Kathryn Prescott, Molly Kunz

No show on television vacillates between respecting and underestimating its audience as rapidly as does Finding Carter. Characters go from being thoughtful, messy, well-intentioned people to poorly programmed plot robots and back, and riveting plots come together three-quarters of the way, only to fizzle into broad, dumb teen melodrama. Story beats make all the sense in the world, then suddenly crazy stuff is just happening all over the place. There’s dialogue about people’s deepest, most complex emotions, and then dialogue about how the third installment of the Insidious trilogy is destined to be the most terrifying of all, and so you should definitely take your friends to see it in theaters.

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Broadly speaking, the majority of Finding Carter’s peaks came in its first season and the majority of its troughs have come in its second. But the show has never truly been on a tear. As fondly as I recall season one, if I have to now look back critically on it now that season two has somewhat poisoned my view of the series, I fixate on Max’s shooting. It was an unwise choice, which seemed at the time like an anomaly in a season full of incredibly shrewd, insightful storytelling, but now seems more like a harbinger of the blunderful second season. If a Finding Carter apologist had been building a case for the season, that case was undoubtedly undermined by “Rumour Has It,” an episode that feels almost intentionally clueless.

As I wrote in my review of “I Knew You Were Trouble,” the idea of an impulsive, emotional hook-up between Carter and Max is a smart one. In fact, it seemed like such an obvious story to explore in season one, it was easy to assume that if the writers didn’t pull the trigger on it (pardon the language choice), they didn’t plan to. It’s nice to see Carter and Max’s history pop up in season two, but it doesn’t have the impact it could have had the writers deployed it differently. Again, the relationship between the hook-up and Carter and Max’s shockingly ridiculous visit to the psychiatric facility makes the hook-up hard to invest in. If you go to your favorite restaurant, you’re happy to arrive there. If you go to your favorite restaurant using a route comprising nauseating, bumpy roads, aggressive traffic, and the odor of a nearby sewage plant, you’re not quite as happy to arrive. The destination is still great, but the journey can spoil it. Carter and Max’s reunion is just not that cool or interesting if it‘s built on a foundation of baffling contrivances.

As a result, “Rumour Has It” also has critical damage to its foundation, because its story is another heir of the season’s worst story beat. That’s in a season in which Gabe hooked up with a school guidance counselor. But “Rumor” has its own dumb choices. Carter and Max are devastated by their mistake and struggle to find a way to tell Taylor, knowing the news will break her heart. So naturally, the solution is to take Taylor and everyone else they know in the world out to a cabin for the weekend. One of the few commenters here recently mentioned how weird it was to hear Carter and Madison talking about how strict the Wilsons are compared to Lori, when clearly Carter does whatever the hell she wants, and apparently Taylor does too now. I love the way Finding Carter approaches teenage party culture, but these are high schoolers who can drive to God knows where to stay in a cabin with their friends unsupervised for an entire weekend, and there isn’t so much as a conversation with anyone’s parents about it? As dark and human as this show is, I’m starting to also suspect it’s that brand of wish fulfillment entertainment aimed at kids who wish their parents were “cooler.”

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The gang, which includes Damon, a character I barely remember, heads up to the cabin to booze it up, party, and of course, watch Insidious and Insidious: Part 2, because those movies are cool and scary and the kids love cool and scary movies, especially ones that are PG-13 and easily accessible to high schoolers. The episode then resolves around Carter and Max’s indiscretion bouncing around the group—hence the Adele song for a title—which happens because a frustrated Carter spills the beans to Madison, while every other character goes full Lassie and spreads the rumor by barking in a special dog language that humans are able to understand. It’s really hard to talk about how stupid all of this was, so I won’t. But I will say this: Either it’s shocking that Carter and Max hooked up, or it isn’t shocking. If the development was supposed to catch the audience by surprise, so too should it catch the characters off guard. And these characters did not behave like characters caught off guard. The notion of a Carter-Max hook-up seems so inevitable to them, they manage to guess it using the faintest quasi-clues. They don’t seem in disbelief, nor are they the least bit skeptical, despite the fact the rumor originates with Madison, a friend from Carter’s past who the rest of them barely know. Honestly, show, work with me.

I’d rate this episode lower were it not for the scene between Taylor and Max and the one between Carter and Madison. Both scenes were beautifully acted, and the performances often manage to buoy the show even when the story isn’t remotely working. But I’m starting to resent, even more than I initially did, the direction the writers have taken Taylor this season. I get the theory behind the erratic behavior triggered by Lori’s biological bombshell. But that doesn’t explain why Taylor would be so weirdly entitled about knowing the backstory with Max’s mom. The Taylor who apologizes to Carter for not supporting her choices around Lori, and the one who bares her soul to Max, feel much more like the actual character. The Taylor who interrogated Max about his childhood trauma isn’t the same person, she’s an uncanny lookalike sent to deliver the latest flimsy excuse for Taylor and Max to fight so he can be apart from her when he hooks up with Carter. The whole thing feels manipulative as hell, and I’m not sure I’ll make it to the back half of the (recently extended) second season.

Stray observations:

  • Grant: Still a person!
  • Didn’t care about the Wilsons last week. Don’t care about them this week.

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