Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Carrie Diaries - "Date Expectations" Review

Season 2, Episode 10

When we look back on our lives, we often think about them in terms of large checkpoints, so it's only natural for period piece shows to feel like a cycle through the holidays, especially when you've only got 13 episodes per season.  So just two episodes after giving us a Christmas episode, it's Valentine's Day in the world of The Carrie Diaries.  More so than love being in the air, there's a whiff of the future in it too, and the concerns about what's coming next throws almost everyone into a minor tailspin.

Having now moved into Larissa's old apartment, Sebastian is officially back on the East coast, and he and Carrie have plans to spend Valentine's Day in the city.  Then out of nowhere, he tells Carrie that he has to cancel their plans, due to this job he has working on skateboard gear with some up-and-comer named Tony Hawk.  Expecting their first Valentine's Day together as a couple to be a big event, Carrie is naturally upset about this development, especially after declining to spend the night hanging out with Larissa, Walt, and Bennet because she didn't want to cancel with Sebastian.  This plotline was problematic for a few reasons.  First of all, it seems like introducing a conflict between Carrie and Sebastian after he just moved back to New York is a bit arbitrary.  It's as if the writers were afraid to keep their relationship safe for any amount of time, so they just decided to play into the theory that Larissa had last week about how long distance relationships become even worse when one party decides to move to the other.  Second, the whole Tony Hawk story is the worst kind of winking hindsight that the show mostly manages to avoid.  I wanted to bang my forehead against a wall every time Carrie said something like "skateboarding is a fad!" or "This Tony Eagle guy will never amount to anything!"  Nevertheless, it tied into the episode's theme, as Sebastian's work engagement causes Carrie to question the long-term viability of their relationship.

With Sebastian off doing kickflips with Tony Hawk, Carrie heads into the city with Larissa, Walt, and Bennet.  The party they attend is the kind of wacky New York fantasy that this show does well, full of leather-clad gay men and Samantha riding naked on a horse like Lady Godiva.  The setting is all to serve as a backdrop for the story of Walt and Bennet, who after seeming to finally fall into a comfortable rhythm with their relationship, quickly fall out of that rhythm.  This first comes with Walt's trepidation that the party might be "too gay" for him, before being hilariously reminded by Bennet that nothing is too gay for a man who's already had sex with another man.  But the real earth-shattering moment comes when Bennet runs into an old friend on the dancefloor, who informs Bennet that his ex-boyfriend contracted AIDS.  Going into the show, AIDS was one of the big boxes that people expected the show to check, and this was a smart way to touch upon it without biting off more they can chew by giving Walt HIV.

Upon hearing the news, Walt freaks out because he's suddenly flooded with all of the hardships being homosexual opens him up to, even though Bennet is undoubtedly the one who should be more distraught.  Since we were introduced to Walt, he has mostly worried about the here and now of his sexuality, and the moment where he thinks about not being able to have kids or a future is one of the more poignant moments of this storyline.  He's so distraught that he storms off into the streets of New York, leaving his friends behind.  One of those friends is Carrie, who also is shaken by the news and concerned for Walt.  The episode smartly dovetails the Walt storyline with Carrie and Sebastian's, as the latter two's fight completely dissolves once Sebastian walks into his apartment to see Carrie crying on the floor, worried about her best friend.  In the end, both Bennet and Walt get tested and the results come back negative, but it's a moment that changes the perspective of all of these characters and the way they think about their lives.

The future is the most direct concern for Maggie, who after taking a seat on the bench last week in "Under Pressure," returns with the news that she got accepted into a community college.  But the military is also visiting the school on this day, and she finds herself attracted to the idea of having college completely paid off for her.  It's fitting that Maggie, ever the impulsive one, would be intrigued by the way the Army representative courts her, pinpointing all of her insecurities and hesitations about her future.  But because Maggie has never made a decision that she didn't later regret, she finds her mind changing shortly after signing up for the military.  Her and Mouse decide to enlist the help of Donna to drive them to the military base to try to steal Maggie's sign-up form back, since Donna's the only person they know who has her own car.  In my review last week, I noted that the pairing of Mouse and Donna was one of the highlights of the episode, and bringing Maggie into the fold added even more spark to that dynamic.  I've always thought that Donna is like the Cordelia Chase of The Carrie Diaries, and her slow and reluctant integration into the group makes the parallels even more clear.

So Maggie, Mouse, and Donna hit the road and fool the guard at the military base into letting them in pretty easily.  (Side note: let's hope real military bases in the 80s weren't that lackadaisical about security.  Those could've been the daughters of Khruschev!)  Once inside, the girls are quickly caught trying to confiscate official military files.  Though Donna attempts to use her feminine wiles -- and when that doesn't work, a sob story -- her attempts are powerless to the stoic glance of hunky Army guy.  It may seem like this plotline is inconsequential in the way that Maggie is informed that she could've just written a letter telling the Army that she changed her mind, but it's silly in a fun way, and the interactions between Mouse, Maggie, and Donna save it from being mindless filler.

Valentine's Day episodes tend to get swept up in widescreen romanticism, but "Date Expectations" understands that the messiness of life doesn't take a break just because we want it to.  Everybody in this episode gets a relatively happy ending, but ones that are muted by the inauspicious beginnings and difficult middles that come beforehand.  Even Maggie's adventure, albeit fluffy, is not without its complications.  It may be the beginning of the year, but the events in this episode cause everyone to look forward and take stock of the road ahead.

Random Asides:

-Antonio's Self-Loathing Corner: This review might even be worse than my last one.  "Too much plot summary, not enough analysis!," I can hear the angry crowds shouting.

-I didn't mention the Dorrit plot in my main review because I thought it was the weakest of the bunch.  I generally find Dorrit more likable this season than she was in the first, but they need to give her some meatier storylines.  Or just throw her in a story with Donna.  Donna cures everything!

-This episode was directed by Amy Heckerling, whom you may know from directing 1995's Clueless (which is very good) and 2007's I Could Never Be Your Woman (which is...not very good), among other things.  Her episodes tend to feature big New York parties.

-This week in AnnaSophia Robb being delightful: AnnaSophia Robb has a very measured way of speaking, and this episode got alot of mileage out of her pronouncing funny words like "coccyx," "McTwist," and "cockamamie."

-Mouse Sweater Watch: That navy blue sweater that she wore for most of the episode had alot going on.  Stripes AND polka dots?  The 80s were a different time...

-Along with the painful Tony Hawk stuff, this episode was loaded with pop culture references: Walt talks about seeing Hannah and Her Sisters, Carrie calls Annie Hall "a love letter to the city" (despite the fact that Manhattan is Woody Allen's true love letter to the city.  Come on, Carrie!), Donna tosses out a Private Benjamin reference, and somebody mentions Scarface.  This show is set in the 80s, in case you forgot!

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