Spoiler alert: You probably guessed it on your own, but the mid-’80s NYC AIDS epidemic doesn’t mean anything good for young Walt (Brendan Dooling) and Bennett’s (Jake Robinson) fledgling but adorable relationship on “The Carrie Diaries.”
In Friday (Jan. 10) night’s episode, “Date Expectations,” Walt has his first brush with the situation that gay men were facing in New York at the time when one of Bennett’s ex-boyfriends tests positive for AIDS and is dying in the hospital. It’s equal parts scary, heartbreaking, and life-changing (check out spoilers from the episode here)
“The Carrie Diaries” executive producer Amy B. Harris tells Zap2it that this is only the beginning of the story for Walt and Bennett.
“We felt a huge responsibility having the show set in the ’80s in New York, in a world that has a very present gay community, that we [would] explore what that would mean,” Harris says. “We really felt like Walt has grown so much. It took him most of last season to come to the realization that he probably was gay and then most of this season to figure out how he wants to be gay, and now he’s much more comfortable in a relationship. At first Bennett said you should be exploring dating, and then we gave them real relationship issues that any couple struggles with.”
Of course, Valentine’s Day only adds extra pressure to any new relationship, especially when you factor in being young and gay in New York in the ’80s. “In talking about Valentine’s Day, which is such a conventional, traditional holiday, we felt like it was the right time to really talk about how different the gay life was in 1986 than today where having kids, marriage, the white picket fence, was not something that was even considered a possibility,” Harris says. “For Walt, beyond just the scare and realizing that there’s life and death consequences with the AIDS epidemic running rampant, is can he live this other life without the traditional pieces of the puzzle?”
But according to Harris, the biggest obstacle for Walt and Bennett to overcome is getting tested themselves, and the results of their individual tests will lead them down equally tough but different paths. “What I love about doing this show is that we’ve been able to tell bigger and more impactful stories about that time in history,” Harris says. “And I hope we’ve done it in a way that doesn’t feel like anything more than just good storytelling. I like that we’re able to reveal things from that time period.”
Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb) is able to put her issues on hold to help Walt through this tough time, but our favorite writer-in-training is also dealing with her own troubles in the episode. Sebastian (Austin Butler) comes up with a brilliant business idea — clothing for skateboarders and surfers — but this is 1986 … nothing like that had ever been done before in New York. Carrie doesn’t think it’s an idea worth pursuing (especially when it ruins her own Valentine’s Day plans and threatens to take Sebastian back to California). Her lack of support will, of course, cause some problems for her and Sebastian.
“You have to think from a perspective of 1986 vs. where we now know that the skateboarding and surf culture created such an amazing line of fashion, and the street culture, particularly in New York, hadn’t quite hit that yet,” Harris says. “In Malibu and Laguna it had. Hindsight is 20/20. You hear the name Tony Hawk and know that guy’s worth millions. But at the time, all of this was such a fresh, new idea that she’s thinking isn’t that just a thing people zip around on in their cul de sacs? How can that be something real?
“And I think Carrie is used to being the busier of the two of them, and the realization that he has a lot going on is wonderful but it scares you when you hear your partner say they might move and you realize you may not be the center of their universe.”
We can’t reveal whether Sebastian’s new business idea will make him move again, or what it means for the future of his relationship with Carrie, but we can say it is nice to see him so motivated. Plus, he may not know it yet, but that’s one heck of an idea he’s got brewing.
In a lighter story line, Maggie (Katie Findlay) finds herself in too deep after trying to plan for her future, and turns to Mouse (Ellen Wong) for help … who in turn looks to Donna (Chloe Bridges). That’s right: Maggie, Mouse and Donna team up, and it’s as hilarious as it sounds. “That for me has been really fun to pair up unusual pairings within the show,” Harris says. “Mouse and Donna are a particularly funny odd couple and then adding in the Maggie of it all, they’re all strong ladies but Maggie and Donna have not gotten along in the past, so to realize that they both have fun qualities has been fun to play out.”
“The Carrie Diaries” airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.