The first season of Netflix’s “Trinkets,” which hit the streaming service in June 2019, often felt like it was losing confidence in its own storytelling. A certain subplot would gain momentum only to be forgotten a few episodes in; various character details were abandoned throughout. In contrast, the second and final season, which drops August 25 on the service, is a nearly unrecognizable 180-degree turn. With snappy pacing, clear narrative arcs, and thoughtful engagement with timely issues regarding race and addiction, “Trinkets” ends its run as a surprisingly engrossing diversion.
The first season of “Trinkets” (inspired by the same-named book by Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, who also serves as one of the show’s co-creators and writers), brought together three young women who form an unlikely friendship after meeting at Shoplifters Anonymous. Elodie (Brianna Hildebrand), who moves to Portland to live with her father, stepmother, and younger stepbrother after her mother’s death, starts shoplifting to deal with her grief and loneliness. Tabitha (Quintessa Swindell), one of Lakeshore High School’s elite, is wealthy, but shoplifts as an escape from her physically and emotionally abusive boyfriend Brady (Brandon Butler). And although Tabitha used to be close friends with Moe (Kiana Madeira) when the two were children, they’ve since grown apart. Imagine a combination of Faith Lehane and Willow Rosenberg, and you’ll capture Moe: a sarcastic, cynical outsider who also happens to be one of the two smartest kids at Lakeshore.
In secret, Elodie, Tabitha, and Moe become incredibly close quite quickly (and are involved in a few serious crimes, the importance of which faded away as the first season progressed), and season finale “The Great Escape” ended with a cliffhanger for each character. Elodie ran away after her family found her stash of shoplifted items. Tabitha turned her back on the school’s ruling clique (“post-popular” is how her classmates describe her afterward) and started dating a new guy she met at Shoplifters Anonymous. And Moe, after punching Brady in the face for his abuse of Tabitha, lost a life-changing academic opportunity because of her resulting suspension.
Season two premiere “Supernova” picks up two days later, setting a snappy pace that continues throughout the subsequent nine episodes. Those cliffhangers from “The Great Escape” are resolved quickly in the first third of the season, with Elodie returning home to a severe grounding, Tabitha getting ghosted by the guy she was seeing, and Moe struggling to be a good partner to her first official boyfriend, Noah (Odiseas Georgiadis). When the trio walk into school together to publicly announce their clique-transcending friendship—a scene that indulges in one of the classic tropes of the genre, with accompanying slow motion and bystander double takes—it marks the ending of one phase of “Trinkets,” and the beginning of another. With that plate-clearing out of the way, the season is able to progress forward by concentrating on the girls’ personal growth and group loyalty. “I thought that was our charm,” one of the trio says of their tendency to act “out of control,” and “Trinkets” is at its most interesting when it wonders if Elodie, Tabitha, and Moe need danger and illegality to get along, or if their friendship can survive without it.
“Trinkets” succeeds by tackling broad cultural issues like colorism and domestic abuse through the teenagers’ feelings, reactions, and responses. That centering makes room for greater character depth without “issue” episodes that come off as inauthentic, and Hildebrand, Swindell, and Madeira rise to the occasion. They are alternately vivacious and fragile, gentle and fierce; Swindell in particular has the ability to bounce between extremes in a way that brings to mind Kristen Stewart. With Brady remaining as the girls’ primary antagonist, the show explores classism and white privilege by comparing how school administrators treat him, as a rich white boy from a family with Ivy League pedigree, versus how they treat Latina and working-class Moe. Tabitha’s decision to change her hairstyle into long braids after being racially profiled during a shopping trip with her mother is one example of how the series allows Tabitha to explore and assert her Black identity. And “Trinkets” portrays young love and the coming-out experience through Elodie’s crush on a fellow student, clarinet player Jillian (Chloë Levine), who isn’t sure if she shares Elodie’s romantic feelings.
Unlike other teen zeitgeist shows like “Riverdale” or “Euphoria,” which indulge in myriad pop culture references that wink to Generation X and Millennials, “Trinkets” is firm in its interest being Generation Z’s everyday lives. There are passing mentions to “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” “Attack on Titan,” and Disney princesses (plus another teen-genre mainstay: the Halloween-party episode), but “Trinkets” is comfortable letting its teen characters talk about photography assignments, math tests, romantic disappointments, and parental tensions without too many outside distractions. The writing throughout is more intentional (including some very abrupt McDonald’s product placement), with fewer dangling story threads and a better balance between that general high school content and the shoplifting- and recovery-related storylines that dominated the first season.
The final episodes, “Aren’t You Gonna Say Something?” and “We Belong,” merge it all together to wrap up “Trinkets” in a genuinely affecting way. “It’s not enough knowing you’re broken. You have to do something to fix it,” Tabitha says in the series’ penultimate episode, and “Trinkets” satisfies in its final season by switching to a character-driven focus that lets its main trio have the final word on how we view them, and how they view themselves.
Whole season screened for review.