Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
Friends: a show that ended nearly 20 years ago, yet it endures as a mainstay in the entertainment world and could easily be a topic of conversation (like it is with this piece!) anywhere and at any time due to its expansive impact and legacy. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends navigating their late 20s and early 30s, the sitcom became one of the most popular shows ever, spanning 10 seasons and receiving much acclaim throughout its run. Continuously lauded for its heartwarming, relatable, and comical qualities, and collecting superlatives constantly, its success and popularity have lived on. And it’s kept its place as my personal favorite show of all time, too. Yet despite all my love, there’s something that still stings about it for me: the disservice they did to my favorite character, Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston).
Rachel starts out as a promising character who then evolves into one of, if not the most, impressively well-developed person in the series. That is, until all this progress gets pushed aside. By the end, not only does she end up in a toxic relationship for good, but she goes from standing as a relatable role model to basically becoming a pawn in romantic drama, and falling prey to other people’s ideals. So where did things go wrong?
When we first meet Rachel in the pilot, she’s walking into the Central Perk hangout wearing her wedding dress. She was supposed to get married that day, but had backed out after realizing she didn’t truly love her fiance. On top of that, she then gets cut off from her father financially, which plays out as a huge loss for her, given she grew up without having to worry about money at all. At that point, it’s easy to categorize her as simply a lost spoiled brat. But at the same time, she’s also someone who just made a bold decision. She could have had a secure future, but she valued herself enough to realize she wouldn’t be happy with it, and she decided to choose a different new path. And thanks to the help she gets from her childhood friend Monica Gellar (Courteney Cox), she receives the guidance she needs to begin to really grow in a variety of ways throughout the series.
After being welcomed into a new friend group through Monica, Rachel quickly becomes less self-absorbed and less ignorant. She also begins to come into her newfound independence, finally getting her first job as a waitress. She may not be the best, but at least she’s trying. And through this transformation, she goes from being superficial to being a relatable character, and ultimately a living testament to the fact that you can follow your dreams. By developing a proper work ethic and becoming a responsible, self-reliant adult, she ends up finding a way to turn her love of fashion into a career by making her way into the fashion industry, and very successfully so. And job journey aside, she also develops as a person, as evidenced through her exploration of her sexuality, her success as a mother, and the fact that she developed genuine, healthy friendships along the way.
Basically doing a complete 180, Rachel is the character who has grown the most from the beginning of the series to the finale—better yet in a generally positive regard. Because of this, it’s disappointing that despite this evolution, at the end of the series, it’s as if all the hard work she underwent in her development as a character was snatched out from under her. This happens largely because of Ross Gellar.
Yes, Rachel Green and Ross Gellar (David Schwimmer) are one of the most iconic TV couples of all time, notably remembered for their on-again, off-again relationship. And they have remained regarded as such, as evidenced by the standard they set, the comparisons made, social media posts, and even remarks from Aniston and Schwimmer themselves. But with a change of time and perspective, it’s not too hard to see the relationship’s toxicity. Ultimately, Rachel deserved better than Ross.
On the flipside of Rachel, Ross didn’t develop much throughout the series—at least not in a positive regard. Having yearned after Rachel since childhood, Ross puts her on a pedestal and has an idealized image of a great relationship with her, which is prominent in the early seasons. Yet, she never fits into his expectations—and when this happens, he essentially freaks out. When he finally does date her, his controlling nature worsens. He goes so far as to make a life plan for them just six weeks into their relationship, as well as a pros and cons list about her. Basically attempting to put Rachel in a box, he’s unsupportive of her career and he doesn’t care that he’s disrespectful in a myriad of ways. She had made so many positive changes; meanwhile he was stuck in achieving his superficial fantasy. Even when they aren’t dating, he’s jealous and tries to thwart her into fitting into his vision.
Near the series’ end, Ross goes to great lengths to bribe Rachel’s boss, in order to stop her from moving to Paris for a new job at Louis Vuitton—a dream come true for her, having developed into an ambitious and career-driven person. But did he care? No. On top of the bribing, he followed her to the airport to confess his love for her. Or more accurately, to manipulate her into not leaving. The writers unfortunately granted Ross his wish, with Rachel turning down her dream job. Although this decision pleased most fans (as evidenced by an America Online poll revealed shortly after the finale that found 77 percent of viewers approved of Rachel and Ross’ rekindled romance), it ultimately destroyed everything Rachel had built up over 10 seasons, burying her development as a character. The Rachel we knew before the series’ final moments had grown and blossomed and deserved better than Ross. She wouldn’t have had to put her life and career aspirations on hold to stay with him. Her arc ultimately failed her.
The final Friends episode may be considered by many as one of the best series finales, but looking back now, it actually proves to be iffy. The rekindling of the couple leaned into fan service which won many over, but when you look back on it now, Rachel could have had a better ending if the writers had actually stuck with her true character and respected her development. No matter how iconic Rachel and Ross stand as a couple, the wrong decision was made for Rachel. She shouldn’t have sacrificed her progress and aspirations for a toxic relationship. Rachel Green deserved better.
Symphony Barnes is a writer, journalist, and critic based in Southern California. She has a bachelor’s in journalism and primarily covers entertainment, culture, and lifestyle topics. You can find her @symphonybarnes.
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