One of my biggest concerns through the first nine episodes of The Carrie Diaries was balance or more specifically the show’s lack of balance. This is a series attempting the very difficult task of telling numerous, tangentially linked stories on a weekly basis, connected only by the barest of narrative threads. Despite some valiant attempts, most of the episodes ended up as more piecemeal parts that never coalesced into a satisfying whole.
Until tonight, that is. Having spent the first nine episodes of the series maneuvering everything in Carrie’s life to the perfect place, now it has her asking the question: What now? It’s Carrie’s 17th birthday, and she basically has it all: hot boyfriend, a group of great friends, a sophisticated internship, and a family that loves her. Instead of going drastic and blowing everything up, the show takes the far more compelling path of showing little cracks that are bound to turn into wide, gaping faults in the future.
The two biggest causes of Carrie’s happiness are her relationship with Sebastian (which is basically going like gangbusters, thank you very much) and her internship at Interview (ditto). In a little teenage twist on the question of whether a woman can have it all, both of these worlds collide in a negative way at an absolutely fabulous party the magazine throws for the launch of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. It’s Carrie’s chance to meet Bret’s publisher—a man notorious for his obsession for young writing talent—and move one step closer to her dream of becoming a writer. She even gets a chance to meet and charm him with actual pieces of her writing, and it appears she’s on her way to being the next literary wunderkind. That is, until Sebastian shows up unexpectedly (having supposed to have been with his mother) and she chooses spending time with him over continuing her talk with the editor.
It’s more than that, though. It’s character-illuminating in that Carrie doesn’t even attempt to do anything but bend to his wishes, even when he expresses that she could do something differently if she wants. Carrie is still in that precarious place where she has this amazing guy—a guy who vocally eschews drama—and she feels that teenage tug in her brain, the one that tells you your boyfriend is the most important thing in the world. She might have the charm to land a meeting with a publisher, but she’s not at an emotional place yet where she can choose that over her relationship. As someone older, this is an immensely frustrating choice to watch, but it's a perfectly realistic one, especially when an obviously distressed Sebastian gets drunk and she leaves the party to get him home safely.
The why of Sebastian getting drunk is the point of this outburst, and thankfully, the show doesn’t beat around the bush: He’s upset because his mother blew him off yet again, and he still can’t deal with her inattentiveness. At first this felt like a complete retread, but his mother actually showing up later that night and breezing in like the emotional whirlwind she so obviously is did a lot of shorthand character work without her saying much at all. I hope she’ll be sticking around and that we’ll see far more of her relationship with her son.
But Carrie and Sebastian aren’t the only ones who go to this big New York party. Walt tags along, and the moment I’ve been waiting for since Walt’s last New York sojourn happens: He is reunited with Bennett. Their conversation is everything I wanted it to be, honest and sweet, earnest and forgiving. Walt’s story is so great because while he can’t admit to himself he’s gay quite yet, the way he talks about his sexuality is filled with far more curiosity than any sort of self-hate. Between his talk with Donna last week and hearing Bennett’s own story of coming out this week, Walt even gets the courage to take some of the blame with Maggie for her cheating and his emotional unavailability. The best thing about Walt’s story is that it’s a slow, steady sort of thing, and it’s one of the most realistic depictions of a teen coming out story I’ve seen on television.
Unfortunately, Walt’s forgiveness of Maggie makes her think they still have a chance together. Maggie still doesn’t have much of a place here except in relation to Walt (though if they wanted to resurrect how she’s questioning her future, that would make me very happy) so when Walt firmly tells her they’re only ever going to be friends again, it’s both a knife in the heart to her character and to her entire story arc on the show so far. The actress has wonderful chemistry with the rest of the cast in ensemble scenes, so this will have to carry her until the writers give her a new story of her own. Still, these fleeting moments are there to poke little holes in the supposed perfection of Carrie and Sebastian's relationship, holes that will likely get bigger and bigger as the series develops.
The surprise MVP of the non-Carrie stories tonight, however, was Mouse and her quest to impress visiting Harvard alum Stacey. Mouse’s academic focus is clearly going to define her character on the show, but introducing this rivalry with West—continued here, as Stacey falls for his jock charm—is a great way to make it far more interesting than her just trying to get extra credit and worrying about a low grade. It doesn’t hurt that Ellen Wong has impeccable comic timing, shown to great effect here when she takes charge of the basketball team and realizes she can add to her résumé by becoming their manager. This feels like it might be heading toward a Mouse and West romantic pairing, and if so, I must admit I don’t hate the idea.
All of these pieces worked independently of each other, but the reason the episode is so strong is how they all flowed together. The Carrie Diaries is all about intercutting various stories together in an attempt to create one larger whole, but its past attempts always felt imbalanced, weighted too greatly to one story or the other, leaving the audience waiting to get through something just to get to the other, better parts. Here, everything came together pleasantly, anchored by what is turning into one of the better portrayals of teen friendship on television. At the beginning of the episode, Carrie wishes for a fabulous birthday. In the end, she celebrates one day late, with all her friends by her side, and it turns out to be exactly what she wanted the whole time.
I know exactly how she feels.
- Fellow TV Clubber Myles McNutt wrote a great piece on the realities of the show versus what was presented at last summer’s press tour over at his blog, Cultural Learnings. Check it out.
- Dorrit’s story in this episode basically boiled down to that wise old meet cute: Girl shoplifts album, record store employee locks her in closet, and girl and record store boy make out. It was just as creepy as that sounds, but also a little bit sweet.
- Dorrit’s present to Carrie was pretty great, though: a mix tape of songs their mother loved. Sniff.
- Nice little character moment: Maggie habitually hears only what she wants to when it comes to Walt, but all of her friends realize this and call her out on it.
- Carrie gets a credit card from her Dad? Man, I had to go into credit card debt on my own in college like some sort of peasant!
- Carrie giving Donna the Coach duffel bag she wanted was strangely sweet. I’m kind of loving Donna. (And it’s a really great bag.)
- Carrie, on losing her virginity: “It’s my birthday. I don’t give gifts; I get them.”
- Larissa: “Interview. We’re the magazine of choice for soulless college dropouts. Yay!”