Tuesday, August 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Bold Type' - A Story Gets Too Personal for Jane and She Lashes Out in 'The Breast Issue'

Freeform's The Bold Type - Episode 1.06 "The Breast Issue"

In promoting Scarlet's breast health awareness campaign, Kat tries to be bold with her message, but is left wondering whether her competitive nature is hurting her cause. Jane confronts past issues and current anxieties when she is tasked with writing a controversial piece about BRCA gene testing. Sutton is determined to excel at her tasks at hand, but when things fall apart, it's Alex who rushes to her rescue.

The Bold Type has had a strong and confident first season. Yes, I've had some problems with the structuring and storytelling. But overall, this has proven to be such a fun addition to the summer lineup. It's one of the best new shows that has debuted this year. That's impressive because television is constantly churning out greatness from every corner of the industry. The Bold Type stands out because it is fun while also empowering. So yes, I can complain that Jane's stories have been way too episodic compared to the ongoing stories for Kat and Sutton. But it's still just a minor problem. And now, when Jane's story takes such a turn for the personal and devastating, it's quite effective even though I had those doubts. Everything about this season has informed who Jane is. So, it's easy to understand her reaction to everything revolving around this story about gene testing for breast cancer. The show makes it personal while also pushing Jane to her limits and potentially destroying everything she loves as a result. Her actions have consequences. On a lesser show, the outburst that she has would never occur because it would lead to her swift termination because the boss simply doesn't care about the employees. But here, she is allowed to keep her job because there is an open line of dialogue between Jacqueline and her employees. There are things that Jane says that are absolutely true. But the way she said them reflected behavior that just can't be tolerated in the workplace.

The show has hinted at Jane's tragic personal history before. Her mother died when she was very little. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32. That's rough. It means Jane had to grow up without a mother. The only memories she has of her mom are her in the hospital. It's such a tragic memory. She's hardened herself to it as well. She doesn't want to think back to that time and the person she never got to know. She didn't have her normal reaction of wanting to have as much information as she could in order to be prepared for whatever happens next. When it comes to this issue, she is in complete denial. She's shutting herself off to the rest of the world because she believes they see her pain as a potential story that can be told in order to sell the magazine. That's a cynical view of this world. But it's easy to understand why she believes that as well. Jacqueline has pushed her writers to be very personal in their articles. When it's a subject that they are passionate about, it shows in the final product. She's always pushing to get people out of their comfort zone. But with this issue, Jane can't just readily accept what Jacqueline is asking of her.

It's also important to note that there is no malice to what Jacqueline is doing. She's just trying to mentor her employees so that they can live up to their full potential. She sees aspiring young talents with stories to tell. She wants to mold them into successful writers who are proud to work at Scarlet. She gave this story to Jane because she believed she had a valid take on the subject matter. She didn't know how personal it truly was to her until she actually saw her reactions. Jane has internalized all of this. She wants to be perfect but she lives in fear of an uncertain future. She has the love and support of her friends. But right now, they seem distant and not giving her what she needs. Kat's story is pretty simple throughout this episode. And yet, it also digs deeper into an important conversation. It's the debate about whether or not female nipples can be shown in public or on social media. She is trying to make a stand because it's a project she can devote all of her time into. She has inventive ideas for how to overthrow the system. She wants to create a huge story. She wants to topple the patriarchy for trying to suppress her body. But she also gets too caught up in the story without a fundamental understanding of what asking this of women actually means. She has the freedom to rally for this cause because she doesn't live in fear. Not in the same way that Jane does. It takes her awhile to accept that. She needs Jacqueline's help in order to do so. But she ultimately does.

It's so moving to see the power that comes from female friendship throughout this episode. It's a really specific bond. Jane, Kat and Sutton work so well together. Everyone in the office notices it. They don't try to hide it. They are there for each other no matter what the situation may be. And now, Kat and Sutton need to help Jane through this difficult time. Jane is spiraling because she's not getting the help and support she needs in this moment. Kat and Sutton are forceful with her in the beginning with the suggestion that she should take the gene test. Jane is still in denial at that point. It's a little frustrating to watch her be so against this procedure. She believes it's harmful to ask women in their twenties to get screened like this. She doesn't see the point. This issue touches her personally. A breast cancer diagnosis could be right around the corner if she's not prepared for it. Over the course of this hour, Jane needs to accept that this is a reality for her. She can't simply avoid this issue forever. If she pretends it doesn't exist, that could prove deadly to her. She needs to be aware of the issue in order to prevent it. She needs to be around for her friends and to have this successful career that she wants. She still has so much further to go. She is still acting out and being incredibly neurotic about every article she writes. That's her personality. That's not bound to change anytime soon. But she can't let her fear and ignorance define her life.

It is very emotional and devastating in the end when Jane takes the test and the results come back positive. It doesn't mean that she has breast cancer. That would be quite a twist at this stage of the season that would dramatically change the basic narrative of the entire show. And yet, the show is building the foundation for that story should the creative team ever decide to pursue it. She has an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer. It means she'll have to schedule more doctors appointments throughout the year to keep track of her health. It's a necessary hassle for her. It's to ensure that she stays healthy for as long as possible. And now, she knows that and accepts it. She's also willing to share her story. This is an incredibly personal moment for her. She's willing to share it with Kat and Sutton because they are the closest friends she has. She needs them because she can't go through this experience all alone. It's scary but the bonds of friendship will help her get through it. But she's also willing to film the experience in order for it to empower other women. She doesn't want them to live in fear the same way that she did. She doesn't want someone to foolishly avoid taking the test just because they don't believe it could happen to them. She's doing the smart thing now. She's being mature for her age even though it's still a scary prospect for her. And yet, she's able to conquer her fears. That's an empowering message that makes "The Breast Issue" the strongest episode of the season so far.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Breast Issue" was written by Matt McGuinness and directed by Jamie Travis.
  • In addition to all of this, Jane's story also covers her becoming more comfortable with her body. In the first scene, she's scared to walk around topless in the park even knowing that it is perfectly legal. By the end of the hour, she's confident enough to do it because she has faced her fear. It's a nice way to end the episode on an uplifting moment.
  • For most of this season, I've complained that Jacqueline doesn't seem to have a personal life. Most of the time she's just a mentor to the main characters. She has big demands of them but is willing to help them as well. And now, she is given a home life. It's just delivered in a very expositional way. She has a husband, two sons and a dog.
  • It also happens to be Sutton's first day in the fashion department. It starts with her doing the familiar task of doing a coffee run. But she gets new importance in trying to land an expensive necklace for an upcoming show. The show takes too predictable a twist with her losing it. But that's a contrivance that nicely twists the personal dynamics at play with her as well.
  • So, the show really is developing a love triangle between Sutton, Richard and Alex. Until this moment, that just felt like subtext. Sutton and Richard are dating but she has a very flirtatious friendship with Alex. Of course, this story suffers a little bit because Sutton is a multi-dimensional character and Richard and Alex are solely defined through their dynamics with her.
  • Things seemingly came to a decisive end between Kat and Adena last week with Adena choosing to go to Paris to work things out with her girlfriend. But here, the two of them are still friendly towards each other. It only amounts to texting but it's important that they are remaining parts of each other's lives despite their true feelings for each other. That's bound to get complicated.