Because The Carrie Diaries is attempting to burn through a huge amount of story in only 13 episodes, there is very much a sense of the show ticking off narrative boxes at times. This is especially prevalent in “A First Time For Everything,” as the show practically ties itself into knots to thematically link Carrie losing her virginity to Madonna and “Like A Virgin,” with mixed results.
The show’s decision to accelerate storytelling has had the interesting side effect of frontloading almost all of the emotional stakes in the first half of the season, then settling into a much lower-intensity emotional tone for the remainder. Now that Carrie has the friends, the job, the city, and the boyfriend, how does the show keep everything fresh? If tonight’s episode is any indication, the writers haven’t quite figured that part out yet.
In some ways, this episode was the most ‘80s-feeling one to date, as everything about Carrie and Sebastian’s relationship here and their decision to have sex for the first time felt like something ripped out of an ‘80s movie. It didn’t hurt that their titular “first time” was scheduled to happen after a big party to kick off Madonna’s Virgin Tour, an accidentally-on-purpose thematic confluence so on the nose it might be painful, if the show weren’t so earnest and cute about the whole thing. The only problem with the setup for Carrie’s big first time is that from the second the idea is presented, it’s obvious there is no way it will actually happen, so the rest of the episode is just waiting to see how everything will fall apart.
This wouldn’t be a bad thing if the falling apart was more interesting. Instead, it turned into a rehash of things already well-trod in the Carrie/Sebastian relationship: her inability to relinquish control and live in the moment, his aloofness, and her job getting in the way of them as a couple. The most surprising thing about the inevitable confrontation is that it didn’t simply prevent them from having sex for the first time, it essentially ended their relationship. This could and would hurt more than it did, however, but Sebastian still stubbornly remains a concept while Carrie is a well-realized character, which robs their big fight and breakup of any emotional resonance it should have. It’s hard to see Carrie hurting, but the combination of the cloud of doom hanging over the episode and the shallow nature of their relationship really doesn’t allow for much deeper consideration than “Man, that’s really a bummer for her.” Carrie's had the big "get the guy" moment, and that box has been checked; now, it just feels like the writers thought it was time for her big "lose the guy" moment.
But the “first time” theme doesn’t just apply to Carrie and Sebastian; it stretches over all other stories, making this certainly the most thematically consistent episode to date. The cutest rendering of the theme belongs to Mouse and West, who take their flirting from last week and escalate it into full-on romance (or at least hooking up). The saving grace of this story is their easy comedic chemistry, and the way it allows Mouse to occupy the story space established for her character while still allowing some nuance. Having her romantic interest be her rival and competition brings out the best in her softer side, but doesn’t force her to turn her back on her academic side to do so. A few more weeks of the same thing could get repetitive, but for now it’s a nice, fun runner for the show to have.
There was a lively bit of discussion about Tom’s importance in the overall composition of the narrative in last week’s comments, and that discussion becomes even more important now that it’s obvious Tom-only stories are here to stay. Linking them thematically to the kids’ stories helps somewhat here, as Tom struggles with his own first time: dating since his wife died. That’s not to say the time spent with Tom is necessarily interesting—really, it’s mostly not—but it at least doesn’t stick out as awkward in the way it has prior to this. One thing that does need to happen if Tom is going to have solo stories is they need to be a lot more compelling than the very mildly interesting Tom dates a woman, Tom shames a woman, Tom charms that woman back structure they’re working with in this episode. (Also, can we leave the “Tom shames a woman” out of it next time, maybe? That wasn’t attractive.)
And then there’s Dorrit. What are we going to do with you, Dorrit? Although her story was probably the most closely tied to the theme—she appears to actually have sex in the end, unlike Carrie—everything about the way she got there, including who she got there with, was fairly painful. Most of this is due to her new record store boyfriend Miller, who is basically a nightmare. He’s not a character, he’s like Teenage Boy Yoda, there to teach young Dorrit about herself and lead her down the right path. He gives her books to expand her mind, like 1984! He tells her exactly how to be rebellious, because her way of being rebellious isn’t good enough! And then, he gives her Tropic of Cancer to read, so she’ll think about having sex with him, and then when she brings it up, he tells her she shouldn’t be having sex because she’s not ready. He actually says the words to her “You don’t know what you want!” It’s manipulative and pathological and makes me want to jump into the television screen, scoop Dorrit up, and run her far, far away from him forever.
Dorrit, being 15 and naïve, doesn’t see this for the creepy it is and ends up bringing him to her house to have sex. In Dorrit’s defense as a character, I honestly don’t think we’re supposed to see Miller as creepy, which is even more troubling. I think we're supposed to see him as romantic and perfect for her, which is a giant failure on the writers' part. Dorrit is in that delicate place where she’s learning how to balance being herself with being in a relationship (which is nicely illustrated by the conflicting advice given to her by Carrie and Donna regarding when to be herself and when to not be herself with a guy), and I’m just not sure the show ended up sending out a very healthy message about this in the end. Is Dorrit being herself here, or not? And why did she choose that path? No matter which path she chose and why, she still chose it with Miller, which can’t be the right choice at all as far as I’m concerned.
Next week is already the season finale, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show handles wrapping up any storylines for the season. Beyond Carrie and Sebastian, there’s the big bombshell of Walt’s sexuality just sitting there waiting to explode. No matter what happens, I do hope it will be a season and not a series finale, because despite any problems it may have, this is still quite an enjoyable show.
- Old school Trivial Pursuit!
- “He let me break up with him. He didn’t fight for me.” This quote by Carrie struck me as very sad, because it is probably very realistic to what many young girls feel. Carrie, honey, you broke up with him. It probably made him feel awful. People who feel awful don’t usually feel like fighting for anything.
- Dorrit and Donna is a pretty interesting combination. I wouldn’t mind a few more mentoring sessions between the two of them, even if Donna’s advice is absolutely terrible.
- Was everyone at the party a Carrie/Sebastian shipper or something? Those grown men certainly seemed far too invested in the romantic relationship of two teenagers they don’t even know.
- So much Madonna music! This is a good thing.
- Bennett: “You’re so cute with your morals!”