Kathryn Prescott

In the first season of Finding Carter, Lori Stevens wasn’t the show’s villain. The villain was change. Yes, in the eyes of the Wilson family, Lori was absolutely the villain, but Carter could never see it that way. Lori was the only mother Carter had ever known before the truth was revealed to her, and letting go of her relationship with Lori meant losing an enormous chunk of her identity and being forced to rebuild it from scratch. Carter was reluctant to do that—who wouldn’t be?—and she had lots of unresolved feelings about Lori, mostly due to how quickly Lori was snatched away from her. It’s hard for anyone when a relationship ends abruptly through no fault of their own. It’s especially difficult for Carter. Not even her fond memories of time spent with Lori truly belonged to her anymore. The only thing she had to hold onto was her name.

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That’s an insane amount of change for someone Carter’s age to have to adapt to. Consider the way people act when Facebook slightly revamps its layout or upon the announcement of a Ghostbusters reboot starring women. Now consider what it would be like to have your entire existence change overnight and to have to redefine your identity at a time of your life when your identity isn’t really defined to begin with. The meat of Finding Carter in its heyday was Carter wrestling with change. Lori was still a major element in the show, but she was primarily deployed to complicate Carter’s progress in letting go of her old life and embracing her new one.

Since the beginning of season two, Lori has been upgraded to the actual villain of Finding Carter, which is a deeply flawed choice in as much as it redefines the show thematically. The audience has been led to believe Finding Carter is a survivor’s story, and maybe it still is to a certain extent. But with the introduction of Lori the wild card this season, the show is not about survival, it’s about victimization. Lori is nothing more than Carter’s serial abuser at this point, and everyone in Carter’s life is letting the abuse continue. Max colluded with Lori in season one and Madison picked up the torch in season two. Gabe and Bird participated in the secret plan to reunite mother and daughter. The Wilsons, a couple that includes a highly ranked law enforcement professional, apparently can’t do anything to prevent Lori from further harassing Carter, and they don’t seem to mind much that it’s happening. When Carter is summoned to a psychiatric facility to visit Lori, and Elizabeth objects, David talks her down in language that sounds logical if you only listen to the tone and not the content.

If we’re to accept the events of season two as the behavior of average, reasonable, relatable people, then the show is about a young woman being repeatedly beaten down by a psychopath while everyone is her life is like, “Oh my daughter’s kidnapper is back in the picture, nbd.” Perhaps when Finding Carter reaches its third or fourth season, it will become a story of survival. But “I’m Not The Only One” makes clear that despite the fact that Carter’s already been kidnapped twice, she’s going to continue to tumble down a pit of despair. I haven’t read anything about the show’s ratings this season, or relative to last season, but I’d assume this version of Finding Carter is something someone is into, it’s just not really what I’m into. The show was always dark but it wasn’t always so punishing, so boring, and so reliant on stunts.

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Those are probably the best ways to describe “I’m Not The Only One,” punishing, boring, and reliant on stunts. Carter and the gang are trying to lend Gabe the support he needs after the death of his father, but the scene plays weird from the start. Gabe appears to be unfazed by the whole thing, and while I understood intellectually that Gabe was suppressing his emotions, the idea didn’t totally land. Kyle was a vestigial character that needed to be, at the very least, reduced, and while this was a bad way to go, there’s a certain catharsis for the audience when an unnecessary character goes away. You kind of frown and say “Damn,” maybe, but you’re not broken up about it. When Gabe is not broken up about it, it’s hard to tell if he’s in denial or just on the same page with me about his dad being an ill-defined, unnecessary character. This is the show in which Madison full-on lectured Carter about her inability to sympathize with her abductor. It’s not an unreasonable interpretation.

The funeral after party is cut short when a process server arrives to deliver a court summons demanding that Carter testify at a trial to determine whether Lori should be let out, as well as to consider Lori’s demand to be declared Carter’s custodian. I’d like to say I don’t understand how a process can be served on a minor, but that’s so minor in light of the larger aspects of the trial that I simply don’t understand. Fundamentally, I don’t understand how any of this would work legally and it all just seems so absolutely ridiculous. The script tries to address this by having Carter and David talk about how ridiculous it is and how none of it makes sense, as if it’s the same thing to make David and Carter surrogates for the audience’s confusion and to actually explain how any of this would be possible. Elizabeth, who has been as victimized by Lori as Carter, is like, “Hey guys, I don’t love this either. But this document has a lot of bold print on it, so we should probably do what it says.”

The episode builds to a trial that is one of the most non-sensical things I’ve seen on television in a very long time. My father is a career attorney, so he can’t watch Law And Order without fixating on the inaccuracies of the courtroom testimony scenes. It makes him seriously upset. I’ve watched plenty of Law And Order in my day because I’m not enough of an expert to see the flaws, and I understand why those rhythms have to be massaged for narrative purposes. But even I was baffled by this courtroom proceeding merely based on my understanding of a television show my lawyer father can’t watch because it’s too fake. It doesn’t remotely resemble anything that exists in the real world. Why is this a valid legal proceeding? Why would such a thing be decided by a jury? Do lawyers object to questioning in this universe? I kept thinking the whole thing was going to be some kind of dream sequence to demonstrate the psychological grip Lori still has on Carter. For all of this to actually take place is pretty grotesque.

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Lori’s attorney cross examines Carter to force Carter to admit the truth: that she’s still emotionally conflicted about Lori. So first: Yeah, obviously that’s the case. But also, why do Carter’s adolescent feelings about Lori matter so much in this universe? First, the psychiatric professionals caring for Lori are calling Carter like, “So what’s the deal with her, in your expert opinion?” Carter’s perspective on her unstable mother was treated as if it was medically necessary to facilitate Lori’s treatment or something. Now, in a court of law, Carter’s testimony about the cutesy patter she used to do with Lori represents a devastating blow to the Wilsons’ case. It doesn’t make sense that any of this would be legally relevant, and it’s merely another excuse for Lori to psychologically victimize Carter for the umpteenth time. Carter’s cross-examination is baffling, as there’s almost never an objection to a totally inappropriate and irrelevant line of questioning. The attorney is basically Lori’s bruiser, hired to rough Carter up to further escalate Lori’s inexplicable psychological war with her daughter.

The shocking twist comes when Lori calls a surprise witness, a young man purported to be a child produced during David and Lori’s affair. Beside the fact that nothing about this trial makes the remotest sense, the final twist feels cheap and totally unearned. I don’t really understand what Ben’s arrival is supposed to mean for anyone. Why is it presented as if Lori sunk the Wilsons’ battleship when there’s no way of knowing the significance of anything related to this sham legal proceeding? This show is operating on a plane of reality I don’t quite understand.

The final shots of “I’m Not The Only One” confirmed my fear that the current direction of Finding Carter isn’t a journey I want to take. After the telenovela histrionics of the Ben reveal, Carter and Lori exchange a final glance:

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Carter is mortified, Lori is smug. This strongly implies that this represents a “win” for Lori, but that isn’t a game I’m interested in. If this is a show about a young girl being emotionally tortured by an imbalanced woman, then this is a show I don’t want to watch, especially when it feels like the very physics of the world are designed to give Lori every possible advantage over the Wilsons. It’s just not my thing.

Stray observations

  • So, if I haven’t already made it clear, this mid-season finale is probably the end of Finding Carter coverage at The A.V. Club. I’ve seen some stuff in the comments about why it’s weird that we covered this show rather than other worthier things on the air, and there’s no real mystery to it, I just wanted to cover the show. I loved the first season and was passionate about writing about this season, but it’s different enough now that I feel comfortable parting ways. Vomiting negativity about a television show on a weekly basis isn’t fun for anyone.
  • Bird’s parents are home, so Max and Madison are out on the street and Madison headed out of town. Other things that are happening.
  • Gabe and Elizabeth’s confrontation made me so uncomfortable. I don’t really have language for my reaction.
  • Grant: Fully exists on the physical plane.

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