The Carrie Diaries: “Read Before Use”
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The Carrie Diaries: “Read Before Use”

Of the three episodes The CW sent out to critics, this one was by far my least favorite. The heart and the fun are still there, but the narrative is far less focused than the first two, stretched too thin in an attempt to include more story threads and then holding those threads together by a few threads of increasingly suspect voiceover. Still, a few knockout scenes prove The Carrie Diaries—while still finding its way—already has a strong enough foundation to survive a less-than-stellar episode.

What did work much better than I predicted last week was the development of Carrie’s ban on dating Sebastian. It’s still a bit of a stock story on its face, but using this ban to explore not only Carrie’s relationship with her father but Sebastian’s character was very well done, especially in the exploration of Carrie’s decision to read Sebastian’s legal file. It’s such a thing a teenager would do without even thinking of the extended implications; Carrie simply knows that she needs to date Sebastian, and those files will give her insight into how to make this happen, so she reads them, never considering how it might affect her father or his job. His response of not knowing how to trust her is harsh, but also understandable considering the differences in their relationship now and before Sebastian arrived on the scene.

Also interesting is how Carrie learning that Sebastian was kicked out of school for having an affair with a teacher affects both her and her relationship with Sebastian. Her evolution from intimidated to accepting to defensive felt natural and earned, especially when she still didn’t quite get just why Sebastian was so freaked out by the whole thing. This is a kid who obviously has mountains of issues with his parents, and learning from a secondhand source that his parents hired him a lawyer to sweep the whole affair under the rug without telling him about any of it reeks of a kid who has basically no control over his own life and knows it. Breaking up with Carrie is an easy way for him to take back control, to make his life his own again. Their breakup is necessary but obviously not permanent, and the evolution from “Sebastian the enigma” to “Sebastian the less-puzzling enigma” is welcome.

Less successful was everything that happened in New York, which stuck out this week as a plot that could have literally been lifted from the original Sex And The City with very little altering. (Just imagine Charlotte in Carrie’s role.) At this point, what New York represents to Carrie is far more compelling than the execution of this idea, mostly due to Larissa. Larissa is less of a character than a physical representation of New York City and what Carrie believes living there would be like. This would be fine, except all the other characters on the show have been quite well developed in the first three episodes so far, making Larissa stick out like the cartoon she still is. The lessons Carrie learns about herself (like how to “own her power”) do nicely reverberate throughout her other stories, but the New York sections need to work a little harder to be as good as the things happening back home.  

As if this wasn’t enough, Mouse, Maggie, and Dorrit all got their own stories this week. Expanding the lives of the ensemble is great, but there was simply far too much going on here to make any of it really register. Maggie’s emotional evolution post-breakup with Walt (who was completely absent here) was necessary but unfortunately not very memorable, and while it was nice to see Mouse get an expanded role her saga with boyfriend Seth is sadly yawn-inducing. Working a bit better was Dorrit’s quest to get a hamster, if only because it gave her a few really nice moments with her father and led to a surprisingly pleasant team-up between her and Maggie. I would be all for some sort of nefarious Dorrit/Maggie teamwork in the future, even if it is just to toilet paper Walt’s house or something.

Still, the other female characters definitely need a bit more work as Carrie’s stories remain by far the most interesting and well-considered of the cast. This is likely the reason the first two episodes were far stronger, as they focused much more on Carrie and less on the people surrounding her. The good news is the bones for interesting characters are already there. The Carrie Diaries just needs a bit more time to get some meat on them.

Stray observations:

  • Everything about Carrie and Sebastian’s flirting over the walkman headphones was spot on. Who else had the double headphone jack? Just me? I’m old.
  • Love that the hamster’s name is Morrissey. Hate that they have to explain the joke. Yep, still old.
  • I appreciate that they’re trying to give Carrie’s dad his own story but this one was not interesting at all. I am looking forward to when he starts dating again, though, if only for Carrie and Dorrit’s reactions.
  • “While someone was about to show their box, another one was being decorated.” No. No more voiceovers like this, show. This was some straight-up horrible SATC stuff.

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