Kathryn Prescott, Milena Govich

Finding Carter was a true delight in its first season, a show so surprisingly competent that much of its pleasure came from watching serious-minded television critics tap dance around the fact that they were engrossed by an original scripted drama on MTV. It was the rare drama that seemed to jell instantly, and it wasn’t by some magic or the benefit of lowered expectations. Showrunner Terri Minsky helped flesh out Emily Silver’s spec script about a kidnapped girl into a larger meditation on deception in family relationships and the exploration of the way lies can metastasize. It’s a story about finding out the relationships most vital to you are built on a fictitious foundation, a conceit that places a lot of pressure on its lead character. For that reason, Kathryn Prescott is at least half-responsible for the show’s success. Prescott’s performance is what kept the show feeling grounded even as it skidded into pure melodrama around the time Crash shoots Max.

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Max’s shooting was the type of moment that can take a show in a direction from which it can never turn back, but impressively, the writers spun it into gold by relying on emotional observation rather than escalating the plot turns. But instead of pulling back from the brink for good, the Finding Carter team pushed the boundaries even further in the season finale, “One Hour Photo,” in which Carter’s deranged kidnapper Lori (Milena Govich) drugs her daughter and kidnaps her a second time. It was a thematically devastating moment; after a season of hearing the Wilsons talk about how their lives were affected by Carter’s abduction, the possibility of watching them experience that a second time was gutting in the best possible way. But the cliffhanger also felt a bit cheap, like the writers were playing up a moment they couldn’t possibly follow through with in a satisfying way.

“Love The Way You Lie” reels the story in, but only slightly so the writers can set up season two’s house of cards. And based on the supercut, season two of Finding Carter will succeed based on what the audience is seeking from it. The difference between the mysteries of season one and those of season two is that the first season’s mysteries typically related to Carter finding out some new revelation from her past and struggling to integrate it into her rapidly evolving identity. But the idea Finding Carter has sold again and again is that there’s more to loving, bonded family relationships than genetic code. The more often and more potently the show delivers that message, the more it undercuts the importance of revealing the specifics of Carter’s past. It’s not where she’s from, it’s where she’s going.

What made the big reveal of “Love The Way You Lie” so shrewd is the degree to which it didn’t feel like a big reveal at all. It is certainly surprising that Taylor too is Lori’s biological daughter—the result of the Wilsons using Lori as an egg donor—but all that really means for Carter is that the girl she grew to lean on like a biological sister is actually her biological sister. The egg donor revelation was effective because it articulated Lori a bit more, or at least framed her crazy in a way that makes it sound like it grew out of a kernel of reason rather than simply a delusion gone overboard. When Lori explains that taking Carter and leaving Taylor was an act of mercy, done to spare the family the agony of losing both daughters, it makes sense to the maximum extent that a crazy person’s reasoning can make sense. But there’s not much emotional impact in it for the girls. By the time Lori orders Elizabeth, Carter, and Taylor to crowd into a diner booth, holding them at gunpoint to keep them from moving before she’s gotten her point across, it’s clear she’s not someone the girls are going to willingly embrace as a mother figure.

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That said, the fact that Lori is technically both Carter and Taylor’s biological mother could gnaw at the girls as the season progresses. That’s especially for Taylor, who has never had to consider her identity in relationship to her parentage because it’s never been called into question before. It’s equally possible that the revelation could reawaken Taylor’s feelings of resentment around having had to live a sheltered existence under the watchful eye of Elizabeth, helicopter parent. Carter got to live the teenage YOLO lifestyle as a result of standing nearer to the street when Lori pulled up, and Taylor has had the pay the price for it.

Those kinds of ideas, which Finding Carter has proven itself so good at, are enough to fuel a second season with Lori essentially in the rear view. Instead, “Love The Way You Lie” lays the groundwork for an expanded mythology that seems like more than Finding Carter should be trying to bite off. Instead of asking myself how the Wilsons are going to pick up the pieces after this latest incident, I’m asking myself who Lori was talking to on the telephone while a groggy Carter was awakening from her drug-induced slumber. The answer to that question can’t possibly be satisfying, and it’s certainly a non-starter if it relates to David, who just seems like too much of a “henpecked husband” type to hang an ominous secret on him. Still, like the Max shooting, it’s not the choice as much as what Finding Carter does with it, and only time will tell if the show can stick the landing a second time.

Stray observations:

  • Not sure this show is going to stay in regular rotation, but I fell in love with the first season, so I’m going to see how it does and go from there.
  • Max and Taylor’s break-up certainly didn’t last long.
  • The fight between Elizabeth and Lori was unintentionally hilarious.
  • It’s safe to say that even though Grant is going to be a millionaire someday, at least half his income is going toward therapy.
  • The episode naming convention has gone from film titles in season one to song titles in season two.

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