The ‘Friends’ Finale Did Rachel Dirty

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The Big Picture

  • Rachel’s character growth in Friends, from a dependent fiancée to a successful professional, mirrored the changing perceptions of women in the ’90s and early 2000s.
  • Rachel’s career was always the primary focus of her storyline, with her romantic relationships serving as secondary plot points.
  • The decision to have Rachel sacrifice her career progression for a relationship with Ross in the finale undermined her narrative of independence and self-discovery.


The cultural impact of David Crane and Marta Kauffman‘s Friends is almost immeasurable. From haircuts and fashion trends to quotable one-liners and present-day memes (“Pivot! Pivot!”), the beloved series has remained in the spotlight for almost three decades. The series debuted September 22, 1994, to somewhat mixed reviews, but the show was quickly embraced by audiences and became one of the most successful and long-running sitcoms to grace the small screen. With 65.9 million viewers, the series finale was the fourth most-watched television finale ever. And it was a spectacular finale. Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) finally became parents and made the big move to the suburbs, and Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) will-they-won’t-they finally concluded with yes, they will. It was exactly what audiences at the time wanted. But is it what Rachel deserved? After ten seasons of immense personal growth from an unhappy runaway bride to a wildly successful fashion industry executive, Rachel was poised for more. To undermine her transformation with an all-too-tidy romantic resolution showed complete disregard for her narrative. It was a step back for a character who had come to embody the spirit of independence and self-empowerment.

Rachel Green’s journey from a sheltered, dependent fiancée in Season 1 to a successful professional in Season 10 is a cornerstone of Friends. This transformation was marked by key moments, such as breaking off her engagement, waiting tables at Central Perk, working her way up from the bottom of the fashion industry, and eventually landing an enviable job at Ralph Lauren. Her character’s growth was not just a plot device but mirrored the evolving perceptions of women in the ’90s and early 2000s. Rachel’s path to independence and success was a powerful statement in an era where female characters on television were often relegated to more traditional roles.

Friends

Ross Geller, Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Joey Tribbiani, Chandler Bing, and Phoebe Buffay are six twenty-somethings living in New York City. Over the course of 10 years and seasons, these friends go through life lessons, family, love, drama, friendship, and comedy.

Release Date
September 22, 1994

Cast
Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer

Main Genre
Sitcom

Rating
TV-14

Seasons
10

Studio
NBC

‘Friends’ Focused on Rachel’s Career Journey

Rachel first enters the picture in the “Pilot” episode of Friends when she arrives at coffee shop Central Perk in a soaking wet wedding dress after having left her fiancé Barry (Mitchell Whitfield) at the altar. It is quickly revealed that Monica and Rachel were BFFs in high school and, after being cut off financially by her father, Rachel decides to stay with Monica. The first three seasons see Rachel struggling financially while working as a waitress at Central Perk and trying to find her footing as a young, independent woman. Through this struggle, she grows in confidence and character, and she begins to see her true potential.

In Season 3, her career goals come into focus, and her aspirations to work in the fashion industry become a central focal point for her. With help and support from her friends, she quits her job at Central Perk and, with the aid of Joey (Matt LeBlanc), gets a job as a personal assistant at Fortunata Fashions. While visiting Monica at her diner job, she meets Mark Robinson (Steven Eckholdt), who helps her get an Assistant Buyer job at her favorite department store, Bloomingdale’s. In Season 5, Rachel gets a job as an executive at Ralph Lauren, a job she keeps until the final season when she is fired for interviewing for a job at Gucci. The finale sees her getting ready to move to Paris for a new job with Louis Vuitton that old pal Mark offers her.

For ten seasons, viewers watched as Rachel progressed from a spoiled debutante to a fierce fashion maven. The confidence she gained from finding her passion and pursuing her dreams is what made her transformation so inspiring. We watched her pay her dues and build a career from the ground up. She took every opportunity and used it to advance her skills and climb the corporate ladder. Rachel’s career was always the primary focus of her storyline in Friends. Her romantic relationships, though intriguing, were not the defining moments in her narrative. The decision to relegate her to a romantic interest in the finale diminished the fiercely independent Rachel audiences had come to know and love.

The Ross and Rachel Wrap-up Came at Her Expense

The will-they-won’t-they of Ross and Rachel has always been one of the best parts of Friends. After ten years of getting to know the characters, audiences were invested in their happiness. And what is sweeter than the idea of an unrequited high school romance working out in the end? It isn’t that they don’t belong together, in fact, they probably do, but the ending should have been left open in a way that honored their relationship while also honoring Rachel’s independence. She worked hard to get to where she was, and to deliver audiences a happy ending, she was forced to sacrifice her career progression for a relationship with Ross, on his terms.

Sure, leaving New York would have been complicated for Ross. He not only had a child with Rachel, but he also had a son from his first marriage to think about. It seemed like the perfect scenario to have Rachel give it all up to get back together with Ross and raise their daughter, presumably in wedded bliss. They had already been through the many ups and downs of almost getting back together, and audiences knew that given all of their failed attempts to reconnect, if they did manage to get back together, it would have to be for good. Which is exactly what the show delivered…the fairy-tale ending. In the confines of traditional gender roles, this made sense. Still, rekindling their relationship solely on Ross’s terms and catering to audience expectations damaged the integrity of Rachel’s character arc as an independent woman.

Rachel’s Happily Ever After on ‘Friends’ Didn’t Need Ross

The 1990s was a pivotal decade for portraying women on television, and Rachel’s independence-driven narrative on Friends reflects the era’s feminist undertones. Rachel’s character went from a would-be homemaker to a self-reliant single mother with a thriving career. Family and friends surrounded her, and her happiness was not dependent on anyone else. By bringing Ross and Rachel back together in an attempt at a big cinematic romantic moment, the show sends a message to audiences that a woman’s happiness is ultimately tied to her romantic relationships, not her achievements.

While the Friends finale provided a crowd-pleasing conclusion to Ross and Rachel’s on-again, off-again romance, it did a disservice to Rachel Green’s character. Her narrative deserved a resolution that supported her tale of self-discovery and independence. The finale’s choice highlights the ongoing challenges show creators face in honoring a character’s journey or conforming to conventional narrative expectations. In this case, Rachel deserved more.

Friends is available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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