An interesting, surprising phenomenon takes shape in “Wake Up Call,” at first imperceptibly, but then all at once: It starts to resemble the auspicious show Finding Carter was in its first season. The first third of season two has been more than disappointing due to the continued involvement of Crash and the outsize presence of Lori, and early on, “Wake Up Call” appears to be plagued by the same problems.
The fallout continues following Carter’s latest run-in with Lori, and Crash is still hanging around being all reformed and adorable. Meanwhile, the dust is still settling after some pretty significant character reshuffling. Max and Bird are trying to make their odd-couple domestic arrangement work while Taylor is trying to get a handle on her nascent relationship with Ofe. David and Elizabeth continue to be uncomfortable with the reality of life as a separated couple, yet they can’t come up with anything resembling a solution. The only significant difference between this episode and the ones preceding it is Lori’s absence, so it initially feels as rudderless as the rest of the season has been. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, “Wake Up Call” solidifies enough to provide hope for the remainder of the season.
The episode begins with a cold open unlike any the show has done before. Carter is in school, of all places, where she’s hauled into a meeting with David, Elizabeth, and Abby, the perky blonde guidance counselor, to discuss Carter’s chronic truancy problem. As much as I tried to resist all of this based on my disappointment with season two, I was already impressed by the writers’ willingness to incorporate a discussion of why Carter never appears to be in school, or doing homework, or fretting about academic challenges. The meeting is a bust, with Carter blowing out of Abby’s office and tossing an SAT prep book into the trash after the grown-ups’ pep talk about preparing for the future falls on deaf ears. It seems like another fruitless attempt to stoke domestic drama in a family already brimming with it, but in trashing the test prep book, Carter plants the seed that blossoms into the season’s most poignant, well-observed material.
Finding Carter is most engrossing when it’s uncovering nuanced facets of the ongoing journey of self-discovery Carter has been on since finding out she’s not the person she thought she was. Arguably the show’s best episode yet is season one’s “Throw Momma From The Train,” in which Carter finds out the day she’s been celebrating as her birthday for as long as she can remember is not her actual birthday, but rather the day on which Lori kidnapped her. It’s a shrewd, quietly horrifying story to tell, illuminating both the long road to recovery ahead for Carter as well as Lori’s skewed perspective of the events. “Wake Up Call” is the first episode to approach that level of cleverness, and it does so by uncovering yet another disturbing dynamic of Carter and Lori’s relationship.
Carter spends the episode not just resisting the idea of taking the SAT, but completely freaking out anytime another character mentions the test, or going to college, or doing anything that amounts to preparation for the future. Carter seems awfully bratty, and kudos to the writers for having the bravery to make her unlikeable, if only briefly. But naturally, there’s a method to Carter’s madness. Lori never put any emphasis on school or grades, never mentioned college, and didn’t seem to care much about the shape Carter’s life was taking. For Lori, having a daughter was about having a best friend and a lifelong frozen yogurt buddy, not helping a young woman lay the foundation for the rest of her life. It’s sick and twisted, but in a heartbreaking, human way.
“Wake Up Call” even manages to make something interesting of the David and Lori reveal as Taylor finds out about the affair and reacts about the way one would expect her to. Why Carter still has a post-coital photo of her dad just laying around her room is anyone’s guess, so points must be docked for execution, but Taylor discovers the photo and goes ballistic. Her anger is understandable and justified. Yet another earth-shaking secret has come out in the worst possible manner. But Taylor doesn’t have too long to stand in judgment of her father. When she presses David for details of his relationship with Lori, he admits to her that he used a physical relationship to distract him from his problems, much as Taylor has been doing with Ofe in the Russian literature room. Even after she connects those dots, Taylor can’t help but invite Ofe for another romp in the lull before the test begins. It’s one thing to recognize an unhealthy coping mechanism and another entirely to interrupt the pattern.
It’s premature to declare “Wake Up Call” a full recovery after the bobbling that has characterized the season. The nonsense with the jalopy full of cocaine at Crash’s auto repair shop seems like a disaster waiting to happen, and the secondary characters tread water whenever Carter isn’t around. But the episode reveals that Finding Carter has the same heart, and it’s finally beginning to get some blood circulating.
- Elizabeth is on some ol’ other shit. Even if David was mischaracterizing his relationship with Hillary, which he definitely was, I don’t think seeing other people during a separation and resuming a pre-separation affair are the same thing.
- I still don’t know what to do with the new, improved, lobotomized Crash. It’s interesting to use him, and to a lesser degree, Max, as foils to demonstrate the perils Carter and Taylor face by letting themselves be defined by Lori’s actions. But I’d still sooner Crash disappear entirely.
- What’s the over/under on a Bird and Max hook up? Is that inevitable, or will it just be used to drive Taylor insane?
- Poor Ofe, amirite?
- Also, it’s clear now: This is definitely the story of how Grant becomes a mass murderer.