What The Bold Type Gets Right About Workplace Hostility

The Freeform dramedy adds a big twist in its third season, but its thoughtful treatment of the interior lives of young women remains its backbone.

Freeform's 'The Bold Type' introduces a surprising new male character this season, and his presence underscores the many small ways that women are undermined in the workplace. (Freeform / Philippe Bosse)

This article contains spoilers for the Season 3 premiere of The Bold Type.

The first time that The Bold Type’s Jane Sloan (Katie Stevens) meets her soon-to-be boss in the show’s Season 3 premiere, their encounter is a literal wreck. On the Freeform dramedy, which follows the writer and two friends working at the Cosmopolitan-inspired Scarlet magazine, Jane opens her cab door outside the office and hits a passing cyclist: the publication’s incoming digital editor, Patrick Duchand (Peter Vack). Jane is outraged that Patrick hadn’t been riding in the bike lane—and that’s before she learns his identity. Afterward, she’s incensed that he, or any man, would be brought in to lead the women’s magazine.

Like the publication that ties them together, the three young women at the show’s core experienced a series of dramatic shifts prior to Patrick’s arrival. By the end of The Bold Type’s second season, the social-media director Kat Edison (Aisha Dee) more fully embraced her black queer identity and broke up with her girlfriend, the photographer Adena (Nikohl Boosheri). The fashion assistant Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy) found her footing in her new gig and publicly revealed her long-running relationship with the handsome board member Richard Hunter (Sam Page). Most devastatingly, Jane learned that she has the same BRCA gene mutation as her mother, who died of breast cancer.

Scarlet’s editor, the glamorous Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin), wrote an article advocating for the Scarlet board to reconsider restrictive health-insurance policies that would keep employees like Jane from being able to afford egg freezing and other prohibitively expensive reproductive procedures. The board, unsurprisingly composed of men, bristled at her public critique; by the season’s end, the executives were reviewing possible replacements for Jacqueline. Now, at the outset of Season 3, Patrick’s introduction is an intriguing, and conflict-filled, new direction for a show loosely based on the life of the famed Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles.

Carlyle, the Coles-inspired character, remains on staff at Scarlet in a print-specific role in Season 3, but the slights she suffers because of Patrick’s hiring will likely seem familiar to The Bold Type’s largely female fan base. Through Patrick’s character, the show deftly elucidates any number of indignities that women experience in the workplace: ageism, insensitivity to personal issues, garden-variety paternalism.

As a villain, Patrick is more gnat than tyrant. He is overly familiar, often using his own queerness to either cozy up to Kat or suggest that he intrinsically understands women—and is therefore qualified to lead Scarlet. He simply grates. Given much of the increased public dialogue about workplace discrimination and harassment, it would have been natural for The Bold Type to introduce a more obviously evil character—a man who held openly misogynistic views, or who’d harmed women in easily legible ways. (At one point, Jane believes this to be true of Patrick, but the show quickly complicates her assumption with a surprising detail from his past.)

But the writers’ choice to instead depict more nebulous forms of gendered undermining is a smart, if occasionally cringe-inducing, narrative choice. In its third season, as in its solid first and stellar second installments, The Bold Type addresses the issues facing young women not by dramatizing conflict beyond reasonable bounds, but by following its leads with a refreshing attention to the social forces that affect each part of their lives.

The Scarlet magazine social-media director Kat Edison wrestles with how to do her job and remain a queer role model online after a difficult breakup with her girlfriend. (Freeform / Philippe Bosse)

As with any Hollywood workplace rendering, though, the show has some moments of dubious authenticity. As a writer—which is to say, a particularly invested party—it’s been consistently hard for me to not at least giggle at the show’s depictions of editorial processes. (And sure, I was tickled by the quick shot of a profile of “Patrick Duchand, Digital Wunderkind” on a mock-up of The Atlantic.) On The Bold Type, every story is supposedly urgent, but no one ever seems to be in a rush to write; social media is allegedly important, but the team director doesn’t appear to know how to schedule tweets. The series tackles the interior lives of its leads with impressive realism, but stretches the truth most obviously when it comes to its depictions of their jobs as purveyors of fact. (I will admit, though, that perhaps a small portion of my incredulity might stem from jealousy—what I wouldn’t give for Jane’s writing schedule, which appears to be “whenever inspiration strikes.”)

It’s a television show, of course, so these are forgivable lapses—the Freeform program’s most natural predecessor, Sex and the City, was hardly known for its journalistic rigor. And The Bold Type more than makes up for these retouches with its clear investment in the characters who lead Scarlet. Though Patrick’s addition to the show’s glossy ecosystem sets the new season up for its biggest shifts, he’s not the only queer male character who gets substantial screen time: Sutton grows closer to her boss, Oliver (Stephen Conrad Moore), after noticing a lapse in his attention at the office and inadvertently learning some backstory about his life. It’s a welcome fleshing out of Oliver’s character; though clearly talented and exacting in his management of Sutton, he’d previously been one of the less realized figures.

The main women’s relationships all progress, too, with Kat’s being perhaps the most instructive for young women navigating love and loss alongside the pressures of hyper-connectivity. Jane’s onetime fling, the writer Ryan, appears at length, too (the friends all call him “Pinstripe,” after the Scarlet-affiliated publication where he worked when he met Jane). In one charmingly risqué scene, Sutton accidentally sees him leaving Jane’s room naked post-coitus. The friends then proceed to joke, with no shortage of admiring laughter, about “Pinstripe’s peen-stripe,” a Carrie Bradshaw–ian line so corny, it’s endearing. Thankfully, The Bold Type, with its earnest story lines and thoughtful touches, remains a delight to watch.