Of all the delightful surprises in The Bold Type’s first season, the characterization of Jacqueline has been one of the most refreshing. She isn’t the mean boss found in a lot of magazine-set stories. She isn’t the ice queen that most female bosses seem to be on television. She’s firm, and she’s intense, but she’s fair, kind, and emotionally complex. Sutton, Kat, and Jane are appropriately intimidated by her, but they ultimately feel like they can go to her in moments of crisis. Because Jacqueline is an approachable, understanding boss. She represents ambition and power but without the corruption that sometimes comes with.
While The Bold Type’s brilliant season finale, I initially thought there was something off about Jacqueline’s behaviors. Intending to give her two weeks notice, Jane takes a meeting with Jacqueline and is suddenly derailed when Jacqueline accepts one of Jane’s first pitches ever: a profile of Mia Lawrence, a sexual assault survivor who is in the midst of an ongoing performance art piece where she carries two weights, never putting them down, only occasionally receiving reprieve from fellow survivors who carry the weights in turns. Eager to make the first story she wanted to write, Jane takes on the assignment and forgoes telling Jacqueline the news about taking the job at Incite. Over the course of the episode, Jacqueline relentlessly pushes Jane to do better with the story, unsatisfied by Jane’s work. She doubts her right off the bat, saying that it’s one thing for Jane to write about herself as she usually does and another to capture someone else’s trauma. At first, I thought maybe Jacqueline’s toughness on Jane was her way of trying to keep Jane around. Jacqueline seems to know about the Incite offer, and every time Jane tries to bring it up, Jacqueline brings the conversation back to the story on Mia. Then I started to think Jacqueline’s behaviors were inconsistent with her character. She’s a tough critic, but she isn’t usually so nitpicky when it comes to Jane’s work. Mia’s story is important, to be sure. But Jacqueline has never shown so much involvement in the writing process before.
Jacqueline’s behaviors aren’t inconsistent with her character nor were they just for the sake of making Jane’s transition to Incite, where she has been promised her own vertical and will seemingly have less editorial oversight, seem like an easier decision. After Jane officially tells Jacqueline she’s leaving Scarlet, Jane goes to the park to stand with Mia. The media’s and the public’s attention to Mia’s project has wavered since she began. And Kat, who hits the two million Twitter followers mark in the episode, pairs with Jane to try to help boost interest by live streaming the project for online viewers. But in this moment at the end, Jane thinks it’s important to show up in person. Kat and Sutton show up, too.
And then Jacqueline shows up and takes the weights from Mia’s hands, offering to carry the weight of her own sexual assault. Earlier in the episode, Jane expresses that she doesn’t think any words she could possibly write would ever capture the feeling of seeing Mia hand the weights to another survivor, something Jane witnesses during her first interview with Mia. Seeing Jacqueline take the weights captures that powerful emotional complexity that Jane struggles to grapple with in her story. That one shot says so much with so little. It’s almost more telling than the scene after, where Jacqueline tells Jane the details of when she was raped. In the course of the episode, The Bold Type gives voice to Mia and to her project, making the simple mechanics of how the performance art piece works meaningful and affecting. All it takes is us seeing Jacqueline take those weights in her hands for us to feel the weight of the scene, the weight of the project, which is a direct reference to the real-life story of Emma Sulkowicz and the Carry That Weight project.
The Bold Type‘s finale is a perfect example of how to tell a powerful sexual assault narrative without showing actual sexual violence. That makes it sound like I’m saying the episode tells instead of showing, when we’re constantly told television should do the opposite. But The Bold Type is showing instead of telling. That shot of Jacqueline accepting the weights is what showing versus telling means in a nutshell. The Bold Type shows Jacqueline and Mia’s frustration, their inability to put their trauma into terms that are easy to understand. Mia says she doesn’t feel normal, says that her pain doesn’t fit her body. Jacqueline says she doesn’t think it’s possible to ever be normal again, that you have to find a new normal. The Bold Type shows that while these women had different experiences, they both carry the weight of their trauma. They both know that justice isn’t something they will ever get. It’s important for television to acknowledge the realities of sexual assault and to give voice to survivors through narratives that center characters who are survivors. But television shows that depict sexual violence and rape are traumatizing, turning the violence into spectacle and making the misguided assumption that viewers have to see the violence in order to understand it as horrific. The Bold Type doesn’t use sexual assault as a plot device or as backstory. All the emotions that Jane finds hard to convey in her story are embedded in this smart, moving episode.
The Bold Type has accomplished a lot in its first season, infusing its fun and bubbly universe with dark, real storylines about cancer, sexual assault, immigration, and online harassment…and, in the process, dragging Trump more than most new shows have. The central themes of sex, fashion, politics, and feminism all interplay in smart ways. Just like Kat, Sutton, and Jane trying to find balance in their work and love lives, the show is about their ambition in their workplace but also their ups and downs in their dating lives. Sutton agrees to go on a date with Alex in the finale, but the two are caught kissing in the stairwell by Jacqueline, who insists that they meet with HR (and legal, so, Richard). By the end of the episode, Sutton ends up in an elevator with Richard, suggesting that that chapter isn’t quite closed. Jane is single and heading to Incite, a bold story move considering that one of the first things we ever learned about Jane is that she feel like she belongs at Scarlet.
And then there’s one of The Bold Type’s boldest accomplishments: the fact that the show has placed the relationship between two queer women of color at the center of its romantic storytelling. Sutton has her love triangle, and Jane has her on-and-off thing with Pinstripe, but Kat and Adena’s relationship has been the most layered and significant of the whole season. Even in episodes where Adena isn’t present, as is unfortunately the case in this season finale, the writers don’t let Kat or us forget about her. Adena is still very much on Kat’s mind. She flips through her empty passport, imagines a different life away from the social media world, of which she’s clearly growing tired. By finale’s end, she’s boarding a plane. The Kadena chapter isn’t over either. This slow-burn romance has been one of my favorite queer storylines on television in a long time. Even though Kat and Adena keep confronting obstacles to being together, they aren’t doomed. Their conflicts resonate deeply, tap into some of the show’s best emotional storytelling. The way the writers have placed this queer love story at the emotional epicenter of the show makes The Bold Type a very bold series indeed.
Ahem, let me end this recap on my soapbox: Freeform, don’t mess this up. Renew The Bold Type and let the beautiful story of Kat and Adena continue. This show has turned in a stellar first season, and it deserves many more.