I’ve had my issues with The Carrie Diaries on and off all season, but this finale was the first time I literally cringed while watching. Despite the show being loaded with overall charm and seemingly boundless potential, the finale took much that was good about this season and squandered it in service of an entirely unnecessary plot load. It was all just too—too much, too rushed, too sickly sweet, too calculated, too pat—largely ignoring what is best about the show in the first place: these characters and their honest interactions with each other.
I want to stress the honest portion of that last sentence, because that’s exactly the opposite of what a lot of the emotion in this episode felt like. The episode started out strong, with Mouse and Maggie cutely attempting to make Carrie feel better about her breakup by putting down Sebastian (which all falls apart when they try to disparage The Face, because The Face is unassailable) and vowing to all attend prom together in single solidarity.
This is a really cute idea and would be a validation of the core friendships the show has spent the past 12 episodes building, so of course the idea of this evaporates immediately, which is when everything begins to fall apart. The Carrie Diaries has struggled all season at reconciling its desire to tell a large amount of story with a comparatively small episode order, and that strain showed greatly here as the show attempted to fit at least three episodes of honest plot building in a single episode span. The most affected was Carrie’s story with Sebastian, which started as a maybe-too-sweet-but-still-acceptable reconciliation and devolved into an almost immediate breakup, followed by what appears to be an insurmountable betrayal. It’s simply too much for one episode, especially an episode also working on cramming in an ending to at least four other characters’ season-long arcs.
But the main problem with this story wasn’t that it was too much crammed into one episode; it’s that the emotional content of what was there felt completely false. As sickly sweet as it was, Sebastian and Carrie’s apologies to each other felt in character and logical. To simply give Carrie the exact same doubts again over something so contrived as Sebastian not telling her about her father’s girlfriend—something I had forgotten even happened—felt like a cop out, a way to give the audience some emotional investment and then yank it away to create capital D Drama for the season finale. And for what? So they could get Maggie and Sebastian vulnerable enough at the same time that they would both get drunk and sleep together, betraying the person they purport to love the most? Sure, people do awful things. People do awful things exactly like this awful thing. But I simply don’t buy these specific two people doing this specific awful thing at this specific moment. The writers didn’t sell it.
The funny thing is the episode ends in kind of an interesting place, with Carrie living in New York for the summer with Walt, working at Interview, and having the city experience of her dreams, free of any relationship or friendship ties back home. It’s here where I think the show is going to have to figure out what it wants to be when it returns. The show has always been about Carrie’s desire to break away from her roots back home while those roots drag her back over and over again. What the show has never been able to figure out is how to balance both of those desires long term and keep Carrie’s struggle interesting. It has worked in single-episode stretches, but it’s almost as if the show doesn’t trust the story its telling, always reverting back to the same exact issues for Carrie to solve in her own life over and over again, until she’s like some sort of 50 First Dates character, reliving the same day of her life all over again. This is frustrating because the show has a fantastic lead in AnnaSophia Robb, who could handle anything the writers throw at her, but instead of expanding, they are insistent on rehashing.
That was a heck of a lot of aggravated complaining, but the episode wasn’t without its pleasures. Mouse’s story about breaking away from her parents and forcing them to accept her relationship with West was small but charming. But the star of the smaller stories was Walt and his inevitable confrontation with Maggie. The decision to have Sebastian share his suspicions about Walt’s sexuality with her was an interesting way for Maggie to find out, and her brutal confrontation with Walt in the diner was the of-the-times reaction I’ve been waiting for all season. What’s best about it, though, is how Maggie finding out only strengthened Walt’s resolve in the matter, even going so far as to matter-of-factly refer to himself with Bennett as gay. Walt and Bennett’s friendship is one of the best things about his coming out arc, so while it was natural Walt would have feelings for him, I applaud them making the wise choice to have Bennett want to wait until Walt is 18 before anything can happen to take their relationship beyond friendship. In this age of Pretty Little Liars, it was downright refreshing.
I’m disappointed my last review of this show for the season is a disappointed one—especially as the show is not a lock for renewal—but within that disappointment, there’s still a giant beating heart full of hope. There’s something inherently compelling about The Carrie Diaries, some kind of impossible-to-replicate combination of actors, writing, setting, and tone, which I will continue to be drawn to. Everything is in place for the show to make the transition to a consistently well-executed season two. All the right tools and instincts are there. Now we have to wait and see if the show will get the chance to fulfill its own potential.
- Miller is still incredibly creepy, with his lecturing Dorrit on when she’s ready for sex and then going full-on cheese with the rose petals to make it “perfect.” Dorrit’s realization she can suddenly feel again after her mother’s death was also an eye roller of epic proportions.
- Maggie’s decision to sleep with Sebastian—and Carrie’s subsequent dressing down of the reasoning behind this decision—would have been more resonant if Maggie had been at all present in much of the season. I am assuming they only had Katie Findlay for a certain number of episodes for budgetary reasons, but whatever the reason her absence was definitely felt in this story.
- Tom’s decision to break up with his yoga girlfriend for the sake of his daughters was actually quite sweet, as was Carrie’s ultimate acceptance of their relationship, but it took up valuable room in this already overstuffed episode.
- One thing that was definitely on point was the music, which was like a snapshot of my childhood. “Jesse’s Girl,” “Missing You,” and “Heaven” were integral parts of my very, very, very young childhood playlist. Very young. Super young.
- Larissa is a Ghanaian princess who made it in New York because of a British sugar daddy because of course she is. Also, she’s going to Kyoto for geisha training! Because she’s quirky! (Seriously, I like Larissa but she is just a giant concept rather than a character.)