometimes to a fault, and so Sutton and Jane’s conflict about guns reaches a comfortable resolution. Because it never leaves its relatively small world, we’re never asked to consider dead children, the deeply fucked-up hold the National Rifle Association has on politicians and the conversation around guns in the U.S., or how staggering the statistics are when it comes to gun violence, particularly when you compare the U.S. with other nations. There’s much, much more to this story. So acknowledged. But unlike Supergirl’s frustrating attempt at a gun control story this season, The Bold Type’s effort is largely successful, and it’s in part because it knows exactly how much it can handle, and in what its viewers are most invested.

Here’s what Caroline Siede had to say in her terrific review of “Not Kansas,” the episode of Supergirl in question:

As a rule, I tend to be pretty forgiving of didacticism when it comes to important social issues. So I don’t necessarily mind the show making clunky but important points about, say, the regularity with which military-grade assault weapons are sold to the public, the legality of bump stocks, or the lack of records tracking who guns are sold to. But beyond feeling like an awkward PSA, the bigger problem is that the gun control storyline is just poorly thought out.

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That storyline failed in part because it seemed as though no one pushed to the next round of questions—they played the hits, essentially, without delving any deeper or, more importantly, figuring out how to tell that particular story in that particular world. “Betsy” may not be a world-changing episode of television, but it absolutely anchors the story in the lives of the people who inhabit that story, and finds an especially effective connection in Sutton’s season-long arc. Jacqueline prompts Tiny Jane to probe further, ask more questions, and find a way to understand. So does the show.

What matters is not the fact that Sutton owns a gun—or more specifically, owns Betsy. What matters is how it affects the Sutton-Jane relationship, and why they each feel so strongly about Betsy, and how they each react when pushed to examine their own reactions. In short, it works because The Bold Type does not wander from what it is at heart, which is a story about three women, their lives, and their friendship. Could it have aimed higher? Yes. Could it have gone deeper? Sure. Would either of those have worked? Questionable. This works, avoids sensationalizing or trivializing a vital and upsetting subject, and manages to be affecting without ever straying into the realm of the manipulative. That is no small feat.

Also no small feat: The Bold Type has now wandered into the realm of the non-monogamous, and in a typically, effectively, and as usual, refreshingly frank manner. I’m still troubled by the idea that Kat’s sex dream is somehow equivalent to or an indicator of infidelity or relationship trouble, but that minor quibble aside, The Bold Type seems to be absolutely nailing this (pun not intended but nevertheless embraced) storyline. That it manages to tie a mostly joyful and loving subplot about sex to the much heavier A-story is impressive; that the link is the importance of communication and the wonderful things that can emerge from it is an even greater accomplishment. At heart, that’s what both these stories are about—talk, talk, talk, especially when things get weird; talk until you’ve got some clarity, talk until you understand, and always, always listen.

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Of course, there’s another secret ingredient here, and that’s the three solid performances from Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, and Meghann Fahy. All three of them are excellent here, Fahy especially so—Sutton’s final scene with Oliver is so familiar, and her relief so palpable, that I may have actually benefitted from it personally (at minimum, my jaw slightly unclenched.) But as good as Stevens and Fahy are, and as much weight as their performances carry, it’s Dee who emerges as the episode’s MVP. To see a woman be visibly uncertain and nervous, but also happy, excited, and determined in a sexual encounter seems low-key revolutionary; to see two young women talk openly and honestly about their preferences, mental states, and experiences while hooking up is all too rare and incredibly welcome. She’s great. It’s great. Everything is great.

It’s a simple storyline, but handled with such gentleness, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and joy that it’s hard to avoid getting a little sentimental when imagining young women watching it. If nothing else, both storylines this week display a level of thoughtfulness—there’s that word again—that one doesn’t always see in any series, let alone one targeted toward young women. Some of those women have never seen any fictional sexual encounter in which the woman is open about her nerves or discomfort, but doesn’t emerge traumatized. It’s healthy, sexy, awkward, sweet, funny, strange—basically, it’s recognizably human. What a gift.

That The Bold Type can make two such different stories work is a big deal. It’s a show young women deserve. It can absolutely be better, but it’s already doing more than many others even attempt. Bless it.

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Stray observations

  • I would be willing to bet good money that the writers of The Bold Type have invested good money in excellent therapists. This show has its shit together where emotional lives and relationships are concerned.
  • Look of the week: Even though it’s yet another black shoulder situation, I was way into Jane’s back-at-work look.
  • Not look of the week: I think they were all fine? Did I miss a clunker?
  • Tyler is an asshole.

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