Review: ‘The Carrie Diaries’: Brilliant disguise
Halloween is the one night of the year that allows us to dress up and pretend to be someone we’re not. How this plays out is up to us.
Option number 1: We put on a mask and do something we’ve always wanted to do, but were too afraid to do as our true selves. The idea being that when our identity is hidden, we are fearless and the consequences of our actions will not affect us once we return to our normal lives. And then there’s option two: we can put on a costume and attempt to create a new identity all together in place of the one we wear the other 364 days of the year. One is a night without inhibitions, the other is a reinvention. This week’s episode of ‘The Carrie Diaries’ didn’t exactly handle this episode the way I had hoped it would – especially in regard to Walt’s progressing (or regressing, as it were) story, but despite this, the episode still came to a satisfying conclusion.
After a shaky episode last week that felt the pains of trying to service nearly every character in storylines that rarely intersected, this week the show reins them in and limits the action to three specific locales. There’s Carrie and Walt’s sojourn to Martha Jones’ Halloween party in SoHo; Mouse and Rosie Larsen’s attendance at Baby Fish Mouth’s private party in Connecticut; and there’s Good Looking Dad and Younger Dana Brody at home.
Let’s start with Carrie and Walt, as they’re the two characters with the most to lose this week.
After BFM’s dismissal of their budding relationship at the end of last week’s episode – a result of Carrie always having to analyze everything and everyone in her life as if they’re a specimen in her petri dish of life – Carrie decides Halloween is the perfect time to reinvent her personality, or at least drop certain aspects of it, specifically her job as everyone’s protector.
She and Walt choose to dress up as Princess Diana and Prince Charles (it’s 1984 y’all), whom Carrie believe to be the picture of a perfection romantic relationship (2013 retrospect: oh, honey). When they arrive at Martha Jones’ party, they’re promptly greeted by a cute (gay) writer for Interview magazine named Bennett. While it’s obvious to viewers that Bennett is gay (if only because it makes sense from a storytelling standpoint), Carrie is blinded by his pretty face and also because he looks like the rest of the world.
I specifically like the way the show has handled the idea of being a gay man in 1984, even if there hasn’t been much of it so far. As a straight female living in 2013, I obviously don’t have many points of reference for this world, but from what I can tell the show is doing an OK job (we’ll get to what happens later in the episode in a minute).
‘Sex and the City’ wasn’t a show that shied away from gay characters, but they were more loud than anything (in my opinion). You could tell from the way they dressed and the way they acted and spoke that they were gay. But on ‘The Carrie Diaries’ Walt is just another man in a good looking sweater most of the time. He looks like every other teenage male in 1984, because that’s what he is. He just happens to be struggling with his sexual identity at a time when the world hadn’t yet experienced the AIDS crisis and the world wasn’t as open minded (not even going to get into the argument about today’s cultural landscape, because we’ll be here for days).
When Martha Jones offers Carrie and Walt ecstasy, Carrie promptly drops hers on the floor, but Walt takes his. This now gives Walt’s character two reasons – or excuses, depending on how you want to look at it – to give in to his natural instincts as a gay man. But when Bennett kisses him, Walt flees the scene, unable – even as he’s wearing a costume and under the influence of Ecstasy – to admit the truth to himself. I’ll admit that I was surprised at how the writers played this out. I thought for sure that under the guise of being someone else, even if his costume didn’t contain a mask that hid his identity, that Walt would be more carefree and be able to explore who he is. After all, no one at the party knew who he was, so why should he be afraid to be himself?
The problem is that Walt isn’t ready to come to terms with his sexual identity, let alone explore it. And unfortunately, by refusing to admit the truth to himself, Walt unintentionally opens the door to hurting Rosie Larsen again. Once he returns from the city, he arrives on Rosie Larsen’s doorstep desperate to convince himself he’s not gay. He not only reunites with her, but the two of them have sex.
This is an interesting turn of events, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. In fact, it’s the oldest trick in the book, both in real life and in television dramas (remember that Jack McPhee dated Joey Potter before coming to terms with his own sexuality). The more interesting storyline would be if after all this it turns out Walt is just an insecure guy who hasn’t yet figured out who he is. It’s possible he’s a straight guy who really likes Rob Lowe movies and who has excellent taste in sweaters. But that’s not really the story the show intends on telling. There have been hints at Walt’s sexuality from the beginning, and considering the line in the pilot about how many gay men and women there are that haven’t come out to their friend, it was clear that one of Carrie’s friends would turn out to be gay.
But while Walt is fighting an internal battle (and a real one, as he breaks up a bit of gay bashing – a scene that couldn’t have been any more heavy-handed if it had tried) on the streets of Manhattan, Carrie is taking care of Martha Jones, who’s mixed and matched too many drugs (two Ecstasy pills and one sheet of acid paper) and alcohol (champagne) and is now in desperate need of a babysitter.
Taking care of people might be the last thing Carrie wants to do at this party – she sees New York as her escape from real life, from the responsibilities she has at home, specifically those that require her to be a care taker – but she does it anyway. It’s during this time that Carrie confesses to Martha Jones that Manhattan is supposed to symbolize her independence, a place where everyone relies on themselves and no one else. But Martha Jones is quick (for a woman as high as she is) to dispel that stereotype. She admits that it’s exhausting being your own life jacket all the time. It’s exhausting putting on the air of a carefree and uninhibited lifestyle all the time. There’s a deep sadness to this moment, but it’s nice to see that underneath the sassy clothes and bright makeup, Martha Jones is a real person. It’s nice to finally see some depth to Martha Jones.
As for the home front, Mouse and Rosie Larsen attend Baby Fish Mouth’s private party, which isn’t so much a Halloween party, but a party that happens to take place on Halloween. No one is in costume, there are no decorations to indicate the holiday, and there’s not even a tape of disembodied child laughter in the background. This party is kind of a drag. Why rent out a place for a private party on Halloween if not for a bit of spooky fun?
Anyway, Mouse, who plays the “We Should Stand By Carrie Card”, at first rejects the party as a whole. She eventually gives in, but decides to be the girl who says, “OK, I’ll go to the party, but I’m not going to have any fun.” But it turns out Mouse actually has the most fun after she smokes weed with BFM after a rather intense game of Pac-Man. When the party is busted by Random Cop Dude (also known as That Guy Rosie Larsen Was Sleeping With While She Was With Walt – TGRLWSWWSWWW), Rosie Larsen attempts to convince him to write the party off, eventually resorting to blackmail when he declares it his duty to bust underage kids for drinking at a non-Halloween Halloween party.
It’s nice to see that the writers aren’t afraid to explore different character pairings. Last week it was Young Dana Brody and Rosie Larsen as they searched for Morrissey the Hamster. This week it was Mouse and Baby Fish Mouth. And I appreciate the writers’ willingness to do this, because it keeps BFM in the picture even though his relationship with Carrie is currently on pause. It also allows for great group dynamics.
The only part of the episode that didn’t exactly work was the third and final group. It was jarring every time the story would return to Good Looking Dad and Young Dana Brody. Their scenes were so out of place that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they added them in at the end after realizing the episode was short by five minutes. And it didn’t help matters that the storyline wasn’t engaging. The story of a parent not knowing how to handle a rebellious daughter isn’t exactly novel. It’s pretty standard TV fare, and it’s been handled better on other shows. The one step forward, two steps back routine is stale, and though there were some nice moments, such as Young Dana Brody being scared by ‘Poltergeist’ and asking for her dad to comfort her, I didn’t find myself invested in the story at all.
Overall, despite the show zigging where I thought it would zag in terms of Walt’s character, there was still some good character development this week. And to be honest, the progression of Walt’s story is exactly on par with where it should be, especially in the landscape of the 1980s. The world in which this story airs is much different from the world in which it takes place. My expectations for his character come from a post-Ellen mindset. And even though our world is still not without prejudice, the fears Walt faces are the same fears boys and girls face today as they struggle to come to terms with their identity. I look forward to his continuing development as a gay man in 1984, and I hope that the show continues to be this enjoyable as time goes on.
Note: Photo courtesy of The CW.