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The women of The Bold Type surprise themselves in a refreshingly awkward finale

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“Breaking Through The Noise” shouldn’t work. The plot does all sorts of things that rarely succeed—twists that come from nowhere, characters acting in ways that seem out of character, some moments of anti-climax, loads of implausibility, the list goes on. Yet it does, because a lot of those things are also pretty true to life. Sure, The Bold Type has never really been about realism—those apartments; the unlimited cab budget; the ludicrous wardrobe; the insanely inappropriate culture at Scarlet; the fact that Jane didn’t get fired at the beginning of this season after she doored her new boss and then blamed him and never apologized, even a little—but somehow this finale moves the way that life moves.

Nowhere is that more true that in the final moments. It’s jarring, sure. That may be the single most accurate thing about it.

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“Breaking Through The Noise” is a tough nut to crack, from a critical perspective. With the caveat that the terrific Meghann Fahey can sell me on just about anything, let’s look at Sutton’s storyline and season arc as an example. Sutton realizes early on in this season that there might be a passion she’s ignoring because she never imagined it could be real for her. She spends the rest of the season chasing it, working at it, defending it, navigating some complicated feelings about money in pursuit of it, the list goes on. At the end, she triumphs—and then realizes that, while she enjoys it, her real passion lies elsewhere. She considers an alternate path, gets the support she needs from both her friends and her mentor to explore it, and winds up right back where she started.

Was all the time Sutton spent chasing down that dream a waste? Of course not. When you think of that character as a person, you might find yourself wishing you had a support system like hers, that you had the freedom to investigate and interrogate your own dreams, goals, and potential futures. It’s only in the dramatic sense that it seems like a season of Sutton spinning her wheels. But this is dramatic. It’s fiction. It’s hard to make a story in which a character makes a bunch of changes, yet ends up in the same place, dramatically satisfying, unless the story you’re telling is a sad or cynical one. (Examples: an addiction story that ends with the character back off the wagon, and for something completely different, Waiting For Godot.)

This one succeeds precisely because it isn’t cynical. Sutton isn’t walking in place. She went for a long walk and figured out she liked where she was, because she had the freedom to go elsewhere. She doesn’t change her career, but she winds up changed, because she gains, among other things, certainty. Almost everyone winds up with what-ifs in life, but Sutton can at least cross that one off the list. (And on the other hand, while the majority of Sutton’s story might work, Richard’s deus ex job offer smacks too much of drama-for-drama’s-sake to wholly succeed.)

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If you think about Sutton’s discovery as a story than can empower the young women that make up this show’s target demographic, this is what breaks through the noise It’s okay to try something new, love it, and still realize you were happier doing something else. Change doesn’t have to be permanent, and leaving such a change behind isn’t something to be embarrassed about. And once you start looking at Kat and Jane’s storylines through a similar lens—What does this story say to its young audience?—those stories, too, gain in power.

It’s possible for Jane to be hurt and afraid by Ryan’s actions and still feel, deep down, that she wants to forgive him; it’s possible for him to cross her boundaries in hopes of convincing her that he’s sincerely sorry, and to have those actions succeed, and to have them still be shitty. There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to betrayal and forgiveness. Jane finds it in herself to forgive Ryan, because she wants to, but that doesn’t mean she’d forgive anyone in that situation. What matters isn’t what you think you’re supposed to do, but what feels right and honest. The dramatically satisfying thing would be for her to break it off because she’s too hurt, or to run into his arms because of some grand gesture. This is more honest.

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The same is true of Kat’s story (and Aisha Dee sells every inch of it, in one of her best performances of the season): When a person winds up in a love triangle, you expect them to pick a side. But sometimes the reason you’re not sure of what you want isn’t because you’re spoiled for choice, but because the person you need to focus on is yourself. As with Sutton’s storyline, it’s super out of character and weird for Adena, who has always been all about boundaries and clarity, to take a job at the place Kat works without talking to her about it first, but the rest feels perfectly in keeping with both who Kat is, what her arc has been this season, and the storylines of Jane and Sutton.

Oh, and, Scarlet’s done.

As mentioned above, the abrupt shuttering of the publication with no notice might be the most honest thing this show has ever done, at least with regard to the profession these women are in. It’s extremely unlikely that the show’s impetus will vanish permanently—it is, after all, loosely inspired by the life of former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, who has a cameo here—but it’s a bracing, weird, disorienting moment all the same, and a hell of a cliffhanger that, like the choices Jane, Sutton, and Kat make here, feels authentic, in spite of, or perhaps because of, its narrative awkwardness. Everyone’s gotten themselves settled, and then, boom: start looking for work, the lights go off on five.

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That’s the stuff of a good finale. Not familiar, but effective all the same.

Stray observations

  • Hello! We’ve moved to premiere-finale coverage of The Bold Type, so you can expect to see another review when the show returns next year, but probably not weekly coverage.
  • That fashion show was weirdly flat, was it not?
  • Now that we’ve had a full season of the Balance Ball (Patrick), how are we feeling about him? I remain pretty firmly anti, though he handled Jane’s weirdly inappropriate blowup very well, and in perfectly in-character fashion by turning it into a piece. His mini arc tonight was more satisfying, if only because it was spurred, as so many good things are, by Melora Hardin being great.
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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.