This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors who are currently on strike, series like Nancy Drew would not be possible, and Autostraddle is grateful for the artists who do this work. The following recap/review of the Nancy Drew series finale contains spoilers.
It’s not easy to successfully reboot and reimagine a beloved property, modernizing it while keeping the heart of it, but over the past four years, the creators, writers, and actors of Nancy Drew managed to do just that. Plus, they made it gay. Something all reboots should be doing, in my humble opinion.
Nancy Drew, as a character, has been important to me for as long as I can remember. First, in the form of a spunky spy in the books I read as a child, and now, as a more mature version of the same determined, spirited girl on the CW series. I was cautiously optimistic when the show was first announced, but by the end of the first episode, with Kennedy McMann’s humor and wit and flawless line reads and her group of misfits being perfectly reimagined, I knew it was going to be a fun ride. And what a hell of a ride it was.
There’s no way to sum up all my favorite parts of this show in any reasonable amount of words, so instead I just want to talk about what brought me to write about this show on this very website in the first place: the queerness of it all.
Bess was revealed as queer in literally the second episode of the series. They didn’t wait around, they pulled no punches. They also weren’t coy about it. Bess and Lisbeth flirt with each other, Ace asks what’s up, and Bess admits he didn’t imagine it, she is into girls even though she hasn’t been dating much of anyone lately.
Lisbeth gets tangled up in the Drew Crew’s mess, and interacts with all of them in her own right, but Bess’s queerness isn’t something that just fades into the ether when Lisbeth disappeared into the parking lot of no return. In fact, the entire second season practically revolved around Bess and Odette, the French lesbian ghost who was first a demon they had to vanquish and then was a sapphic specter residing in George’s body. Not only was Bess’s queerness important to this plot, but so was Odette’s, and Odette’s ill-fated love with a woman named Mary. It was all beautiful and heartbreaking and, once again, vital to the plot of the show. Not a Very Special Episode, not just a skippable side plot.
This is no small thing. Bess’s queerness is not an afterthought, it’s one of her many character traits. Bess doesn’t just “happen to be” queer. Bess is queer and. She’s queer and one of the core four. She’s queer and the heart of the group, the optimist in the bleakest of times, the comedic relief when things get too tense, the one with the magical know-how. She’s queer and inextricably important to this show and to Nancy’s life.
After Bess has healed from her Shakespearean love affair, in Season 3, Bess meets Addy, and their relationship builds and strengthens over the course of the last two seasons. While Addy isn’t quite as in the forefront as Odette was, and she comes and goes more episode to episode, she’s still an important character who has her own relationship with Nick, and her own interactions with Nancy outside of being Bess’s girlfriend. In season four, an episode revolves entirely around her and her family, and it really solidifies her as an important part of Horseshoe Bay.
Not to mention, Bess and her girlfriends aren’t the only queers in town! In Season 4 they really went hard for us, with George’s little sister having a little baby gay girlfriend, and also Nick starting to date Jade, who is non-binary, and who is down with the supernatural.
All this queerness is just sewn into the fabric of Horseshoe Bay, and while I’m sure homophobia exists in this incredibly problematic town, but we didn’t have to witness much of it. Bess got more hate for being the keeper of the magical items in the Historical Society than anything else, which of course is a well-played metaphor, but it’s still appreciated.
For most of this season, the Nancy Drew writers didn’t know that this would be their last. In fact, they were in production on episode 410 when they learned they had to turn their season finale into a series finale.
And yet, it because they had already established Bess and Addy, and Nick and Jade, and even little Birdie and Jesse, in such a way that it was very easy to give them all a happy ending. Not a lot of shows could have done that. A lot of shows love to use their queer characters as punching bags, or think breaking up (or worse, dying) is the only way to give queer characters drama. But Nancy Drew treated all their queer characters with such respect and creativity that it wasn’t a stretch for them to be able to wrap things up beautifully and realistically in just a few episodes.
Not to mention, Bess plays a pivotal role in the series finale. She’s as important as Nick or George or Ace. Bess is the reason they know the magic they need to cure the town of their sin fever, Bess is the reason Ace and Nancy’s death curse is broken. Bess is a Keeper for the magical items in the Historical Society, and even though an angry mob burned it all down, she’s determined to go on a global expedition to rebuild her collection, all while Addy keeps the (metaphorical) home fires burning on the Horseshoe Bay council. As she hears the Drew Crew’s future plans, she doesn’t shed a tear, because even though she has struggled with abandonment issues in the past, she knows no distance can break up this family they’ve built.
At the end of the series finale, the core four put memories of their past year together in the counter at the Claw. Pieces of the town’s history that will live on, protected beneath glass. As Nancy retires her beanie and closes this chapter of her story, she says she understands the concept of soulmates now, not because her and Ace broke the death curse and can finally, finally be together, but because she has four soulmates. Nancy Drew has Bess, George, Nick, and Ace, as it’s always been, as it will always be.
I wept for the entire final 15 minutes of this finale. I hate goodbyes, and when they’re beautifully done, they wreck me entirely. Between the sentimental attachment I had to Nancy Drew as a character, the beautiful way they made the show about adults and found family, and the queerness of it all, I genuinely loved every minute of this show, and I’m so sad to see it go. With this and Riverdale ending last night, it’s truly the end of a very particular era on The CW, which brings on its own level of sadness. But I’m also grateful that, even though it was short notice, they did get enough notice to give the show a proper ending. With so many shows getting the rug ripped out from under them, there is no shortage of shows (especially shows with queer main characters) that will remain forever open-ended, teetering on a cliff for all eternity. But we got to say a proper goodbye to all the queers of Horseshoe Bay, and the found family they made along the way. And for that, I am grateful.
Wherever the clues and mysteries of our lives lead us next, we’ll always have Horseshoe Bay.