How Nancy Drew’s Narrative Agility Sets the Show Apart

The Nancy/Ace relationship is only one example of Nancy Drew's ability to lean into what's working and move away from what's not.

Alex Saxon as Ace and Kennedy McMann as Nancy in Nancy Drew Season 2
Photo: The CW

Nancy Drew has always been a show that is constantly recalibrating its storytelling, whether that means tinkering with its supporting characters during its first season until the ensemble dynamics feel just right or remapping the arc of its second in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that drastically altered its episode count.

Season 2 manages to not only seamlessly incorporate the threads of the previous season’s unfinished narratives but tie them firmly into the larger drama of Nancy’s quest to solve the mystery of her own identity. Yes, it did so by way of a dementor-esque monster that secretly hitches a ride onto Nancy’s body for the entire rest of the season in order to feed off her various emotional traumas, but that’s generally just the way this show rolls.

This is hardly the first time Nancy Drew has course-corrected or changed things up mid-stream in the name of telling a better story, displaying the sort of narrative agility that many (perhaps most?) other shows would do well to emulate. As much as no one ever wants to admit it – sometimes the best laid plans of showrunners and writers’ rooms don’t pan out. A supposed marquee couple turns out to have zero chemistry on screen. A character’s overly complicated backstory doesn’t make him intriguing, but instead harder to relate to. Sometimes, things just don’t quite work the way you think they will, and a great series should be able to both recognize and adapt to that fact.  

But far too often, television shows—particularly young adult dramas that tend to rely on dueling fanbases to drive ratings and internet buzz—stick with predetermined romantic pairings and/or love triangles for entirely too long, rather than embracing different or unexpected relationships that might make for better stories. (How long did we really need to watch Elena waffle between the Salvatore brothers on The Vampire Diaries?)

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During its first two seasons, Nancy Drew attempted to pair its familiar heroine with more legacy-style characters, men who came complete with recognizable names that would mean something to viewers. As he is in the original novels, Ned “Nick” Nickerson was Nancy’s first season boyfriend, a supposed no-strings fling that many viewers likely assumed eventually would be endgame, even after their relationship ended. (This is The CW, after all, and frequent breakups and makeups are a regular occurrence.) Except… they aren’t.

Instead, Nancy Drew chose to fully commit to the unexpected attraction that sparked between Nick and caustic Claw manager George Fan, while Gil Bobbsey—yes, one half of the famous Bobbsey Twins—was introduced as a new love interest for Nancy in Season 2. In theory, this is a great idea: She’s Nancy Drew! He’s Gil Bobbsey! This should be amazing, right? But, in actuality… it wasn’t.

Despite the great-on-paper stats of both these potential pairings, neither of these relationships actually worked for this version of Nancy, the one that we are watching onscreen week in and week out. Nick is a kind, well-meaning guy, but he wanted—and deserved—a relationship with someone who would fully let him into their life and heart. Nancy wasn’t that person when this show started, as much as we might have wanted her to be. (Heck, Nancy barely qualifies as that person now.

And Gil turned out to be the bad boy she once told herself she deserved—a thief who treats everyone in his life like garbage and constantly undercuts both the girl he purports to care about and his own sister. Whether that was a good or fair depiction of such a beloved literary character is a rant for another day (and the answer is: probably not), but one thing was clear almost immediately: This new love story wasn’t working either.

Many shows would have just gone with it anyway, insisting that Gil and Nancy were meant to be, even when they obviously weren’t. Instead, Nancy Drew decided to go in a completely different and utterly delightful direction by fully leaning in to the obvious chemistry between co-stars Kennedy McMann and Alex Saxon. The prospect of a love story between Nancy and Ace may seem like it came out of nowhere on paper, but in the world of this show, it makes perfect sense.

Though the “Nace” relationship sort of feels like it burst into being by accident, developing in the background of other stories, the show has smartly decided to take the pair’s unexpected connection and run with it, featuring plenty of moments throughout the show’s second season that highlight the intense chemistry the two share. (And how closely they love to stand next to one another. Who needs personal space?) This all culminated with Nancy—trapped in a dreamscape battling the wraith that fed off her years of repressed trauma because that’s also the way this show rolls—realizing that she might feel something more than friendship for Ace, just as he heads off on a romantic getaway with Gil’s sister, Amanda.

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And so, a classic CW slow burn romance is born. But though it certainly seems as though Nancy and Ace have definite one true pairing vibes now, that definitely wasn’t always the case.

When the show first began, hacker Ace was a police informant, a dead-eyed burnout with little depth and few narrative prospects beyond providing occasional comic relief. He and Nancy barely knew one another and almost never shared scenes. He didn’t even have a last name—that’s how secondary this character initially seemed to be. (Of course, now, the popular theory is that we don’t know Ace’s last name because it’s one we’ll all recognize—say, Hardy?—but that’s a fairly recent development.)

That Ace eventually evolved into Nancy’s most trusted confidante and truest believer—he once drank a vial of poison to prove her assertion that the liquid inside was harmless!—wasn’t always a given. The revelation of his complicated family life ultimately brought him and Nancy closer together, as did his innate understanding that, for a girl that everyone always looked to for answers, sometimes having the space to be silent is a true gift. Their friendship is one of surprising depth, and they’ve each hurt, forgiven, and hurled themselves directly into danger for one another multiple times over the course of the series. But it’s their willingness to be vulnerable with one another that makes this pair so appealing,

Our girl detective deserves a partner who not only sees her for exactly who she is, but also accepts that person wholeheartedly, for both good and ill. Ace has always been that person for her, even when he’s angry or hurt by something she’s done. Also, he’s basically BFFs with her father and broke the man out of prison. If that doesn’t say future son-in-law material, what does?

Sure, there’s likely going to be some awkwardness when Nancy Drew returns for Season 3—Ace does have a girlfriend at the moment, and Nancy has to deal with the fallout of publicly revealing herself as the Hudson heir as well as process her realization that she’s caught feelings for one of her best friends. But now, perhaps for the first time, it certainly seems like these two are on a very deliberate track: Toward each other.