Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Carrie Diaries - "This Is The Time" Review

Season 2, Episode 12

Since the last third of the first season of The Carrie Diaries, I've kicking around an idea for a piece called "The Tale of Two Carries," about the show's prominent split between Connecticut and New York.  I'm a noted non-fan of Sex and the City, and I've always preferred the Castlebury material on The Carrie Diaries because the Manhattan stuff often reminded of the predecessor I didn't like very much.  In season two, the split started to get a bit more tolerable, since Carrie was basically always in New York, and my interest in her adventures in the city went up sort of by default.  But even still, the rare moments when she decides to grace Castlebury with her presence have always been the strongest moments of this season, because they hearken back to the small-scale wonder that made me love the show in the first place.

It's a testament to this season's commitment to keeping the characters apart -- however prudent that may have been -- that I noted that the scene with Walt, Carrie, Mouse, and Maggie together at the diner was the first of its kind to occur all season, despite it being a staple in season 1.  Why have they all come together?  Because it's time for a good 'ol 80s prom, y'all.  Although Sebastian has to sit out on the sidelines, on account of his expulsion, even Dorrit joins in on the prom fever, deciding to go with Scott "ironically."  It's good to see everybody in the same quadrant after so many episodes of them out on their own respective islands, because I was reminded of how well they bounce of each other.  As fun as it was to see pairings like Maggie and Sebastian or Mouse and Donna, the core friendship between Maggie, Carrie, and Mouse was one of the highlights of the show in the early going, but sorely missed this season.

When you reach the end of the road in any journey, you find yourself stuck between reflection and concern about the future.  And indeed, that's where many of these characters find themselves in "This Is the Time."  Last week, Carrie got her acceptance letter to NYU, but her future prospects get a bit messier once Larissa offers her Bennet's old job at Interview.  The difficult choice between abandoning her dream job or taking it and disappointing her father is one that weighs heavily on her for most of the episode.  Meanwhile, Walt has some concerns weighing heavily on him as well.  After finding out the prom is taking place in the city, Walt, still getting over his breakup with Bennet, is reluctant to go.  It takes Maggie offering to go to the prom with him -- in a cute, warm little scene that reminds you of their shared history -- for him to finally soften up and go.

The prom takes up the bulk of the middle of the episode, and it's where all of the plotlines bubble over.  The worries of both Carrie and Walt converge when they share a dance, and Walt basically calls her out for being a whiny baby.  To him, Carrie's choice is one that's difficult, but over and done with once she finally makes it.  But his homosexuality is an ongoing dilemma, one that will affect him forever, especially in the time that he's in.  The show wisely treats this conflict as something with real weight to it, but also knows the characters well enough to make them quickly resolve things in the very next scene.  Elsewhere at the prom, Donna's got some problems of her own.  After Mouse discovers that Donna got accepted into Colombia -- in the episode's funniest scene -- Donna's worried that other people will find out she's smart and not vote for her for prom queen.

All of the prom shenanigans serve as a jumping off point for the episode's real theme, which is about all of these characters deciding who they want to be instead of what others want them to be.  After reconciling with Bennet, Walt decides to be open about his sexuality once and for all.  It leads to a scene where his parents finally come to accept him, even if they still don't agree with his lifestyle.  On the other hand, Donna is forced to own up to her intelligence after being outed by her lackeys, who overheard her talking to Mouse earlier in the bathroom.  But she owns up to it in the most Donna way possible, and after hilarious feminist speech from Mouse.  The biggest decision to be themselves comes from Carrie, who tells her father that she's going to work for Interview instead of going to NYU.  AnnaSophia Robb is terrific in the scene Carrie and Tom argue about her future, selling the mixture of fear that she has when he reminds her of all the adult decisions she'll have to make and the determination to do what she wants anyway.

This episode swings for the fences in terms of plot and emotion, and the result is by far the best episode of the season.  It's just a shame that the show took so long to get everybody back together though, since the it might get cancelled after this season.  And even if it doesn't, next season will most likely feature some notable shake-ups, since everybody's going off in their own direction.  It may not be comforting to think about the show's future, but it's fitting to do so when talking about an episode where so many of the characters are reflecting upon their own.  "This Is the Time" is an example of The Carrie Diaries delivering on everything that makes it so great: warm and honest character interactions, small-scale high school dilemmas, and widescreen emotions.  Try as you might to just like it ironically, eventually you'll be swept up in the beauty of it all.

Random Asides:

-This week in AnnaSophia Robb being delightful: I don't even remember what it was in reaction to, but she makes a great grossed out face in that scene between Carrie and Sebastian when they're eating dinner early in the episode.

-Mouse Sweater Watch: I was hoping that she'd wear a sweater to prom, but alas...

-It's natural for ancillary characters to stop appearing on a show once they leave the main characters' orbits, but I found myself thinking "Where's West?" nonetheless.  Surely he would've been up for Prom King.

-Last week, I devoted alot of digital ink to complaining about the narration on this show.  Carrie's little "Prom...short for promenade" bit might be the worst narration the show has ever had.

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