Pride Month Spotlight: Bess Marvin of ‘Nancy Drew’

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Welcome to the fourteenth installment of our 2020 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike – the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media. A note: this article contains mild spoilers for season one of Nancy Drew. 

From the moment it was announced that the classic teen detective Nancy Drew was getting a new, modernized show from The CW, fans wondered how beloved characters from the original novels would translate to the high-concept drama. The pilot made it clear that it was not going to be your mother’s (or your grandmother’s, for that matter) Nancy Drew, with darker subplots and even a new setting (Horseshoe Bay vs. River Heights.) The updates didn’t stop there, with Nancy herself becoming a more nuanced and flawed heroine and the addition of new characters with their own agendas. Nancy spends more time going after ghosts out for revenge than rounding up neighborhood criminals. All of these changes made for an intriguing and well-done teen drama, but what really stands out about Nancy Drew is its inclusive treatment of its LGBTQ characters, in particular, Bess Marvin (played by the talented Maddison Jaizani.)

Image courtesy The CW.

Bess is a character who appears in the books as one of Nancy’s best friends, but in this version starts off as a coworker of Nancy’s at The Claw. She’s secretive and pretending to be related to the rich Marvin family, but the audience soon finds out she’s really living in a trailer on the outside of town. Bess also has an addiction to shoplifting, which is what got her fired from her first job as an au pair. She’s convinced she’s really a Marvin, and moved to Horseshoe Bay to pursue her family. Bess is a lonely character at first, not letting anyone in.

Image courtesy The CW.

But that changes quickly as she and the rest of the Drew Crew must team up to prove their innocence in Tiffany Hudson’s murder. In the second episode, Bess and Ace are in charge of delaying a transport van by pretending to have a flat tire so that Nancy has time to get evidence to use to solve the case. Ace has been flirting with Bess throughout the episode, but that changes when the driver of the transport car, Lisbeth (Katie Findlay), gets out to help them with their flat tire. She’s smart and funny, and Bess is smitten. She even gets her number before they leave.

Image courtesy The CW.

Ace notices this, and when they are alone back at The Claw, he asks Bess about Lisbeth and if she has feelings for her. What follows is a great exchange where Ace affirms her right to identify however she wants, and clearly stating that he supports her no matter what:

Bess: The thing is that I don’t really date anybody. Boys … girls…
Ace: Why not?
Bess: I don’t know. I guess I’ve just been on my own for so long that I never let myself drop an anchor to get close to someone like that.
Ace: I can be your anchor. Your platonic anchor. Call it a platanchor. If you let me.
Bess: Are you asking to be my friend?
Ace: Yeah.

Bess ends up pursuing a relationship with Lisbeth, who is eventually revealed to be an undercover cop working on the Hudson case. But her feelings for Bess are real, and they continue to date after this reveal. At first, Bess worries that telling Lisbeth the whole truth about her past as a shoplifter and her rough childhood will scare Lisbeth away, but this is disproved when Bess finally tells her the truth. Lisbeth loves Bess for who she is, and the two of them are ridiculously cute together.

Image courtesy The CW.
Image courtesy The CW.

Bess also grows over the course of the season, and we get to see more of her bubbly, loyal personality. Her friendship with her “platanchor” Ace also remains a major strength of the show as they work together on a number of side quests for the Drew Crew, where hilarity often ensues (Bess and Ace trying to procure holy water in “The Whisper Box” remains a series highlight.)

She also shows how much she cares about her friends when she urges Nancy to wake up from the spirit realm she’s trapped in in “The Whisper Box,” crying and holding Nancy’s hand while telling her all the reasons she needs to return to them after Ace tells her that’s how he made his way back from the spirit world. Bess has a heart of gold, and now that she’s found friends like these, she lets it show much more than she did at the start.

But her desire for family and belonging often allows others to take advantage of her loyalty, like when she discovers she really is a Marvin after all. Bess (and the audience) get to know the extended Marvin clan, a family so twisted they have a “Hall of Tragedies” to memorialize members who have died in strange or unusual circumstances. Matriarch Aunt Diana sees an opportunity to use Bess’s desperate longing for a family to help the family’s status, often suggesting that Bess use her relationship with Lisbeth to get information about ongoing police investigations involving the Marvins.

Image courtesy The CW.

Lisbeth finds out about this quickly (lying is not one of Bess’ talents), but doesn’t blame Bess. She does, however, tell her the difficult truth that her new family is not to be trusted, reminding her again that they have a literal Hall of Tragedies (it cannot be overstated enough how hilarious and terrible this is.) Bess and Lisbeth are still together and happy in the season finale, but it seems clear the two will have a lot to work on in season two.

Image courtesy The CW.

Bess is a perfect character to spotlight for Pride Month, and the show itself deserves a lot of praise for its LGBTQ representation. Bess’ sexuality is not treated like a massive reveal or something that matters to the other characters. Bess just is who she is, dating who she wants to date and going through the same romantic dilemmas as anyone else (well, minus the murderous family, I suppose.) She doesn’t put labels on her attraction, and no one else pressures her to. The news she’s dating Lisbeth is notable to her friends only because she’s a cop, not because she’s a woman, and even stern Aunt Diana has no problem with Bess’s sexuality. Bess is also a funny, relatable character who helps hold the Drew Crew together with her kindness and loyalty to her friends. I hope we see a lot more of “Lisbess” in season two!

Nancy Drew is available now on The CW app and HBO Max, with season two set to premiere in January. Be sure to check out the rest of our Pride Spotlights this month!

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By Jules
I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.
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