Career realism on television is difficult to find. I highly recommend never watching Grey’s Anatomy with a premed student who takes themselves too seriously, because you will be treated to a lengthy lecture on what the show gets wrong about the realities of residency. Many law students have taken to the comments section of my How To Get Away With Murder to ask why I did not mention how unrealistic the courtroom proceedings were. Look, I get it. We all don’t want people outside of our profession thinking that our lives are as glamorous or sexy or fun as television makes it seem. But in favor of telling a compelling narrative in the confines of an episode of television, certain details have to be left out or altered. Trust me, we’re all suspending our disbelief. As a writer, on-screen depictions of what I do for a living are pretty much limited to Jenny Schecter, Carrie Bradshaw, and Rory Gilmore. I’m not thrilled about it. The Bold Type takes place in the media world in which I’ve been working for the past few years, and I can assure you it gets a lot wrong about what it’s like to work for a magazine. But in “The End Of The Beginning,” The Bold Type captures something very real about working in media: layoff anxiety.
Layoff rumors are afoot at Scarlet, and Alex hears it first from an upstart magazine called Insight looking to poach him. He tests the waters by being transparent with Jacqueline about taking a meeting with the editor of Insight, and when she encourages him to go forward with it, he gets his confirmation. Layoffs are coming. According to Richard, Steinem, Scarlet’s parent media company that includes Pinstripe and a bunch of other magazines under its umbrella, is seeing print numbers down across the board and is looking to shut down two whole magazines and make cross-company layoffs.
Jacqueline tells Kat the news since she’s a section director and assures her that her job is safe, throwing Kat into the uncomfortable position of not being able to warn Jane and Sutton that their jobs could be in danger. But the layoff rumors start making their way around Scarlet. Alex tells Sutton about his conversation with Jacqueline; Sutton mentions something to Jane; Jane starts to wonder why Jacqueline had told her that her numbers on her most recent stories had been low. When on a group date, Kat accidentally slips to her date that she’s working on putting a focus group together, which catches Jane’s attention. She asks Kat if she knows anything, and Kat brushes her off. But later, Jane overhears Kat talking about the layoffs, sending both her and Sutton into a panic spiral.
The changes at Scarlet force the trio to look at their lives and their futures in a new way. Jane says that if she loses her job, she’d maybe freelance for a while (hey, it’s not so bad, Jane!). Sutton says she doesn’t want to lose her healthcare but that she’d probably look at jobs in a fashion house. Even though Kat’s job isn’t on the chopping block, she contemplates life without Scarlet, too. Starting over with something completely new sounds enticing to Kat, who got her job at Scarlet right out of college and is starting to wonder if there’s more out there for her.
Of course, she can’t really express this to Sutton and Jane in their position, so who does she talk to? Adena, naturally. Yep, Kat and Adena are still talking every day, sometimes twice a day. Jane and Sutton see right through Kat’s insistences that they’re just friends. Kat’s denial is cute at first but veers into sad territory after the group date. Jane and Sutton quickly abandon their dates (Jane’s won’t let her talk, and Sutton keeps accidentally talking about Richard). Kat decides to do a very New York thing and keeps the date going late into the night with drinks down by the water. She bonds with her date over the fact that they’re both the fun ones in their friend groups. Then when she mentions something about having been with a woman, the guy says he wants more details, which should have been Kat’s first red flag that this dude is garbage. Instead, still embroiled in her Adena denial, she kisses him. But mid-kiss, the violinist she and Adena had both seen together magically appears. Kat’s in awe again, but her trash date says the violinist is horrible and heckles him, requesting “Free Bird” and then abruptly suggesting that Kat comes back to his place. Thankfully, Kat dramatically rejects him. She goes back to Jane and Sutton’s (where she’s staying because her place has bed bugs) and drunkenly FaceTimes with Adena. It’s during that late-night precious conversation, full of drunk giggles from Kat and an emotional confession that she misses Adena, that Jane finds out about the layoffs.
We’ve seen the trio grapple with professional and personal boundaries a lot on the show but never when it comes to their relationships with each other. In fact, this is really the first time that something so big has come between the three friends. We’ve seen them bicker before, but this is much bigger. Kat feels pulled in both directions, unable to tell Jane and Sutton what she knows because it wouldn’t be professional but also compelled to protect her best friends. Jane accuses her of not acting like a best friend, which is completely unfair yet understandable given how anxious Jane is about losing her job. Kat breaks down, showing Jane and Sutton all the gifts she bought for them while she was putting together the focus group. Because even though Kat has a lot on her plate at work, she can’t stop thinking about her two best friends and how scared she is for them. In a beautiful moment, Kat tries to storm off but has no room to storm off to, so Jane simply says “take mine.” Even after their biggest fight, they’re still willing to share with each other, to give each other what they need. Not even this whole layoff fiasco could really come between these friends. And the next day, they’re all on good terms again, which doesn’t seem sudden or unbelievable given how familiar their intense bond has become over the course of this season.
Insight’s attempts to poach both Alex and Jane are reminiscent of a couple years back when MTV News started scooping up some of the best and brightest voices from an array of different publications. Many of those talented writers were eventually laid off by MTV News this summer. With so many publications pivoting to video, writers and editorial staffs are under constant threat of layoffs no matter where they are. The editor of Insight makes a compelling case for Jane to join her staff, but the fact of the matter is that this is an unstable industry across the board, and The Bold Type doesn’t seem to be pretending otherwise in this episode. Before she knows about the layoffs, Jane tells Kat that she doesn’t want to chase down clicks, shares, and likes with her writing. She wants to write pieces that she actually cares about, and even if the political vertical isn’t reaching a wide audience, she’s writing what she wants to write.
Unable to tell her the truth about impending changes at the magazine, Kat encourages her to write about more sticky topics like sex and love, and once Jane finds out about the layoffs, she does pitch Jacqueline on more clicky articles, including a first-person account of getting a butt facial. I constantly have to make choices like that — deciding between writing something I genuinely care about or writing something that is more marketable and therefore more profitable. It sucks that discussions of shares and likes have become such a large part of editorial meetings, but it’s the way things work now. And seeing the very real downsides of that in Jane’s arc in this episode is powerful. She ultimately writes about that butt facial (and Sutton does a dramatic reading of it for the trio over drinks at the end of the episode) because she feels that she has to. She hasn’t abandoned her aspirations of being a political writer by any means (and when Insight calls her at the end of the episode to offer her a job, she seems to be considering it), but it’s a small sacrifice she had to make. All writers end up writing things they don’t really want to write at some point.
I don’t care that the pitching process at Scarlet is absurd (going directly to the editor-in-chief every time?!) or that Richard seems to have eight different nebulous jobs on the business side of the magazine or that it doesn’t really make sense that Jacqueline would task Kat with putting an informal focus group together to determine the fate of the magazine or that so many of the day-to-day details of how Scarlet operates appear very simple. Those details might bother me on a surface level, but they ultimately don’t matter. The emotional storytelling of The Bold Type is convincing and organic, and in the case of this episode, that storytelling is explicitly tied to the specific world in which these women work in a way that feels cogent and realistic. Jane gives in to writing stickier content but still starts to think about that job at Insight. Sutton has to step up when Cassie, Oliver’s other assistant who is placed in charge of the favorite coats photoshoot when he can’t make it back in time from a trip, completely chokes. Cassie eventually tries to take credit for Sutton’s work because her layoff survival tactic is apparently to lie. It works out for Sutton in the end though: The photographer tells Jacqueline the truth, and Sutton receives a classic Jacqueline lecture about speaking up for herself.
Jane and Sutton keep their jobs, and Kat’s role as social media director is actually expanded, squashing Kat’s brief flirtation with the idea of leaving Scarlet and buying a plane ticket to Paris to see Adena. Kadena lives on though. During one of their totally casual, we’re-just-friends, nothing-gay-to-see-here midday phone calls, Adena confirms that things aren’t going well with her girlfriend. She decides to buy a ticket back to New York, and Kat suddenly looks the happiest she has looked in a long time. It’s good news for Jane, Sutton, and Kat all around, although Jane is faced with a difficult decision in the final beat of the episode. For the first time, The Bold Type really shows how hard it can be to work in the rapidly changing media industry that is increasingly favoring digital and video content over long-form writing. That, along with the immense pressure on Kat to choose between being professional and helping her friends, makes “The End Of The Beginning” a smart, captivating episode.