It appears Swindell — who plays seemingly “perfect” high schooler Tabitha, a girl hiding trauma behind a megawatt smile — initially experienced Trinkets’ series finale just like the rest of us: in a state of curiosity. The finale opens with Tabitha and her unexpected best friends Elodie (Brianna Hildebrand) and Moe (Kiana Madeira) on a school-skipping drive through their home state of Oregon. Trinkets then jumps back in the timeline to reveal the events that brought the trio to their morning of hooky. We know the girls did something to bring down Tabitha’s abusive ex-boyfriend Brady (Brandon Butler), but the details only fall into place during the last seven minutes of the finale. To the surprise of their classmates, Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe broke into their school to set up a photography exhibit that outs beloved jock Brady as a physical and verbal abuser.
“I didn’t even imagine that’s how they were going to tie up Tabitha’s storyline with Brady,” Swindell admitted. That shock is a necessary layer to finale that serves as a touching love letter to survivors of domestic abuse like Tabitha.
Tabitha’s emotional tableau is made up of 21 of her own photos (including one painfully arresting self-portrait), a screenshot of Brady’s texts message tirades, and one confession from the Trinkets crew. This is not only how the girls divulge the truth about Brady, but their own part in a recent test-stealing scandal, which Brady manipulated the girls into as his latest attempt to control them. Swindell is still struck by Tabitha’s self-portrait.
“I’ve always been a little bit shy to take photos and look directly into a camera lens. I’m a little bit insecure about it. Especially with my shoulders and the vulnerability of that being out and in the open,” Swindell said. “That photo was the most nerve wracking. But I feel like it looked the most beautiful. I saw myself and I was like, ‘Wow. Not only is that Tabitha, but that’s young Quintessa in their strength.’”
“Strength” is ultimately what Swindell hopes viewers take away from the resolution of Trinkets, particularly when it comes to young people with similar experiences to Tabitha. “You’re not only defined by your experiences, but how you deal with them, how you react to them, who you are and what you do when you come out of it. Because you will,” they continued. “I feel like Tabitha was always kind of like this token character amongst her friends … That [photo] is also a reveal for her as well. Like: ‘I’m not who you guys think I am. This is who I am. And I am proud of who I am.’”
Tabitha begins to find her inner solo confidence long before “We Belong.” Unfortunately, she is forced into that evolution in Trinkets season 2 after a racist shop owner racially profiles her in fifth episode “Work in Progress.” By the end of the chapter, Tabitha has decided to embrace her blackness by getting braids from a local Black-owned home salon. Tabitha's Black classmate Marquise (Daybreak gem Austin Crute) is the one who recommends the shop. By ninth episode “Aren’t You Gonna Say Something,” it becomes obvious Tabitha has changed on the inside as well. She breaks up with her longtime crush Ben (Andrew Jacobs) — aka Moe’s brother — to end her cycle of using romantic love as personal vindication.
“She was actively seeking validation by being with another person,” Swindell said of their character’s mindset prior to the finale. “Those [relationship] experiences that she has fill a void that Tabitha doesn’t necessarily want to dive in, isn’t ready to look into, and doesn’t want to deal with.”
With “We Belong,” Tabitha investigates every piece of her internal framework and shares her findings with her classmates, in the exact manner she wants to be understood. “When you’re a little bit young, you feel as though all of these things are coming at you like whiplash,” Swindell began. “In the end, we see this massive shift of all of the girls taking hold of their story ... With Tabitha, there’s that release of wanting to feel validation through people, and finding that within herself. I feel like that tableau in the end of the season really reconciles that thought.”
Swindell points out how much Tabitha's growth after the horror of Brady is owed to the supportive friendship of Elodie and Moe. “It was Tabitha trusting that she could have friends that could help her through that,” they continued. “It was Tabitha trusting Marquise and his history and his experience of the world. Trusting herself to go out and do something for herself — getting the braids, living within her culture actively … Maybe Shoplifters Anonymous was actually working in the end. It’s definitely necessary to get the girls where they are.”
It is only through all of this emotional work that Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe end their series on the Oregon coast, spreading the ashes of Elodie’s mom as the aftermath of the photos dominates the conversation back at school. It’s a devastating scene that eventually lends itself to jubilant catharsis for the girls. They end Trinkets standing hand-in-hand and staring out into the surf. “We were running through the water break. Our shoes were soaked, and we were like, ‘Fuck it!,’” Swindell recalls of the “freeing” shoot.
Swindell hopes that “liberating” feeling continues for Tabitha past the finale’s fade to black. “I’ve always thought Tabitha would definitely get out of Oregon and go to New York, just be surrounded by photography and art and artists,” Swindell theorized. “But, I mean, hey, maybe Tabitha’s queer, you know? Maybe she finds the woman of her dreams.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.