One of the great things about The Bold Type, and in particular this young season, is how committed its writers seem to be to addressing everyday, but potentially day-ruining, hiccups. That these pop up right alongside the capital-B capital-I Big Issues makes them all the more surprising. On the one hand, you confront a professional catastrophe; on the other, you realize you just don’t fit in at your new job. One the one hand, a difficult conversation about sex with your partner, who isn’t newly out; on the other, writing a bio at work. One, heartbreak and slut-shaming; the other, your friend wants you to give her girlfriend a job.
That’s part of what’s so great about “The Scarlet Letter,” an episode considerably less eventful than the first two episodes of this season, but somewhat more focused for that. It allows The Bold Type to do what it does best: focus on the day-to-day lives of these young women, in moments big and small. The apartments are hilariously unrealistic. The relationships and the difficulties they encounter are not.
That’s true, from time to time (mostly when we’re lucky) of Jacqueline as well. Here, Melora Hardin graces us with a spare handful of scenes, but they’re good ones. The series seems to be deploying her judiciously, but in “The Scarlet Letter,” they make room for a tiny subplot all her own. It involves new board member (and health nut) Cleo advising Jacqueline to axe a story about body positivity because, in her view, Scarlet needs to promote health. Jacqueline delivers a very firm, polite, and gentle “I’ll think about it” that’s tinged with a healthy dose of you suck you’re the worst, and then wanders off into the stories of others for a bit. But after a pep talk—more on that later—and some tough love for Tiny, Fired Jane, she has a moment all her own.
On the one hand, it’s awfully tidy, having the mentor learn something from the mentee (or manatee, if you will). On the other, who cares, we get to see Jacqueline own her power, and frankly, The Bold Type is both earnest and self-aware enough to make such things work. Jacqueline obviously finds her work rewarding, she’s clearly invested in the well-being of her employees—and former employees—and wants them to be great, to do great things, and to take care of their readers and each other. So screw it, it’s just lovely, watching her discover that she still wants to write, that it matters to her that she be able to say things herself, and that her own voice is one that Cleo and her chorus of old white dudes won’t easily be able to shut down.
‘Lovely’ is a perfectly lovely place for this show to live.
It’s also, for all its discomfort, where Sutton’s story lives. Boundaries aren’t only a factor in this storyline—Jacqueline, for example, has to figure out how to say the things she wants to say in a diplomatic way, while Cleo’s issues with a relatively straightforward story feels like a real crossing of professional boundaries—but it’s where they crop up the most. Working with friends can be tough, particularly when one has power over a situation that affects the other (see also: the layoff storyline near the end of last season), and The Bold Type’s writers seem to have identified the most uncomfortable circumstances possible for Sutton. The stakes are raised, nimbly but honestly. Oliver has been relying on Sutton more, and then he has to leave town. Pressure. Adena is a photographer looking for work, but it’s also tied to her visa. Pressure. Sutton doesn’t really have someone besides Kat who she could talk to about this at work, and it’s Kat’s direct request that starts it all off. Pressure.
Such things almost always work out on The Bold Type, and this does, too. But it’s not merely because this is a show that would rather leave us inspired than tense. These women have gotten very good at talking to each other, even when things are difficult. Adena has always, from her earliest appearance, been a direct, focused person uninterested in anything but calling a spade a space. And best of all, the show doesn’t need to tell us anything at all to make us understand why Adena and Sutton are so different. Of course they are.
Because these women talk, and because they are honest and straightforward, they navigate these thorny patches, eventually arriving somewhere beautiful. Even Sutton’s risky decision, and the beautiful photos that result, are tied to her conversation with Jacqueline. These characters are finely drawn, and their decisions matter. That’s how a relatively straightforward, but not all that commonly seen, story like this one can ring out so true.
Decisions matter, and so we arrive at Tiny, Fired Jane. How perfectly The Bold Type is it that this episode manages to put Jane in a place where she (and the story) don’t get the seemingly inevitable quick fix, while also making sure that she gets a tough, but important, lesson out of it? Jane’s unemployment story is likely to last a couple more episodes—and perhaps she’s headed for a boundary story of her own, as far as handsome doctor is concerned. But bless this show for making sure that Jane’s choice—the right one for her, the honest one—still comes with a cost. She’s the woman who turned on her employer on live television. She quit a job, and can’t just ask for it back. She can pitch, but she’s operating from a disadvantage.
I can’t imagine another series that would send one of its protagonists out the door in tears while also making it an oddly inspiring moment. Keep your chin up, Tiny Fired Jane. Your dream boss may not have re-hired you, but she’s clearly got your back.
- Very minor thing I love about this show: the goofy-ass stills that they pop the title card on every week. Tequila face is an instant classic.
- “There are mosquitos, they love me. Apparently I’m delicious.”
- So, Cleo. The Bold Type looks for every opportunity to add shading and nuance to its female characters, so perhaps Cleo is about to get a lot more complicated. But right now, she’s living somewhere between GOOP and mommy blogger, with a healthy passive aggressive steak. She may not be particularly nuanced, but she’s the kind of character about whom it’s fun to grind your teeth. Shut up, Cleo.
- Gonna try some new things here:
- Look of the week: Jacqueline’s off the shoulder navy ruffle look (pictured above).
- Not the look of the week: Sutton’s pleated turtleneck and overalls situation. (Please help me with a more fun name for that one.)