Like many other television shows, this year The Bold Type found itself forced to end its season early and suddenly strangely out of date. The Bold Type is a series that has never shied away from borrowing from real-world storylines and tackling difficult topics, so it’s odd to see Sutton (Meghann Fahy) and Billy (Billy Magnussen) sharing a bottle in the back room of a bar; odd to see
The Wing The Belle as some sort of feminist utopian space; odd (very odd) to see Kat (Aisha Dee) ensorcelled by a person who’s probably got a Make America Great Again hat stashed away somewhere. The events of the last few months have cast all those stories in a different light, to say the least—and Jacqueline’s not taking that trip to Iceland any time soon.
Yet none of that, nor the knowledge that this was not meant to be the season finale, diminishes the potency of “Not Far From The Tree.” It’s more subdued than a Bold Type finale might normally be, and certainly more ominous when these plot developments become endpoints, rather than part of the big buildup. All in all, it makes for a bittersweet end to a strong season, a finale likely to leave viewers with some pretty big worries as they head into a long (but hopefully not permanent) hiatus.*
We last checked in with our Bold Types in “Lost,” as Kat (Aisha Dee) mourned her stuff, Jane (Katie Stevens) mourned her body, and Sutton mourned her miscarriage (while also feeling relieved and ashamed of that relief. It was a stunner of an episode, and the repercussions of that story ring clearly throughout this one (though Jane’s doing much better now, thanks.) But like the world in which this episode was written as compared to the one we’re in now, a whole lot has changed for the characters between now and then.
Jane’s storyline is the one that feels the least complete, and that makes sense, as it’s the most plot-heavy of the three. “Not Far From The Tree” is only the most recent of the show’s Jane-and-Jacqueline-have-a-bond episodes, in which some conflict sets Jane against her mentor, who always ultimately rises to the occasion. (This is why she’s the Jed Bartlet of fictional magazine editors.) It’s likely that this would have been the centerpiece storyline of the finale, had Wendy Straker Hauser and company gotten to film those last two episodes. As it exists now, it’s all rising action, and any tension present exists because of the promise of what’s to come. Once again, Jane feels compelled to do (or write) something and finds herself working in opposition to Jacqueline (Melora Hardin); as with some of the other examples of this storyline the show has tackled, Jane’s stance ultimately pushes Jacqueline to do the right thing at personal risk.
It’s the next step that matters in this story, and that’s the step we won’t be seeing anytime soon. (The same goes for the saga of Jane and Scottie-Too-Hottie.) Melora Hardin remains amazing, Katie Stevens does fine work, and the whole thing makes for an interesting jumping-off point. But the meat of the episode lives with Kat and especially Sutton, who both make some questionable decisions while grappling with big, confusing emotional stuff. (There’s also Alex, god love him, who gets called names on the internet and then sends a tweet.)
The highlight of the episode—and by highlight, I mean the impeccably acted, compelling, heartbreaking section of the episode—belongs to Sutton, as so much of the fourth season has. Fahy, excellent as always, gets another opportunity to show us Sutton’s inner life. First, it’s with stillness and silence, the moments before she decides to act or not act. Later, it’s by revealing exactly how good Sutton is at putting on a show.
Fahy has always done a tremendous job of making Sutton herself an expert at wearing a masks, which both makes it more distressing when the mask can’t stay in place (as with Oliver in this episode) and makes it possible for the viewer to know how much pain she’s in while even Kat and Jane have no idea (as with the end of the episode). It’s hard for her to pretend at first, but as the day continues, it gets easier, and each drink and disappointment helps somehow. Sometimes your heart breaks and it’s as though you yourself have shattered, the edges sharp and the pieces fragile. Sometimes it’s as if you’re wrung out like a rag, twisted into emptiness. Sutton is both of these in this episode, and she’s incredibly good at hiding the latter.
The choice to send Sutton running to her mother in her hour of need is a particularly effective one, as viewers will doubtless start to worry as soon as Sutton can’t reach her mom by phone. The same is true of her decision to have just that one drink with Billy, who we previously met in season two. Tying the two together, and tying her feelings of shame and grief over her relationship with Richard (and her miscarriage) to her mother and the choices she makes in this hour, makes all those individual elements more potent.
But if all the choices in that storyline land perfectly (if horribly), then most of those in Kat’s land wrong. Maybe, maybe I could buy that Kat would not only fantasize about Eva, but actually consider the possibility of a relationship with her, if this story hadn’t begun with Kat fighting Eva’s dad over his stance on conversion therapy. (Probably not, but maybe.) It’s not as though there aren’t couples who sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum out there. But the choice to have Kat, a queer Black woman who has fought against oppression throughout all four seasons of The Bold Type, fall into bed with a woman who at best tried to scare Kat off of challenging R.J. without actually taking a stand of her own is baffling. Kat ruled someone out as dating material because of her vanilla body lotion earlier this season. But Eva’s dating material because she’s sometimes a nice person, even though her politics are so abhorrent to Kat that she was willing to lose two separate jobs over them?
That this storyline works at all is a credit to Dee, who sells it like it’s going to be past its sell-by date tomorrow, and Alex Paxton-Beesley, who makes Eva more charming than she has any right to be. But if Eva’s appearing on a network that’s clearly meant to be Fox News, then she’s passed some sort of conservative purity test. Are we meant to believe she hasn’t let loose with a bunch of racist dog-whistle shit on television and in print? Are we meant to believe she hasn’t spewed racist, homophobic, anti-feminist bullshit for years? If that’s the case, the show has done a poor job of making that clear—one instance where she keeps Kat from being fired and one interview where she stands up for Kat doesn’t cut it.
For all we know, the story the show is trying to tell is one of danger. At what risk do you place yourself when you love someone whose politics are actively harmful to your community? (And to her own community, for that matter?) Just as Sutton’s putting herself in danger, Kat is too. But it sure doesn’t seem like The Bold Type thinks that. The Bold Type doesn’t seem to think it’s a good thing that Kat breaks things off. We’re meant to worry when Sutton calls her trip a good reminder of who she is, when the camera pans away from the dancing friends to the ring on the counter. And it seems we’re meant to worry when Kat sends that text, presumably because she’s running away from something just because it’s complicated. But one of these things is not like the other.
It’s a frustrating end to a strong season, but it’s still an affecting one. And while Jane’s story may be all set-up, and Kat’s confusing, Sutton’s works both as a part of a larger arc and an end to this one. That’s because it’s wholly rooted in who the character is, what she wants, and what she fears. Kat’s seems to ignore some of those things. If (and when*) the show returns, let’s hope that changes.
* — As of this writing, The Bold Type has not yet been renewed for a fifth season. Season 4B was the show’s strongest in some time, with a few episodes that are easily among the best of the series so far. Do the right thing, Freeform! We need to see Andrew’s drag show!
- Thanks for checking in on The Bold Type coverage this season, infrequent as it might have been. It’s been great watching the show try some new things (wish I’d gotten to write about the vignettes episode!) and watching Stevens, Fahy, and Dee just get better and better.
- Not enough Oliver! Not! Enough!
- I spoke with Wendy Straker Hauser about a few things, including how the bold types would be faring during all this madness. You can find that interview here.
- Look of the week: Jane’s blouse with the eyes on it was so cool and weird.
- From Aisha Dee’s Instagram: