What’s an episode about self-empowerment without a vagina? In Carrie Bradshaw’s 1984 we are twelve years away from the birth of The Vagina Monologues, but its themes of female strength and self-discovery are alive and well in “Read Before Use.” In the face of her father’s ban on Sebastian, Carrie must figure out what is right for herself — could a scandalous art exhibition in Manhattan be just what Carrie needs to take control of her own romantic destiny?
In the halls of Castlebury High, away from the disapproving gaze of Tom Bradshaw, Carrie and Sebastian are free to continue their there’s-something-heatin-up flirtation. And this week, with Donna pushed safely off screen, things have escalated to shared headphones. The sounds of the Cars’ “new album” — which deductive reasoning tells me must be Heartbeat City — mingles with the young almost-couple’s pheromones as they bend their heads towards the Walkman. The scene is equal parts adorable and sexually charged, as puppy love is meant to be. But Carrie’s proximity to Sebastian at school has only acted to remind her that disengaging won’t be as easy as her father thinks, and Carrie begins her search for the source of her father’s misgivings.
Carrie finds more on that topic than she’s bargaining for, however, locked away in her father’s legal files. One S. Kydd, whom we can only assume is Sebastian, is a past client of Mr. Bradshaw’s (or, should I say, Mr. Bradshaw, Esq.). Sebastian, it turns out, enlisted Mr. Bradshaw’s legal aid after engaging in “intimate relations” with his Art History teacher. Now, if this were Gossip Girl, we would’ve gotten a steamy flashback of the sordid affair; but since this is the chaste Carrie Diaries, we instead get a wide-eyed Carrie Bradshaw dropping her flashlight in dismay and stern warnings from her friends to stay away.
Afraid of Sebastian’s ahem, experience, Carrie heads to the city with Mouse and the object of Mouse’s affections (and the taker of her virginity), Seth, to clear her mind Larissa, perpetual purveyor of good times, takes the underage crew to Franklin Furnance, the cleanest, most well-lit, avant-garde performance art space of the 1980s. The main attraction is titled “Monica Penny: Take Back the Vagina,” and features former porn star Monica Penny exposing her nether regions to art enthusiasts for spare change. Penny is “taking back her vagina,” spirit guide Larissa explains, not selling it. She is in control, she is calling the shots, she is woman — hear her roar! Carrie turns the exhibition — and the metaphor — on its head, however, when she takes back her own vagina by refusing to show it. Self-empowerment for Carrie means saying, “No” — to Monica Penny, to Larissa, and to her father.
While Carrie is rattling off every euphemism for “vagina” she can think of, Mouse is getting pinned by her Princeton boyfriend and Tom Bradshaw is looking for a little release at a Manhattan singles bar — being a widower, apparently, is quite the pickup line. As Tom gets his mack on, his Stouffer’s french bread pizza-loving youngest daughter is back in Connecticut searching for her stolen hamster (named Morrissey), and self-proclaimed Drama Queen Maggie is murdering a stuffed panda. If that all sounds a little campy, it’s because it is — and Voiceover Carrie’s puns aren’t doing the B and C plot-lines any favors (“While someone was about to show their box, another one was being decorated” has got to be the worst segue Carrie Bradshaw has ever uttered — and that’s saying something).
Fresh from her eye-opening experience in the city, Carrie is ready to take on her dad. She will not stop seeing Sebastian, she tells her father, despite nefarious escapades. Upon hearing that Carrie has snooped through his confidential files, Mr. Bradshaw’s eyes go wide and his jaw goes slack. “Will I ever be able to trust you again?” he asks. And with one question, just nine small words, Mr. Bradshaw reveals the true Drama Queen.
But Carrie’s trust troubles are just beginning, as her dad isn’t the only person stung by her snooping. Sebastian, it turns out, is not only upset that Carrie knows about his past, but he is surprised to learn that his family hired a lawyer to sweep it all under the rug. As Carrie attempts to explain her way out of the hole in which she has found herself, she only succeeds in digging down deeper. Sebastian has heard enough. “All this talking, and snooping, and talking, it’s way too complicated.” Is this the last we’ll see of Sebastian Kydd? As much as Carrie’s ridiculous forgiveness of her father’s outburst (I mean, seriously, we’re going to let him get away with forbidding his daughter from dating someone? Really? In an episode about female empowerment?) hints otherwise, I highly doubt that. Sebastian Kydd’s abs are not so easily forgotten.
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[Photo Credit: CW]