Ever since their little heart-to-heart in the summer premiere, Billy and Jane’s once rock solid friendship has been drifting in the wind. Whether it be from the new girl in Billy’s life or the awkwardness that comes with unresolved feelings, the backbone of Jane by Design hasn’t been as strong in recent episodes. On a lot of shows, taking away the best element could break a season and drive the audience away for good, but here it feels different. Refreshing, almost. It’s brought a decidedly different dynamic to a show that leaned heavily on their relationship and is evidence that in the back-half of the season, the show has decided to buck formula and explore the nooks and crannies of these characters.
Which is why I liked that they had the self-awareness to point out the distance and the discomfort that the two lifelong friends are experiencing around one another these days. Rather than ignore it and carry on like everything’s exactly the same as episode one, minute one, Jane by Design is letting their characters breathe, learn, and grow, and that trust in the characters is one of the reasons I liked “The Online Date” as much as I did. We never wallowed or were subjected to an exposition dump of feelings; Billy and Jane’s strength is that they say so much by not saying anything and that the tension between them becomes palpable very quickly when they’re alone. With only a few looks (particularly on the hood of Billy’s car) and a throwaway comment or two (“but clearly you have a plan B”, Jane’s response to Billy’s “I don’t want to be the guy you have to sneak in…”), you absolutely feel what’s going through their minds and it’s some of the most impressive writing/acting that the show has presented yet.
But rather than have the storyline be a total downer, Jane fearing being replaced and Billy being insecure about Jane’s new life, it has the patented Jane by Design optimism woven in for good measure. Jane got to help Billy in “The Online Date”, giving him a major pep talk before going to Zoe’s parents’ house and getting Kate to drive them both over there. Regardless of the pain and mixed-up feelings that emanates from each of their interactions, Jane and Billy are there for each other and there’s enough love between them that they should survive. It makes for beautifully complicated television to watch, though, relatable in its honesty and drawing you in emotionally week by week.
Interestingly, Gray got to have a side plot for the first time in several episodes, thanks to the engagement of Beau and the potential for jumping ship to another company. For much of the initial 10 episodes, Jane by Design painted Gray as the prototypical Devil Wears Prada-type boss, but in “The Online Date”, we got to see a tamer Gray lower her guard and express a little vulnerability. One of the central themes of Jane by Design has been the idea of dress-up; everyone decides how they’re going to act/appear every day and sometimes, you don’t get to see the person underneath the attitude and the ensemble. Gray exposed that part of herself, the woman that doesn’t give orders or make twenty interns cry at the turn of her head, and I liked that person; I felt for that person and I feel like I understand that person just a little more than I did. Gray’s so used to being in control that a morning-from-hell of her ex moving on and her career being up in the air, rumors of a move to another company lingering after a chance meeting on the street, put her a little off her game, to the benefit of the show.
Gray not going on the date after all could have felt like a bit of a let down, considering Jane had another “hurry hurry hurry!” moment trying to stop another India sabotage plot from occurring and the explanation was very tame, but it did give us a moment of the boss softening up around Jane. For 15 episodes, Jane has scuttled around the city, doing anything and everything that Gray says and running herself into the ground, and very rare does she receive a kind comment from the higher-ups. Therefore, Gray actually giving her a “thank you” was oddly satisfying, a long time in the works and an indication that there’s a lot of respect between the two.
The Ben/Rita/Amanda Clark love triangle kept turning in “The Online Date”, with both women trying to boot the other one out of the picture once and for all. Amanda, in particular, brought out the big guns (that happened to be particularly nasty), forcing a kiss on Ben during auditions, making innumerably mean comments to Rita, and faking choking in order to make Rita look bad. I feel like the character is just on the right side of being a villain, but one false move and she’ll go from being a thorn in Rita’s side to a thorn in Jane by Design‘s; Rita is going to have to have a major “victory”, because their competition for Ben’s attention has been less of a competition and more of a one-sided Mean Girls 3 audition tape. The guidance counselor looked to have finally woken up in the episode, dressing up, talking back to Amanda, and spiking her drink with hot sauce, but each of her attempts at “striking back” were refuted and the reconciliation with Ben became farther from her reach. It’s fun to see Rita and Ben get a pretty okay story together, plus the actress that plays Amanda is a great addition to the dynamic, but it’s just not that fun watching someone get beat up on episode after episode.
“The Online Date” ended up being a solid return episode for Jane by Design, only a couple minor bumps and bruises along the way for a sensitive, character-based episode. While I like having the actual business that Donovan Decker does spotlighted through campaigns and runway, it’s nice to just spend time with the characters without having to fit another client-of-the-week into an already stuffed show. With Kate getting a surprise proposal from her ex at the end of the episode, Jane and Ben may be alone again sooner than they thought, but the more their characters get sketched out, the easier the transition will be.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-”No, please, never apologize for quality sass. It’s a gift.”
-”And we will talk about this later if I’m still alive.”
-”Let’s be clear. You sharpen my pencils.”
-”Actually, I’m not that fond of new people.”
-India’s still a harmless cartoon character, but she’s a cartoon character nonetheless. I’m waiting for her to twirl her mustache next week.
-Favorite clothing of the night: Jane’s turquoise blazer and Billy’s red leather jacket.
-I adored the little reveal about Zoe having two fathers. Adored it.
-Jane said the word “b***”, you guys. Did this ever happen before?
-Another examples of Jane and Billy saying things but not really saying things: “You’ve moved on…from Lulu”.
-Next week on Jane by Design: Jane finally gets her real date with Eli, a minor league baseball scout comes looking for Ben, Kate decides on whether or not to marry Dakota, and Billy feels jealous over Nick and Zoe.