Spoilers are ahead. In the final scene of Shrill, Portland writer Annie (Aidy Bryant) and her BFF Fran (Lolly Adefope) sit on a park bench, sipping directly from a bottle of warm champagne and staring dejectedly in the middle distance as they commiserate over the ways they'd both just screwed up their love lives. Out of context, the vignette could've played out in any episode, any season of the Hulu comedy.
But the context, of course, is key — the first half of the scene features a tearful moment between the roommates as they both admit that their friendship has been the longest and most important relationship in their lives. This is the important takeaway from the scene, despite the fact that they both also admit that might've irreparably damaged the healthiest romantic relationships they've ever been in.
On one hand, the ending is ambiguous: Can they actually fix everything with their significant others? Or is this just the latest way the two women have sabotaged their own happiness? But this is no Sopranos black screen moment.
Over the course of three seasons, Annie and Fran have had bad hookups, amazing sex, professional failures, and triumphant successes. They've lashed out after screwing up and hurt people they love, but they've also learned how to assert themselves and trust their own instincts. They've grown up — which is why the ending is not actually all that ambiguous. Maybe they'll fix things, maybe they won't, but it doesn't matter — they've learned enough about themselves and about the world that they'll be okay. That was ultimately the goal of the ending.
"Our hope was to show [Annie] in a meaningful, thoughtful relationship that isn't the end goal," Bryant told Refinery29 in late April. "Something I really like about the end for both Fran and Annie is that they don't end with these perfect scenarios. They end with scenarios that they're going to have to work through and grow in order to get through. I think it is up to the audience to decide do you think they work it out? Do they stay together? Or is it over and she has to start over? But I think it's a nice way to show that she's got more work to do forever."
So no, there's no concrete answer as to what happens for both besties. But it also doesn't actually matter because both women have the tools to either try to repair their relationships or to move forward having learned from them, something they might not have been able to do when we first met them.
But Annie and Fran aren't the only ones who learned and grew throughout Shrill's three seasons — Bryant did too.
Refinery29: It feels very purposeful that you ended the series where you did, because it shows how Annie's romantic relationship wasn't really the end goal.
Aidy Bryant: "I think that goals, in a weird way, is almost what it's about — there is no perfect golden ribbon that you won self-worth and confidence or a relationship. It's going to always be this ever-evolving [thing]. Challenges will arise and you can deal with them differently. That's, to me, what the show is about: In the end you can change your approach to how you talk to yourself as you get into these challenges. What you have at the end of the day to get through it is your friends, [and the ability] to talk through and process it and try to not be so cruel to yourself."
When you set out to write this season of Shrill, did you know it would be the end?
"We knew later, but during, so I do feel like we got to make some decisions that led us to a place where we were really happy with it, and that is more than I think I ever would have thought we would get, you know what I mean? To be happy with the end."
Annie's arc of improvement throughout the seasons is very clear — she changed a lot from the beginning of season 1 to the finale. How did you change throughout the course of the show?
"Definitely making Shrill has changed me as a person, partially because I really got to see that I could stand on my own two feet and make something from seed to fruit, to have a point of view. That took a lot of growth because initially I still had a lot of people-pleasing tendencies and a lot of deferring to people — 'of course, you probably know more than me.' What Shrill really allowed me to do was to trust that I have a point of view and I have a voice and I have experience and a lot of times I do have the answers.
It made me much more comfortable being like, 'I'm the boss.' I have to speak up and advocate for the piece of art that I'm trying to make. That was a really wonderful experience and I kind of wish I could watch footage of myself doing it in my first season versus now, because I think it would look really different. That's not saying that I'm this tyrant, but I think I got more comfortable with being firm and saying what I mean rather than hedging it and couching it. Like, 'Okay, well I have an idea, but it might be stupid, but what do you guys think?' and all that stuff that we do to protect ourselves."
Oh god, the couching language — every woman I know, myself included, has so much experience with that.
"I do it almost innately — like I don't even mean to do it and it just starts coming out of me like lava."
"What Shrill really allowed me to do was to trust that I have a point of view and I have a voice and I have experience and a lot of times I do have the answers."
You and Annie are very different people, but there are definitely some personal similarities. Do you want to continue in that vein of playing characters that share a lot of your DNA?
"Thus far in my career, any character that I do, even if it's an insane character on SNL, I'm trying to find a little piece of myself that identifies with that person and has a familiarity. And I think in writing, naturally anything I write is going to come from my point of view. But I think because of that, it's kind of the fun of it to me. A lot of the stuff that I've been working on so far are in themes that are really comfortable to me or that I feel like I understand really deeply because I've experienced them, but I am trying them on from a different angle or a different approach. For example, there's something that I'm working on right now that is too long-winded to explain, but it's a character who has insecurities, but rather than putting them inward on themselves, they put them outward on other people in an extreme way. I think that's a way of using my own experience, but from a really different lens that's not actually my own experience, if that makes sense."
You seem to be having a lot of fun at SNL this season, especially just doing silly things with Kate McKinnon.
"I missed several shows at the beginning of the season because we were filming Shrill and I do think it gave me this deeper value of my time there; and how much I love the people there; and how much I missed doing stuff with Kate — almost like I got too comfortable, I got too used to just getting to do it every week. So being away from it I was like, 'Oh, I really miss everybody and I miss writing with my friends.' And even coming back, it was like whoa, Bowen [Yang] has really blossomed, Heidi [Gardner], Ego [Nwodim] — it was just so fun to come back with fresh eyes and have fun in a whole different way."
Do you have an end in sight for your time on SNL?
"I wish I had a solid answer. I feel really open to all possibilities — staying or going — and I am waiting for that moment of clarity, which I think I'll have but I haven't had it yet. In the meantime I'm just taking it day by day, getting through this season, getting Shrill out there, and then I feel like this summer I'll have some real time to think about it and think about what it would look like. I got to try on what it would be like to not be at the show and it was very satisfying as well, so it's kind of weird — I almost got a little training wheels situation."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.