Kathryn Prescott, Milena Govich

Just when it seemed Finding Carter was figuring out its path forward, here comes “I Knew You Were Trouble” to knock it right back to square one. “Riptide” nailed the balance the show has been struggling with all season long, but as it turns out, the episode was a chance alignment rather than the early stages of a late-season rally. What “Riptide” got right was its blend of historical elements and forward-looking ones. It’s an episode in which the past collides with the present in interesting ways, but doesn’t immobilize the show or bog it down with aimless mythology. But “Trouble” throws the story into reverse and backs right into Finding Carter’s very worst tendencies.

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As the early episodes of the season proved, a little bit of Lori goes a long way, and the character easily overpowers everything else in the show. That’s why Madison’s introduction worked as well as it did. Madison provided a strong link to Lori, giving Lori a direct path to Carter when the letter writing campaign failed. Now, Carter has been sucked into Lori’s sphere of influence once again following her failed suicide attempt, and the repetition has gotten exhausting. Lori’s full-fledged return wouldn’t be as off-putting if it wasn’t so horribly contrived. I hate to be a broken record about this, but why does Lori have unfettered access to her kidnapping victim? It’s as if everyone forgets the central premise behind the show whenever it’s most convenient for the story. There’s absolutely no way Lori would be able to contact Carter as freely as she’s able to, even if Carter wanted to have contact with her.

“Trouble” takes the contrivance to a new level with notion that Carter has been summoned to Lori’s psychiatric facility in order to “talk to Lori’s doctor.” Why does everyone act as if Carter doesn’t have legal guardians? Why would the hospital contact Carter directly to begin with? And to be extremely generous, let’s say Carter has some insights that could help the doctor more effectively treat Lori. Why exactly would those questions have to be asked in person? Why not talk to Carter over the phone? Or hell, why not email? There’s no sensible answer to any of these questions, the writers just needed an excuse to get Carter and Lori into the same room, and apparently any excuse would do.

The nonsensical path would be forgivable if it led to a powerful, interesting, or illuminating scene, but in only leads to more of the elliptical manipulation Lori generally trades in. Even the all-powerful Kathryn Prescott can’t make the scene go, in part because Milena Govich holds her back. I don’t mean for that to sound like a criticism of Govich, who I think does a terrific job with what she’s given and is playing Lori exactly as she’s being instructed to. But the character has become completely untethered, flitting so frequently between psychosis and shrewd manipulation, I’m not sure I actually care what’s actually going on in her head anymore.

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Of course, the real bombshell comes later, when an emotionally vulnerable Carter decides to distract herself from her maternal woes by trading them in for sororal ones. Carter kisses Max, leading to a quick and dirty tryst on the ride home from the psych ward. The idea of muddying up the emotional ties between Carter, Taylor, and Max is a solid one, and under any other circumstance—for example, if Carter’s breakdown was prompted by the suicide attempt, not the confrontation that followed—their hookup would have worked for me. Because the hookup grew directly out of the offensively dumb excuse to put Carter and Lori back in the same room together, it’s the fruit of a poisonous tree.

“Trouble” explores something else intriguing: the idea that Elizabeth and Taylor have been failing Carter by allowing their personal feelings about “that woman” to cloud their judgment. It’s another interesting idea marred by the execution. In any part of season one, had Elizabeth and Taylor reached the conclusion that they have emotional responsibilities to Carter that outstrip the hatred they harbor towards Lori, the result would have been deeply powerful. In “Trouble,” it’s hard to help but feel like Elizabeth and Taylor are being used as vessels to communicate to the audience a justification for keeping Lori such a prominent part of the show. (The same can be said for Madison, who in the cold open basically lectures Carter for not being compassionate enough toward her abductor.)

The Wilsons have suffered so much because of Lori, this would be the time at which they’re most allowed to say enough is enough, as Taylor did in the most sensible decision she’s reached all season. I suppose it’s nice the Wilsons have chosen to support Carter unconditionally, but given the timing, it seems more like narrative spackle than a truthful character choice. It’s manipulative in a way Finding Carter mostly avoided being in season one, but has now come to define the show.

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Stray observations:

  • I cannot force myself to care about the David-Elizabeth-Kyle love triangle. Can’t do it.
  • Bird and Madison: a thing now. I found it cute, if a bit abrupt.
  • That relationship will obviously be tested once Carter finds out Madison is basically on Lori’s payroll. But Carter is keeping shady secrets of her own, so…
  • No Grant this week. Poor lil’ thing.

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