Goodbye to Trump-era classic “The Bold Type”: “Happily ever after” looks different for all women

The show has tackled everything from queer Muslim identity to cultural assumptions about how vaginas should smell

Published July 1, 2021 4:32PM (EDT)

Aisha Dee, Meghann Fahy and Katie Stevens in "The Bold Type" (Freeform/Jonathan Wenk)
Aisha Dee, Meghann Fahy and Katie Stevens in "The Bold Type" (Freeform/Jonathan Wenk)

The Trump presidency is now behind us, but the period of invigorated social activism and deeper appreciation for journalism inspired a wave of plucky, new political storytelling. Freeform's "The Bold Type" was just one such show that rose to the occasion, but it managed to stand out from the pack as an unmistakable, unapologetic ode to female friendship. 

The dramedy, which ended its five-season run with its series finale Wednesday night, tells the story of three young, millennial women working their ways up their own professional ladders at the fictional "Scarlet" magazine. Jane (Katie Stevens) is a Type A, serial monogamist, and natural-born-writer; Sutton (Meghan Fahy) is the plucky and adventurous fashionista who grinds as a fashion assistant for years before clinching her dream stylist position; and Kat (Aisha Dee) is the fierce social media wizard, perennial activist, and, since the middle of the first season, a proudly out queer woman. The best friends navigate a number of wild personal and work-related shenanigans, often tackling critical social issues along the way, and they do it all together. The show has often been a blast, owing to their chemistry alone.

The show has tackled everything from queer Muslim and queer Black identity, to cultural assumptions about how vaginas should smell, to the manipulations of anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers." Much like its protagonists who stumble and fall on their feminist journeys, "The Bold Type" itself has had and acknowledged its own bumps along the way — namely, a controversial romance between Kat and a lesbian conservative woman. Writers shut that ship down at the last minute, in response to criticisms that it was unrealistic for Kat to be with someone who supported policies that undermine her existence as a queer Black woman.

One particularly interesting and pivotal storyline came to a surprising and optimistic ending in Wednesday's series finale. Sutton and her older husband Richard (Sam Page) separated in the final episodes of the penultimate season, when they were unable to compromise on Richard's need to have kids, and Sutton's firm aversion to kids. Sutton was 26 at the time of this conflict, and where other shows probably wouldn't have let a second go by without reminding audiences of her relatively young age, and that she "could change her mind," "The Bold Type" took a vastly different approach. Not once is Sutton's decision, or her knowledge of her own self and her own plans and desires for her life, disrespected.

The series ultimately ends with the two reuniting, and Richard choosing Sutton over kids. There are several important lessons here, showrunner Wendy Straker Hauser tells Salon. "To look at the world as if 'happily ever after' means the same thing for everyone, is not accurate," she said. "Being able to morph and change what that means to you is essential, because everyone's looks different — it's not always how you thought it would be. But it's still pretty awesome."

Compromise isn't always a loss, and our wants and needs can be fluid — a woman who doesn't want kids can someday change her mind, sure, but so can a man who once thought he needed kids. Any number of outcomes can happen, at any time. But how often do we see the latter, and not the former? How often do we see a woman not have to compromise, and still have the career and love and dream family situation she's always wanted? In Sutton and Richard's unique happy ending, we finally see this.

"The Bold Type" is a celebration of the infinite range of what "happily ever after" can look like for different women, of all ages and backgrounds, and how our notions of what makes us happy can change all the time. Straker Hauser talked to Salon about saying goodbye, the importance of work friends and mentors to catch you when you fall, that memorable "vagacial" episode, and more.

What do you think "The Bold Type" shows about the importance of having some good work friends, and good mentors, like Jacqueline and Oliver?

I think it shows when you have that, anything is possible. It was just the most inspiring show to be able to write and be a part of. Watching these girls fail but then ultimately triumph because they had those supportive mentors and friendships was really satisfying, and true to how our real lives are. We all need cheerleaders!

One of Kat's most memorable storylines is her time running for office, and from there, we continue to see her grow as a leader and, in her own way, a storyteller, throughout the series. How does this culminate in that final twist of her becoming editor-in-chief? 

She's always been a baller, she's always been somebody who fights for change and actually succeeds. We saw her change policy at "Scarlet" and Safford a few times, and we've never really seen that from Jane or Sutton. When we were reminded of that, it just felt like she belonged in Jacqueline's position in a way that felt like we should have come up with it a long, long time ago. I think she used to come at it from sort of a hotheaded impulsive place, but now as she's grown, she comes at it from a very mature, strategic place.

"Kadena" — Kat and Adena's (Nikohl Boosheri) relationship — is one of the most beloved ships on TV, as a modern, dynamic love story. How have both of these characters grown in the years and seasons since they got together, to bridge the differences that first broke them up?

A lot of their breakup was immaturity and timing. I think Kat was afraid, she was experiencing all of these new emotions and discoveries and it was confusing and exciting. But Kat did have a fear of commitment and settling down, and labeling herself or being labeled. So, when things got really good and close, she would run. And in the beginning, Adena felt like somebody who was all-knowing and somebody Kat put on a pedestal. Throughout the series, we've seen Adena in times of vulnerability, and Kat rise up and be the rock for Adena. That was really important for us.

They kind of found themselves on an even playing field, and Adena really needed to see that strength in Kat. She needed to see [Kat] was no longer afraid of commitment and happily ever after, and Kat very much knew Adena was the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. You know, you just spend enough time knowing each other and living in the world to know you're supposed to be with each other in the end.

Journalism played an especially vital role during the Trump era, which was the backdrop of most of this show. What do you think audiences learned from watching Jane work? Are there any favorite stories of yours that Jane worked on?

She always knew she wanted to be a writer, but she kind of vacillated between what kind she wanted to be. At times she wrote some first-person stories, and I loved when we did those — she felt really vulnerable in a fun way. She wanted to branch out and try investigative journalism, and she realized that wasn't really the right place and space for her. Going back to that concept of mentorship, she really missed Jacqueline. And ultimately at the end, she found a middle ground, where she loved chasing the story, and righting the wrongs. She always seemed to be write stories that had personal resonance for her.

In terms of my favorite stories — gosh, I had fun with Season 4, Episode 6, when Jane had a "vagacial" and she ended up having some issues down under. That was a fun sort of story, when she ended up on a panel, and inspired other women not to be embarrassed by their own bodies. I always love the stories of hers that incorporate that humor, where she's able to make fun of herself in the process.

A lot of shows today are exploring the age-old patriarchal question of whether women can "have it all" — the career, the love, the family. I felt like I saw answers to this question in the finale of "The Bold Type." What was the internal decision-making and conversation around Sutton and Richard's reunion like? Was there talk about any compromises that could be possible?

We actually had a lot of conversations, and we wanted to be sensitive to the fact that these were two characters that had very different visions of what their happily ever after would look like. Both of them truly believed that for themselves, so we didn't want to flip-flop very quickly. But at the same time, we believe that when Richard and Sutton saw each other, and after living in their bubble and spending time together — especially in the world we're living in right now, where life doesn't always end up as you imagine it to be — they realize you have to make choices about what the new version of your life is going to be. 

It felt really satisfying that Richard, after spending time with Sutton again, would choose Sutton over having children, because that ultimately was more important to him to have her by his side. I think everyone's version of having it all is very different. Sutton does have it all, without kids — that's her version of having it all. 

Jane, you could say, had it all when she had this job that she thought she wanted, but then she looked at it and it wasn't right for her. Now, she's going to figure out what her version of having it all looks like. Same thing for Kat — I don't know if Kat, in a different lifetime, would think being at "Scarlet" was "having it all." But her ability to make that job her own and still have it, and make her relationship with Adena her own, and still be committed, is her version of having it all. 

I have a lot of friends who are also young women, and know they don't want kids, and are tired of hearing they'll change their mind. How did you approach representing the reality that yes, Sutton is very young, but this can still be a decision she knows for herself?

We just had a lot of conversations, and that's something we did across the board, always, with all these topics and storylines. We had a lot of conversations with everyone in our writers' room, and we talked about what our fears were in telling certain stories, and why we needed to tell them a certain way. And so, in terms of their ending with Richard and Sutton, what really became apparent to me was they needed to be together, and this was the right ending. If we'd had an ending where Sutton decided she didn't want to have kids, and she let Richard go because she wanted him to fulfill his dreams, then she was losing the love of her life by deciding she didn't want to have kids. And that just didn't seem right to any of us. 

We really wanted to tell a story where Sutton chooses to not have kids — a woman makes a choice to not have kids — and she still gets the love of her life, she still gets her version of happily ever after. That was very important to us, not just in representing people out there who feel the same way, but also in the character that we built. We wanted her character to reach a place where she was enough and she knew she was more than enough.

Finally, Kat and Jane have surprise endings of their own! We see Jane, a serial monogamist, have a one-night stand and make plans to travel the world, and Kat makes serious commitments to both "Scarlet" and Adena. How do Kat, Jane and Sutton show the full range of what happiness can look like for women?

Just in being open to the unexpected, and being flexible to make something your own, in a way that feels good to you! They all had a hand in crafting their happily ever after, instead of just taking at face value what happily ever after is supposed to look like.

How does it feel to be letting "The Bold Type" go?

It feels really sad! It feels hard, I not only love writing the show, and physically sitting in front of my computer and having these girls bust on each other, joke with each other, lift each other up — I loved the actors and the cast, the crew, the makeup people in Canada, the press. It's a huge, bittersweet ending, and it's a loss because I don't get to do it anymore. But what a gain we had by being part of a show that's not only fun to make and write, but also helped so many people.

The full five seasons of "The Bold Type" is available to stream on Hulu.

By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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