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The Carrie Diaries is tackling the 1980s AIDS epidemic and its effect on New York City.
With Walt (Brendan Dooling) and Bennet (Jake Robinson) happily exploring their relationship, things come to a halt when the two find out that Bennet’s ex-boyfriend is dying of AIDS in Friday’s episode. (Watch a scene, above.) The story was a crucial moment in history that executive producer Amy B. Harris felt needed to be told this season.
“We always wanted to explore how impactful the AIDS epidemic was at the time we have our characters living in. And this was an episode where we got to explore how that personally affects our characters,” Harris tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We’ve always been leading up to it and felt a lot of responsibility to tell it in a real way but also to [do] it as real storytelling versus melodrama or something preachy.”
Discussions were had as early as season one over when this particular story should be brought to the forefront, with writers laying the groundwork for Walt’s arc last year before having him face the life-threatening truth.
“The first season we were — in a very realistic way — exploring what it was like for a suburban kid to realize he was gay and slowly come out of the closet,” Harris says. “That to us felt like an important step — not to muddy with the idea of AIDS — even though that was happening at the same time.”
Harris acknowledges that Friday’s episode, set around Valentine’s Day, brings Walt and his friends into a much more adult world, where everything has an expiration date.
“We wanted to talk about the idea of a death sentence, and that’s really what [AIDS] was in 1986. It wasn’t until five or six years later that they came up with the drugs that have basically allowed you to live with the disease. Living in that week where you’re waiting for your results and thinking ‘Am I going to die?’ for an 18-year-old kid is an incredibly difficult experience,” she says.
Harris took inspiration from a conversation she once had with a close friend that helped mold Walt’s reaction to learning of AIDS for the first time.
“I had a friend who came out in the ’90s. And when I asked him how hard it was to tell his family, he said, ‘It wasn’t as hard to tell my parents as it was to give up on the idea of a white picket fence, being married and having a family,’ ” Harris recalls. “Now, of course, you don’t have to give any of that up.”
Expect things between Walt and Bennet to be impacted in an extremely profound way that will change their relationship for the foreseeable future.
“It’s going to be challenging for Walt,” Harris says of the aftermath, while “Bennet is going to have his own reaction and act out a lot.”
The Carrie Diaries airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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