Spoilers are ahead. The final season of Shrill doesn’t wait long to deliver a nightmare. In episode 2, Aidy Bryant’s Annie is on a blind date that she wants to end, so she makes an excuse and runs to the bathroom to text her best friend. It’s a simple enough reaction — reaching out to a trusted source to give you an excuse to get the hell out of dodge during a subpar date. But it quickly becomes a modern day horror story when Annie fails to actually look at who she’s texting (spoiler: it’s not Lolly Adefope’s Fran). “On truly the worst date of my life!!!” she taps away, before quickly shutting her phone and going back to the table. “I didn’t know you’d miss me so much you’d text me from the bathroom,” her date gently, ever so painfully chirps upon her return. Cue “Oh No.”
“It sucks. It really sucks,” Shrill writer and co-creator Lindy West admitted to Refinery29 during the series’ virtual set visit back in January. It does indeed, and particularly because Annie’s date Will (Cameron Britton) seems like a genuinely nice guy, who did nothing to merit such cruelty. While Annie knows this, she is also certain that her friend Amati (Ian Owens) set her up with this nice man for no other reason other than the fact that he and Annie are both fat.
“Amati genuinely is like, ‘This is one of my best friends. This guy is amazing. He's newly single. You're amazing.’ But she can't see that because she's understandably traumatized by the way she's been treated and reduced,” West explained. “As a fat woman, you're just reduced to nothing but your body, every single second. No one cares about your personality or your accomplishments. So she enacts some real, deep cruelty onto this other person who doesn't deserve it — it’s the kind of cruelty that she's been through. It's a really devastating moment, but she hurts him so egregiously because of her own insecurities.”
In a typical sitcom, this hurtful moment and cultural faux-pas would set off a series of bad dates, each with their own cringe-worthy, upsetting twists. Annie has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend Ryan (Luka Jones), and season 3 sets her up as a woman about town — a successful columnist on Portland’s 30 under 30 list, ready to meet new men and get out of her previous relationship rut. But Shrill has never taken the obvious path, and West was determined to go a better way with Annie’s final arc.
“We didn't want it to just be like a trauma parade of men treating Annie like shit. She does have some heartbreaking moments, but mostly they’re about the weirdness of other people. It's something we try to do with the show in general, which is not to have everything be about the pain of being a fat girl that people are mean to,” said West.
So, instead of begetting a tropey montage, this one terrible, no good date lingers in the air as Annie goes about the rest of Shrill’s final season. It affects her friendship with Amati, who just sent his newly divorced, sweet friend into a very hurtful situation, but it also sets off Annie’s growing pains throughout the season.
In a way, season 3 Annie is the most confident Annie we’ve ever seen — per West, “This is really a triumphant time for her.” In the beginning, the results are all positive: Annie starts the season by telling off a doctor who, without learning a thing about her health or body, suggests she gets gastric bypass surgery. The cathartic moment gives voice to the reality of medical stigma that many fat women know all too well (specifically 62 percent of fat women, per a recent study), and when Annie uses it to inspire one of her columns, the doctor’s office calls to tell her they’re changing their ways. With this hit on her hands, Annie is feeling on top of it all, but Shrill is a series about a real woman going through life — and most of us don’t have one episode’s worth of success and then experience nothing but smooth sailing.
As the season continues, Annie makes mistakes. She’s confident she knows why Amati really set her up; she’s wrong. She’s positive that she can handle reporting on a hyper-conservative family sensitively and appropriately, despite having zero experience covering the topic; she’s wrong. And she’s sure that her friendship with The Thorn’s cute illustrator (who we met at the end of season 2) is romantic; devastatingly, she’s wrong about that too.
Throughout season 3, Annie encounters a series of awkward situations and cringey moments, but in typical Shrill fashion, each one pushes her to grow, change, and better understand herself — starting with the most uncomfortable date in recent television history. If you’ve finished the final season, you know that the awful text incident is not the last we see of Annie and Will. But when the nice man returns and things are decidedly less uncomfortable, his arc is about a lot more than establishing a romantic destination for Annie.
“We want her to have a human life, so not everything is just men rejecting her because of her body. I didn't want it to be like, Annie goes on Tinder and 87 men in a row call her a pig, which is true to life, but it's something we've seen before,” said West. “But fat women have good dating experiences, too.”